During the summer following my year abroad studying in Harbin, I decided to spend two months interning in Shanghai. My internship involved working in a lab in the School of Pharmacy at Shanghai Jiaotong University synthesising important precursors for new drug molecules to treat Alzheimer’s Disease and carrying out the initial preliminary experiments for a new inorganic sensor to detect an important toxin found in many Chinese herbal medicines.

I thought I’d give you all a review of the program – please note that this was the first year of the summer research program at SJTU and this is just my personal experience. Apparently the program is likely to change somewhat in the coming years to reflect participant’s feedback and so keep an eye on their website for up to date details.

Application Process (in 2016):

  1. Read through the list of labs/ available projects and decide which one option you are most interested in
  2. Email the appropriate professor with your CV and a short motivational letter
  3. If the professor accepts you, work together to finalise your project plan
  4. Submit the required documents (CV, motivation letter, recommendation letters, transcript) via the online portal
  5. Hear back with confirmation of acceptance and whether or not you have been offered additional scholarship funding

For my year, the deadline for submitting everything via the online portal was in March – although we were recommended to start contacting professors around January in order to have everything prepared in time.

Positives of the program:

  • I was able to contribute towards current research and may have my work published in a paper/ patent in the near future
  • Interns were given real responsibilities and I was able to contribute my own ideas towards independently planning and carrying out preliminary research into a new inorganic sensor for a toxin
  • The labs were very high quality with excellent equipment for us to use without restrictions (in previous internships I’ve done they’ve been quite restrictive with allowing interns to use expensive/ fragile equipment)
  • We were each allocated a local “buddy” from our labs who was able to help us settle in, show us around the area, recommend good food, etc.
  • Everyone in my lab was incredibly friendly and helpful whenever I had any questions/ issues
  • My colleagues all spoke very good English so if you don’t have good Chinese language skills it shouldn’t be a problem
  • Although technically unpaid (due to student visa restrictions), participants staying for more than one month received a very generous scholarship to cover living/ travel costs which essentially equated to a decent salary
  • The program was quite relaxed, so I was able to travel every weekend around Shanghai and take a couple of days off over the summer for long weekend trips further afield
  • Throughout the program, there were trips organised by the university – including a weekend trip to Hangzhou and a lab tour.
  • There were opportunities available in a wide range of science/ engineering labs and you were able to pick exactly which project you wanted to work on – thus ensuring your summer was spend productively on something you were interested in (unalike some other intern abroad programs where you have less choice over your placement)
  • Flexible start/ end dates meant students from countries with different academic year schedules or other commitments could be accommodated (n.b. this is due to change)
  • The university offered free Chinese language classes for beginners – thus helping students settle into the country
  • The university provided full support with applying for the X (student) visa (or in my case, extending my residence permit) and I am not aware of anyone having any issues with visas being refused
  • Some participants (particularly those from US universities) were able to earn credits towards their degrees – although for me this wasn’t possible since Cambridge doesn’t accept any kind of transfer credits

 

Areas for improvement:

  • In my year, all the students arrived and left at different times – which made getting to know each other more challenging since there were no large welcome events/ graduation ceremonies organised (n.b. this is apparently due to change)
  • We were also housed in separate dorms, which seemed a bit unnecessary considering that there was more than enough space in the mixed dormitory for everyone – and again made getting to know each other rather challenging
  • Linking into this last point, we were all housed in shared double rooms when there was really plenty of space for each student to have their own room in the dormitory
  • We had to pay for on campus accommodation upfront out of our own money, but the scholarship payment schedule meant we were paid mid way through the program and at the end, leaving us with a large amount of RMB to transfer back into our own currencies (thus losing money due to exchange rates). It would have made more sense for the accommodation to be deducted from our scholarship payment.
  • The location of the Minhang campus (around 1.5 hours by metro out of the centre of Shanghai) was quite inconvenient for travelling/ visiting local sights/ going for nights out
  • The Chinese language classes weren’t available at higher levels

 

Overall, it was a fantastic experience in which I learnt many skills relevant to my degree (Chemistry). Although there were a few irritations relating to the accommodation these only really affected my social life slightly over the summer – within a few weeks we had by chance bumped into other interns staying in different dorms and got to know each other pretty well. Considering it was the first time the program had been run it was very successful – and with a few small changes it will be a great program for future participants so I would highly recommend it.

Let me know in the comments section below if you have already or are interested in interning abroad in China! If you want to find out about other short-term programs available in China, check out this article!

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