21 May 2020

When I was invited to write this article about the Joint Universities Summer Teaching Laboratory (JUSTL), I was assigned to produce an article that celebrated the programme’s achievements from the point of view of everybody involved, including the Director, Co-Directors, mentors and especially the participants.

I interviewed the JUSTL Director, Prof Andrew L. Miller (Division of Life Science, HKUST) and contacted the JUSTL Co-Directors (Profs Robert Baker, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, New York University Medical School and Karen Crawford, Department of Biology, St Mary’s College of Maryland) as well as several of the mentors to get their views on the JUSTL participants and on the programme as a whole. However, I was most interested in contacting the JUSTL alumni to get their views about the programme.

I was involved in the organization of the programme here in Hong Kong from the start. I helped design the JUSTL web-site, and each year I designed the fliers we sent out to advertise the programme throughout the Hong Kong Universities. I also helped to interview potential participants, prepared the Annual Report and was involved in organizing the programme finances.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole (MA, USA) myself when I participated in the programme in 2012. I had an amazing time there working with Prof Karen Crawford and attempting to inject squid embryos with the bioluminescent calcium ion reporter, aequorin. I also helped Prof Andrew L Miller prepare a research article; helped to mentor one of the participants (Jeffrey Kelu); and of course attended a lot of the MBL course lectures. So while I found the experience to be very fulfilling, I wasn’t sure about the other participants. For some people it was their first time outside Asia, and for nearly everyone it was the longest time that they had been away from their family and friends.

The internet is amazing when you want to find people! I used work e-mail address and social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook Messenger to track down participants. Initially the response rate was very low but after a few gentle reminders in follow-up e-mails, most people replied to me and agreed to either be interviewed face-to-face or to answer my questions via e-mail. I was especially happy when people agreed for me to interview them directly, and I really enjoyed traveling about Hong Kong to visit them at their place of work. This was the first time that I had been to The Open University of Hong Kong in Ho Man Tin, to Tai Po Hospital, and to the beautiful campus of The Education University of Hong Kong in Tai Po. I also interviewed several people who live overseas, and in these cases we used Skype, FaceTime or WeChat to talk. You will see that in the end, I was able to write articles about 36 of the JUSTL alumni, and I hope that you can see that the main recurrent theme from all of them is how attending the JUSTL programme was a very positive experience. In some cases, it was the laboratory-based work that they found useful, either being taught a new technique or learning how to use a new piece of equipment, whereas for others it was a lecture or workshop that really inspired them, or the interaction they had with their mentors.

I hope that you find this review about the JUSTL programme interesting, and like me conclude that by all accounts it was a major success and helped a lot of young Hong Kong research scientists in their career. The programme was made possible by funding from the Hong Kong Croucher Foundation, with matching funds from the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.


September 2019