UCLA-Peking Joint Research Institute Summer Exchange

Cultural transitions were not new for Asael Papour, an Israeli Electrical Engineering graduate student at UCLA. However, as he says, “There is no way to really prepare yourself for living in China.” Asael was one of three graduate students chosen to participate in the Summer Scholarship Program at the UCLA-Peking Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering.

Group photo of Summer Scholarship Program Participants.

This new program, only in its third year in existence, gives graduate and undergraduate students a chance to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and work full time in science labs in Beijing for ten weeks during the summer. The research projects are designed by the student and their mentors at UCLA and Peking University – one of the best universities in China. Designed to train future leaders with global perspective, the program fulfills lab requirements and gives students experience and exposure to Chinese research methods. For participant Helen Vuong, “the JRI program has opened up many doors for my graduate studies, including future collaborations and production of papers.” Vuong, a graduate student in Neurobiology, researched morphological interactions between dopamine amacrine cells and intrinsic photosensitive ganglion cells.

This year, the thirteen students accepted into this prestigious program were reimbursed for roundtrip airfare between Los Angeles and Beijing and received supplementary scholarship money for living expenses. Participants stay in a hotel or dorm near campus and participate in sightseeing trips around Beijing during the weekends. They take Chinese language lessons during the spring quarter before the program and continue weekly classes at Peking University.

Lab work in China was rigorous. Asael spent his time there developing an optical system for fluorescence in the tissues of small animals – used to detect cancer and drug delivery optical system for Fluorescence Molecular Tomography (FMT) imaging device. “What did I learn there? Its immense.” he said. The culture and work ethic in the Chinese labs was much different than in the United States. “I appreciate it and I understand it now. They have deeper relationships and understanding of their co-workers and bosses.”

But it wasn’t all work and no play. Asael spent time at the University coffee shop, where Chinese students go to talk to foreigners. He met a lot of Chinese and international students there, and perhaps most importantly, learned how to say “small latte, no sugar” in Chinese. He extended his trip an extra week to travel through eastern and northern China.

Asael recommends the program to those students who are looking to further their understanding of the international research community. “Know that it requires adventurousness. But it is safe, the safest place I’ve ever been. And you will meet new friends.”

“We are looking for students with good academic preparation who are motivated for both advanced research and global experience”, says Prof. Jason Cong, Co-Director of the UCLA/PKU Joint Research Institute, and a Chancellor’s Professor in the Computer Science Department. The program is open to UCLA undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences, engineering, and medicine. Undergraduate applicants should be in their 3rd of 4th year at the time of applying, with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Graduate students should have a minimum GPA of 3.3. Research experience is required. No prior Chinese language experience is necessary.

To learn more, visit the Joint Research Institute in Science and Engineering. Details for next summer will be posted in December on the JRI website under Education.