Nilupaer Abudukeyoumu is a third year PhD student from northwestern China. She remembers learning about microbiology from her high school biology teacher in Xinjiang, who taught her about a species of bacteria that was capable of producing free electricity. She wanted to study biology when she moved to Urumqi for university. But because the university selection process was highly selective, Nilupaer diverted her attention to chemical engineering.
In her earlier studies, Nilupaer researched large-scale chemical storage, learning what kinds of tanks were needed and how to move chemicals from one site to the next. Yet she soon learned that there was very limited room for growth on this path. “Maybe you can become a very advanced engineer,” she explains, “but many companies require men to hold those jobs. There’s very little space for women.”
She applied to several labs for a PhD, but none offered her much of an opportunity to change fields, except for OIST. “OIST’s program is interdisciplinary, so it didn’t matter that my background is different from what I want to do.” Now, Nilupaer studies neuroscience, even though she knew nothing about it when she started at OIST. But Nilupaer insists that it didn’t matter that she was starting from zero. At OIST, she says, “There’s always somebody here to teach you if you want to learn.”