Westlake News PEOPLE

Westlake University Postdoc Rui Bai Awarded by FWIS

20, 2020

Email: fengyi@westlake.edu.cn
Phone: +86-(0)571-85270350
Office of Public Affairs

Had it not been the coronavirus outbreak, Rui Bai would be in Paris on March 12th attending the awarding ceremony of The L’Oreal - UNESCO International Awards For Women in Science (FWIS).


A month ago, the 27-year-old was announced as one of the Laureates of the 22nd L’Oreal - UNESCO International Awards FWIS. She was one of the three scientists from the Asia-Pacific region who were given this honor.


The passion of becoming a scientist sparkled early in Bai’s life. She became interested in biology in senior high school and continued her studies in the Department of Life Sciences, Wuhan University. However, Bai realized that biology wasn’t as interesting as she initially thought. She pondered on leaving academic life and finding a job elsewhere, till she attended Professor Yigong Shi’s lecture at Wuhan University.


She was taken by Professor Shi’s inspiring speech about scientific research and the big picture. She found the answer to the question that troubled her for years, “what’s the point of doing scientific research?”


Bai decided she needed to work in Professor Shi’s lab.


After failing the graduate student interview at the summer camp of Tsinghua University in July 2014, Bai pitched herself in the Office of Yigong Shi, who was then the dean at the School of Life Sciences. “He turned me down,” said Bai.


She then changed her approach to bombarding Professor Shi over email. Professor Shi replied, “let’s see if you can get the recommendation quota.” Bai then took down the quota for the PhD recommendation to Tsinghua University as the top student in the biology major at Wuhan University and successfully passed the interview. She emailed Professor Shi again to inform him about her good news. Professor Shi replied, “come by the lab and get started with the experiments.”


Professor Shi’s lab didn’t ease her in. Bai was given the task of studying the structures of the spliceosome and mechanistic investigations of RNA splicing. She got up at dawn and stayed in the lab after midnight. Not only did she pushed herself to catch up with the team, she was also aiming at making a breakthrough.


Bai graduated ahead of time in July 2019. Over the four years in her life as a PhD student, she published eight scientific papers. Five were published in Science (with an impact factor of 41.037) and three in Cell (with an impact factor of 36.216) and were quoted over 600 times.


As soon as Bai graduated from Tsinghua University, she started her postdoc study at Westlake University.


Bai knew what she got herself into. Her advisor, Professor Shi, constantly told her about this research-oriented institution and some of her friends and alumni already took the leap of faith. Bai knew that she chose the right place for scientific research.


The first thing she did upon arriving on campus was to visit all the facilities, “they are well equipped for research.” Now that the hardware met the standard, Bai started to get her hands on “the subjects that I’ve always wanted to do”.


This is also what Professor Shi taught her over the years: to take on the world-class challenges.


Analyzing how the spliceosome  splices RNA considering more parameters has always been Bai’s goal. In her opening report for the postdoc project, she wrote, “in my previous research, I focused on yeast as the subject to study the splicing of RNA and managed to analyze the structures of all eight classical statuses of the spliceosome. This allows us to understand the working mechanism of the spliceosome splicing RNA at the molecular level. However, that only tells us how it works when there is one single intron, while in reality, eukaryotes carry way more than one in their genes. That makes it a lot more complex to control the experiment and I find that to be very interesting."


When asked what advice she would give to other women scientist, Bai said, “follow your heart and don’t care about what others think of you. You are the star of your show.” She also agreed with the slogan of FWIS this year, “the world needs science, and science needs women."