University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) held its Graduation and Degree Awarding Ceremony of 2021 on July 3. Arshad Hussain, a Pakistan PhD student of UCAS (Institute: Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences), also finished his adventure in UCAS. This article is his experience and feeling living and studying in China.
Q: First and foremost, could you tell us a little about yourself, such as your study area or academic qualifications?
A: Yeah, my name is Arshad Hussain, and I am a citizen of Pakistan. I received my bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Dawood University of Engineering and Technology (DUET), Karachi, Pakistan. Afterwards, I received my master's degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Peshawar, Pakistan. Recently, I accomplished my Ph.D. degree in Chemical Engineering from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Science (DICP-CAS) under the UCAS Fellowship program.
I completed my Ph.D. under the supervision of two great researchers, Prof. Dr. LI Xianfeng and Prof ZHANG Hongzhang. My Ph.D. research is on the polymer membrane design and fabrication of high-performance lithium metal-based batteries. My research interests incorporate electrochemistry, metal-based batteries, and membranes. I have experience with polymer synthetic techniques, battery membrane design and fabrication, electrochemical methods, and cell engineering. Some of the results have been published in high-impact international journals, including ACS Appl. Mater & Interfaces and J. Membr. Sci.
Q: Why did you choose China for your studies?
A: Now, the question is "why China?" I read different types of books and observed Chinese friends and their culture. The main reason is that I have spent four years in China and learned a lot in a good and peaceful environment. The individuals left a profound impact on me. The facts prove that they are committed to their work, and have made ongoing efforts to make China a successful model for both developing and developed countries. With the rapid development of the economy, technological progress, and a high reputation, China's world-class educational institutions provide students and professionals with higher career prospects. As a result, this positive attitude further enhanced my confidence, and I am delighted with my decision. Also, China's multi-cultural norms and ancient values, the well-known hospitality of its people, and the all-weather friendly relations between Pakistan and China have promoted bilateral trade. Today, exchanges between the two countries are becoming more and more solid. To a large extent, the peace between the two countries has been clearly felt by me. I feel that China is my second home, and my family fully supports my choice of China because I completed my Ph.D. here. All these reasons made China an ideal place for me to study for my Postdoc. Also, I wanted to study independently in China, which offers attractive scholarships for international students.
Arshad Hussain with his Chinese language professor and fellows from different countries in Beijing during course work (Image by DICP)
Q: Why did you choose the DICP, CAS institute for your Ph.D. Research?
A: The university is located in the country's technology center, which offers greater opportunities to observe significant engineering activities. This is a multicultural home. Here, I will have the opportunity to study with students from different cultural and demographic backgrounds. The experience of studying in multicultural places will ensure that I am confident to participate in multicultural institutions in Pakistan. At the end of my studies, I will return to my motherland and share knowledge, skills, and engineering experience accumulated during my time in China. The qualifications I would like to achieve in China have excellent value, recognition, and demand in Pakistan's public and engineering sector institutions. Many international students have received an advanced education from China and hold executive engineering positions in various institutions and companies. They receive a competitive salary and play a vital role in the development of all stages of life. I have the determination and desire to use my skills and knowledge to improve other people at the same time.
Arshad Hussain with his supervisor Prof. Dr. Xianfeng Li and Prof. Huamin Zhang (Image by DICP)
Q: Can you share with us your research experience during your Ph.D. at DICP, CAS?
A: DICP has a tremendous academic atmosphere, the research conditions and environment of DICP are also fantastic, and influence every aspect of life. The supervisors are very concerned about their students. Questions asked by us, the students, never went unanswered. In addition, students in the same research group helped each other a lot. We held group meetings once a week, and also had a team meeting once a month, where everyone had the chance to report on their work.
Moreover, the experimental equipment that we had was awe-inspiring. My research Group DNL17, for example, had access to a high-resolution Scanning Electronic Microscope (SEM) and X-Ray Diffraction (XRD). The DICP labs were equipped with all kinds of large-scale test tools and large test instruments.
Arshad Hussain assembling battery cells in glove box (Image by DICP)
Q: What types of challenges do international students face when studying in China?
A: The language is the most common challenge among students who want to study in China, or anywhere else for that matter. Studying in China forces you to face the challenge of the Chinese language, which is among the most difficult languages in the world. This will allow you to face difficulties like communicating with Chinese students and talking to Chinese people in daily life.
Q: Did you encounter any difficulties in your research?
A: Research, by its nature, is a critical challenging task that requires in depth knowledge of the subject matter, planning, care, and hard work.
I think there have been two main areas that could be described as challenging during my Ph.D. journey, difficulties with experiments and difficulties in writing papers.
First, let me say a few things about some issues with experiments. My research focuses on polymer membrane fabrication and characterization. The first thing is to prepare samples, and there are often many difficulties in the sample preparation period.
Writing papers is the other challenging aspect. It requires a lot of focus and effort relating to data collection and writing up the results in an organized and logical manner. It isn't easy to illustrate what the data indicates, but it is also challenging to present something original, which will interest the readers. If you can do these two things well, your article will be a brilliant one. That is why planning experiments is crucial. And, of course, how to logically connect the full text. In cultivating and achieving this skill, I have encountered many setbacks, but my research group would always provide me with helpful feedback.
I have realized from this that it is vital to learn from other students and listen to their suggestions. Still, at the same time, it is necessary to study existing literature, and read good examples of scholarly work in your field. Learning from others and applying their knowledge and skills to our articles is, I think, the best thing to improve the way you write!
Arshad Hussain during experiments in the membrane fabrication lab(Image by DICP)
Q: Why is a Ph.D. so hard?
A: A Ph.D. is hard not because it is too technical or complex, or requires too much intelligence. It is hard because it requires commitment of several years of your life while the world around you seems to be moving forward; your colleagues would be climbing up the career ladder with an increasing income and improving lifestyle, while you will be subsisting on a stipend, or may even have to remain contented with a salary that is static or even less than what you were getting before you started your Ph.D.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for those interested in DICP, CAS to complete a Ph.D.?
A: China, now has the most Ph.D. graduates in the world and is one of the best places to get your Ph.D..
The course structure of a Ph.D. or doctoral program in DICP, CAS is similar to the UK and US. The normal length of a full-time Ph.D. program is three to four years, with an option to apply for a one year extension to complete writing your dissertation. A Ph.D.’s academic year in DICP, CAS is composed of two semesters, the spring semester - which starts in March and ends in mid July - and the fall semester - which starts in mid September and ends in January.
For students who study abroad, just like me, the main thing is to get accustomed to the research environment. Thus, for those students, I would suggest that they spend as much time inside a laboratory as possible practicing their research and experimental skills.
Q: How do you feel after graduating from DICP-CAS under the UCAS fellowship program?
A: To be honest, my Ph.D. journey would not have been possible without the help of many people. I want to express my deepest gratitude.
First of all, I am grateful to my supervisor, Professor Dr. Xianfeng Li, for the guidance, trust, and scientific freedom he provided me. Our discussions and advice, his inspiration, and the wealth of information he shared with me have been enriching.
I am also very thankful to my co-supervisor, Prof. Hongzhang Zhang, for his support, confidence, and scientific freedom.
I'd like to express sincere gratitude to Prof. Huamin Zhang, as his words of encouragement and desire for excellence have been my driving force.
I would also like to thank my classmates who have accompanied me over the last four years. They have given me all kinds of support and encouragement, both in my personal life and work. We have created many beautiful memories together. Without their help, a lot of my output would not have been possible. And then, I would like to thank UCAS-DICP, which enabled me to have this opportunity to complete my doctoral studies.
Arshad Hussain with Chinese class fellows (Image by DICP)
Finally, I hope that more talented and hard-working students from the whole world will be recruited, and that the students from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, CAS will continue to work hard and will successfully complete their doctoral studies!
Arshad Hussain receiving his degree in convocation from the DICP director (Image by DICP)