Uncertainty leads to possibility

Andrew Westoll

When second-year biology student Mingyuan “Ming” Li started working in Professor Herbert Kronzucker’s electrophysiology laboratory in the summer of 2011, he had no idea how much he’d accomplish in just a few months.

One of six undergraduates in the biology department to win a prestigious NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award that year, Ming originally thought his goal that summer was simple: to make a small contribution to the bustling lab by measuring the membrane potential of root systems. But Professor Kronzucker was quick to reframe Ming’s impending experience for him.

“Dr. Kronzucker told me my goal was to end up with a publication, a co-authorship,” recalls Ming a little incredulously. “I was very, very uncertain about this. I had no research experience! But by the end of the summer, Dr. Kronzucker had shown me how uncertainty can lead to possibilities.”

By the time classes were back in fall session, Ming had co-authored a manuscript on his research. Soon after, this manuscript was accepted for publication by Experimental Botany, one of the top journals in plant science. For Ming, this experience caused a profound shift in his thinking.

“It changed the way I look at science, and at university,” he says. “I became a member of a research team. I never thought I’d have a scientific publication by the time I graduated. But I was able to see the data I had collected independent of other people ending up in a top scientific journal.”

Now in third year, Ming has compiled datasets for what may well be two more co-authorships. For Kronzucker, this just confirms what he’s always felt about the UTSC student body.

“Ming is a spectacular example of what students here are capable of,” he says. “Ming could have three peer-reviewed papers in-press by the time he graduates. This could make him one of the most published undergraduate students in the history of U of T.”

Ming is still deciding on his direction once he graduates. But no matter what he chooses, his undergraduate years at UTSC have been life-altering.

“I am so lucky to have had Dr. Kronzucker as a supervisor. His graduate students helped me very much, too. They provided opportunities to me. Everyone has their own potential, and the right environment can unlock this potential.”