My Life as a Doctoral Student – Finding my path to research in organic chemistry
Chris Edwards | 09/19/2020

Our doctoral student community is a growing one. These excellent students are attracted to SUSTech by its attractive academic culture, research resources, and outstanding outdoor environment. Some students have provided a window into their lives and the decision to come all the way to SUSTech.

Doctoral candidate Congcong YIN is one such student. He has been studying organic chemistry under Chair Professor Xumu ZHANG. The focus of his doctoral studies is on the asymmetric hydrogenation catalysis of transition metals.

Congcong YIN was born in Hubei Province, completing his undergraduate studies at Ningxia University. When he went on to his master’s program, he studied under Professor Xumu ZHANG at Wuhan University. By chance, he followed his supervisor to SUSTech for a one-month internship during his first year of his master’s program.

Congcong YIN chose SUSTech because of the lively research environment that ensured that he could conduct all the experiments he wanted to conduct. He also noted that the academic atmosphere at SUSTech was incredibly robust, with many Nobel Laureates and other world-class scholars giving lectures throughout the year. Chair Professor Xumu ZHANG, his former mentor, encouraged Congcong to come to SUSTech and experience the research life all the way south for himself.

During his time at Wuhan University, he published three papers in high-impact academic journals as the first author. Those papers were “Iridium-Catalyzed Asymmetry Hydrogenation of Halogenated Ketones for the Efficient Construction of Chiral Halohydrins,” and “Iridium/f-Amphol-catalyzed Efficient Asymmetric Hydrogenation of Benzo-fused Cyclic Ketones,” in Advanced Synthesis & Catalysis (IF = 5.451). Another paper was “Efficient synthesis of chiral β-hydroxy sulfones via iridium-catalyzed hydrogenation,” in Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry (IF = 3.490).

More recently, Congcong YIN published a paper in ACS Organic Letters (IF = 6.555) under the title, “Rh-Catalyzed Asymmetric Hydrogenation of Unsaturated Medium-Ring NH lactams: Highly Enantioselective Synthesis of N-Unprotected 2,3-Dihydro-1,5-benzothiazepinones.”

He decided to study chemistry as it was his favorite subject in middle and high school. When he continued onto university, Congcong YIN majored in chemical engineering and technology. As part of an exchange year at Jilin University, he found an interest in organic chemistry, which inspired him to continue his studies in this growing and vital field. He also found that he can get results for his experiments fairly quickly for papers.

Congcong YIN highlighted that the best direction for organic chemists is to continue onto graduate school. It will provide more opportunities and higher salaries than heading into employment with a bachelor’s degree.

When Congcong YIN was first studying within his master’s degree, he began examining an issue that Xumu ZHANG had been looking at for many years. It has many commercial and medical applications, so there has always been a desire to solve it. In the past, the researchers had focused on the solvents most known. Congcong YIN decided to take a different approach to screen the solvents. It would ensure that all solvents were considered, and ultimately a little-used solvent was found to be the best solution for the reaction.

One of the challenges in Congcong YIN’s life is finding a research-life balance. He acknowledged that he needs to keep notes on his phone. It helps him keep up with what he has to do in a day. His daily notes include recent progress in his experiments, goals, and ideas he has had through the night. The list is regularly updated throughout the day and night, which alleviates any concerns he may have about his aims for each day. However, the list is predicated on his self-discipline, so he encouraged other students to maintain their methods to remain disciplined.

He has also taken a very thoughtful approach to his experimental procedures. He was taught early in his chemistry career that the experiment must be thought through twice in your mind before actually experimenting. Using the pressurized glove boxes that protect the users requires significant amounts of set-up time, so everything needs to be prepared in advance. Congcong YIN developed the habit of organizing everything to the nearest minute so he would become more efficient in the laboratory.

At the same time, he would build small achievements into his planning that would give him immediate gratification, allowing him to relax for short periods. These times of “planned laziness” meant that he could relax without feeling guilty or affecting his overall workflow.

Outside of the laboratory, Congcong YIN has shown an aptitude for cooking, much like his father. Congcong learned to cook while in elementary school. However, it was more of something he did, instead of a hobby. On the other hand, he took it more seriously once he entered university. On reflection, he believes that chemistry students should have no problems learning recipes since sticking to experimental procedures is similar to following a recipe.

Congcong YIN also built a computer specifically for playing computer games and used to play until 11 pm every night. He noted the importance of self-discipline, arguing that it can be an excellent way to relax after a bad day in the laboratory. It should not be something that can be indulged.

His message for future postgraduate students at SUSTech:

Be prepared for periods of loneliness, and follow your plan. Even when there are temptations around you that will disrupt you, remain self-disciplined and persevere. In this way, you can achieve whatever your heart desires.

2020, 09-19
By Chris Edwards

From the Series

Graduate Stories

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