preLighter Meng Zhu talks about her scientific journey

25 February 2020

In celebration of preLights’ second birthday, The Company of Biologists featured preLights on its WeChat channel, aiming to reach a broad Chinese audience.  For one of the posts (which you can find here), Annabel Nicholson (Science Communications Officer at the company) visited preLighter Meng Zhu at The University of Cambridge to talk about her scientific journey from China to the UK. 


Meng Zhu gained her undergraduate degree in Biological Science from Tshinghua University, Beijing. She then moved to Cambridge, UK to do her PhD in Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz’s lab at the University of Cambridge, where she is now a postdoc.

“I was a weird case as it’s more common [for Chinese students] to study abroad in the US,” explains Meng. “But I was really interested in developmental biology and a lot of the papers were coming from the UK so I decided the UK was better suited for my PhD interests.” As part of her undergraduate degree, Meng had the opportunity to complete an internship at the Gurdon Institute, also in Cambridge, where she met her PhD supervisor. Meng also liked the way PhD programs run in the UK. “There is less publication pressure, which means I can focus all my time on answering a challenging project without other worries,” she explains.


Meng in her postdoc lab at the University of Cambridge


When Meng began her postdoc in Cambridge, she also joined preLights, a community of early-career researchers who highlight interesting preprints. “Every time I look at preprints, there are so many papers and you easily get lost,” she says. “I read preprints every day and always want to comment or ask questions. preLights is a really good platform because the authors themselves can directly answer your questions.” Another benefit is that Meng has been able to improve her scientific writing skills. “I’ve written four preLights so far and my ability to summarise a paper has improved.”

Meng has now lived in the UK for five years. Despite initial culture shock, she feels settled. “There are differences in the lifestyle. I think people are more relaxed here and British people really do apologise a lot!” she laughs. “Food is the main thing that I miss about China – I think China really has a lot of great food. But if I were to leave the UK, I would definitely miss the pub culture. You can discuss science and inspire ideas or develop colleague relationships.”

For Meng, one of the biggest achievements has been her improvement in the English language. “As an undergraduate, I was well known for my bad English! In my first lab meeting here, nobody could understand a word I said. It was quite difficult to communicate with my supervisor.” Initiatives at the university and in her lab, as well as her involvement with preLights, have helped Meng improve. “Now I can really get people to understand what I’m saying.”

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