National Sun Yat-sen University-Stepping out of the Lab: Broaden the Scope of Knowledge via Overseas Internships

National Sun Yat-sen University
Stepping out of the Lab: Broaden the Scope of Knowledge via Overseas Internships

Country:Malaysia and Thailand Partner:Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and Mahidol University Type of Cooperation: Overseas Research Program(Includes Exchange Students, Short-term Studies, and Internships) Since:2017

Case Feature

  • Doing Experiments Abroad: Develop Adaptability in a Different Laboratory
  • Interdisciplinary Learning: Make the Best of Resources at Partner University
  • From Theory to Practice: Shorten the Gap with Industry
Prof. Yu-Chung Chiang (first from right) and Dr. Siti Nordahliawate Mohamed Sidique (middle)

Since 2017, Prof. Yu-Chung Chiang, the chair of the Department of Biological Science at National Sun Yat-sen University, along with other professors from the Department, has been actively cooperating student internship programs with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT), Mahidol University (MU) and local companies in Thailand. Through the overseas internship program, Prof. Chiang expects students to acquire new knowledge and skills and broaden their horizons at the same time.


With his research interest in the flora studies in East Asia, Prof. Chiang has a long-term collaboration with Dr. Siti Nordahliawate Mohamed Sidique from the Faculty of Fisheries and Food Science at the Universiti Malaysia Terengganu(UMT) on the topic of disease prevention for tropical fruit trees. To involve students in the research, Prof. Chiang and Dr. Nordahliawate agreed to open an internship program at UMP.


Doing Experiments Abroad: Develop Adaptability in a Different Laboratory
Ya-Ling Chu, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biological Science, recalled that when she was in UMT for the internship, the biggest challenge was adjusting the way she did experiments, as the laboratories there were managed differently from Taiwan. At UMT, professors do not have their own laboratories; all labs are shared by faculty and students of the college or faculty. Designated administrators manage those labs, and students need to submit applications to use the labs. “The advantage of such system is to share the resources and reduce the waste of idle equipment,” said Ya-Ling, “but the disadvantage is that we can only do the experiments between 8 am to 5 pm when the administrator is at work.” In comparison, for most university laboratories in Taiwan, the time to use the laboratories is more flexible. “In Taiwan, we can continue the experiments until midnight, but at UMT, we need to try to improve our efficiency and control the time well; otherwise, we can’t complete the experiments on time,” Ya-Ling mentioned. If it were not for this overseas internship, Ya-Ling Chu would not have realized how the laboratory management difference influences the way she does the experiments. It is the difference that helps Ya-Ling Chu and other interns cultivate adaptability.


Besides, Ya-Ling Chu also noticed in Malaysia that students are proficient in English. She found out that Malaysian Chinese and Malays students “switch between Malay, Chinese or English as fluently as Taiwanese people switch between Mandarin and Taiwanese Minnan language.” Ya-Ling realized how little chance she has to speak English in Taiwan. Through this internship, she could seize the valuable opportunity to practice and improve her English and meet Malaysian friends and understand their culture. Before the internship, Ya-Ling only knew that most Malaysians are Muslim, but didn’t know much about the religion and the culture. Through this experience, she found that both the Muslim and Chinese students there were hospitable and friendly, and she could even play board games with them until midnight. To Ya-Ling, she not only improves her ability but builds friendships with Malaysian students. Both are great rewards to her from this experience.


For many years, Prof. Chiang has maintained long-term collaboration with overseas researchers on multiple international projects, which helps broaden and deepen research studies. Students can also be involved in the projects and contribute to the research. In addition to the disease prevention for tropical fruit trees, some UMP researchers specializing in mangrove ecology and sea turtle conservation plan to visit NSYSU for a study in fungi under the support of the New Southbound Talent Development Program. Prof. Chiang expects that through continuous academic cooperation, both sides can build solid research and provide students with opportunities for overseas experiences.


Interdisciplinary Learning: Make the Best of Resources at Partner University
Prof. Chiang also cooperates with professors and researchers at Mahidol University (MU) in molecular cell biology. Mahidol University is the most renowned university in Thailand for medical education. NSYSU’s College of Science and MU’s Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital signed a double master’s and Ph.D. degree program in science, and there are frequent academic exchanges between both sides. Through the opportunity of the New Southbound Talent Development Program, NSYSU has been sending students for an internship program at MU in biomedical science. Chih-Ling Chung, a Ph. D. student in the Department of Biological Science joined the internship program at MU and observed how the researchers there did experiment with fresh tumor biopsy removed from patients in the hospital. Chih-Ling mentioned, “As we don’t have a hospital in NSYSU, it is difficult for us to get tumor biopsy for experiments.” Previously in the scholarly journals, Chih-Ling learned how tumor biopsy is handled in labs but didn’t have a chance to observe it in person. Through the internship, she got the chance, and this experience has helped her learn broader in the relevant field of her studies.


In addition to the hospital experience, Chih-Ling found that MU students speak more fluent English than most Taiwanese students do due to their English training – courses, assignments, reports and even lab notes are all conducted in English. As Chih-Ling doesn’t have any international classmates in her lab at NSYSU, she didn’t have much chance to speak English, but through this internship, Chih-Ling learns she has to create opportunities for herself to use English more often in her daily life.


From Theory to Practice: Shorten the Gap with Industry
Yu-Che Chiu and Li-Hsuan Chen from the Department of Marine Biotechnology and Resources happened to know the opportunity for the overseas internship from Prof. Chiang. While both students were about to start their undergraduate research on aquaculture, through the introduction of Prof. Yu-Chung Chiang, the two students applied for the internship at AMAZON INTERNATIONAL in Thailand – a successful aquaculture company with tens of fish farms. Yu-Che Chiu recalled that “as usually there is a gap between the academia and the industry, through this internship, we’d like to learn if the research we are about to start can finally help the industry.”


During the internship, different from the theoretical basis of aquaculture they had learned in classrooms, Yu-Che Chiu and Li-Hsuan Chen experienced the practical side of aquaculture by harvesting the fish in person and observing how the mud in the bottom of the fish farm was handled after the harvest. Both students found some fish might be scratched by the fishing net when it was towed during the harvest. While the scratched wounds can be easily infected with bacteria, if those wounded fish get infected and escape from the net, the other healthy fish will likely get infected, which forms a vicious cycle and influences the next harvest. As both students are interested in the research related to the problems aquaculture farmers encounter, they are confident about their research direction through this internship. They expect their research results can help the industry solve the problems. “We have been discussing the possibility of further cooperation. If we find probiotics that can solve the infection problem, we hope to test them in the fish farms. I believe this will bring advantages to both sides,” added Li-Hsuan Chen.


Through international academic exchanges and internships, students no longer limit their learning within the NSYSU campus. Instead, when they do internships abroad, their knowledge is expanded as they can access the resources at partner universities to deepen and extend their learning. Prof. Yu-Chung Chiang believes overseas internships bring many benefits to students and looks forward to continuous cooperation with partner universities to provide more opportunities to students.

PhD student Chih-Ling Chung doing her internship in the Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital, Mahidol University
Yu-Che Chiu and Li-Hsuan Chen, doing their internships in an aquaculture company in Thailand


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