Challenges of Summer Research: Spanning from Jungle Genomics to Japanese History
Story | Wen Kim Lim, Contributing Reporter
Photo | Eun Jung Min and Crystal Yong
Over the summer of 2016, 22 Yale-NUS College students embarked on various research projects which included uncovering Japanese history, investigating political science and analysing genetic biology. These students presented their findings and experiences in the Summer Research Presentation on Saturday, Sept. 3, highlighting the breadth of academic research by undergraduate students in the College.
In the presentation, many of the students expressed similar sentiments about the surprising difficulty of finding desired results in their research, with many having to change their methods and models over the course of the summer. Nawat Bunnag ’19 said he faced unexpected environmental factors when doing research in the jungle which he had no choice but to work around. Students said that proper research required a strong work ethic, a meticulous attitude and persistence yet it was also deeply rewarding and exciting.
There were 22 projects in 16 different fields of research that were conducted on campus, in laboratories and in the field. The Octant spoke to four students, one from the humanities, one from the social sciences and two from the sciences.
In a project spanning a study abroad semester in Japan to summer research, to a capstone project over the new academic year, the literature review of Japanese primary sources by Xi Min Ling ’17 documents the Japanese invasion and occupation of Malaya and Singapore. He spent the second semester of his junior year studying abroad in Kyoto, Japan through a program run by Columbia University, staying in the city over the summer to continue his research and working around Japan. Ling has produced a study guide which he said may help students and scholars better understand Japanese perspectives of the war, saying that he “was able to sharpen the intellectual tools that now enable me to critically scrutinize similar aspects of other societies, closer to home and otherwise.”
These research methods could even apply back home. “Japan is not the only nation-state with contested histories,” said Ling. “Singapore has these too, and I find the way that these contests are woven into the fabric of everyday society fascinating, even beautiful, for the range of human emotion and thought that they generate.”
Summer research even took place in the rough terrain of the Brunei jungle where Bunnag carried out his research for the first half of the summer before returning to the campus labs for the second half. One of his projects analysed the effects of a drug on the gene expression of a unique insect species, the stalk-eyed fly. “As a pre-med student, I felt the research was particularly relevant to my interest in cancer genetics and oncology,” Bunnag said. In regards to doing research in the jungle, he acknowledged the “beauty in doing fieldwork because I could observe the actual insects I was studying in the lab flitting on the rainforest trees in front of me.”
Staying on campus, Avery Simmons ’19 worked with Professor Chin-Hao Huang, who specializes in international politics, on a project that explores the heated political situation and conflict in the South China Sea. Their research focused on how China is using its maritime authorities, specifically the newly formed Chinese Coast Guard to stake its claims in the area. Their findings will also culminate in a published academic paper which they are currently in the arduous process of writing with Simmons and Professor Huang listed as co-authors. “Our paper really fills a gap in the literature. No one else has done such a comprehensive study of what the Chinese Coast Guard actually does,” said Simmons.
At a laboratory in the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore, Wang Qing ’19 studied the neuroscience of nicotine addiction through gene mutations of zebrafish. The practical lab experience was particularly challenging. She contrasted it with her high school classroom experience. “In Junior College, you mostly learn the theory of lab techniques but in application, persistent practice and time is needed to perfect the simplest techniques and details,” she said. In advice for other students, Wang Qing said that “you can not expect to go into research to find a huge Nobel Prize winning breakthrough. You are standing on the shoulders of giants but you are still contributing a small part to the larger body of knowledge in society.”
Professor Huang said that students should “get involved with the range of research opportunities available with faculty. Find ways to engage with professors in two-way dialogue, whether it is in office hours or over lunch.” Professor Huang said he was “thoroughly impressed with the caliber of students and believes that undergraduate students are capable of research given proper training, mentoring and collaboration.”