Mu Yajuan, a Ph.D. student in Pharmacy admitted in the year 2020

Mu Yajuan: Perseverance Driven by a Passion for Scientific Research

Jun 19, 2023 Share:


“No diffraction points for this protein crystal. The next one, still no sign of diffraction points.”

At 4 a.m., I’m at the Beamline BL19U of the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility. This marks the 81stprotein crystal that I have worked on tonight, among the hundreds I’ve obtained after months of efforts to refine our experimental methods. Unfortunately, the current results are still not promising.

The path of scientific research is no smooth sailing. Success often emerges after numerous failures, sometimes dozens or even hundreds. Yet, this is precisely what makes scientific research so captivating. After persistent efforts and exploration, perhaps the 82ndprotein crystal will deliver the much sought-after data, filling the screen with diffraction points.

A Choice Based on Interest

Perhaps due to my frequent participation in science innovation competitions during my undergraduate years, I started to do research in the laboratory at an early stage. This afforded me abundant time to explore my interests, eventually leading me to discover my passion for experimental work. Consequently, I embarked on my journey as a master’s student. My master’s studies were both demanding and fulfilling. After two years of hard work, we unraveled a novel mechanism of protein ubiquitination, different from the commonly-known classical ubiquitination process. When I overcame the last challenge in the experiment, I experienced immense joy and pride, much like an architect witnessing their blueprint materialize into a tangible building or a farmer watching the seeds they sowed bear fruit. It was as if the saying “Heaven rewards diligence” held true, as our research findings on ubiquitination, with me as the lead author, were published inNature. This achievement helped me win a number of honors, including the national scholarship and recognition as an outstanding graduate.

Driven by a passion for scientific research and a clear awareness of my limitations, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. program in pharmacy at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine (SJTUSM) to continue my education and enhance my capabilities. At SJTUSM, I embarked on a research journey, trying to uncover new targets related to the epigenetic modification and regulation of nucleic acids in tumors. For me, the unique appeal of scientific research lies in the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from solving scientific mysteries. I have discovered purpose and meaning in life by dedicating my efforts to unraveling scientific mysteries and contributing to our understanding and treatment of diseases.

Unwavering Dedication Bears Fruit

Motivated by the school motto “Explore the depths of medical knowledge with diligence and perseverance”, I continuously enriched my theoretical knowledge and maintained a tireless spirit of exploration in my research work during my doctoral studies. The path of scientific research is not an easy one, requiring a down-to-earth attitude and persistence in the face of failures and loneliness. To expedite progress on my research projects, I witnessed countless early mornings of the SJTUSM, often working through the night until the break of dawn. It was tiring, but every time I obtained the valuable data I sought, all my tiredness would vanish and all the efforts would feel worthwhile. Reflecting on those late nights in the research lab, the stark contrast between the bustling laboratories and the quiet, empty campus is still vivid in my memory. During that time, it was rare to find my roommates awake, and there were days when we hardly exchanged a word in person. We even jokingly greeted each other with “long time no see” when we finally met again.

My doctoral research project centered on the dynamic regulation by DNA 6mA modification in eukaryotes. This emerging field has been rife with controversies and posed substantial challenges. However, instead of shying away from these difficulties, I found myself invigorated by them. I went through a large body of literature, striving to overcome the technological hurdles. My persistent efforts eventually led to the identification of the first dsDNA 6mA demethylase in eukaryotes as well as its mechanism. This discovery has significance in helping us develop a profound understanding of the biological functions of the dynamic regulation by DNA 6mA modification. Our research findings were published inNature Chemical Biology, a flagship journal in the field of chemical biology. This publication attracted extensive attention from our peers in the field.

Interest and Responsibility as Dual Sources of Motivation

Many friends ask me, “How come you have so much energy and stay so passionate about experiments every day?” I believe apart from the internal motivation driven by personal interest, there’s also a sense of social responsibility that sustains my passion for scientific research.

My current research is centered on the regulatory mechanism of epigenetic enzymes, with the goal of unraveling the molecular mechanisms for disease pathogenesis, creating targeted molecular probes, and developing specific anti-tumor drugs. The research is in line with China’s strategic focus on precision medicine under the “Healthy China” initiative, boasting substantial clinical significance and providing great social and economic value. This is how we, as scientific researchers, fulfill our social responsibilities and achieve personal fulfillment.

“Serve the country, Serve the people” has been the mission of SJTUSM. As a student and a CPC member, I have strived to lead by example. I have shared my experience of scientific research with younger students both in person and through online livestreaming sessions. I have also participated in SJTU’s “Yin Hang” (Navigation) training camps, where I shared my experience and addressed questions from newly-enrolled postgraduates from different majors and class years. I hope to use my experiences to help my fellow students avoid unnecessary “detours” in their studies and foster a deeper interest in scientific research.

Thanks to my passion for scientific research, I persevered. Over my three years at SJTUSM, I have achieved many milestones. I have won the national scholarship twice and earned the title of “Academic Star”, the highest honor for SJTU postgraduates. I have also received the outstanding report award at the National Conference of the Chinese Pharmacological Society, and claimed the top prize at SJTUSM’s Academic Forum “Boji Yiyuan” (Explore the depths of medical knowledge). Furthermore, I am honored to have been recommended as the candidate in Shanghai for the “Future Women Scientist Program”. All of these achievements are a result of the education provided by the school and the guidance of my mentor. Looking ahead, I am committed to deepening my expertise and continuing my scientific research, contributing my modest efforts to the “Healthy China” initiative with my research achievements.

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