Class Of 2018 Student Li Yang: A Doer Who’s Always On the Road

“I am extremely enthusiastic about mathematics. I am willing to devote my time and energy to master this beautiful discipline.”

“Everyone should try as many new things as possible, regardless what phase of life they’re at. Don’t be close-minded.”

“I want to give back to the society and deal with societal issues at its core.”

These are the quotes that reflect the different dimensions of Class of 2018 graduate Li Yang, who majors in mathematics. Recently admitted into the graduate school at the National University of Singapore (NUS), he had already pre-learned many graduate-level courses and achieved a major course GPA of 3.9. Having earned full recognition for his leading work in both the mathematical modeling society and the quantitative research group, he is also heavily involved in physics experiment design, big data, and deep learning. As a straight A student in the eyes of his fellow students, Li Yang is completely pragmatic, whether it is his daily life or the workplace.

Doer’s Motto #1: Deal with the Most Difficult Task When You’re Energetic

When Li Yang first entered SUSTech, he was not sure about what he wanted to do in the future. Due to his perfectionist personality, he spent a large amount of time working on things he does not truly enjoy. But on reflection, Li Yang regards these detours as valuable assets that helped him grow and become who he is now.

During his freshman year, Li Yang participated in Guangdong Physics Laboratory Competition for University Students and won the first prize with his teammates. They were also the youngest team ever to win the first prize.

“I didn’t think too much before preparing for the competition. I just thought it was fun and I happened to have time. It took six months for us to design the laboratory work. Despite working every day, we could not get the right results for a long time. Eventually, we found the problem in the equipment’s heat absorption, and corrected the mistake by adding a control group.”

Despite stellar achievements in physics, Li Yang did not major in it. He bravely admitted: “I know I did well in the competition and the process was extremely rewarding. But in the process, I also realized I am not truly enthusiastic about doing experiments. Physics is an interesting discipline, but I don’t see myself building a career on that.”

To find his true passion, he enrolled in a list of challenging electives: laboratory courses in biology and chemistry as well as higher and linear algebra. “It was really a stressful time. My workload is far above average. My friends tried to talk me out of doing this because they were worried about my well-being. Nevertheless, I stuck with my plan because I needed to study a discipline in depth to work out if I would enjoy the academic field. Finally, I found my love with mathematics through higher and linear algebra, which has broadened my vision and sharpened my analytical skills.” In the following academic year, Li Yang took almost all the courses in mathematics in his sophomore year, achieving scores of over 90 in all his courses.

Doer’s Motto #2: Keep Discovering Yourself

Li Yang encourages everyone to be open to new knowledge, which could very well influence and change their lives.

“Thanks to my professor and instructors, I fell in love with reading. By going through recommended books, I have opened the door to a great deal of new knowledge found my fields of interest. For example, I started to feel very connected to machine learning after reading big data-related books recommended by Professor Zhang Zhen.”

After laying a solid academic foundation, Li Yang began to combine theory with practice. As a math major student, he did not hesitate to participate in the “Shenzhen Cup” Mathematical Modeling Competition and led his team to win the only national first prize of that round.

“We were working on a project around genetics and disease, which was difficult to approach due to its interdisciplinary nature and small existing samples. Most of the teams used algorithms in machine learning, but we thought being unique was also important. In the end, we chose the most basic algorithm to solve the problem, and judges were very satisfied”.

Doer’s Motto #3: Sharing and Mutual Assistance are Important

Li Yang has always been willing to share his experience in learning mathematics with others. During his spare time, he took up the leadership work of SUSTech’s Mathematical Modeling Society.

To further increase members’ interests in mathematics, Li Yang designed a seminar course and sharing sessions where he shared his knowledge of all kinds of algorithms and programming techniques. He was very happy at these events’ turnout rates, which fostered his sense of responsibility and motivated him to study harder and spread more knowledge.

He also remembered every little thing that happened at the society: from big events like the prizes the society has won at home and abroad, to smaller things such as recommending fellow students to high-profile internship programs. You may wonder how an undergraduate has the power to recommend students to major enterprises, and Li Yang gave a satisfying answer: “I used to intern at a quite few financial and technology companies as well as securities traders. All of these employers saw the good qualities of SUSTechers through my hard work. I managed to represent SUSTech in a positive light, leading companies to trust students from my university. Some enterprises have even listed SUSTech as one of their ‘target’ universities.”

Li Yang devoted considerable time and energy into these extracurricular activities, but he believes he also benefitted a lot from helping others: “When I was developing the mathematical modeling club, my advisor Li Jingzhi gave me a lot of support. He is a good professor, but also a reliable friend. I think all the professors from the Department of Mathematics are very nice. They will patiently answer all your question no matter how easy it is. I also want to be like them by contributing to everything that I can help. By doing this, I am also passing my power and influence onto others. I hope my ‘legacy’ can live on like this after my graduation.” He was filled with joy and pride when recalling these experiences.

Doer’s Motto #4: Giving Back to Society; Seeking Motivation from Love and Responsibility

Li Yang’s “doer spirit” is not only from study, work and helping others but also from giving back to the society. “Compared with my other endeavors, I want to spend more time on SUSTech’s charity work. After all, a little action on our part could entirely change others’ life.”

He is currently a part of a charity program called “Class at 4:30 p.m.”, in which volunteers took care of children from the nearby Tanglang community. “This program was passed on to me by students from the graduating classes of 2016 and 2017, and I will try my best to carry on their legacy.” On top of that, he utilizes the chance to teach scientific knowledge to the children, creating more meaningful sessions between volunteers and the children.

Li Yang also went to Thailand and took care of the kids at an orphanage. He truly felt that love can overcome language barriers. “I remember there was one child who always had the brightest smile. The smile was so passionate that you almost couldn’t believe he had experienced one of the worst things in life, being abandoned by parents. I was deeply moved by his optimism, but I felt sad at the same time. Why should such a cute kid go through so much?”

He continued: “I was lucky enough to receive help from many people, which played a big role in my positive mindset. I hope I can spread my positivity to them and help them build a better life. I need to keep doing charity work because of them. Their bright eyes and infectious smile is the reason why I can’t quit.”

Final Words

While feeling hopeful for the future, Li Yang is very nostalgic and sentimental when looking back at the past four years: “I will always cherish the experience of working hard and trying new things at SUSTech. I hope I can continue to be a doer, and keep discovering and pursuing what I want.”

Additionally, Li Yang offered some pieces of advice for SUSTech students:

“For freshman students, open your eyes, try new things and keep discovering your surroundings. For sophomores, follow your guts and choose a concentration; don’t be afraid of possible failure, just try your best do to what you can do. 

For juniors, you should form a clear plan for future life, make decision bravely, and chase your dream wholeheartedly.

For seniors, finish up what you have left behind in the past three years and try not to graduate with any regrets.

The four years at university is a time full of opportunities, which happens to be most people energy peak. Seize the opportunity, find your way and be focused on your goal. Do your job well, but don’t give up on what you love – even though balancing them can be a hard thing to do. Just stick   with it, and believe you will realize your dream and reach your goals one day.”

Original Chinese Article by Cai Duo

English Translation by Fan Yining

Proofreading by Chris Edwards

Photos by Lan Qiao and Wang Benfan