Wenqi Shen, a first-generation undergraduate majoring in biochemistry, came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from Beijing No.80 High School in China.
What led you to the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
Growing up in Beijing, I naturally preferred a large university with lots of students. I had the privilege to work in a national lab for three years during high school. I also wanted to go to a place that is good at research. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is an R1 university with affordable tuition, so it was the perfect choice for me. Additionally, two things contributed to my final decision – the first was an article titled “Here’s looking at you, squid”, talking about the cool science from professor Margaret McFall-Ngai’s lab; the other was about a book called “Brave Genius,” by Sean B. Carroll. The 18-year-old me viewed these as the best scientific article and book, so I searched the authors and found they were both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
When did you decide to pursue chemistry and why?
I decided to pursue a chemistry Ph.D. at the end of my junior year. It was my final decision, after going to several seminars, talking to different people, and thinking through all of my past research experiences.
What other interests do you have?
I am a huge fan of Coldplay and Andy Warhol. I also like to experience cool things. I obtained my PADI open diving certificate last year. This year, I plan to learn to sail. Besides that, I love to travel. I went to Canada in Summer 2016 and to New Zealand’s South Island in Summer 2017 with my friends.
Do you participate in research (If so, describe your research and the lab for which you work)?
I joined the Blackwell lab at the beginning of my sophomore year, where I am learning how to use chemical tools to study quorum sensing (QS). QS is a chemical communication process that allows bacteria to regulate gene expression based on changes in population density and environmental cues, thereby enabling bacteria to coordinate their behaviors on a community-wide scale. Among pathogens, QS is often found to play an important role in virulence. My independent project aims to delineate key structure-activity relationships for the QS signal peptides in the common pathogen Staphylococcus epidermidis. I also worked at the Newmark Lab during my junior year, to learn more about developmental biology. Specifically, I help investigate the female germ cell development in the planarian flatworm Schmidtea mediterranea. My project helped reveal three new markers for somatic support cells, closely associated with the oocytes in S. mediterranea.
What are your plans after graduation?
I will apply to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in chemical biology.
Do you have any mentors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
I received systematic training from Dr. Tian Yang, a previous graduate student in the Blackwell Lab. He not only taught me how to do science, but also how to think like a chemist. Current graduate student Joseph Vasquez helped me become a more independent scientist. He also encouraged me to try different things and face challenges bravely. He is always willing to listen and to talk about my confusing or even frustrating results, and we work together from there. My PI, Helen Blackwell, is a role model to me, and the major reason I want to go into the chemical biology field. She offered me great independence with my research project, allowing me to solve problems with my own approaches and to communicate with our collaborators at a different university. She also encouraged me to have diverse experiences during my undergraduate time. Specifically, she supported my participation in the ASBMB conference and my poster presentation. She also suggested I spend a summer in industry or seeking a new research experience though Bio152. At the Newmark lab, graduate student Umair Khan not only taught me about developmental biology, but also inspired me to think creatively. He encouraged me to know the rationale behind each step in an established protocol. Prof. Newmark also cares deeply about his students and is a supportive mentor. Every time I have a question, he shares his thoughts with me and lets me make decisions. He also taught me to think carefully before making a decision and how to critically evaluate each opportunity.
Have you won any awards during your time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
- Ackerman Scholarship (Chemistry Department)
- Edwin M. and Kathryn M. Larsen Scholarship (Chemistry Department)
- Department of Chemistry Chair’s Scholarship
- Mary Shine Peterson Undergraduate Award (Biochemistry Department)
- 22nd ASBMB Undergraduate Poster Competition Honorable mention (2018, ASBMB, San Diego)
- Biochemistry Undergraduate Summer Research Scholarships
- Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship
- Mable Duthey Reiner Scholarship (Chemistry Department)