This year marks her fifth year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Pharmacology Science and Technology, National Cheng Kung University (NCKU). From her undergraduate, master's, and doctoral studies to the present, I-Ying Kuo has always been curious and pragmatic in tackling various new challenges. She won the 2021 Academic Research Award for Postdoctoral Research from the Ministry of Science and Technology for her research entitled "Vesicular Transport Protein Rab37 Mediates IL-6 Secretion in the Lung Tumor Microenvironment to Affect STAT3/PD-1 Transcriptional Regulation and Trigger Tumor Immunosuppression". According to I-Ying Kuo, the main reason for her research to win the award is that the title and content of the paper are in line with trends and her own research interests. She studied how to use immune strategies to inhibit tumors, and explored why human immune cells could not suppress the growth of cancer cells in the microenvironment of lung cancer tumors, but are instead influenced by cancer cells, resulting in proliferation, metastasis and diffusion of cancer cells. If we can identify the key transcriptional regulation of cancer cells and immune cells in the tumor microenvironment, we can use immunotherapy techniques to clean cancer cells, Guo added. She expressed her gratitude to Chair Prof. Yi-Ching Wang for his guidance, support and encouragement, and her team for their cooperation. From purchasing research equipment and consumables to providing resources, NCKU has created a beneficial environment for researchers, enabling academic workers to devote themselves to research without worries, which is another reason why she could win this award.
I-Ying Kuo: Cross-disciplinary Learning and Extensive Thinking Are the Key to Innovative Research
After graduating from the PhD program of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, NCKU, Guo joined a research unit as a postdoctoral fellow with her passion for academic research before returning to the lab of Yi-Ching Wang at NCKU to continue her research endeavors. Guo said that years of research have taught her that it is important to gain cross-disciplinary knowledge, because cross-disciplinary research is oriented towards future trends and lays the foundation for forward-looking research. This award-winning research subject is her novel achievement of combining her knowledge in the medical laboratory at college, immunology during her master's years, and cancer biology, bioinformatics and information engineering during her pursuit of a doctoral degree.
Guo said that medical laboratory technology, immunology and cancer biology research are three different and independent disciplines, and that the only way to integrate these three areas of expertise is to learn about them across fields. Her research proposal takes Biomarkers as an entry point to further explore molecular medical indicators, and the carcinogenesis mechanism and immune system interaction. Learning a new subject can stimulate her curiosity and give her a sense of fulfillment.
She added that entering a completely unfamiliar field is undoubtedly daunting, but it is because of the strangeness that she is more motivated to absorb new knowledge and think from multiple dimensions in order to solve the problems encountered in the research process.
From Medical Examiner to Medical Researcher, I Am More Self-aware and More Dedicated to Academic Work
After graduating from university, I-Ying Kuo obtained a Medical Examiner's license and was engaged in clinical work for three years. In this position, she continued to learn professional knowledge beyond medical examination. Guo said that when she started working as a medical examiner, she focused on clinical problems. As she gained experience, she began to be curious about other medical fields, so she decided to give up her job as a medical examiner, went back to school to study for a master's degree and all the way to a doctorate, and to a postdoctoral fellow, and embarked on the road of academic research. I-Ying Kuo added that she was grateful to meet Professor Yi-Ching Wang, who not only provided her with professional guidance in academic research, but also helped her broaden her academic horizons. Professor Wang's rigorous and active attitude indirectly influenced her career choice. She hopes to make greater achievements in academic research in the future.
A Postdoctoral Fellowship is Pre-employment Training For University Professors, in Which Learning Leadership and Management Skills Are a Priority
According to I-Ying Kuo, postdoctoral fellows are more of a multi-identity laboratory management expert than a researcher. She will assist the supervisor in managing the research plan, controlling the progress of the research, having various discussions with the supervisor, sharing the administrative responsibilities related to academic work, and mentoring and managing younger students by imparting expertise and guiding them to make more informed future choices. In addition, as a bridge between teachers and students, postdoctoral fellows are responsible for communication and coordination. Due to the busy schedule of the supervisor, the postdoctoral fellow is required to convey information to the students in an easy-to-understand manner, so that the students know the supervisor's expectations of learning outcomes. In addition, students' feedback during the learning process should be integrated and discussed with the tutor. She said, “Only when you can deal with these affairs in an orderly way can you be qualified to compete for the post of university teacher.”
Guo said that the academic work of a postdoctoral fellow is pre-employment training for university teachers. She believes that, in addition to academic research capabilities, postdoctoral fellows should also know how to assist the supervisor in managing the laboratory, share the supervisor's teaching and management work, and create additional value beyond learning and academic work. She hopes to become a university teacher in the future to continue cancer medical research and pass on her knowledge to the younger generation.
If You Want to be an Academic, Always Approach Challenges With Studiousness and Enthusiasm
I-Ying Kuo said, “The biggest difference between clinical work and academic work is that the former involves a lot of routine tasks, day and night shifts. Sometimes you have to support urgent matters, and be highly focused and physically active in a short period of time, which is dynamic. Academic work, on the other hand, is a static type of work in which you find your interest in the ocean of knowledge and explore the possibility of pushing the boundaries through one experiment after another. The two types of work are different in nature.
Guo's advice to those who want to pursue an academic career is not to be afraid of setbacks, whether it is experimental failure, a not-that-new subject or a limited research environment; develop a thirst for knowledge and always be enthusiastic about learning. She said curiosity and freshness are the recipe for a long-term commitment to academic work. Guo suggests that if you do not have a clear career plan, you can try more. Do not limit yourself, and do not be afraid of mistakes, which will help you to understand yourself better and find the right path.