Duke University is where Xing Zong is working on a PhD in Physics. Going on five years at the university he shares his thoughts about what it takes to study in the U.S. “I would say that studying in the United States is an eye opening process. You got to be proactive and you got to take initiatives. There are so many wonderful resources lying quietly in every corner of the university that you are attending and you have to really be the person who can take initiatives to find them out and take advantage of these resources,” he says.
“Right now the education is so much more than just learning the materials from a book or the classroom. You have to take a civic engagement. You have to be involved with high tech spin-offs and other interesting experiences. So you should definitely be proactive.”
The twenty-seven year old received his undergraduate degree back home in China. He says that one fundamental difference studying here versus back at home is the opportunity to receive a liberal arts education. “I would say that in China the college education is laser narrow focused. It’s very technical oriented, but here after I arrived at Duke I was very surprised to find that the freshman don’t have to decide their major. They can easily switch their major, but eight years ago when I was in college that wasn’t the case,” he says.
“So I found that American education is much more liberal arts focus. So I think that is the fundamental difference."
Xing says although it takes focus and discipline to do well in a PhD program, it is also important to surround yourself with other students studying other majors. “A typical graduate education especially a PhD training is very narrow and usually you just focus on your small tiny project which, is I think, very essential to scientist because scientific research just requires you to do that, but on the other hand things are always a double edge sword and it is very easy for you to focus on a project without having a big picture,” he says.
“I found that just going out of the lab and speaking to other people with other disciplines broaden my horizons and I definitely think that inter disciplinary studies right now is essential because scientific breakthroughs no longer can be achieved by a single individuals work.”
With that being said, Xing also allows himself time to enjoy a few of his passions. “First, of all I will say at Duke you can’t be a Blue devil without loving Basketball. So my passion is Basketball. I watch Basketball and I also play Basketball. I’m also a freelance writer for some Chinese publications. I especially focus on higher education topics. I conduct a lot of interviews with American higher education leaders to discuss with makes a university better and why some universities fall short and what are the reasons that drives an American education and what makes an American university so good.
Coming to Duke University from China wasn't much of a transition for Xing, however he says he has discovered that his first name has a place here in America's culture.
“I don’t think there is too much culture shock when I came to the United States, but one thing I do find interesting was after I came to Duke I found that my first name ‘Xing’ was all over the place, “he says.
Then I asked my friends and they told me that Xing in the United States means roadside crossing. So that is just something I found very funny.”
Xing graduates next year, but he says this September he will spend time searching for a career position in the industry. “Right now I still haven’t decided yet. I will start job hunting this coming September and as a PhD student the typical career path is to do a few years of post-doctor and try to find a faculty position, but right now the situation is that positions in academia are so limited and each year hundreds of post doc are competing for one faculty position,” he says.
“I usually use the word ‘cut throat’ to describe the competition and for me I am more interested in going into the industry so I can use my technology background, my number crunching ability also some personal skills to find an industry position.”