Not many people can move to a new country, earn a graduate degree, publish a scientific paper, and get accepted to a PhD program—all in their second language and under two years' time.
Wenhui Qu knew she wanted to conduct research from an early age. After obtaining an undergraduate degree in biology, she searched for a graduate program in neuroscience. She found the highly customizable Master of Biological Sciences (MBS) degree and moved from China to attend the University of Minnesota in 2015. She chose the U of M for its “high ranking, location, and tuition.”
“The MBS was a really good fit,” she explains. “It allowed me to build my own degree.”
Love of Inquiry
As an MBS student, Qu found a home in Dr. Marija Cvetanovic’s lab, where she studied microglial cells in the brain. Microglial cells act as the main form of active immune defense in the central nervous system by clearing out cellular debris and dead neurons via phagocytosis (cell eating). Specifically, Qu investigated how these cells contribute to a neurodegenerative disorder called spinocerebellar ataxia type 1, or SCA1.
This past spring, Qu and her colleagues published a paper on their findings in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, which concluded that “a decrease in the number of microglia during an early stage of disease resulted in the amelioration of motor deficits in SCA1 mice.”
Now, as a PhD student in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at the U, Qu is interested in studying pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases. “There are many common features in these neurodegenerative diseases, and similar principles can be applied to how these diseases progress.”
Commitment to Research
Qu bought her first microscope back in high school. She found that performing her own experiments made her “happy and relaxed, like a kind of therapy.” Research, she knew even then, was her aspiration.
"My advisor was really patient with me and gave me the tools I needed to succeed.”
Her parents, who wanted her to carve her own career path, are supportive of her choices. “My parents give me advice but respect my decisions,” she says. “All the professors and students have been supportive, too. My advisor was really patient with me and gave me the tools I needed to succeed.”
At first, of course, the language barrier was difficult to navigate, and Qu put in extra hours to make sure she understood the material. She recorded every lecture, then went home and reviewed them until she mastered the subject matter. “That’s the point of doing what you really like,” she says. “You want to devote as much time to it as you can.”
- Introduction to Molecular Neuroscience with Dr. Lorene Lanier
“She is a very patient professor. She breaks down complex information so students can follow it more easily.”
Advice for Future Students
“My advice is to find the necessary tools and resources you need to achieve your goal, and people will help you.”