Gao Yue, an alumna of Food Science and Technology (FST) at UIC, found her biotechnology dream during her UIC education. Through unremitting efforts, she broke the boundaries of her profession and is now doing an internship at Harvard Medical School in the US.

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In June 2018, with excitement and passion for biotechnology, Gao Yue graduated from UIC and chose to go to Northwestern University to study biotechnology.

Taking initiatives for an internship opportunity

As Gao Yue did not have a strong background in biological knowledge, she was required to take advanced molecular biology courses. Therefore, compared to other students, she took longer to get used to her intense studies at Northwestern University in the early stages. However, Gao Yue understands that opportunities do not come easily, and one must work hard for their dreams. As a result, she actively consulted students with a background in biology. After working hard for one semester, she finally caught up with the teaching process.

While continuously increasing professional knowledge, Gao Yue equally attaches great importance to practical opportunities. In January 2019, through self-recommendation, Gao Yue received an internship position as a bioinformatics analyst at Harvard Medical School for six months. The main content of the work was to analyse autistic patients and their families by establishing a series of DNA sequencing methods to identify mutant genes in autism.

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Harvard Medical School

As a non-Harvard student, Gao Yue visited the official website of Harvard Medical School to check the introduction and research directions of bioinformatics professors, and then emailed them one by one, attached application letters and resumes, and expressed interest in doing an internship.

What excites her is that she soon received an interview invitation. However, because her research direction is not completely consistent with the applied internship direction, she needs to prove her competency. "The professor gave me a genetic annotation software and data type test that I have never been exposed to," Gao Yue continued, "To decide which database to use to complete the desired gene annotation, I spent three days studying the software code and database, as well as reading the paper and software manual, and finally I passed the test."

At Harvard Medical School, Gao Yue's mentor is a professor at the medical school, and most of her colleagues hold Doctor's Degree from Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)'s or are postdoctoral researchers. Gao Yue said: "During this internship, not only did I acquire professional skills, but I see the academic researchers' enthusiasm and rigorous attitude towards science."

Starting scientific research at UIC

From pursuing further studies in a different major to doing an internship at Harvard Medical School, Gao Yue has been constantly pressurising herself to achieve her dream. It was at UIC, where her dream began.

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Gao Yue at UIC

Due to her interest in biology, Gao Yue chose a different topic from other food students for her Final Year Project. She chose to study the changes in the chemical structures of food ingredients after digestion in vivo and in vitro. Due to the high content of anthocyanins in black wolfberry and its antioxidant properties, she chose black wolfberry as the experimental object. She received support from the Programme Director of the FST Programme, Prof Xu Baojun, and under his guidance, she completed her experiment successfully. It was this research on the subject that made Gao Yue decided to take biochemical research as the goal of future development.

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Prof Xu Baojun (right) giving awards to students at the UIC-FST Innovative Food CarnivalGao Yue (middle) won the "Best Food Award" and "Best Poster Award"

Gao Yue said, "The FST Programme has a wide range of courses, not only chemistry, biology and other courses, but also related engineering courses, allowing me to understand my interests and decide my research direction; second, the experimental classes not only did it allow me to learn various biochemical reaction principles but also allow me to learn and use large-scale instruments for experimental analysis, which lays a good foundation for future research."

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FST laboratory

During her four years at UIC, the full training of English learning and presentation skills not only enabled Gao Yue to adapt quickly when it came to studying in the US, but it also allowed her to build up her confidence.

Although affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gao Yue still insists on working from home and continues to use the software to analyse the biological information of the autism transposon. In June this year, Gao Yue is about to graduate from Northwestern University and continues to move forward with solid professional knowledge and rich practical experience. She plans to engage in research and development pharmaceutical companies after graduation, and make her contribution to the life science industry.

Reporter: Lauren Richardson
Editors: Covee Wang, Samuel Burgess, Deen He
(from MPRO)