Journey to the West- Interview with Dr. Pastor-Pareja of Tsinghua University

“You know, the kind of problems you can imagine about China from a Western perspective, that it’s going to be so bureaucratic, it’s a communist country, it’s China so it’s all about “guan xi” [connections], the students lack creative will to do original science, they’re just following international trends… all of these are not real. The real problems are different from these stereotypes and they all have to do with how quick the system had been put in place. They will be solved with time, we just need to attract more good people.” - Dr. Jose Carlos Pastor-Pareja

2014年5月,基金会对清华大学生命科学院的一位外籍青年千人、来自西班牙并于美国完成博士后训练的Jose Carlos Pastor-Pareja研究员进行了一次访谈。当许多中国留学生正在犹豫是否应该海归之时,一些欧美科学家却选择登上新大陆,在中国开展他们的科研事业。Pepe (Dr. Pastor的昵称) 正是这其中的佼佼者,他在访谈中率直且风趣地与我们分享了他心目中清华生科院的国际学术地位(不限于结构生物学)、院长施一公教授强大的领导魅力、目前中国科研环境的短板所在、申请杰青的失败经历、对中国科研未来的乐观与信心,以及他如何在完全不喑中文的情况下,在短短一年半的时间里建立实验室并完成第一篇文章,以及迎接了长女在中国的降生。访谈以英文原文登出,希望能对有海归意图的留学人员及外籍科学家提供鼓励及参考价值。

 

Interviewee: Dr. Jose Carlos Pastor-Pareja. Principal Investigator, Tsinghua University School of Life Sciences

Interviewer: Yeqin Ma. Associate Director of Communications, Qiu Shi Science and Technologies Foundation

Date: May 23rd 2014

Location: Tsinghua University School of Life Sciences

 

I met Dr. Pastor as a first year graduate student rotating in Dr. Tian Xu’s lab at the Yale School of Medicine, where he had just began his postdoctoral training. Never would I have imagined then that he would one day begin his independent career in China. In this reunion between old friends after almost 9 years, Dr. P shared with me his experiences and very candid opinions on Tsinghua’s bustling research scene and its new tenure track system; how his grant application was denied on grounds of ethnicity; the paradox of having generous funding but too few good postdocs; how he ranks Tsinghua against the best places in the world for biological research (not just structural biology); and, amidst the craziness of starting a new lab in a foreign land with no knowledge of its language, how he managed to submit a paper in just 18 months, survive visits (for a while) to a Chinese public hospital, and welcome the birth of his first child in this country.   

 

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Dr. Pastor at his desk

 

Journey to the West- arrival

 

P: First I would like to begin by saying that I am very grateful and happy to be working in Tsinghua, and I would not like to get into any kind of trouble for participating in this interview (laughs).

M: (laughs) I’m definitely not here to trick you into saying anything provocative. There is an increasing number of scientists, both foreign and Chinese, who are looking for opportunities in this country, and they will be very interested in your thoughts and experiences with China and its research environment.  Also I’d like to think that the Chinese academia is open to constructive feedback or even criticism.

P: I’m happy to share my experience, but I cannot say the same things that a Chinese national can say. It’s the same in Spain, where we criticize the government all the time. But when someone from the outside does the same thing, we will all close ranks and attack him.

M: We will make sure everything stays constructive. After you completed your postdoc at Tian (Xu)’s lab, what made you decide to come to Tsinghua? Did someone recruit you?

P: Tian really advised me to come to China, and he got me in touch with Yigong [Dr. Yigong Shi, Dean of the Tsinghua University School of Life Sciences]. I came here for a 2 day interview, everything was done US-style, only that there were four people interviewing at the same time, on the same day. Afterwards I got an offer letter with all the details, which were amazing, comparing to the other offers I had…

M: So you had looked everywhere? Even in the States?

P: I did, but with no success. The market was very tough in the US, especially if you are doing basic research. Actually whatever you do with flies [fruit fly: Drosophila melanogaster] they are going to consider it basic. Whereas over here my impression is that there is not so much worry about things being applied or translational, which is the right thing to do if you want to discover interesting things: trust the scientists; we know what is really interesting. (laughs).

M: Why didn’t Tian recruit you to Fudan?

P: I also did an interview there. I knew Beijing would be a little bit harder to live than Shanghai, in so many ways. But the science here is really amazing.

M: Amazing in terms of opportunities to collaborate, or…?

P: There are 5 Drosophila labs in Tsinghua. Two of them are now at the leading front of developing new technologies such as the Cas9 system, etc. I am also doing ok myself, I think (laughs). I feel fine but I think I have to work harder… look around and you can see so many great people here. Every time you see a top paper from a Chinese person, he or she will probably be applying here.

M: I want to talk about your initial concerns, which must have been plenty. How did they try to address your concerns during or after the interview?

P: From the beginning they told me, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine”. The faculty I met showed me their labs, told me how things are like here, and that I will have lots of very motivated students.

M: We’re going to talk about your students in a minute. Were you worried at all that certain promises made might not pan out after you actually arrive….things like that?

P: No, I think… when you talk to Yigong, and you feel… whatever he says you believe him. Have you talked to him? He’s like a politician, in the good sense of the word (laughs). He is like a leader with tremendous credibility, I should say. So even if you ever doubted the system, you choose to trust and believe in him.

M: Are you just saying this because he is one of our foundation’s advisors and he might read this interview? (laughs)

P: No no, I’m fully behind my words. (laughs)

M: So what is your title here? Are you on the tenure track?

P: I am, and my position is equivalent to a tenure-track assistant professor in the US. You know, everywhere I go (in China), other scientists keep asking me about the tenure track system in Tsinghua. I think everyone’s very curious about how Tsinghua is implementing this system. There is a tenure committee, I don’t know if they have examined anyone yet. I think this system only began one year before I arrived (in 2012), so I don’t have a precedent to follow.

M: I guess I need to follow up with you in three years. So your title on your name card is Principal Investigator [PI]? That doesn’t mean anything. It’s not actually a job title, no?

P: No… I don’t know (laughs). They told me that my title also means I can direct PhD students.

M: Right, I think they mean博导[doctoral advisor]. That is a professional rank. But still, not a position. So do you have a contract? What happens after five years then?

P: I have a five year contract. After that will be evaluation, upon which they will determine which of us will be kicked out (laughs). You know, I don’t even know if it is legally possible to tenure a foreigner in China.

M: (laughs) But aren’t there plenty of foreigners here? I mean, all those Chinese faculty with American passports, aren’t they legally foreigners? 

P: I don’t know, but at least in grant applications, we are treated differently. And this is something I am not afraid of you quoting me. I had previously applied for the Outstanding Young Scientist program from NSFC, which is ultracompetitive and I wasn’t going to get anyway, and their response was: you are not Chinese and you cannot apply. And it was not because I don’t have Chinese citizenship, but rather that I am not of Chinese descent.

M: Goodness! It’s really “Outstanding Chinese Young Scientists”. Do you have this explanation in writing, in their official reply?

P: No, no, there was no official reply, as far as I know.

M: So your application wasn’t even denied, it was just ignored. What about those other programs, for example the 973 Program [also known as the National Basic Research Program, supports basic research to meet the nation's major strategic needs], are you eligible for those?

P: I don’t know if I’ll get to that level. I guess I will find out (laughs). 

M: Right now you are on a work visa?

P: Yes, and my Chinese green card had just been approved.  So I don’t have to renew my visa every year.

M: Wow! I’ve always heard that the Chinese green card is notoriously hard to get. How did you manage to get it in two years?

P: They have a new policy now, I only applied half a year ago and I’m getting it soon. I saw on the news that they have this green channel for foreign experts to apply for a green card. So I went to the administration and they supported my application. Of course it was a lot of paperwork, so I am again very grateful to everyone who had helped me.

M: A lot of Chinese people overseas will be very jealous of you (laughs).

That’s amazing, I did an interview a few months ago with this mathematician in Peking University (PKU), a Princeton graduate [Dr. Chenyang Xu, recipient of 2013 Qiu Shi Outstanding Young Scholar Award]. He was saying how difficult it would be for PKU to as successful as Princeton in mathematics, because it is hard for PKU to become a truly international center like IAS in Princeton, foreigners have to overcome many obstacles to stay in China for the long term. I can see by your example that there are indeed efforts made not only to attract but also retain foreigners, and beyond the initial attraction of funding and resources.

 

Setting up shop - Grants, the language barrier, and the trouble with having too much funding…

 

M: Could you tell me more about the different kinds of funding and awards you have received since you got here?

P: Besides my startup package, I also receive support from the 1000 Young Talents program, which is for three years. I also have an internal grant from Tsinghua, and I will be applying for more grants next year. But money really is not a problem (laughs), I think I would be fine just with the startup package. Also I got a grant the first time I applied, on top of my startup package, which was great.

M: Your American friends must be very jealous of you.

P: Maybe (laughs). For science, really, I have nothing to complain.

M: What was the grant?

P: A grant from the NSFC [National Science Foundation of China]. The payline for the NSFC grants is 25%, compared to the US where the payline is just 5%.

M: That is really high. And I think they have lots of other granting programs too, not just from the state but also the province and municipal levels.

P: Yes, when I got this (NSFC) grant I was so happy with it, but when I told the other faculty members, they were like, “this is just pennies” (laughs). The real money is in the 973 Program and all that, but for that I think you need high level connections, I’m not there yet.

M: So were you worried about that? When you came to China with no connections?

P: Yeah, I was initially worried about that when I submitted the grant, because I was not familiar with its review process. I think it is clearly modeled after the American NIH R01, the main funding mechanism in biomedical research in the US. In the end, I had a good experience with the application, the reviewers made constructive criticism. Also, I had received plenty of support already, so I wasn’t worrying too much about money.

M: To apply for these grants and programs when you weren’t even physically in China, you must have had someone to help you orient yourself… to learn about the system. Did you have that kind of support when you first came to Tsinghua? Maybe a mentor?

P: Yes, I have a couple of faculty mentors here, same as what a junior faculty in the US would get. I see them from time to time, but actually the most helpful person in day-to-day business has been my administrative assistant. She speaks perfect English and is very experienced in all the administration, paperwork, etc. I have to translate my grant applications into Chinese you see. Also, for everyday things, she can help me read my bills and tell me how much money I owe the phone company (laughs).   

M: You are exceptionally productive, just setting up shop, in a foreign country no less, and you had just submitted a paper. Was the work done by your students or postdocs?

P: A lot was done by myself, and a technician. We completed the work in a year and a half. Right now I have 5 PhD students and 1 postdoc, a total of 12 people in the lab. When I first arrived, there were two technicians working in the lab already.

 

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Dr. P and lab members (lab dinner 2013)

 

M: How did you manage to recruit them?

P: Yigong advised me to hire someone as soon as I accepted the position, to get things started ASAP. So I was contacted by the administration here who helped me place an ad for possible candidates, and I interviewed them while I was still in the States. They helped me to set up the lab, buying things, receiving the flies I shipped from Yale.  That proved to be excellent advice.

M: Would you say that the administration is supportive?

P: Yes, definitely. They try to help me however they can. Of course there are things in the system that leave much to be desired (laughs), but the administration has been very accommodating.   

M: You’ve been in Tsinghua for two years, have you figured out how Chinese universities are run by now?

P: I’ve always been aware of a parallel hierarchy in the university, the academic and the party leadership. When I came back from the lab on Monday (after the birth of my daughter), there was a lady who was here to congratulate me on the baby. I had never met her, and they told me she’s from the Party… labor union. It was nice.

M: As a faculty member of Tsinghua, have you had any exposure to the political side of things?

P: No. We have weekly faculty meetings here, but that’s purely academic, more like research seminars. But once a month the faculty has to meet for administrative matters, school business etc. Sometimes a person from the Party side would come. Though, naturally he will be speaking in Chinese, so I couldn’t tell you what he said (laughs).

M: About the research seminars, are those in English or in Chinese?

P: Most of the time in English, I would say 90% of the time. The dean of course encourages everyone to speak English, even the administration. But sometimes I would go to a seminar and it would be in Chinese. Then I would stay and try to follow by looking at the pictures. I just wish that they would announce beforehand that it would be in Chinese, but again, I am the only person who doesn’t speak the language, so it’s my fault.  

M: Do you feel isolated at all by the language barrier?

P: No, not at all. I have plenty of interactions with the other fly labs here.

M: Ok, so just the 5 labs would satisfy your intellectual and social needs? (laughs)

P: No, also people whose labs are down the hall (laughs). We would go to lunch sometimes, and we’d talk about collaborating. I think there is definitely less such interactions than in the US, but that is also because of the amount of funding. If you have everything you need already, there is less of an incentive to collaborate with anyone.

M: Ah… so you mean here everybody is well-funded, even the young faculty members, so you don’t have to make connections in order to apply for funding?

P: Not just funding, also resources. Say if I wanted to do an experiment with RT-PCR, I can just buy the machine instead of going to another lab and asking if I could borrow. This is actually a potential bad side-effect of the good funding climate. Especially since students can get easily spoiled this way.

M: I agree. But what about exchange of ideas? Do language and cultural differences interfere in this case?

P: No. I’ve had no trouble at all. Tsinghua is very international and more people should come. But life outside of Tsinghua is definitely more of a challenge.

M: Apart from the fly labs in Tsinghua, have you built connections with other Chinese PIs, say those in PKU or Fudan?

P: I do know some people, but not actively collaborating. Everyone would tell you that as a new PI you should get your ship together and sailing before thinking about that.

M: When you talk to your peers, do you only talk about science, or do you make complaints, share your thoughts on certain issues, things like that?

P: Hmm, I try not to complain.

M: (laughs) Do they complain to you?

P: Even less. It is rare and usually strange that someone will voice criticism of anything here. But maybe that’s just in front of me, perhaps they confide in each other behind my back. I understand that, this is normal; I’m just a guest here. 

 

The weakest link

 

M: China is now increasingly productive in terms of papers, and has successfully harvested many talents from abroad. What in your opinion is the weakest link in its research environment?

P: A big problem here is finding motivated postdocs who are interested in doing good science. You know how it is in the US. In an average lab you would have 5 postdocs and two students, and that is how you become productive. But here you’d have 10 students and one or no postdocs. They are building the system from the top, by recruiting the best faculty, as I told you the top people are now all applying here, but then you need the next rung in the ladder. Right now the conditions are not attractive at all for postdocs, and I’m not just talking about foreigners. I’ve had postdoc applications from abroad, but I could not offer them anything that is competitive… not even competitive, but good living standards. 

M: That seems to be every professor’s problem here, not just in biology but almost every field.

P: All labs here will tell you the same.

M: How much are they paid?

P: I think around 5000 rmb per month. I can complement that, and I think there is also low rent on-campus housing available for them. But it is still not attractive. Ironically, the funding situation for postdocs here is better than in the US, this is actually an excellent place to begin your career if we are talking about research grants that a postdoc can apply for, but in terms of personal compensations, salaries for postdocs here are too low.

M: You know, this is definitely a serious problem, especially in attracting foreign postdocs. But the reality is that most postdoc positions in China will be filled by the Chinese. I think another key problem now is that the Chinese system greatly values overseas training experience, so they see no point in doing a postdoc in China.

P: Yes, and that has to change. A nature paper is a nature paper, wherever the research was done. For example, the people in Shi Yigong’s lab are extremely productive, I don’t see why they should be at a disadvantage compared to foreign-trained students or postdocs. The reality I see is that all the applications (for faculty positions in Tsinghua) are foreign-trained, but that needs to change, if they really want to build a stable system in China. I have one postdoc and she is very good, but I’m very lucky. She is also my lab manager.

M: You really are very lucky. Where is she from?

P: She did her PhD in the US, though she chose to come back. Because of the one child policy I think there are more people willing to come back. I know most people still think that they will receive a better postdoc training overseas, but the fact is, if you look at the guys here, many labs in Tsinghua are world-class, not just in structural biology (laughs). For example, Li Yu and Li Peng for cell biology, Meng Anming for developmental biology, Chen Yeguang for signaling. Lots of big names. Speaking of structural biology, this is probably the best place right now.

M: In the world? Wow. How would you rate Tsinghua compared to the best places in the States?

P: Science-wise, equipment, productivity, I think it is comparable to any top place in the US, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. But that is done with the brute force of money and students, so it has to become something more organic. More good postdocs, more people who can see themselves going up the ladder, more research support. There is really no point in having the world’s best confocal, if the person manning it only has one month of experience, after going to a two day training course in Hong Kong (laughs). Right now there are missing ranks in the hierarchy, you have the big names, the best equipment, then lots and lots of bright young students, but not so much in the middle: postdocs, research scientists, lab managers. I guess this problem will be overcome with time, but you need the right incentives to attract the best people and to build up the culture. 

M: Also I guess it’s not just Tsinghua's problem, because you need to have good places for these people to go to after they leave Tsinghua.

P: You are right. You know, the kind of problems you can imagine about China from a Western perspective, that it’s going to be so bureaucratic, it’s a communist country, it’s China so it’s all about “guan xi” [connections], the students lack creative will to do original science, they’re just following international trends… all of these are not real. The real problems are different from these stereotypes and they all have to do with how quick the system had been put in place. They will be solved with time, we just need to attract more good people.

M: Interesting! So you have a lot of faith in this country, or at least biomedical research in Tsinghua (laughs).

P: Of course. This place is only going to go up.

 

The peaches and the plums (Chinese idiom meaning students)

 

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Celebrating his birthday with his “kids” in the lab (August 2013)

 

 

M: Back to when you first arrived, how did you recruit your students? Did you come into any difficulty getting students, being a foreigner and a new PI?

P: Right now the graduate students here have to do lab rotations in their first year, the same as in the US. But I think this is a relatively new policy, so still some inertia to overcome. I would still have undergrads writing to apply directly to me, asking me to be their PhD adviser. That would be the old way.

M: Basically Tsinghua is now doing everything the American way…..

P: Yes. I had 8 rotation students in my first year. And now I have 5 PhD students. But by Tsinghua numbers this is nothing (laughs).

M: That’s amazing. Do you remember at Yale there were around 300 faculty members just in the medical school, and only 80 students a year in the entire Biology program.

P: Yes, the market is completely opposite over here. There are actually students who are afraid that they’re not going to be picked by any professor. Now they have implemented quotas to ensure that a PI couldn’t take on too many PhD students, which is a very good change. I’m already struggling with 5, with too many students under the wing of one PI, half of them are just going to feel lost.

M: Have you done any teaching yet?

P: It is the same here as in the US, you are free from teaching in the first three years. But they asked me to teach a really short course for the PhD program, just 8 hours.

M: How was the experience and your impression of the students?

P: It was just a lecture class, so I didn’t get to interact with them that much. I am not very familiar with graduate education in the US, I think it is supposed to be very interactive. But when I was a PhD student in Spain, I was sitting in the back row of a class of 200, and the teachers never knew who I was. Here the students were at least asking questions, although they had some trouble following my English (laughs).

M: How would you rate your students? In my time the best students from PKU and Tsinghua would almost go overseas for graduate studies by default. I’m not sure about now.

P: They are very good. I know the ones who can get into Yale will be going to Yale, but I personally think that has more to do with luck than actual research potential.

M: Or mastery of English.

P: Right! Could be (laughs). 

M: What about in terms of initiative, creativity, passion?

P: Yes, I can see passion. You don’t have to tell them to stay in the lab, they are here in the weekends, and they’ll come back after dinner, because they like to work.

M: But you told me they spend half their time on Taobao [online shopping website similar to Amazon].

P: (laughs) Yes, but they are good. I suspect they watch movies and TV series in the lab as well. And they are checking their cellphones all the time. I’m still trying to understand my students: what moves them, how they react to encouragement or criticism, in order to be more effective with them. But I think they find science genuinely exciting and are genuinely interested in scientific questions on an intellectual level.

M: Tell me a little more about Tsinghua’s PhD program?

P: There are actually three different graduate programs here. One is PTN: joint program of PKU, NIBS [National Institute of Biological Sciences], and Tsinghua University. Students in this program have to rotate in each of the three schools. Then there is the PKU-Tsinghua joint center program, and the last one is just Tsinghua’s own graduate program. I think the PTN is the most prestigious, at least they have the highest salaries (laughs). Here with so many talented Chinese, of course things will easily become very competitive. The selection process for graduate students is also quite interesting…

M: How do you mean?

P: I was involved in the selection process for the summer school of the Tsinghua program, but of course I don’t understand it completely.  The student had to stand in front of the selection committee, and recite a piece of text in Chinese, for example about the structure of DNA or the chloroplast.  Then they had to read something in English, aloud, for the committee to judge how good their English was. I’ve also heard that some of the graduate level classes still involve a lot of memorization. In my opinion memory is not the best indicator of success in research.

M: No it certainly is not. So you’re not involved with teaching or designing graduate level classes yet. Do you hear things from other professors, complaints, how they wish things could be done differently?

P: Teaching, or about the system in general? No, not really. That would be the kind of things that if I do ask, for example, should there be more interactive classes? The professor would pretend that he did not hear the question (laughs).

M: How many PhD students do they have here in Tsinghua?

P: I really don’t know… there are 3 programs, and even I have 5 graduate students. So there must be hundreds of them, I guess. 

M: Are there enough jobs to sustain these many PhD students when they graduate? Do they think about this when they admit all these students?

P: The best ones will go abroad for postdoctoral training. Many will also switch careers. I was not allowed to take any PhD students in my first year here, but everyone else (in my year) did. They tell me the rules, they don’t tell me how to break the rules (both laugh). All my PhD students are from the same batch, and they are just currently finishing up their first year, so we haven’t talked seriously about their future yet. Right now, I think they do want to be scientists.  I am not too worried about it. If this is the direction China wants to go, to create a knowledge-based economy, there should be plenty of opportunities for my students in the future, maybe not all in academia, but also in industry, consulting, business, and so on.

 

Life beyond Tsinghua

 

M: Should we even address the cliché of cultural shock?

P: Oh yeah, the food, the pollution. You can write all about it (laughs).

M: Are there other foreign faculty here? In this or other schools of Tsinghua? I remember you had a very nice social life back at Yale. There were French, Italians, all sorts of Europeans.

P: Not so many. There is a regular gathering of foreign scientists and academicians in Beijing organized by Euraxess, a really great EU initiative to foster academic exchange. Here in Tsinghua, there is one big guy in physics, then a British guy in the medical school. I think he is about my age, and here with his family too.

M: Are you good friends with him?

P: Yes, but after you get married and you have a baby, and also now that I have so many kids in the lab (laughs), I don’t socialize that much anymore.

M: Tell me about the experience of having your daughter born in China.

P: That is also a very interesting story. In the beginning we went to a public hospital, a very good one: PKU Third Hospital. The system is really efficient and designed to handle huge numbers of people at a time, building was new and spacy. Getting blood taken was so fast and efficient, like ten people being extracted at the same time, just one minute per person, and the results were ready one hour later in a computer. We lasted a while there even though we don’t speak Chinese. Getting the appointment was a nightmare, though. I could never understand the system, they would tell me to go to one place first and then come back, and it is never the same. Every visit would be a different route, and you never see the same doctor twice. And of course there are huge lines of people waiting. The final deal breaker was when my wife stood in line for over an hour for an appointment, and then they decided to close for lunch and told us to come back the next day. All the other Chinese people seemed to have taken it quite calmly. In the end we decided to go to a private international hospital.

M: You know, this may be backward of me but I think it is already a miracle that you two actually survived for a while in a public hospital with no translators. How is your health insurance by the way?

P: With the 1000 Young Talents program I am covered at the Sino-Japanese Hospital. But that doesn’t cover my wife, she has the public insurance. She could choose from a list of hospitals, and every visit she’d have to pay a co-pay, which is not much. But I didn’t really study the policy in detail, same as when I was in the US. If I have something really bad I’ll just hop on the next plane back home to Spain, where we are really communist, and there is free healthcare for everybody (laughs).

M: (laughs) Good for you. Moving to Beijing must have changed your lives in many ways. How did you two make the decision? What was your wife’s first impressions and current feelings about living in China?

P: After I got the offer I, visited Beijing again, this time with my wife to take a look. I felt sure she was going to hate it. Her first impressions were traffic and pollution, so not a good beginning. But I managed to convince her. Or rather, I think it was talking to Yigong that did the trick for her as well.

M: My god this guy is good (laughs). What about her career prospects? Could she picture herself staying here for the long term and raising your children in China?

P: She works in Shen Xiaohua’s [professor at Tsinghua School of Life Sciences and recipient of the 2013 Qiu Shi Outstanding Young Scholar Award] lab downstairs, studying long non-coding RNAs, and she is very happy with her job and the science there. I think this is something we will have to discuss in a couple of years. Right now, we are happy to be here, trying to learn and enjoy the experience as much as possible.

M: Ok, finally, as a tradition of the Qiu Shi Dialogues series, my previous interviewee gets to ask you two questions. And that would be the mathematician I was talking about, Dr. Xu Chenyang of Peking University. His questions are: first, can you see yourself staying in China for the long term, and your reasons?

P: Yes, why not? I need to learn the language first, though.

M: Good luck with that! Second: would you recommend other foreign scientists to come to China? What advice/warnings would you give them?

P: Absolutely. I am surprised there aren’t more here already. My advice is to appreciate the flexibility of the Chinese way of doing things and be flexible yourself.

M: Very apt advice. I really think there are more foreign scientists catching on. A good friend of mine from Yale, also Spanish, and her husband had just accepted offers at a a plant biology center in Shanghai, where they’ll each start their own lab. I’ll definitely be sending her our interview! Actually, Dr. Xu also had a personal question: Do you support Real Madrid or Atlético de Madrid? (laughs)

P: Atlético! It makes me very sad when I see Chinese people wearing Real Madrid t-shirts. Atlético is the humble, hard-working underdog. Real fans are so annoyingly pompous. I would never accept a Real Madrid fan for a son-in-law. Seriously!

M: Oh dear, Dr. Xu is so going to love you (laughs). Thank you so much Pepe!

 

 

Further Reading:

 

Looking to China for Scientific Careers

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2013_11_15/science.opms.r1300139

Copyright © 2013 Qiu Shi Science and Technologies Foundation. All rights reserved.

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