This time, Scholar of Tomorrow interviewed the gold medal winners of Regeneron ISEF from the current and previous years. They are Keyu Wan and Yanbing Jin, who are both students from Pinghe School, Shanghai.
In this interview, they shared their interpretation and enthusiasm for scientific research, previous research experiences, and what they gained from participating in ISEF.
From reading carefully through the following interview, students interested in scientific research and their parents can gain a deeper understanding of scientific research and some useful suggestions in preparing for ISEF.
The interview was divided into two articles:
While this article shares Keyu Wan’s journey in scientific research, we will explore Yanbing Jin’s story in our next article.
Now, let’s walk into the world of scientific engineering together with Keyu Wan~
Why did you choose to do scientific research? When did you make up your mind?
I found that in our daily life, many things are not as satisfactory as we expect. Problems can be seen everywhere. Every time I find a problem, something pops into my head. Some ideas. And doing scientific research is a good way to turn these ideas into reality.
In my opinion, the process of scientific research is complete and meaningful: from searching for relevant information at the very beginning to making a series of plans and eventually implementing these plans. This allows me to gain new knowledge and study the field I am interested in.
That’s what I’ve always wanted to do for myself.
In addition, I have always wanted to use my knowledge to help our society and the world. Even if it’s just a little bit, I feel satisfied. This might also be one of the reasons why I started doing research.
I first started doing it because I had a relative who was a hemiplegic patient. Then, I investigated and realized that there were many hemiplegic patients worldwide. I wanted to solve the health problems of my relative and more hemiplegic patients. Therefore, it could be said that choosing to do scientific research has been my dream since childhood.
What is the major direction of your research? Why did you choose to go in this direction?
My research involves many fields of science, but, in general, it’s about engineering. Engineering also has many different branches, such as biological engineering, physics and mathematics, mechanical engineering, and so on. That’s also a reason why I chose engineering. In my opinion, engineering is the subject closest to daily life. For example, automobiles, tall buildings, and planes all belong to the field of engineering. I believe that, as an engineer, I can turn my ideas into practice and make people’s lives better.
Have you encountered any challenges in your research? How did you solve it?
There were a lot of difficulties. For example, it was really hard to find a research platform. Back then, I wanted to do experiments, but it wasn’t easy to get the opportunity to work in a lab at a university. At first, I spent much time emailing professors, but it wasn’t very efficient. Then, I learned about the 英才计划, a program that allows students to do scientific research in colleges for free while having help from college mentors and teaching assistants. Thus, I highly recommend that students check out this program and participate.
The second is about learning knowledge. My research project involved a lot of theoretical analysis, but I did not learn such knowledge in high school. So, I consulted a teaching assistant in the program, and he recommended that I read a book about elasticity. It was during the summer break of my sophomore year, and I was learning theoretical knowledge while thinking about the Yeoh model. It was very overwhelming, but I survived. Therefore, if you ever come across areas that you don’t know, you should ask someone for help immediately or try to think of ways to solve the problems by yourself. Just don’t give up easily.
Did you come across anything interesting during your research? Or a story that sticks in your mind?
Once when I was doing an experiment, I had to do a test: match each set of signals with my hand gestures. Thus, I needed to do hand gesture training. While there were 6 gestures in total, I had to practice each gesture 50 times. Also, after training, if one gesture failed to match the signal correctly, I had to do everything all over again. So, this process really required a lot of patience. I observed how well each gesture matched the signal on a mobile phone application to determine their connection. I found it very interesting and somewhat beautiful, so I still remember it very well.
Why did you participate in ISEF?
In fact, it was because of the program I mentioned earlier. One thing in the form that we filled out was whether we were willing to participate in international competitive events, and I said yes. Then, I found out that it was in line with ISEF, so I just joined it.
Can you tell us a little bit more about ISEF?
I think ISEF is a platform that gives students from all over the world the opportunity to share their projects. All the students could learn about and broaden their scope of knowledge from each other’s projects by walking around and visiting other posters. I think this is fantastic.
How did you prepare for ISEF?
I really think ISEF is different from some Chinese competitions. The preparation was pretty complicated. First, I had to fill out many forms. Then, I needed to write an abstract with a strict word requirement. After that, I made my research plan. Finally, I started making my poster, slides, a 12-page presentation, the quadrant diagram, and a video. During the competition, experts from different countries took turns asking me questions. Rather than knowing that I had completed my research, they cared more about my thoughts and ideas in the research. Therefore, I made a lot of effort to think about improving my project during the preparation, which was a pretty long and complicated process.
Did you encounter any difficulties during the competition? How did you solve it?
During the early stage, there was a time conflict between filling out the forms and my monthly exam at the school. Also, I had to write the entire lab notebook in English and make my poster. This made me very busy. I’m really grateful for having teachers from Shanghai Science Association for Young Talent help us. Although we had more than 60 students participate in the competition, they still helped each of us diligently and checked the information on our forms carefully. Thus, with their help, I managed my time and solved the problem.
Do you have anything else you would like to share about ISEF?
Rather than a competitive event, I think ISEF is more like an opportunity to learn and communicate—a way to share your project with people around the world while learning about how others share their projects. Since everyone’s project is different, students could learn from one another. Students could also participate in different panels, where they could learn from many experts in the field.
I think the process of presentation is a precious experience. There’s no need to be afraid since all the judges are very friendly. For example, in my first round, I met an elder who taught yoga. He told me that he practiced yoga to treat some diseases. I was really nervous, but he encouraged me and gave me a lot of motivation and confidence.
There are two pieces of advice for the competition:
First, you could say more and tell all of your ideas to the judges. For example, if a judge asks you a question, do not just answer it in one sentence. Try to say more. Since they are all professionals in different fields, they could give you valuable advice and insights. This is an excellent opportunity for self-improvement. Think of it as a conversation with the judges.
Secondly, for those who are doing engineering or have samples, don’t forget to show your sample to the judges. They could help you explain your project more clearly. In my first round, I forgot to show my sample. As a result, the judges didn’t really get my point. In the following rounds, I presented my sample to the judges, and they had a better understanding of my project. Therefore, I highly recommend that students show their samples to the judges.
Finally, what would you like to say to other students interested in scientific research? Any advice?
Do not do research for the sake of doing research.
I think the motivation for doing research should be to help the world and fulfill your dream. Using your knowledge to help the world solve a problem, even just a little bit, could make the world a better place. So, I hope everyone can never forget that.
This is the end of our interview with Keyu Wan. We want to thank Keyu Wan for her valuable insights, ideas, and suggestions to students interested in scientific research.