Ray An was a star student at China Agricultural University (CAU) – not just with his grades, but as a “star” on a popular Chinese television show, “Genius Knows.” The show features students from China’s top universities as they go head-to-head in a quiz format. Ray’s appearances earned him a large social media following, some 30,000 followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.
His major at CAU was aquaculture, which he could put to use at his father’s fish farm in China, providing a clear professional path forward. However, upon learning of his father's unfortunate cancer diagnosis, Ray applied to intern at the hospital where his father was being treated for cancer which suddenly presented another path. His experience there exposed him to people who could not pay for good healthcare, or who did not discover their cancer until later stages of the disease. Then and there, Ray knew that he wanted to study cancer and thought his best medical education would be in the U.S.
After spending two years at CAU, Ray transferred to UMD’s AGNR 2+2 program, where he is majoring in animal and avian sciences, and will graduate in May 2017. His choice to come to Maryland instead of other CAU partner universities was partly because UMD’s reputation for excellence and proximity to NIH, where he wanted to work. Animal sciences is one pathway to medical school, so the choice to come to UMD was easy for Ray.
From China Stardom to Maryland student
Students Ray’s first semester at UMD was challenging. He was an international student from China studying in a very demanding science program. Molecular and Quantitative Animal Genetics nearly got the best of him. There also was the language difference. Even though he was fluent in English, he had to work harder than most American students to understand the lectures and homework.
Now, two and half years later, Ray is counting acceptances to graduate school: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and University of Pennsylvania, UCLA – to name a few. He is leaning towards Harvard where he will enter the T.H. Chan School of Public Health, with plans to study cancer epidemiology.
Being a UMD student has been difficult for Ray, but this has been overshadowed by its bounty of rewards. Ray said the AGNR animal sciences curriculum is very demanding but he has had opportunities at UMD he would not have had in China, namely interning in several labs. His first internship was with Dr. Antony Jose’s lab in 2015, whose research focuses on DNA and RNA in “reprogramming future generations of animals,” according to the Jose lab website.
Ray also interned with Dr. Wolfgang Losert’s cancer dynamics lab at UMD. The Losert lab is partnered with the NIH National Cancer Institute, where Ray currently has a position. He studies the molecular mechanism of the transforming growth factor beta (TGFB) signaling pathways. He said he is especially interested in identifying biomarkers associated with cancer progression.
To say that Ray is bright is only part of the story. He credits his success to time management, heeding the advice of graduate students and mentors, and being fully committed to achieving his goals.
Ray said he follows a system for studying. He teaches a subject to another student - which he cites as a mechansim for "really learning the material" - studies in the morning and runs to reduce stress. He made time to socialize and go to parties, but he has one regret: not meeting that someone special.
He also has advice for other students seeking to go to grad school: keep your GPA as high as possible; prepare for the GRE earlier, and take advantage of internship opportunities.