The following are some questions people have asked after reading my CV. I hope my aswers are helpful!
1. How come I started my undergraduate studies at UCL, London, UK in 2019 but received my high school diploma from Kent School, CT, USA in 2020?
Answer: I received an offer from UCL Biochemical Engineering in 2019 (during term 3 of my high school junior year).
Further Clarification: My reasons for skipping 12th grade and attending UCL are listed below.
- Academic interests: I have been determined to study an undergraduate course involving math, biochemistry, programming, and engineering since the first year of my high school. After learning about the differences between a US undergraduate program and a UK one, I found the UK system to better suit my academic plan as it allows me to focus on major-related modules since year 1. Knowing that UCL would offer me the research opportunities I was looking for, I applied in 2019 March.
- Networking and college research: To increase my chance of admission, I travelled to Boston in 2019 spring to meet with a UCL ambassador who was moved by my determination and encouraged me to skip 12th grade. After receiving my offer in April, I went to London in May for a campus visit and was amazed by the pilot plant facilities, learning resources, and welcoming faculty. Moreover, one of my high school STEM teachers used to study at UCL, so he has been supportive of my decision of attending UCL in 2019 fall.
- Finance: my family was able to save one year of private high school tuition.
Considering the above, there was no reason for me to give up the precious opportunity UCL offered. After coming to UCL, Kent School was satisfied with my academic performance in year 1 at college and offered me a high school diploma in 2020.
2. What does my UCL degree offer? What is Biochemical Engineering?
Answer: This degree aims at equipping students with the techniques and knowledge to apply biology, chemistry, and engineering to produce biopharmaceuticals, biofuels, biopolymers, and industrial enzymes. The UCL Biochemical Engineering bachelor’s degree (BEng) is accredited internationally by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).
Further Clarification: Differs from a Biochemistry course, we focus on translating the discoveries in life sciences into useful products and processes to tackle global challenges. For example, the preclinical research of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine was carried out at Oxford University while the bioprocess was developed by UCL Biochemical Engineering. Compared to Chemical Engineering, we do learn the same fundamentals such as math, thermodynamics, mass transfer, fluid flow, etc; however, we are specifically interested in how these concepts are applied to biological systems. During an interdisciplinary project with my colleagues from UCL Chemical Engineering, I learned that they are more concerned with chemical synthesis whereas we are more interested in the design and application of biocatalysts, bioreactors, and bioprocesses. For more interests, my department’s definition can be found here.
3. How flexible is my degree course in terms of module selection? What is my minor?
Answer: My graduation requires the completion of 21 modules (19 major-related + 3 minor-related, adding up to a total of 360 credits). The major-related modules are required by my home department while the minor-related modules are associated with my selected minor subject, Intelligent Systems.
Further Clarification: the BEng undergraduate program consists of a major that lasts for three years and a minor that is taught in year 2 and 3. Typically, students choose their minors from another department to expand their interdisciplinary knowledge. Each minor contains three compulsory modules, each taught for one term.
Here is a description of my chosen minor: “The Intelligent systems minor provides a thorough introduction to intelligent systems, starting with the core building blocks and moving through to the more advanced areas of machine learning and neural networks. It will provide students with experience to implement and test systems and algorithms which are available today. We will explore a range of applications, including mobile robotics, fraud detection and medical diagnosis.”
The following three modules are required by this minor:
- Module 1 (Year 2, Term 2) – Intelligent Systems (COMP0014)
- Module 2 (Year 3, Term 1) – Machine Learning and Neural Computing (COMP0036)
- Module 3 (Year 3, Term 1) – Robotic Systems (COMP0037)
4. What is iGEM?
Answer: iGEM stands for International Genetically Engineered Machine. It is an annual, worldwide synthetic biology competition hosted by MIT. Last year, 350 teams participated in the contest, contributing to tacking real life problems using engineering principles and scientific knowledge. The UCL 2020 team has 8 members, including myself. We were selected from STEM departments across UCL to form the 2020 team under the supervision of faculty and graduate students. As the only year 1 student, this collaborative research experience offered me lots of opportunities to learn from my seniors. During the course of 9 months, we worked on “Modeling,” “Synthetic biology,” “Engineering,” “Human Practices,” “Education.” As mentioned in my CV, my contributions are mainly centered around Modeling, Engineering, and Education. I received trainings from the Synthetic biology group supervisors. Our team was awarded Gold Medal in the final competition.
5. What topics are covered in my math and CS modules at UCL? What foundations do I have?
My major requires me to take Mathematical Modeling & Analysis in year 1 and 2. In this component, I learned not only the theories, but also how they can be applied to modeling biological problems. Topics explored are listed below:
- differential equations (ODEs, PDEs, Fourier series, Laplace transforms)
- linear algebra (Gauss elimination, LU decomposition, Jacobi method, Gauss-Seidel method, Cholesky method, Cayley Hamilton Theorem, Eigenvectors and Eigenvalues, row echelon andreduced row echelon form)
- Stats (probability, sampling distributions, confidence intervals, and hypothesis tests)
I started programming since high school junior year and continued studying computer science at UCL. The following are my coding experiences by language:
- Java: I took AP Computer Science A and explored boolean expressions, iteration, array and array list, recursion, and Object-oriented programming.
- MATLAB: I coded in MATLAB for 2 years in Mathematical Modeling and Analysis I and II at UCL. I did an 8-month iGEM research project using the COBRA MATLAB package to perform flux-balance analysis. Please see the 2020 UCL iGEM Model page for more information.
- Python: My Intelligent Systems minor at UCL covered the fundamentals of Python programming as well as some machine learning algorithms. I got familiar with packages such as Numpy, Matplotlib, Scikit-learn, and Pandas.