In early 1982, as a postgraduate preparing to go overseas, I spent a few months in Beijing Language Institute (BLI) to undertake further training in English. The facility there was much better than I had in my undergraduate college. I was even provided a personal tape recorder, which was imported from
In addition to Chinese students having English training, there were also foreigners in BLI attending Chinese classes. We would try to find students of English-speaking countries to practice English, many of whom preferred to speak Chinese with us, unfortunately.
As part of the training program, BLI organized touring trips to the Great Wall, and Ming Tombs for us, which were truly mind-opening. In addition, we also visited other important sceneries (eg,
After English training in BLI, we returned to our host universities, and started applying for overseas universities, which included writing and typing application letters and getting references from local professors. As we did not have typewriters ourselves, we would go the departmental offices to get assistance from professional typists. And sometimes I would buy icecream bars for them as a token of thanks. During my many visits there, I realized something was happening between myself and one of these typists. Every time I went to ask this girl to type my letters, she would make frequent typing mistakes. I would say that if my presence here interfered her work, I would rather disappear. Her answer was a definite “no interference at all” (more on this in future episode).
Since we had scholarships ourselves, there was no trouble for us to find a prospective university overseas. In fact, having applied for three universities in
In early 1983, eight of us boarded on a plane to Hongkong, where we were in transit for a few hours before catching the next flight to
As our flight went pass the equator, the temperature increased steadily. By the time we reached
The place we rented was a three-storey building belonging to an old couple, who probably migrated to
Once we got to know the place a little better in a few weeks, we decided to look for another place to rent. This time, two of us found a room in a family home, whose owner came originally from
Attending English classes in
In my English class, there were also three students from
While still in
The most memorable event during my stay in
With the completion of my English class, I flied to my destination city. This time, someone from an Australian government agency picked me up from the airport, and then my department head brought me to the student dormitory. A new chapter of my life began.
Initially, I was enrolled in a master’s program. During the first three months, my supervisor asked me to read research papers on a particular parasite, and prepare a review afterwards. Fortunately, writing essays had not bee a problem for me. I duly handed in my review, which my supervisor thought was not bad. Then, he suggested me to work with a research associate in her project. For this project, my supervisor acquired a certain parasite from outside expert. While the RA did not notice anything unusual, I found the parasite belonging to a different species based on the morphological features described in the textbooks. My supervisor had a careful look himself and concurred with me. Not long after, my supervisor talked with me about an interesting project for my PhD.
The project indeed turned out to be “too interesting” for me. The main purpose of my PhD project was to develop some new reagents for diagnosing a parasite. As my supervisor had no practical experience on the techniques for producing these reagents, I had to learn the necessary skills to set up and run the facility. Not surprisingly, my first couple of years was not very productive, as I had to resolve many unforeseen problems along the way. By the third year, I managed to generate quite a few new reagents, but none of these was considered ideal by my supervisor.
Somehow, he was a little disheartened by my progress and asked me if I was willing to write up the results for a master’s degree instead. I said to my supervisor that I came here to do a PhD, and I still had one year left. I would use the remaining twelve months to have a last try. If I could not get what we were seeking, I would not regret going home without a Master's degree. My supervisor relented, and the rest was history. Trying by hook or crook, I somehow obtained the much anticipated results and got my PhD. My supervisor was no doubt impressed by my self confidence and determination.
Speaking of PhD thesis examination, In Australia, you would require two external examiners who are recognized experts in the field to pass the thesis. There is no need to give seminar prior to graduation as long as the thesis is passed by the examiners. Sometimes, if two examiners differ on their assessment of the thesis, a third examiner will be called upon. If two of these three examiners think it is ok, the thesis is passed. As Australian PhD graduates spent nearly all four years on bench work except for doing some tutoring work related to the major, they are generally pretty good at getting work done and trouble-shooting .
The students themselves can also play a role in selecting his external thesis examiners. I remember when I was doing my PhD study, I got to know two professors from
Talking about this issue, I could tell you an interesting story. There was a guy doing a PhD in one university in