Making his way through SIAT, CAS-LUKMAN OLALEKAN AFOLABI
Studying abroad will provide you with a unique life experience. You will get to know how science is done in a different country and you are exposed to a different environment and culture. China has a rich history and is one of the most dynamic countries on our planet. You will experience the world from the Chinese perspective.Shenzhen is a unique city in China since it has a special status as an international hub. It is the home of many big companies.
Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (SIAT in short) was established in 2006, focusing on the multi-disciplinary integration development of Information Technology and Biotechnology.
Get to know SIAT, Shenzhen, China
Lukman Olalekan AFOLABI is from Nigeria. As an early-career researcher, he has expertise in biochemistry, molecular biology, and immunology. His research focuses on how the immune system reacts during tumorigenesis (emphasis on innate immunity). He seeks to devote his efforts to translational research and clinical trial design to create an opportunity for cancer patients to not only survive but thrive.
In 2017, he was searching for PhD admission in a number of countries (United States, Europe and in Asia). Before coming to SIAT, he did some online research about the Institute and the many wonderful things that are happening here, and he quickly decided that he wanted to be a part of the SIAT community moving forward.
Dr. Samuel Oluwarotimi, a fellow Nigerian introduced to Lukman by a friend who joined SIAT in 2015 as a doctoral candidate and is now an Associate Professor at the Institute, recommended him to his current Professor, Prof. WAN Xiaochun.
During his early days at SIAT, he faced many challenges, as most foreign students do when they arrive for the first time in a new country, culture, and way of life.
"When I first arrived here, the most obvious challenge was the language barrier, as I didn't know a single Chinese word prior to my arrival at China's borders," said Lukman, "the next challenge was the cultural shock; adjusting to a new culture can be challenging at first. But I was able to overcome many of these obstacles because I had the mindset that I would make my PhD admission work no matter what."
Living in Shenzhen has been a rewarding experience because he was able to adapt to new experiences, such as eating with chopsticks and taking unusual afternoon naps. Now that he has discovered new aspects of himself, such as beliefs, passion for research, and a strong character, he is more open to new and exciting challenges. "The opportunity to learn a new language and develop a positive mental attitude about life is the most rewarding aspect of all," said Lukman, "I am now exposed to many other aspects of life as a result of interacting with native residents of Shenzhen including other foreigners residing in Shenzhen."
These experiences have enriched my global understanding of how diverse the world is and I now have a great perception of China. Living in Shenzhen not only taught me about the country, but also about myself.
"It was not easy first, but things become better and better."
Nowadays, there were a few things he thought could have been handled better to help international students settle into the institute and gain a better understanding of their new community. He was organizing an online pre-resumption orientation for incoming international students about what to expect in China; also, a welcome orientation for new students in the same week of resumption, as well as an exchange of words of advice from senior international students, would go a long way toward settling in the new students.
"Another significant challenge I encountered was using some of the laboratory equipment and the prerequisite skills for my field." said Lukman. There were a number of Chinese students who could teach him these skills or how to use the equipment, but they would frequently say: "Sorry, I can’t teach you because my English is poor."
He had to remind them that it is not their English proficiency that is being evaluated, but rather the knowledge they wish to impart. He also had to write down the names of those pieces of equipment and their specifications so that he could look them up on their official website.
To supplement what he learned from his Chinese lab colleagues, he had to read several technical papers, attend webinars, and receive online training. Slowly but steadily, he became acquainted with all of the skills and how to properly operate the equipment, and his experiments progressed.
It is worth mentioning that SIAT's management has consistently attempted to improve how things are done, particularly in terms of improving students' welfare and research experience at the institute. These conscientious efforts have resulted in a significant improvement in the overall international student experience over the years.
"The entire SIAT environment is always inspiring and challenges you to strive for excellence on a daily basis," said Lukman, "The presence of state-of-the-art research facilities, renowned professionals, and continuous academic and welfare support from the tutors and institute management are just a few of the many reasons SIAT has become a very popular study destination for many students (local and international)."
In terms of extracurricular activities, the SIAT international office certainly knows how to bring out students' social sides, ensuring a balanced lifestyle with well-planned activities for students ranging from sports, mental and psychological awareness, and social activities to celebrate festivals, and even innovative programs to engage students with the local communities.
The most recent event occurred on January 6th, 2022, and it is still fresh in his mind. "We went to the Lake Botanical Garden and I had a great time meeting with other international students and expats in the SIAT community," said Lukman, "hiking at Lake Botanical Garden was a fantastic experience that allowed us to bond with members of the community while also sharing some unique aspects of our respective countries. We also had the chance to play games, share some snacks and gifts, and take beautiful group photos. It was an enjoyable outing, and I will remember it for many years to come."
SIAT international experts and students went to Shenzhen Garden on Jan. 1, 2022. (Image by SIAT)
New challenges and opportunities in Shenzhen
Shenzhen is a wonderful city located on the south coast of Guangdong province in China. When he arrived, he was surprised and captivated by how developed the city is. According to Lukman, Shenzhen has a pleasant weather (similar to what is available in his home town of Lagos State – the commercial and entertainment hub in entire African continent).
Besides, Shenzhen has clean air, beaches, and plenty of sunshine, which provide its residents with a comfortable environment in which to study, work, and live.
The Shenzhen-Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao and the entire Greater Bay area is a strategic start-up location that facilitates the actualization of many innovative ideas as well as the acquisition of fast-moving commodity goods and services, and it has since gained recognition as an important export/import hub from China to the rest of the world. The entire city and its environment is inspiring and challenges you to strive for excellence; it is also a land of enormous opportunity with many start-up companies. There are several well-known technology companies with cutting-edge research facilities and professions. The city is a leading global technology hub, dubbed "China's Silicon Valley," and is home to the headquarters of numerous multinational corporations, including Huawei, CIMC, Tencent, and BYD etc.
His ambition is to enhance his research skills through collaborative studies and build an illustrious academic research career at one of the world's finest institutions.
He also has over nine years of academic and research experience in biochemistry and molecular biology, and has spearheaded several research projects both home and abroad.
"As a final note, I have some words of advice to my fellow international students: develop your language skills, learn about the Chinese culture, build support networks (research and social), get your supervisor on your side, and remember that your studies should be more than just a learning experience but also an enjoyable one, If things don't go as planned, don't give up just yet; try to fix it and remember that time always brings change." said Lukman.
Doing experiments in the lab. (Image by SIAT)
Lukman is giving his PhD dissertation defense. (Image by SIAT)