Jacqueline Siu, Research Wunderkind & Community Catalyst
Our July 2016 Leader in the Spotlight features Jacqueline Siu, a new UBC BSc Honours Microbiology & Immunology graduate who will be pursuing a PhD in Transplantation Immunology at the University of Cambridge on a full scholarship.
At UBC, Jacqueline was President of Shine On Music, which offers free music lessons to inner city students, and Co-President of Undergraduate Research Opportunities, which supports undergraduate research through a mentorship program, workshops and travel funding. She has excelled in immunology research, and has received many summer studentships to fund her work, including the Ivan Beck Memorial Summer Studentship, the Child & Family Research Institute Summer Studentship, and a McGill Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies Undergraduate Student Research Award. In recognition of her accomplishments, Jacqueline has received UBC’s prestigious Wesbrook Scholarship, Harry Logan Memorial Scholarship and Harold B. & Nellie Boyes Memorial Scholarship.
In this phenomenal interview, Jacqueline shares her approach to tackling undergraduate research, provides insight on the Gates Cambridge Trust application process, and discusses the lessons she’s learned from her leadership positions.
1) You were a TA in a biology class for UBC’s Science One program. What were the most challenging and rewarding experiences you’ve had in that position?
For those unfamiliar with UBC’s Science One program, it is an interdisciplinary first year science program with a strong community of 80 students, 4-6 dedicated TAs, and 8 – 10 professors each year as well as an active alumni network. For more information, please visit Science One.
The most challenging part about being a TA is balancing your own commitments with your students’ requests, especially during midterm and finals season. I tend to answer most of my students’ emails, Piazza (a class-specific online forum), and Facebook questions when I am on the bus or waiting in line. The most rewarding experiences I had were seeing my students succeed; from figuring out a problem set, passing a midterm, to finding cool summer research positions, I enjoyed being a part of the students’ first foray into university.
2) Tell us about what first intrigued you about research and immunology, and why you have continued to pursue both. Do you have any words of wisdom for undergraduate researchers?
Research has always intrigued me because I enjoyed understanding how and why things were the way they were. I became interested in the immune system and how it is regulated after a friend was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. I decided to pursue a PhD in transplantation immunology because I wanted the intellectual freedom and time to concentrate on trying to solve small mysteries of the immune system.
For undergraduate researchers, I challenge them to take ownership of their research project by reading papers, designing experiments, brainstorming troubleshooting ideas, or presenting their research rather than passively following instructions. Not only will this help you become more engaged with the research, but it also provides opportunities for you to apply what you learn in courses, improve your critical thinking, and get a hands-on research experience.
3) Congratulations on winning a Gates Cambridge Trust full scholarship for the pursuit of a PhD at Cambridge! What was the application process like? Do you have any advice for aspiring Gates Cambridge Trust scholars?
Overall, the application process is long and requires a lot of patience especially for the non-US, international applicants. For official information, please visit Gates Cambridge.
In short, there are multiple stages in this competition: departmental rankings (~250 candidates are highly ranked by their department), Gates Cambridge Trust interview shortlist (110 candidates), and acceptance (55 non-US, international Gates Scholar-elects).
In your initial December application to Cambridge, there is a separate section for the Gates Scholarship. The Gates Cambridge website provides a lot of information regarding what they are looking for in your application. For my personal statement, I began by brainstorming themes that link my academic interests and extracurricular passions together, and how my previous projects exemplify them.
Afterwards, I waited to get accepted into the University (around Christmas for me, but this varies by department) and waited for news about funding. At the end of February, I found out I was shortlisted for an interview. My interview took place over Skype a month later. You have the option of going to Cambridge for an in-person interview, but I chose not to because I had previously visited Cambridge and was wrapping up my Honours thesis. I was notified I received the award the day after the interviews concluded (this varies on your interview panel).
For the interview, each candidate is interviewed by a panel in their discipline (arts, biological sciences, physical sciences or social sciences). My panel included professors in Behavioural Neuroscience, Developmental Biology, and Plant Sciences. The interview was extremely straight-forward; they asked me why I was interested in the scholarship, and my academic & career plans. Be prepared to explain and answer questions regarding your research proposal to both a general scientific audience and an expert.
My advice for aspiring Gates Cambridge Trust scholars is to take your time and be thoughtful about your answers. You should be ready to elaborate on your answers or explain your thought process.
The top 3 lessons I learnt were: leading by example, listening, and delegating. Actions speak louder than words. Members tend to be more passionate about the cause/ organization if you, the leader, are putting in the effort. A successful team also requires excellent collaboration; listening and paying attention to body language is needed to facilitate successful teamwork. Finally, knowing when and who to delegate tasks to is crucial. Not only does it lessen your own workload, but it gives members of your team ownership of a project.
5) What was the best experience of your undergraduate degree?
By far, the best experience of my degree was the social aspect. From going on Whistler ski trips with Undergraduate Research Opportunities, having late night all-you-can-eat dinners, to attending banquets and receptions, my undergraduate experience was filled with a community of great people that I plan to keep in touch with in the future.
Want to ask Jacqueline a question about research, UBC, or leadership? Schedule a chat with her today! Jacqueline is happy to provide mentorship through our free National Young Leader mentorship program.