From a love of science to a successful career

An interview with Professor Liang-Qiu Lu of the Central China Normal University

‘’I think the Reaxys PhD Prize provided me with valuable chances to know the broader world of academic chemistry research’’ -Professor Liang-Qiu Lu

Professor Liang-Qiu Lu is one of the 2011 finalists of the Reaxys PhD Prize. He completed his PhD in organic chemistry at the Central China Normal University (CCNU) in Wuhan under the supervision of Professor Wen-Jing Xiao and went on to work as an assistant professor at that institution. During that time, he did a post-doctorate at the Leibniz Institute for Catalysis in Rostock, Germany under Professor Matthias Beller. In 2015, he was promoted to a full professor at CCNU.

Professor Lian-Qiu Lu

You have certainly had a successful career, going from your PhD to an assistant professorship in China and simultaneously doing post-doctoral studies in Germany. Now you are a professor at the Central China Normal University. Do you see yourself as successful?

I can say that I’m successful and I’d like to explain why.

First of all, I came from a small village in Zhejiang province and my parents always hoped that I would enter a good university and find a good job in a city. From that point of view, I believe that I’ve successfully fulfilled their desire, and made them happy and proud. Secondly, I chose chemistry education and research in a university as my career. It’s worth noting that I already really liked science when I was very young. So I think I’m successful because I made the correct choice to make me happy and give me the motivation to overcome any difficulty during my work.

That is certainly a lovely way to see success. How about your view of yourself? Do you see yourself primarily as a researcher? Or an educator?

I like to be both a researcher and educator because I believe these roles cannot be separated — certainly not for me. As a researcher, I like to design new things and find unexpected results which will add to our pool of knowledge. However, there is no doubt that guiding and motivating new students, and later collaborating with them as they become researchers is the basis of good scientific practice. New phenomena and results should be presented to inspire students to learn and create, even if they sometimes have challenges to master things.

Did you ever consider working in industry? Or did you always feel that academia was your "home"?

At the beginning of my Bachelor of Science, I planned to work in industry. I even got a Bachelor of Business from Wuhan University. It was only later that I discovered my affinity for academia. Perhaps it is because of the influence of my PhD supervisor, Professor Wen-Jing Xiao.

That said, I expect to collaborate with industry in the future because I hope my fundamental research will find its real-world application.

Do you believe that being a Reaxys PhD Prize finalist helped you in your career?

Of course! As I said at the 2018 Reaxys PhD Prize Symposium in Wuhan, my academic travels to Thailand, Portugal, Switzerland and Hong Kong early in my career were supported by the Reaxys Prize Committee. I think the activity related to the Reaxys PhD Prize provided me with valuable chances to know the broader world of academic chemistry research.

Why did you decide to enter the Reaxys PhD Prize?

In 2010, as a PhD student, I attended the 11th Tetrahedron Symposium in Beijing. After that, I received an invitation to apply for the Reaxys PhD Prize 2011. Eight years later, I recommended one of my PhD students, Miss Yi Wei, to enter this famous academic contest for young researchers. To my delight, I was informed that she was successfully chosen as one of the 45 finalists for the Reaxys PhD Prize 2019 for her excellent work on Pd-catalyzed asymmetric [5+2] cycloadditions with photo-generated ketenes!

Prof Lu, above, with some student graduates

Prof Lu, above, with some
student graduates

What advice would you give to someone starting out in their academic career in the chemical sciences?

I’m not a senior chemist, but I can share my feelings with young researchers who plan to start their academic career soon. First, hard work is the most important thing. Second, frequent communication with senior chemists will help you to avoid many detours, and in-depth communication with chemists who are not in your research area will inspire new ideas and provide opportunities to collaborate. Third, be prepared to learn at every opportunity.

Professor Lian-Qiu Lu, above, with some students.

Professor Liang-Qiu Lu, above, with some students.

I put in extra effort to show students how to design and perform experiments, how to read the literature, how to design and prepare new photoreactors, and so on. After two or three years, if they’re invested in learning, a senior student can be prepared to be a good researcher and educator. And finally, always remember your team! A creative and collaborative team is a must. No researcher can fly solo.

Dr. Lu, thank you for your time.