In the Rendezvous section, we are bringing up some of the interesting interviews with students, academicians, and various industrial personalities working in the STEM (Science, technology, Engineering, and Math) areas.
Kevin Tsai recently graduated from the Ph.D. program in Bioinformatics at Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Prior to graduating, he did contract work with McKinsey & Co. and held positions at Gilead Sciences and Celera. He obtained his M.S. in Software Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Davis. Currently, he is working in San Francisco at a business process management company called Elegrity to develop software solutions for Am Law 100 law firms.
He was interviewed by one of the representatives from Graduate Student’s Association at Academia Sinica.
How would you describe your area of research and significance to our readers?
I actually had 2 thesis advisors during my Ph.D., 2 years each. The first lab was researching synthetic biology and whole genome design. I think there are amazing possibilities in this field and that it will be one of the major breakthroughs of our time. Bringing back dinosaurs from extinction, designing trees to grow into homes, or humans that are completely immune to viruses are just some of the things scientists have been talking about.
I was easily seduced by these dreams, but unfortunately, I realized they were too vast in scope for my Ph.D. My current thesis project is in the assembly and annotation of a grass called foxtail millet. The grass itself is not as significant as, say, rice, but the technology behind assembly and annotation has guided traditional bioinformatics for the past 15 years. It helped us put together the human genome, and is still a staple of a strong demand throughout research and industry.
How was your experience as a former president Graduate Student’s Association (GSA)? Do you have any particular suggestions for the new GSA team or a specific change you think will help TIGP students?
I have an article about my experience in a previous newsletter at http://tinyurl.com/gwusqt2 but in short, I will say my experience was very flattering. Everyone was surprisingly respectful in terms of recognizing the GSA (both TIGP students and faculty) and I’m really thankful I got to be a part of it. For something more specific, I think concentrating on recruitment for students coming into TIGP and career development for students leaving TIGP are the top priorities.
Those will both increase the prestige of TIGP, which I think is the best thing the GSA can do for its community. Our Ph.D. and the TIGP name will be with us for the rest of our careers, any little thing you can do to make it better will have a positive impact on not just yourself but for your past, current, and future classmates as well. So spread the word of TIGP to friends, get some smart people enrolled, and create great opportunities for them after they graduate. Together we’ll make it a better place.
You are one of the founders of the Consulting Club at Academia Sinica. Can you tell the readers what is it about and what motivated you to start it?
This response may be more personal for those that know Sandy Tung, but I think she and my cousin Jenny Tsai are mainly responsible for the motivation. I met Sandy when she was just a young fresh early-20’s college graduate, and the first time we met she told me she wanted to be a big CEO. I think she would laugh now, we all kind of laughed at the time, she was definitely ambitious. Later she told me she would consider consulting as an alternative. A few years later, my cousin, Jenny had just accepted a job at McKinsey in Tai-wan. She started telling me about her job and I saw the possible applications for Ph.D. students (actually at the time I was just thinking about the possible application for myself haha).
Eventually, I connected the dots and contacted Sandy asking if she would want to practice case interviews together. We real-ly didn’t know anything about consulting at the time, but Sandy and I had a lot of fun and started to share it with others. Before we knew it we had run the club for 2 years with 10 to 20 people joining us every week. I think the main thing the consulting club is about is to remind you that you have a career choice. You can do other things outside of academics that will still make use of your research training and problem-solving skills and that are just as respectable and impactful as being a professor. The club gives you a glimpse of what those opportunities are and how we as Ph.D. students can fit in.
You have lived for a long time in the USA before moving back to Taiwan. Did you feel culture shock like many international students do? What advice do you have for them?
Yes, I did feel culture shock! I am not shy to admit that I have called close friends from California and literally broken down in tears from being homesick. Probably the biggest issue we face is the feeling that no one understands us and we don’t understand anyone else, and you feel isolated.
Wendy’s (Student Affairs Coordinator) culture shock speech during the TIGP orientation is right on point. You will feel three phases: the excitement of the new, followed by sadness and homesickness, then acceptance that this is your new home. I guess the only advice I have is to remember it’s just a phase, it will pass, and you can use this rare opportunity to do a rediscovery of yourself.
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
I am really interested in entrepreneurship in the IT and biotechnology space. In 5 years I hope to see myself in a startup that is in an expansion phase, raising millions in funds, heading towards profitability, and really getting noticed by some major players in the industry. I hope I can make everyone at TIGP proud as well.
Do you have an interesting story like Dr. Kevin Tsai and want to be interviewed by us? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org