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Prof. Jiang Liwen

(Photo by ISO staff)

Director of Cell and Molecular Biology Programme, School of Life Sciences

Two-time Winner of Croucher Senior Research Fellowship

You're clearly a brilliant researcher. You also won an exemplary teaching award. How would you describe your teaching style?

Teaching is my first priority. A teacher must take his work very seriously and endeavour to give his very best. I always tell the students I'm supervising, don't come looking for me when I need to teach. In my 15 years at CUHK, I have taught over 10 courses of varying class sizes. In a large class, say, one with over 250 students, I favour tutorials over class discussions. In small classes of 20 students, I will pose questions and get the students talking.

Have you encountered a student who really impressed you and whom you think will go on to do great things?

I can name 10 off-hand. Regina Choy, now a scientist in the US, is one of them. She received a Croucher Scholarship to conduct PhD research under Nobel Laureate Prof. Randy Schekman at UC Berkeley. She then did her postdoctoral training at UC San Francisco as a Croucher postdoctoral fellow. Another former student, Miao Yansong was awarded a Human Frontier Science Programme Post-doctoral Long-term Fellowship, after finishing his MPhil and PhD at CUHK (who received the CUHK Young Scholars Dissertation Award 2009 and Postgraduate Research Output Award 2009–2010). He went to UC Berkeley for his post-doc and is now a Nanyang assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Can you tell us about your hobbies?

In my teens, I had a group of friends who were football fanatics. We still play when I visit my hometown. In Hong Kong, I play football with the CUHK team every Tuesday evening. I also play badminton. My new hobby is watching films with my two boys every weekend. We just go the cinema and grab matinée tickets for whatever film is on. I also like photography and travel. In my first summer at university, my buddies and I decided that we would go white-water rafting from Guilin to Wuzhou. But after a day and a half, we found ourselves struggling and one of us was running a fever, so we gave up at Yangshuo and took the bus home.

You studied at the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou. Are you originally from Guangxi? Were you interested in plants from an early age?

I'm from Wuzhou, a small, old and picturesque Cantonese-speaking city in Guangxi. My college exam results were such that I was eligible for some good universities. But I was not interested in any particular subject. The introduction of South China Agricultural University had a picture of a forest that caught my eye, so I applied. I knew very little about plants although I had been exposed to them at a young age. My mother was sent to the countryside to serve as a 'barefoot doctor' for some years and she brought me with her so I was always visiting villages.

During my four years as a university student in Guangzhou, my real specialty was play. After morning classes, my friends and I would go kick some ball; some students studied at night, we hardly ever did; we did study before exams but would play again when they were over. We were happy and carefree. I only began thinking about my career when I applied to study overseas after graduation.

You went to Canada for your MSc and PhD, and the US for your post-doc. Could you tell us about your Canadian and American experiences?

I remember arriving in Vancouver on 1 January. It was snowing when I stepped out of the airport. Nobel Laureate biochemist Prof. Michael Smith had founded the Michael Smith Laboratories at University of British Columbia to study molecular genetics in humans, animals and plants, etc. It was considered very large and extremely advanced at the time—1989, and I was lucky enough to be able to join its Plant Biotechnology Laboratory as a Master's student. After two years, I went to Simon Fraser for my PhD to delve even more deeply into plant molecular biology. This was followed by four years as a post-doc studying protein trafficking in plant cells at Washington State University in the US.

How do you feel about winning the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship twice?

I'm very happy and grateful to have received the award twice. I joined CUHK as a teacher in 2000. It was only in 2007, after having resided in Hong Kong for seven years and obtained my permanent ID card, that I was eligible to apply for the Croucher Senior Research Fellowship. The first award came in 2009 and it gave momentum to my research in the next few years. The new award should be a great boost to our Research Grants Council-funded Areas of Excellence project on organelle biogenesis and function.

What quality makes a plant biologist stand out?

I'll name you five plant biologists I've collaborated and/or spent time with. Russell Jones and Bob Buchanan from UC Berkeley; John Rogers, my postdoctoral supervisor at Washington State; David Robinson, my long-term collaborator from Heidelberg; famous seed biologist, Derek Bewley. They all have one thing in common – they are all extremely amicable and passionately supportive of young scientists.

What drives you in research?

When I first returned to Hong Kong, I focused on basic research. In the last five years or so though, the excellent students working in my lab have been my motivation in research. I want to be doing things that would contribute to their career development. When they're motivated, I'm motivated. My other driving force is curiosity, of course.


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Prof. Jiang Liwen

Prof. Jiang Liwen shares his 'work-hard, play-hard' attitude with Newsletter readers.