The  Cellular  Make  Up  of  an  Academic  Career

Following the completion of his BSc and MPhil at HKUST, Franco was selected by the Hong Kong Government to receive the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Award and pursue his studies at the doctorate level. A cell biologist by training and interest, his PhD research is centered on the cytoskeletal machinery of higher eukaryotic cells, particularly in relation to cell splitting and formation. A critical area of research in cell biology, Franco’s work has demonstrated the potential to be a fundamental part of research into cancer treatments.

Franco Kin Chung Au
PhD in Life Science

Choosing HKUST  

As a successful undergraduate and Master’s student at HKUST, Franco was perfectly placed to recognize the value that continuing his studies at HKUST would have for the budding scientific researcher.

“HKUST is equipped with world-class facilities, including cutting-edge microscopes and equipment for biochemical and cellular research.”

In addition to the capacity to conduct cutting-edge research offered by HKUST, Franco was attracted to the prospect of expanding upon research he had begun as a senior undergraduate student.

He had developed a close working relationship with his prospective thesis supervisor Professor Robert Qi. As together they made some fascinating new discoveries about the nature of cell division in mammalian cells, even before Franco had begun his postgraduate career.

“These early successes in my scientific career motivated me to develop my research further.”

A Harmonious Environment 

This intellectual connection carried over into his PhD research and has been critical to his success as a doctoral candidate.

“Prof Qi’s open-mind and positive attitude towards research inspired me a lot. He knows when to give students guidance and when to let them try themselves out in research, and his training has definitely transformed me into a better researcher.

Moreover, his valuable ideas and critical comments have been vital to the success of my research.

He has a great attitude to new research and enjoys discussing work with students. Even when I was an undergraduate, he offered critical comments on my research data, as well as random ideas for projects.”

In addition to establishing a trusting relationship with his supervisor, Franco has found Prof Qi’s lab to be an enjoyable and stimulating workplace, making many friends from amongst his fellow research group mates.

“Outside the lab, we are good friends and hold gatherings frequently. In the lab, we have serious discussion on science and data, which is very helpful for directing our projects.”

Research Recognition

Over the course of the first two years of his PhD, Franco has been fortunate to contribute to the publishing of three papers in scientific journals. Among these, one was published as first author to the journal Developmental Cell, a significant achievement for a researcher still honing his craft and discovering his academic niche. In addition to his published work, Franco was able to both attend and present at a conference held by The American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco.

Expanded Horizons 

During the first year of his PhD, Franco travelled to the Netherlands to work in a lab run by Dr Anna Akhmanova, a world-renowned cell biologist based at the Utrecht University. During his three months there, Franco managed to sharpen his research skills and expand his knowledge base, particularly his understanding of cutting-edge cell imaging technology.

“Their demand for high standards shaped me into a better and more critical researcher.”

More than flourishing as a researcher, Franco was delighted to experience a country and culture entirely different from what he was accustomed to as a born-and-bred Hong Konger. He was particularly taken by the beauty of the Dutch tulip season, in full bloom during the spring months, which turns the national landscape into a colorful patchwork quilt.

“It was exciting for me, a Hong Kong city boy, to explore the fields filled with gorgeous colors everywhere.”

Post-PhD Plans 

Still fascinated by the unanswered questions of cell biology, Franco plans to embrace the wider academic community he has been exposed to while at HKUST and search for post-doctorate opportunities in the US.

“As a scientific researcher, HKUST has allowed me to seize opportunities I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

I’ve been able to attend a variety of meetings and conferences that have not only widened my horizons, but also allowed me to experience different cultures and form international connections.”

More about Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme (HKPFS)

HKPFS is an internationally recognized award to draw the best PhD students around the globe to Hong Kong.  It is a prestigious and fully-funded option for PhD studies. Application for HKPFS 2018/19 starts from 1 September 2017.

Click here to learn more!