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SCIS Alumni: Contributing to the Field of Regenerative Medicine

February, 2018
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sw2235Sam Wu, a proud member of the Class of 2013 at Shanghai Community International School, Hongqiao Campus is now in the midst of doing his PhD at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Vienna, researching stem cell regeneration in the hopes of uncovering treatments for multiple cancer types.

Originally from Taiwan, and growing up in Taoyuan, Sam Wu moved to Frankfurt, Germany with his parents at the age of 15 (in 2009). Two years later the family moved to Shanghai where he completed his final two years of High School. After graduation from High School, he attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, from 2013-2017. Most recently, this talented young man moved to Vienna for his PhD research study in mid-September 2017.
With the help of SCIS, we had the pleasure to catch up with him to learn more about his current endeavors and what led him down this remarkable path.
LittleStar: You just recently started your PhD research at IMBA, how is it going?
Sam Wu: It’s going well so far, I would say. My research is mainly concerned with adult stem cells, which are cells that reside in specific tissues and carry the ability to self-renew and differentiate into specialized cell types. One important aspect I’m investigating is how cells form tumors and become cancerous. Stem cells and cancer are two of my favorite topics and they are very related topics in my opinion. By using genetic mouse models, I will illuminate the mechanisms of how specific cancer driver genes cause nasty tumors. Hopefully this will provide new perspectives towards treatment of multiple cancer types.
At the start, I expected lots of steep learning curves with new challenges. The fascinating part of science is that it stimulates you to think outside the box and requires you to overcome various challenges. IMBA offers a great environment for PhD’s, and is probably one of the very best in Europe. I’ve had many ‘Wow, did she/he just do that? That’s amazing!’ moments. This type of innovative atmosphere really makes it one of my favorite places to be in, and I’m very excited for what the future holds.   
LittleStar: What made you decide to go down this path?
Sam Wu: There were many events that helped me reach where I am today. I valued internship opportunities, and I dedicated lots of time into science during university. I started my first internship in a research lab when I was in the second year, and at the end of university I had around one year of research experience. To be honest, there was one event that motivated me the most. When I was in 11th Grade, my grandpa sadly passed away on a Saturday morning because of cancer and he really suffered, like many other cancer patients. One of my long-term goals is therefore to make a contribution to our understanding of cancer, and hopefully one day develop better treatments. Whenever I face challenges, remembering that many people are still suffering just pushes me to try harder.
sw2230LittleStar: How about the international school education experience at SCIS Hongqiao?
Sam Wu: Shanghai was my second living abroad experience. It was a dramatic change from a calm place to a fast-moving urban city. At first, I was very impressed by the enormous number of sports clubs and society that one could join. What also overwhelmed me were the large lectures (300-400 people) and the fact that semester length became extremely short. Nevertheless, the IB program at SCIS really helped me in the context of academic work. Since I went for a biology degree, self-learning and critical-thinking skills became super handy. It was super cool meeting many others who also did the IB program, and all seemed to know why they chose certain degrees. It made me think about my short- and long-term goals quite early on.
LittleStar: Was there anyone in particular at SCIS that helped you grow academically and personally?
Sam Wu: Definitely. Dr. Selime Cimen was particularly influential for me to develop an interest in biology. Her teaching style was very different. Besides explaining what was written in the textbook, she really taught me how to learn and also be self-taught. She was one of the first people I thought of when I got the official PhD offer, and I really appreciated her teaching. I also remember many others who constantly encouraged me, for example Mr. Patrick Macaulay (Economics), Ms. He (Mandarin), Ms. Darby Davis (Chemistry), Ms. Koenig (English & CAS), Mr. Strombeck (TOK), and Ms. Jensen (Chemistry), etc. Overall, the teachers and my fellow classmates created a friendly and healthy-competitive environment that motivated me to try my best. At different stages, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet people who gave useful advice, and I’m extremely thankful for them.
LittleStar: Tell us something memorable to you during your time at SCIS.
Sam Wu: I played varsity volleyball and basketball. Being part of the sports teams meant a lot to me. Not only did it get me stronger physically, it also had a positive effect on my mental resilience. In my opinion, many things in life are actually not as bad as shooting (and air-balling) a free throw in a game!
I also participated in Model United Nations and organized a High School recycling club together with Ms. Davis and two other friends. The China trip in 11th Grade to Guizhou province was also amazing. Having the chance to study and participate in so many things in an international environment was very special. The diversity at SCIS is really something to cherish.
sw_2234LittleStar: Do you have any advice for people seeking a similar career?
Sam Wu: At the start, it’s crucial to try things out by doing internships. Ask lots of questions and have fun! You should really feel you can connect with what you do. It is okay even if you have a bad experience (such as rejection, or poor supervision), just try elsewhere again next time. Later when it comes to deciding your career path, proactiveness and perseverance are very important characteristics to have. One should also keep in mind that most of the time things don’t go as planned. It often gets very exhausting to work your way out of the ‘cloud’, where you feel stuck and don’t know how to progress. At the end of the day, research is about re-trying experiments and confirming your results using different approaches. Like many other professions, attitude matters a lot. Never give up, and remember that the hard work you’ve put in will pay off at some point.
LittleStar: What is your advice for the current High School students about their university choice?
Sam Wu: People often say you need to go for what you feel passionate about, and that is totally true! I think this advice is particularly useful for those who haven’t decided what they want to do yet. I believe that most people (if not everyone) have something they like doing, whether it’s sports, arts, music, literature and so on. The reason that many people say they don’t know what they want is often because they haven’t thought deeply about it yet. Go online and search for what different careers involve, and talk to different people (professionals, teachers, parents or friends) so that you have an idea of what you want and don’t want to do. 
Also, have a rough plan in mind. Not just the next four years, but try to envision the next 10-15 years and your career. It’s very important to constantly think about your future, and review whether what you are doing right now and your plan for the next few years meets your long-term goals. When it comes to university choice, one should look at the structure of the individual program and see whether it is really what they would like to go for. It’s also not the end of the world if you find out later that you made the wrong choice. It happens! Just remember that a good attitude and a passionate mind bring you further in life than a transcript filled with A+’s!. 


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