Convocation ‘22: Yingze Ma, BSc (Honors) Physiology

Motivated by poor healthcare options in his community, Yingze Ma finds a career in biomedical research.

Donna McKinnon - 06 June 2022

Motivated by poor treatment options for arsenic contamination in his home community and indeed, around the world, Yingze Ma chose to study physiology at the U of A because of the research opportunities, but the challenges he faced went beyond the lab.

Moving to a new country would be a daunting experience for anyone, but Yingze shares that the challenge was exacerbated by his status as an undergraduate student researching and studying in a foreign language.

Naturally shy, Yingze struggled until he began to use the resources available to him at the U of A as an international student. Through hard work and perseverance, he overcame these challenges and his honors research cellular physiology thrived, edging him ever closer to a career in biomedicine.

Congratulations Yingze!

What led you to pick the U of A?
Back in 2018, I was a third-year medical student at the West China School of Medicine. After witnessing so many moments where a lack of knowledge in the medical community limited the treatment options of some patients, I began to consider a career as a scientist, focusing on basic biomedical research. It was at this point that I decided to change my course of study to medical sciences, and I was attracted by the physiology program at the U of A.

I picked the U of A because students here can receive high-quality undergraduate education and have numerous chances to participate in world-class research projects during their studies. I felt this was what I wanted to do and it has been proved that my choice was awesome.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?
My favorite memory was the time I spent in Dr. Elaine M. Leslie's research laboratory. As mentioned above, I was attracted by the research opportunities that an undergraduate student can access at the U of A. As soon as I settled down, I started to look for a research lab that I was interested in. Fortunately, I met Dr. Leslie and started my research journey in cellular physiology.

This year has already been my third year in the Leslie Lab. During this time, I was trained on how to do experiments, how to think critically, and how to write and present as a scientist. I benefited from this experience, because I found my interest area for graduate studies and I was more convinced that my choice to choose the U of A was correct. This memory, along with other memories at the U of A, will be one of the greatest treasures in my life.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student?
Although I did not really take on any leadership roles at the U of A because my life was filled with study, an important reason that drove me to do research in the Leslie lab for over two years was that I was strongly motivated by the possibility of reducing the health risks facing those in my hometown, as well as millions of others across the world who are exposed to arsenic contamination.

I grew up in a small city in Jilin province, located in northeastern China. For many years, my family and other residents drank the tap water supplied directly from the local well, until I happened upon a published report outlining a serious public health issue about the chronic exposure of a proven human carcinogen – arsenic. It depicted the hot spots of arsenic contamination in the world, and my hometown was located exactly within one of the hot spots. I felt doing research in this area could help us find a solution to this problem, which achieved my original aspiration of being a biomedical researcher.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?
Yes, it happened in my first term at the U of A. As an international student, I met the same problem that most international students have encountered, the language barrier. I struggled with English courses and writing assignments. At first, I was too shy to discuss my problems with the professor and use the resources provided by the university. This didn't change until my appointment with the international student advisor, Xiaobing Lin.

Xiaobing encouraged me to ask questions and seek help since people wouldn't know that I had a problem if I didn't say anything. Thus, I decided to attend office hours regularly and book tutoring sections at the Centre for Writers. By doing this, I figured out what my professors were expecting and my writing skill improved over time. Also, since I knew that I had problems with writing, I decided to take writing courses in my second term, which helped me a lot.

What advice do you have for current and future students?
I would say don't feel too shy to ask questions. All of us may have encountered some sort of problem, and the key is to use the resources that the university provides to solve these problems. In addition, it's never too late to find an area you want to work on, just take action whenever you find it.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?
I will celebrate with my friends and my family. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, my family can't come to Canada to celebrate with me as planned two years ago. Instead, we will celebrate it remotely. If possible, I also have a plan to travel across Canada before graduate school.

What's next after graduation?
I plan to pursue a PhD degree in cellular physiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I want to gain a deeper understanding of this area and learn more research methods. I hope to be a well-rounded researcher after my PhD study.