7 December 2015

CUHK Life Sciences Student Named 2016 Rhodes Scholar



Miss Serena Yichen Dai, a student of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has won against a number of outstanding students from various institutions in the territory to become the Rhodes Scholar for Hong Kong 2016.  She is eligible for a scholarship of more than one million Hong Kong dollars to further her studies at the University of Oxford in the UK.  Since the scholarship was introduced to Hong Kong three decades ago, CUHK has produced 14 Rhodes Scholars, the most among all local tertiary institutions.

Serena, an affiliate of the United College, is now a year-4 student of the Molecular Biotechnology Programme of the School of Life Sciences at CUHK.  She plans to pursue the Doctor of Philosophy in Zoology at the University of Oxford starting in October 2016.  Her research will focus on the link between pancreas development and diabetes.  Although scientists have sequenced lots of genomes from many organisms, the interactions between these genes and the impact of the environment on genes remain unknown.  Serena hopes to explore various metabolic pathways related to diabetes from an evolutionary perspective, making contributions to human health.  After completing the doctoral programme, she hopes to become a biologist and devote herself to research in genes and genetic inheritance.

Being selected as Hong Kong Rhodes Scholar, Serena is grateful to her parents, as well as for all the support from her teachers and schoolmates in the University and United College.  The professors of the School of Life Sciences have not only taught her solid knowledge, but also constantly encouraged her to think innovatively.  In particular, Prof. Lam Hon-ming, a professor of molecular biotechnology, admitted her to work in his laboratory even though she was only a first-year student, giving her an opportunity to have personal involvement in scientific research, and have her name put on a published paper.  This year, she published a review paper for the first time as the first author on ‘Recent developments of omics research in soybean salt tolerance’.  These experiences have encouraged her to pursue her dream of becoming a researcher.

CUHK also provides students with many extracurricular activities and numerous opportunities to study abroad, enabling them to broaden their horizons.  Serena has visited Brock University in Canada and the University of Sydney in Australia for summer exchange and internship.  The community service programmes organized by United College have greatly enriched her life experience, and helped her develop independent thinking and teamwork skills.  For example, she has worked with Breakthrough Village on a service project targeting asylum seekers in Hong Kong.  Her energy and personal commitment to advancing genomic research and helping disadvantaged members of society impressed the selection committee of the Rhodes Scholarship, paving her way to Oxford.

The Rhodes Scholarship was established after the death of Sir Cecil Rhodes in 1902, and was originally allocated to students from the Commonwealth countries, the US and Germany.  Hong Kong was later included in the list of constituencies and the first Rhodes Scholarship in Hong Kong was awarded in 1986.  Each year, the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee, comprising professors from local universities and renowned persons in society, selects one student with excellent academic achievements, outstanding personality, good physical vigour, active participation in community service and strong leadership to be the scholarship recipient.  The selection process is a very strict one requiring applicants to go through several rounds of individual interview and group discussion, and to dine and interact with the committee members.  Candidates are also required to be admitted to Oxford University before receiving the scholarship.  Starting from 2007, the scholarship has been sponsored by the Lee Hysan Foundation.  The Foundation provides full sponsorship of traveling expenses, school fees, accommodation and living expenses. 

Serena Dai, Rhodes Scholar for Hong Kong 2016
Serena Dai, Rhodes Scholar for Hong Kong 2016

Serena Dai (2nd right) poses for a group photo with Prof. Jimmy Yu, Head of United College (2nd left), Prof. Barley Mak, Associate College Head and Dean of Students (1st right) and Prof. Kwan Hoi-shan, Associate College Head and Dean of General Education, United College, CUHK.
Serena Dai (2nd right) poses for a group photo with Prof. Jimmy Yu, Head of United College (2nd left), Prof. Barley Mak, Associate College Head and Dean of Students (1st right) and Prof. Kwan Hoi-shan, Associate College Head and Dean of General Education, United College, CUHK.

Serena (2nd left) joins a summer course in the University of Sydney, Australia under the Globe-Oriented Active Learning Programme of United College.
Serena (2nd left) joins a summer course in the University of Sydney, Australia under the Globe-Oriented Active Learning Programme of United College.

Serena (2nd left) participates in a service project for asylum seekers at Breakthrough Village.
Serena (2nd left) participates in a service project for asylum seekers at Breakthrough Village.