Jingxun Chen

Jingxun Chen
Class of 2013
Genetics, Genomics, and Development
Ünal Lab

What sparked your interest in science?

As a little kid, I was fascinated by books and TV series that explored the natural world - the twinkling stars, the vast universe, the wild tornados, and the mysterious Bermuda Triangles. The living world, however, didn't catch my eyes until I moved to the US from Guangzhou, China. My first science class in high school was Biology. There, I saw the intricate structures of an onion tip: Little boxes of cells carefully arranged themselves in tracks, and were going through different cell cycle stages depending on where they located on the tracks! Instead of telling us why this happened, my Biology teacher asked us what these observations meant.

This amazing "discovery" and my teacher's encouragement to find out the answers ourselves pushed me to explore. I stayed hours in the library to read on Wikipedia even though I needed to translate almost every other word. Although I could barely piece together a full sentence in English, I raised my hand to suggest my ideas. Now I have forgotten many of my ideas, but I distinctly remembered my excitement and those ah-ha moments that came after days of struggles. Since then, Biology has become something more than a subject for me. It is my passion, but also it's an intimate friend who has motivated me to learn English and integrate into the US. And now, I'm dedicating my graduate school life to discover something new about my friend!

What attracted you to UC Berkeley?

Berkeley is a special place. People here love to work on interesting, important, and creative questions. From Baker's yeast, to sticklebacks, to strange bacteria and viruses, to choanoflagellas (what is this, right?), Berkeley is probably among the most diverse in research topics and subjects in the top research institutes. With this amount of diversity, we are constantly pushed to learn new things, build new collaborations, and appreciate new dimensions of our living world.

But, that is not all. People here love to integrate these diversities into something bigger. Collaborations across different departments - MCB, IB, Neuro, BioE, Chemistry, Physics, to name a few, are the norm of our community. In our graduate school life, many of us (if not all) will meet people from different departments, grab some drinks, chat about science, get our minds exploded with new ideas, and set into new research directions. For this to happen, it takes nice and honest people. People here are genuinely interested in helping each other, and the whole atmosphere is congenial rather than competitive. For me, this is important because I believe that the most important and creative scientific discoveries have less a chance to surface in a stifling environment. In Berkeley, I have never felt a need to hide my discoveries. Instead, I'd run down the hallway to tell my friends about my most recent findings. 

What are you currently working on in the lab?

I am working in the lab of Elçin Ünal, who is an Assistant Professor in our department. Our lab is interested in how cells faithfully partition their chromosomes and organelles during meiosis, a cell division that generates sex cells in almost all sexually reproducing organisms. My study focuses on the kinetochore, the large protein complex that mediates chromosome segregation during meiosis. I want to understand how the assembly and disassembly of this complex is regulated in meiosis. Excitingly, we have found that in early stage of meiosis, synthesis of a key kinetochore protein is repressed because cells express an alternative, longer transcript isoform. Later in meiosis, a shorter isoform is induced to remake this protein, which is the sole determinant of kinetochore integrity and function in meiosis! This amazing project has been a wonderful collaboration between two other graduate students and myself - just to highlight the level of collaboration again.

Describe your ultimate dream/goal for your future.

I love research and teaching! My dream is to be able to do both in a research institute or a small liberal art college. I'm also very interested in K-12 education, and would love to be part of the forces that improve high school science education. Berkeley has lots of teaching/education courses (as a graduate student, you can do something called the "Teaching Certificate"), and much help on teaching us how to teach! I have learned so much from these pedagogy classes that I probably would never have learned elsewhere! 

When I'm not in the lab, I can be found...

When I'm not in the lab, I'd like to hike around the Ocean Beach and Presidio of San Francisco. Sometimes, I'd go on short runs, go out to dinner with my friends and see some cool movies. But most likely, I'd be watching K dramas and com'on, you know why! 

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice during your first year in graduate school, what would you say?

Don't be shy, and talk to more people about what they work on and how they got interested in their research and career choices.