11 October 2023 Career Talk (English)


Introduction to Postgradate Programmes

 Mr. Suen Long Hin, Alfred, who graduated with a Bachelor's Degree of Science in Biochemistry first explained the differences between three primary types of postgraduate programmes at the beginning of the career talk. Alfred highlighted that Master of Science (M.Sc.), Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees could be categorized into two groups: taught postgraduate (M.Sc.) and research postgraduate (M.Phil. and Ph.D.) programmes.

Taught masters' programmes are meticulously organized and aimed at offering comprehensive and advanced knowledge in a specific field of study, nevertheless, they bear many resemblances to the study approach of a bachelor's degree. Throughout the semesters, students are expected to attend lectures, complete assignments, 

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and take examinations. Additionally, they may be required to undertake a research project in a laboratory or engage in literature reviews as part of their graduate thesis. “Research programmes, on the other hand, are much different from the courses you are taking now,” Alfred continued. “In research programmes, students primarily expand their knowledge and make discoveries in their chosen field through active participation in academic seminars and conferences, rather than relying solely onlectures and examinations. Typically, students attend a limited number of lectures per semester, usually around 2-3, while placing a greater emphasis on engaging with latest research findings and discussions through academic events. This approach allows them to stay updated with advancements in their research field and foster a deeper understanding of their subject matter.”

Alfred later reminded students to carefully check and review during their postgraduate application. “Different graduate schools in different universities may use distinct programme titles. For example, the master's degree programme for studying food and nutritional science at HKU is titled “M.Sc. in the field of Food Safety and Toxicology”, while CUHK offers a programme titled “M.Sc. in Nutrition, Food Science and Technology.” You should understand the similarities and differences between these programmes before proceeding with your application.”

Another Biochemistry alumnus, Mr. Yip Wai Wai, Nelson, who is currently pursuing his M.Phil. Degree in the Pathology Department at the University of Hong Kong, shared his experience in applying for a research postgraduate programme. He provided a detailed timeline for students’ reference.

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Application TImeline

1. Identify your interest
The most fundamental aspect you should do is to study hard throughout your university life. It is important to seize every opportunity to learn different laboratory techniques and methods in practical sessions. Simultaneously, you can explore more about various areas of research, such as neurosciences, molecular biology, epigenetics, and more. There are numerous ways to broaden your eyesight, including participating in academic seminars and competitions like iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition), reading extensive research papers, and undertaking an experimental final-year project. These are definitely help acquire more knowledge and skills.


2. Browse programmes
After finding out your interest research area, you should check the admission requirements of the universities.
Two useful links for graduate schools of CUHK and HKU:
CUHK: https://www.gs.cuhk.edu.hk/admissions/programme/science
HKU: https://admissions.hku.hk/tpg/faculty/faculty-science

3. Check application period/deadline 
In research postgraduate programmes, there are two application periods: the main round and the clearing round. You should apply during the main round instead of the clearing round since the latter one is only for those programmes that still have vacancies. Therefore, it would be more conservative for your application in main round. For masters’ degrees, they are usually issued on a first-come-first-served basis, so an early application is preferred.  
*Application progress takes time, so you need to take action well ahead of the deadline. For example, start preparing your statements and contacting your potential supervisor in October. 

4. Contact potential supervisors
If you are interested in applying for a research postgraduate programme, it is important to note that you will not directly enroll through the university. Instead, you are required to look for your own supervisor. By searching the academic staff list on different department websites, you can understand what kind of research they are doing, as well as their areas of expertise. This will help you identify potential supervisors whose work aligns with your interests. As there are many candidates every year, it is suggested to meet your potential supervisors to discuss your plan as early as possible (e.g. telephone conversation, email, zoom meeting).

5. Prepare supporting documents  
To write an outstanding personal statement, it is crucial to let the reader understand your own story. Your background and specific interest area, reasons for choosing that programme, and how your past research experiences have helped you develop your interest should be included. Remember to explain with evidence to make it more vivid and persuasive. 
Meanwhile, politely request a recommendation letter from a teaching staff who knows you well, such as academic advisor or FYP supervisor, along with your CV. Similarly, kindly ask them in advance to allow sufficient time for them to work out the letter. 

6. Submit the final application  
Sign up to the graduate school after confirming your supervisor.  

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How to Choose Your Research Group?

“The most important thing is to select your desired research group. You can consider the following factors,” Nelson suggested. 

Here are some main factors: 

  • Lab style (small- VS mid- VS large-sized lab)
    Small-scaled: good communication with principal investigator (PI) – more discussion about your project
    Large-scaled: PI may be too busy to visit the laboratory frequently, but you can acquire more techniques
  • Communication with PI
    Meeting frequency matters: Weekly? Monthly? Bi-annually?
    This is super important to seek PI’s advice, otherwise you may get lost easily. For example, a laboratory with fewer meetings is more suitable for people with good problem-solving skills.
  • Atmosphere of the research group
    Would it be too intense or competitive for you? Sometimes you may need to work as a team - do you feel comfortable working with people there?
  • Publication records
    You can search the journals published by the PI using the impact factor, which is an indicator of whether the research article is good or not. Also, the date of publication is also significant to reflect whether the scholar is still active or not. (e.g. within 5 years)
  • Fundings 
    You can find it on the PI’s website.

Questions for Getting Well-Prepared in Interviews

  1. Why are you interested in the research field? What intrigued you?
  2. Do you have any experience in doing similar lab work?
  3. Why should you be chosen to join the laboratory?
  4. Why did you choose our lab?