TBSI Graduate Story | Xu Tong: Research is about Rediscovering and Transcending Oneself

June 22 2020

Xu Tong enrolled at the Smart Grid and Renewable Energy Lab of Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute (TBSI) as a bachelor-straight-to-PhD student in 2015. During his PhD years, he published four papers in SCI journals and was granted three patents. He received a National Scholarship for Doctoral Students, a governmental study-abroad scholarship from China Scholarship Council, and a comprehensive second-class scholarship from Tsinghua University. In addition, he won the Excellence Scholarship from the TBSI Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarships program for three years in a row. After graduation, he will take a job at the Southwest Electric Power Design Institute of China Power Engineering Consulting Group.

Becoming one of TBSI's first PhD students

"Opportunities are out there for those who are ready." Xu Tong said. When Xu failed to get a satisfactory result from the National College Entrance Examination, in the summer break that followed, he made up his mind to map out for the future. Starting from Xu’s freshman year, he attached equal importance to both learning and extracurricular activities. His academic performance always ranked among the top in the pack. When finished his undergraduate studies, he was awarded the title of Chongqing's Excellent Graduate. Back then, TBSI was recruiting its first batch of PhD students. Xu Tong, who had no plan to go for a higher degree, was intrigued by TBSI's educational philosophy featuring internationalization, innovation, and interdisciplinary. That was how he set out on his journey of research at TBSI.

Challenges along the way

Xu Tong found that undergraduate studies are about retracing steps already taken by previous generations and absorbing knowledge whereas research is a process of making constant breakthroughs, innovating non-stop, and rediscovering oneself, with the courage to venture into uncharted territory.

Xu published his first SCI-included paper in his second PhD year. He said, "The research process was like gestating a baby. It started from scratch, and I took tenderly care of it. Finally, it was born." The success of the paper instilled him with a strong sense of accomplishment, which intensified his interest in research.

However, his way forward was lined with setbacks. He submitted his final paper for publication the first time as early as in 2018. It was resubmitted to three journals and revised five times. In the beginning, he felt frustrated that the paper was dismissed by reviewers, but his supervisor encouraged him to stick it out. In 2020, the paper was finally accepted by a first-rate journal IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics.

Xu Tong’s paper was accepted by IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics.

He is grateful for the considerate guidance that he has received from his supervisor, especially in the initial stage of his research. He said, "During the past five years, my supervisor has not only taught me specialized knowledge. He has shown me how to be a good person." As his supervisor said, the supervisor-student relationship may evolve into one between academic partners.

TBSI has created many opportunities of overseas academic exchange for students. While he pursued his PhD, Xu Tong participated in the Tsinghua-Imperial Summer Vacation Program and spent one year studying at UC Berkeley. Such experiences opened his eyes to different research systems and cultures abroad. He observed that foreign scholars are more willing to express their intentions and present themselves than their Chinese counterparts, who tend to be quite reserved. So he deliberately trained himself to be more expressive in talking about academic topics. That effort paid off well.

Xu Tong participated in the Tsinghua-Imperial Summer Vacation Program.

Xu Tong studied at UC Berkeley for one year.

A rich life beyond research

Apart from his top-notch capabilities of research, this extroverted student was particularly active in extracurricular activities.

Even before his campus life kicked off at TBSI, Xu Tong took part in the Link Training Camp organized by the institute. At the training camp, he not only honed his skillset but also developed friendships with teachers and students. That was where his fascination with student groups originated. Just a short time into his very first semester, he joined the Student Union and served multiple terms as its Vice President.

Xu Tong took part in the Link Training Camp.

"You can always make time if you are passionate about what you do. Working in student groups sharpens my mind and abilities." Xu Tong said.

Advice for future graduates

"Failure is part of research." Xu Tong suggested that future graduates persevere in the face of failure and find fun from research. As for career choice, he proposed three criteria, i.e. individual capabilities, personal interests, and trends of the era. "There is no cookie-cutter answer to the question what job is good. The job that suits you is the best."

Editor: Fei