My crazy ideas finally found a home at Westlake | Study at Westlake

10, 2020

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This is what you will see on a A4 paper — a minimalistic Juniper, an octahedron, some drawing that looks like Brazilian grill, and some loose and tight circular lines. But this seeming doodle is actually a portrait of Professor Tian Xu drawn by Shijin Sun.


Sun is a doctoral student of the School of Life Science since 2019. His “unrealistic” ideas made him well known before even setting foot on campus.


Sun received a few offers from celebrated institutions, yet while each wanted his talent, they also wanted him to change his research area. In the end, Sun was convinced that Westlake University would accommodate his infinite ideas and offer him the room to put them into practice in its finite space.


Sun participated in the summer camp hosted by the School of Life Sciences in the summer of 2018. Headed into his senior year, Sun already had two offers under his belt from top universities in China.


The summer camp offers the chance for professors and students to openly share their interests and ideas, and this is also the time when students get evaluated. Sun’s research ideas were deemed “unrealistic” by other universities that wanted to offer him the olive branch. So, at the Westlake camp, he decided to play it safe first and simply lay out his achievements, but he soon realized that it failed to impress the crowd.


Sun couldn’t figure out what he did wrong this time, but he didn’t want to leave any regrets behind. He decided to go all in and started to talk about the research subjects that he was really passionate about but which he got rejected on everywhere else. To his surprise, he was met with interest this time and got several follow up questions, one after another.

“They said they would support my project as long as I could convince them. That was the first time a tutor supported me to work on my own ideas. Everyone else would try to convince me to refocus and follow their lead,” said Sun. He became quite defeated and found no joy or motivation in research. “This is just how I am. I will go all the way in when I find something that interests me.”


“I chose Westlake University because the academic environment here is different. The professors here see and value my passion for scientific research,” Sun added.


In the end, Shijin Sun joined the lab of Peilong Lu.


Professor Lu specializes in protein design, a forefront subject and an important branch of synthetic biology. “Sun has quite an original mind,” commented Lu.


With Professor Lu’s help, Sun started his own research including his own project design [T1] and experiment design. Sometimes his roommate jested that “you are making your boss work for you.”


Through trials and errors, Sun realized that his original idea wasn’t too practical. He then tried to readjust the lane after talking to his advisor, but that felt very differently from when his ideas were shot down in the first place.


“At least I tried,” Sun said, adding that he was prepared for potential setbacks and challenges on the way to become a full-fledged researcher. The professors at Westlake University are willing to provide room for students like him to play out their bold hypotheses, and the university is always happy to accommodate creative minds and courageous spirits.