Featured Fellow: Tina Cheng
Applying For And Winning A Fellowship:
Tina Cheng on the National Science Foundation (NSF)
East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI)
MY AREAS OF ACADEMIC INTEREST: I am a master’s student at San Francisco State University in the Department of Biology where I have been working with Dr. Vance Vredenburg studying the role of an emerging infectious disease in the recent worldwide decline of amphibians.
FELLOWSHIP I WON AND WHEN: In the summer of 2010, just after the second year of my master’s program, I participated in the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. This fellowship strives to connect student researchers from the U.S. with academic researchers in Asia (participating countries are Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand).
BENEFITS OF THE FELLOWSHIP: The NSF EAPSI program provided the perfect opportunity for me to conduct a short independent research project in Taiwan. However, I found that the benefits of participating in the EAPSI program were much more than just that. First of all, it gave me the opportunity to travel and experience a new culture. Secondly, the EAPSI program put me in contact with Taiwanese researchers within my field of interest; the collaborations I made over the summer can now serve as a foundation for future or continuing work as a PhD student. Lastly, I was able to conduct an independent research project in Taiwan in just two months. I am currently preparing this work for publication, which in addition to helping my academic career, will also serve to inform the research community of the state of emerging infectious disease in Taiwanese amphibians, and help guide possible conservation efforts.
MISADVENTURE(S) DURING THE FELLOWSHIP: I did not have any negative experiences during my trip, but like all cases of international travel, it takes some adjustment to be in a different country. While most people speak English at the University and within Taipei, you might be hard-pressed to find an English speaker if you travel away from the big cities. Also, if you don’t like Chinese food, you might have a hard time being in Taiwan for two months! There are also, of course, cultural differences, but most of these are pleasant surprises, such as Buddhist parades and cultural festivals.
I was also surprised by the difference in the research atmosphere in Taiwan as opposed to what I had experienced in the US. In Taiwan, graduate students are not as independent as American graduate students are accustomed to being. The professor of the lab will often dictate graduate student projects and students are expected to comply with their advisor’s wishes, and not as encouraged to develop ideas on their own. Taiwanese students also carry an extremely rigorous work ethic, which might be regarded as extreme by Western standards. Having said that, I felt extremely welcome by my host researcher and well supported in my research interests. Although I witnessed and experienced a little bit of the Taiwanese expectations for graduate students, I did feel that I had the freedom to make my own decisions and carry out my research according to my own volition.
BEST MOMENT DURING THE FELLOWSHIP: Despite any “surprises” I had during the summer, my experience in Taiwan with the EAPSI program was overwhelmingly positive. I had strategically planned my research project so that I could conduct my fieldwork while traveling at the same time, and most of my favorite summer memories came from this. High on the list of favorite summer memories was finding a very rare montane salamander after hours of exhaustive searching. Another priceless moment was stumbling upon a community theater group putting on a Chinese opera in a small local park.
I was continually impressed by the high degree of hospitality I received from Taiwanese researchers. They were not only helpful in aiding my research efforts, but were also gracious hosts, treating me to meals and showering me with souvenirs and gifts. Without the help of the Taiwanese researchers, I would not have been able to complete my project. I was fully dependent on them for planning and carrying-out my fieldwork. For this, they were incredibly helpful and generous. While I traveled around Taiwan to complete my fieldwork, I would also visit various research institutions and give talks regarding my research.
I was also incredibly impressed by the support from the Taiwanese National Science Council (the equivalent of the NSF in the U.S.), which helped to host the EAPSI program in Taiwan. The NSC staff members prepared an impressive orientation, and then continued to host weekend adventures for EAPSI participants. Having this community during the EAPSI program definitely contributed to the positive experience.
ADVICE TO APPLICANTS: To apply for the EAPSI fellowship you must fill out an application, prepare a short project summary, a lengthier project description (five pages, single-spaced), a biographical sketch (two pages, single-spaced), two letters of recommendation. You must also include the following supplementary documents: undergraduate and graduate transcripts, proof that you are currently enrolled in a graduate program, a letter of support from your host.
The most difficult part of this application procedure for me was preparing my project description. For obvious reasons, it was very difficult to prepare a project for a place that I had never been to. However, this is where your collaborating host researcher can help in planning and carrying out your proposal.
WHY I’D DO IT AGAIN: In total, the EAPSI application took me about one month to prepare, but it was well worth the effort.
WHAT I’M DOING NOW: I am currently finishing my Master’s thesis and applying to PhD programs. I hope to apply for the EAPSI fellowship again (they often fund students more than once), and encourage all those who have interest in working in Asia to also apply for this program!