Emily Maung-Douglass recently finished her doctorate at UD and took at postdoctoral position at Xiamen University (pictured in the background).

Xiamen exchange

Marine science students from UD and Xiamen make cultural, educational exchange

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1:03 p.m., Jan. 18, 2013--With a Burmese father and an Italian-American mother, Emily Maung-Douglass grew up with a fusion of cultures as a part of life — and she came to appreciate how people can see the world very differently.

That outlook is part of why the recent UD marine biosciences graduate decided to pursue her postdoctoral research in China.

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“I think it’s really neat if you get to learn about another culture,” said Maung-Douglass, who begins her postdoctoral fellowship at Xiamen University (XMU) this month. “There’s a lot to be gained from that.”

Xiamen University is UD’s marine science sister institution in China, with a formal agreement supporting research collaboration and the 2008 establishment of the Joint Institute for Coastal Research and Management. The universities created a dual doctoral degree program in oceanography in 2011, in which several Chinese students are participating, but American doctoral students have yet to take part. Maung-Douglass is the first UD student to try this type of exchange, though at the postdoctoral level.

She started preparing by learning Mandarin online and practicing the language with Chinese students also enrolled in the School of Marine Science and Policy at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. Fellow UD student Bingran Cheng, who is from China and earned a bachelor’s degree at XMU, connected her with old friends to meet while abroad.

Maung-Douglass will spend a year working with XMU’s Kejian Wang on the effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure combined with a low-oxygen environment on Medaka fish. She discovered the opportunity after UD professor Timothy Targett traveled to Xiamen and learned that Wang was looking for a postdoctoral researcher.

The experience will build on Maung-Douglass’ studies at UD in Doug Miller’s lab, where she surveyed spawning horseshoe crab populations in the Inland Bays and examined how pesticides and other chemicals impact the arthropod’s larval development. For her postdoc, she plans to learn molecular techniques and basic proteomics, or the study of protein structure and function, to better use proteins as markers for chemical exposure.

Cheng, the UD student who attended Xiamen as an undergraduate, said that Maung-Douglass should expect to find significant cultural differences. For example, research in the United States is more self-motivated than in China, she said, with students ultimately needing to decide for themselves what they want to investigate.

Cheng started working on a master’s degree last year with Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor, on the microbe Archaea in Delaware sediments, examining their community composition and association with geochemistry. The UD faculty and students have been very helpful and friendly, she said, with the cultural adjustments getting easier along the way.

“It’s been a very fantastic journey for me,” Cheng said. “When you are young, you want to have some changes in your life. It’s good for you.”

Prospective students interested in the doctoral dual degree program in oceanography with Xiamen University can contact Janis Lopez, assistant dean for graduate services, at jclopez@udel.edu.

Article by Teresa Messmore

Images by Keith Maung-Douglass and courtesy of Bingran Cheng

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