Dou Wanying: Another Offer from Harvard! From WKU Computer Science to Harvard Bioinformatics, What Is Her Secret?

It was only the beginning of spring when Dou Wanying, a senior student from Wenzhou-Kean University, received olive branches holding out from five of the world’s top universities in quick succession. Born in Henan Province, Dou came to WKU four years ago to pursue her studies in computer science.

“Harvard is my dream school! I have never expected my dream to come true!” Matriculated by Harvard’s MSc program in Computational Biology and Quantitative Genetics (CBQG), Dou is excited about the path ahead. In addition to her major in Computer Science, Dou has invested her four-year college time in mathematics and bioinformatics and group research projects with professors. These dedications make her the third WKU graduate to receive an offer from Harvard.

Working her way to Harvard — Targeting a “niche” major.

Dou jokingly commented that it was probably because she had picked a “niche” major. “Niche” certainly means fewer competitors but also a high threshold for the applicants. To be successfully enrolled in what she believed was the “niche major”, Dou has been working on “self-cultivation” ever since she saw the direction herself going in. Besides her computer curriculum, she also took two minors in mathematics and bioinformatics.

In Dou’s view, computers are tools that help learners see the subjects they are interested in from a different perspective, thereby building bridges between fields and promoting development. Bioinformatics is what she has chosen to pursue in the future. Inspired and guided by her professors, Dou learned that there was such a discipline as bioinformatics, and she soon became the first student at WKU to pursue a minor in this field.

As a rapidly developing interdisciplinary field, bioinformatics encompasses computer expertise and a large amount of biological knowledge. As someone who had just entered the profession, Dou actively sought advice from biology professors. Every day, she went nowhere other than her classroom, study room, and dormitory, and she made full use of WKU’s overseas website resources. Dou not only completed the courses in her minor schedule with high grades but also became an active auditor in advanced biology classes such as “General Biology” and “Medical Genetics”, and what many professors called a “model student”.

Scientific research — Creating the world’s first database of antibiotic resistance in probiotics

“I don’t have the highest GPA in my class, but my experiences in research should have added a sparkle to my application.” During her college years, Dou participated in several prestigious international conferences in computer and bioinformatics and published scientific papers in several academic journals such as Frontiers in Bioinformatics and Environmental Science and Pollution Research. In her junior year, she and Dr. Aloysius Wong, Assistant Professor of Biology, created the world’s first database of antibiotic resistance.

To better build a website and straightforwardly present the data, Dou took additional courses on web design and databases. She studied during the day and buried herself in data at night. When she encountered unfamiliar technical issues, such as information classification and retrieval methods, she followed Dr. Aloysius Wong’s advice to classify and chart the data from three dimensions: probiotic species, drug resistance, and geographical distribution to enhance user experience.

After eight months of mapping, building, and piloting, the database consists of information and research on nearly 160 drug-resistant probiotic species launched in October 2021, marking the world’s first web-based tool for tracking probiotic antibiotic resistance reports. Her paper as the first author has been included in the Oxford journal, Database: The Journal of Biological Databases and Curation and will be published soon.

Cross-disciplinary Profession— Finding orientation in life

“WKU has always encouraged cross-disciplinary development, which has benefited me greatly.” Immersed in such an academic atmosphere, Dou has obtained remarkable academic performances and many mentors.

The open, cosmopolitan atmosphere of WKU has allowed Dou to be more explorative. Last winter, Dou participated in the winter session of the Weizmann Institute of Science, one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research centers, where she explored different topics in basic science with students from universities around the world. Together with students from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, she investigated the current preparation state of ultracold molecules.

During her four years at WKU, Dou has gradually grown more and more confident. From Computer Science to Bioinformatics, she had found herself an interest that opened up a whole new path.

Dou acknowledged that she may enter a doctorate program in the future and further her studies in bioinformatics in a bid to contribute to the discipline.