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Guest article

Field report: five months in Shanghai

I spent five months from June to November 2012 at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Shanghai Institute of Biological Sciences and Cell Biology. This stay was made possible by a grant I received from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts. I spent five months working in the laboratory of Professor Xu on a project aimed at deciphering the process of T-cell receptor signalling.

Thomas Plum in Shanghai © Thomas Plum

When I arrived in Shanghai, my Chinese colleagues kindly met me and helped me get organised. I had no problems finding a room in a shared flat through a website. Generally speaking, life in Shanghai is very similar to life in Western societies. There is the convenience of being able to buy food 24/7 and the restaurants are clean and cheap. The food in our canteen was much better than food in many German university refectories and it was also a lot cheaper.

Working in a Chinese laboratory is very different from what I had been used to in Germany. Many students start work at around eight in the morning and do not go home before eleven p.m. This might sound awful at first, but in fact the Chinese do not work non-stop like people do in Germany. The majority of students live on campus and prefer to spend their free time in the laboratory rather than in their rooms.

Shanghai at night © Thomas Plum

I was the only foreigner in my group and in the entire institute, which has around 1000 employees, there were no more than four other foreigners. This meant I got a genuine insight into the way young educated Chinese live. Working in the institute was a very pleasant experience. Everybody was really helpful and most of them spoke English reasonably well. As a matter of fact, my Chinese colleagues quite enjoyed having me there, as it meant they could practise and improve their English. I was also able to put my basic knowledge of Chinese to good use and improve my knowledge of everyday Chinese. I used to go out for dinner with colleagues and also joined them in other activities like karaoke or ice skating. Thanks to my French flatmate and social networks it was easy for me to contact and meet other young foreigners.

I would like to thank the Baden-Württemberg government for setting up this scholarship programme and for the financial support I received.

In addition, I would like to thank Professor Schmid for his personal commitment and Prof. Chenqi Xu from the Shanghai Institute of Biological Sciences for allowing me to work in his laboratory and make this unforgettable experience possible.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/field-report-five-months-in-shanghai