-By Rose Gregorio
Zhihao Xia sits on the sofa in front of the Student Center, an air of ease about him. You would think that he’d been at KAUST for years, the way he navigates through the campus, familiar with each building’s names. In reality, he’s only been around for three months and will only stay another month. He is presently an undergrad still deciding on where to do his master’s degree. He explains how he ended up at KAUST under the Visiting Student Research Internship Program (VSRP):
“Professor Xin Gao visited our university, the University of Science and Technology of China, last year. He talked about KAUST and some of the amazing programs here. Several students from my university applied and since I had never been to this part of the world before, I thought it might be interesting to live and study here.”
Before coming to KAUST, Zhihao was familiar with data mining and machine learning but had very limited experience in bioinformatics. Working with Professor Xin Gao has given him the opportunity to use his existing knowledge and apply them to biological problems.
He explains that his job here is very specific—applying machine learning techniques to analyze a valuable set of data that a visiting professor from the Southern University of Science and Technology of China had provided during his stay at KAUST. “To be more specific,” he says, “we try to use machine learning, including SVM and deep learning methods to find out the regulated elements of Alternative Polyadenylation.” He is optimistic about his potential results, saying, “That particular set of data is very important for a data mining researcher such as myself. You can only get good results if you work with good data.”
Kok Siong Yeo, meanwhile, is a Ph.D. student from the University of Malaya in Malaysia. He shares that he came to KAUST as a Visiting Student (VS) because his university supervisor had met Professor Stefan Arold at a conference. “They wanted to collaborate on a project together, so they sent me here,” he smiles.
When asked about the nature of his work at KAUST, he explains that he is doing a structural study of Jumonji Domain-containing protein 8. “We found a function of this protein but right now we want to know more about it in terms of structure.”
Just like Zhihao, Kok Siong has also come to KAUST to expand his knowledge in his respective field. “My background is in genetics and molecular biology but not in structural biology. Professor Arold is one of the leading experts in structural biology so I knew I could learn a lot from him,” he reveals. “In Malaysia, we have some experts in structural biology but they are nowhere near as good as those in KAUST.”
He has learned a lot in the three months he’s been here but admits that he still has a long way to go. “My experiments could be better, but that’s the reality of science. You could work for years and just get minimal results.”
Despite the setbacks, Kok Siong has been impressed by the facilities and general lifestyle of KAUST residents. “I need to discuss it with my wife, but I would love to do a postdoc here, if possible.”
CBRC professors hosted nine VS and VSRP students last year. Their length of stay ranged from three months to six months. If you are interested in working with CBRC faculty for short-term projects, visit the VSRP website or e-mail your inquiries directly to respective faculty.