Han-Kai Jiang is a PhD student in the lab of Yane-Shih Wang. After his work on ubiquitination and SUMOylation was recently published as a cover story in Biochemistry, he was awarded the 2020 BASF Taiwan Excellent Doctoral Dissertation Award. In Summer 2021, he’ll become a visiting assistant in research at Yale University in the United States. We chatted to find out how his research is funded and what keeps him motivated.
Why is it important to study post-translational modifications like ubiquitination and SUMOylation?
These modifications are important in regulating biological functions like DNA damage response, autophagy, or cancer development. Ubiquitination is complicated; the ubiquitin could be SUMOylated or phosphorylated, and there are heterogeneous and homogeneous ubiquitin chains. Some of the enzymes involved in ubiquitination are still unknown, and relying on the enzymes for experiments can be tedious. We created a platform for ubiquitin to attach at site-specific positions so we can study these modifications. Using noncanonical amino acids, we can study the protein chemistry without unfolding the protein.
How did you apply for your fellowship?
My professor encouraged me—he told me that having international experience during your PhD would be great for my career. Fortunately, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has the Taiwan Academic Talents Overseas Advancement Program, which provides a stipend for overseas graduate research. You need letters of support from your advisor and the institution where you’re going, a good TOEFL score, and a project proposal. I just need to finish my pre-oral before I go in July!
In order to promote the quality of the PhD program, the government has recently been giving a lot of financial support to students to study abroad, do research, and attend international conferences. I think PhD students should take the opportunities, because it’s important to communicate your science, build connections, and learn more.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I was the leader of my high school guitar club, and I continued playing guitar in undergrad. I’m from Tainan, and I used to play at cultural centers and temples there. I also loved photography and capturing special moments. But in grad school, I didn’t have enough time, so I stopped. Two years ago, I was inspired by Professor Chi-Kuang Yao to go to the gym to work out. I’m training my mind, not only to stay healthy, but also to stay focused. Now, I have more energy for research, too! Professor Yao said, “You need to challenge yourself. You can’t stay in your comfort zone for too long.” I think it applies to my career, too.