Research has helped me view the world through an objective lens | Duke Kunshan University

Research has helped me view the world through an objective lens

Hsien-Yao Chee, pictured here in the lab with fellow sophomore Aiya Kuchukova, has been involved in two research projects at Duke Kunshan

By Hsien-Yao Chee
Class of 2022

As a potential global health major (biology track), I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two research projects at Duke Kunshan – one under the tutelage of professors Chenkai Wu and John Ji as part of the Data+X class, and the other in the Global Health Research Center’s (GHRC) Infectious Diseases Lab. Both allowed me an opportunity to develop the fundamentals of research while exploring two separate fields of global health.

The research project I worked on with professors Wu and Ji began as an independent study class that was largely focused on analyzing data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In the class, we learned the phases for coming up with a viable research question, such a thorough literature review and identifying a target population, as well as how to use professional software like the Statistical Analysis Suite.

My study partner, Evelyn Lim, and I would schedule regular meetings with our professors every two weeks or so to discuss the progress we’d made or the problems we’d run into. Both were extremely available and were open to answering any questions, which made learning a complex skill that much easier.

The class ran for the full 14 weeks of the second semester and concluded with a research poster presentation that was open to the entire DKU community and emulated a conference that a professional researcher would attend.

Our research was into the relationship between chronic kidney disease and sleep duration in middle-aged to older adults. We found that sleeping the recommended six to eight hours helped reduce the risk of chronic kidney disease while sleeping more than eight hours or less than six both increased the risk. Interestingly, we also found that sleeping more than eight hours was significantly worse than sleeping less than six hours.

Due to this discovery, our professors continued to mentor us even after the class had ended. After recommending tweaks to the algorithm, they encouraged us to write a paper to be published in a peer-reviewed public health journal. That paper is still in the works.

When they suggested writing a paper, I was surprised because it was not something I’d even thought of at the beginning of the project. It was definitely a pleasant surprise, though, and it gave me a renewed sense of belief in myself and how anything is possible if I put in the necessary time and effort and am committed to the process.

Chee and his study partner, Evelyn Lim, present their research on kidney disease last semester with faculty mentors Chenkai Wu (back left) and John Ji

My current work in the GHRC revolves around viral respiratory diseases. Together with Benjamin Anderson, assistant professor of global health, and master’s student Sankalpa Bhatarrai, we are in the screening phase for a paper titled “A Systematic Review of Respiratory Viruses in Indonesia.”

I’ve mostly been conducting literature reviews while getting better acquainted with the various terminology of respiratory diseases and virology, with the “actual” lab work to come in the research labs at DKU’s newly opened Innovation Building.

Working under professor Anderson is interesting, as I get to see and partake in the often overlooked “soft” parts of research, such as budgeting and relationship building. My fluency in Bahasa Indonesia, which I’d never thought would be an asset in conducting health research, has also been a valuable tool.

My experience working alongside accomplished researchers has taught me one thing: I have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

When I started, I definitely felt slightly overwhelmed, largely due to the fact I was in unchartered territory. I knew so little about both the research practices and the field of study I was now in. Thankfully, all my mentors were supportive during the initial stages and were eager to teach me the ropes, which helped get me up to speed and eased my transition. Even now, I’m learning new things all the time and am in constant awe of the skill, insightfulness and intelligence on display by my mentors, which only drives me to better myself.

My time on both research projects has taught me to analyze problems from a multitude of angles and find innovative but efficient solutions. In a philosophical sense, working on these projects has influenced my general take on life. I now look at the world through an objective lens, realizing and understanding my biases while carefully examining the different issues we face in a deeper, more profound manner.

I’d encourage all students to join in and partake in the different research opportunities available on campus. Just identify the topics that interest you and do not be afraid to reach out to the professors in the field.

Shoot your shot. Winning is only for the brave!


Hsien-Yao Chee is an undergraduate in the Class of 2022. He is from Malaysia.