Once Upon a Year at Duke University

Three years ago, I never imagined I will spend one-year in The Pimm Group at Duke University. Last fall I finished the visiting and back in China. Now, I should say goodbye to the father of the group, Dr. Stuart Pimm, as he will leave for US from Beijing tomorrow. At the moment, I think I should write something about the one-year visiting in The Pimm Group.

Stuart is a world leader in the study of conservation biology with special interests in species extinction and how to prevent them. I was impressed at the first time by his extraordinary publication history that nearly a quarter of his academic articles were published on Nature, Science and PNAS. I just had a dream if I could have one of them, I immediately get an opportunity for submitting my doctoral application to my university. Reality is different as what you dreamed. By far, I am still struggling to produce a high impacted article to gain my degree.

The first time I met Stuart was in Shanghai in February, 2012 when Stuart was invited as a master of DeTao group. When I talked with him in person, I found the similar smiling on his face as the avatar on his personal website. Stuart invited us to drink a cup of coffee, and talked around twenty minutes on the topics of my researches in past several years and my future plan when staying in his group. I should admit that my conversation skill in English was still in shortage as I can’t explain my opinion immediately and correctly. The talk was short, but it is the first time I met Stuart in Shanghai, where I met him again last month. This talk was also an alarm on my English ability because I would try to survive in a pure English-speaking university half year later.

The culture and administration departments in US is so different as in China, which probably spent me around one month to adapt them. During this month, I should say thanks to the people helped me a lot, especially for the staff from the International House at Duke, and the Baptist Church in Durham. The Pimm Group is a big family with people coming from all over the world, which is similar as a mini United Nation. The head girl, Natalia, is from Columbia. I can’t believe she is a Columbian at the first time because her English is so fluent and heard like a native from English-speaking countries. Candida comes from Portugal, and she took her research in Sahara. Alex is a native American with research interests in the conservation of wildlife in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Tanzania. Varsha worked in Ecuador and Andrew took the researches in Tanzania. As told by Stuart that his lab was invaded by Chinese scholars. Yes, it did. In the year of 2012, three Chinese joined The Pimm Group, who are Binbin, Guozhen and me. I enjoyed this kind of multi-culture communication sharing the complete different experiences which attracted me a lot. Accompanying with my curiosity, the challenge of English conversation is still my first obstacle needed to overcome. Luckily, I improved gradually with the helps from these kind lab mates and would like to speak with them, although I should explain several times at the beginning of the conversations. Thanks to the regular family parties hosted by Stuart and the frequent social activities organized by our head girl - Natalia, that provided an ideal opportunities for me to improve my language skill.

The regular lab meeting is one of my most important place to learn the academic abilities. Except some extreme cases, we will sit, or skype-in, at the table in the meeting room and talk about everyone’s progress in the last week. I had a bad habit, although I know I should change in future, that like postponing something if there is no deadline. With this weekly reminder, I push myself to reach the goal I set on Monday so that I can say something news on Friday’s lab meeting. Everyone should introduce their news to others, concluding anyone who knock the door during the meeting. Maybe I should introduce this model to our group in China which is a good model to share everyone’s progress.

There is a regular event in the family for someone who will leave the group soon, which is a farewell party organized by our head girl. So I was. As the picture shown below was the farewell party set for me and Dani, who would be back in China and Brazil separately in August 2013, in a Dim Sum restaurant at Durham. Thanks for all members and hope meet you somewhere and sometime again in the future.

Xingfeng Si /
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