Testimonial Interview with Yang Liu, UBC student and recipient of a Mitacs research award.

Yang Liu left his home country of China in 2011, after earning his Master’s degree, to study at the University of British Columbia, one of Canada’s top schools. He is currently preparing his thesis there. In January 2015, he took advantage of an exchange program between Sorbonne University and Canadian organization Mitacs to undertake a six-month research internship at Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in the Paris Institute of Ecology and Environmental Science (IEES-Paris).

What is the topic of your research during your time in Paris?


My thesis addresses the impact of genetics, the environment, and their interactions on the life history traits of plants, that is, on the characteristics that determine their fertility and survival. I’m focusing on two traits in particular: dormancy (the period when their functions are slowed down) and size of seeds. At UBC, I was able to use climate data to develop a statistical model demonstrating the major role that climate parameters play in variations of seed dormancy and size, which could predict those traits using future climate data. At IEES-Paris, my project involves develop a theoretical model that will represent the effects of both ecological parameters and genetic mechanisms on seed dormancy and size. The model will constitute a chapter of my thesis. It will be useful for purposes such as predicting eco-evolutionary dynamics and assessing the impact of climate change on these traits. 


What does IEES-Paris contribute to your project?


I’m learning a lot about theoretical modeling thanks to the expertise of my research director, Nicolas Loeuille. It was all relatively new to me when I arrived in Paris, and it’s exciting! This research internship is even going to change the course of my career: now, I’m hoping to do a post-doc in a laboratory working on theoretical and empirical modeling.


Were you familiar with UPMC before this experience?


Yes, I had spent two weeks there for an international conference on the molecular mechanisms of seed germination in 2012. When I learned that Mitacs offered research grants to study at Sorbonne University, I immediately applied, especially since I’m very interested in French culture. I had first encountered it in China by watching French films, and I’ve been taking French classes since I arrived in Canada. Spending six months in France was also a chance to improve my language skills and, above all, experience the culture first-hand. 


And are you settling in? 


Yes, the doctoral students and post-docs I work with at UPMC are helping by explaining the nuances to e. But actually, French and Chinese culture share some things in common. For example, both love street performers and appreciate ingenuity. Not to mention that pedestrians in both countries don’t hesitate to cross a street against the red light if there are no cars coming! And I often hear people say, “If you can’t get in through the door, try a window!”


Will you go back to China once you have your PhD?


I’ve already lived in China for 25 years, and I know it pretty well! I’d rather keep experiencing other cultures. Ideally, I’d like to do my post-doc in the United States, or even Europe, and then go back to Canada. In any case, wherever I am, I want to keep collaborating with the doctoral students, post-docs, and research directors I’ve met at IEES-Paris. That’s one of the advantages of the Mitacs and Sorbonne University research grants: they give young researchers an opportunity to make contacts abroad so that they can build international cooperation later on. 

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