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An open letter from a Tongji teacher to his students

News Center
February 9, 2020

Dear students,

Only when it turns cold can we see the quality of the pine and cypress; only at time of difficulty can we feel the nature of the human. The extended winter vacation in 2020 is an unforgettable one; and the Spring Festival of 2020 is unforgettable, too. The coronavirus outbreak has become the major concern of millions of Chinese people, including Tongji people. The extension of our winter vacation is an important measure to avoid transmission and reduce cross-infection of novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP).

Some of you,graduate students in particular, feel worried, and even nervous for failure to return to the University. Under the dual pressure of academic study and employment, you are eager to conduct your experiments in the lab and complete your graduation thesis as soon as possible. As your supervisor, I know and understand how you feel at the moment.

The prevention and control of the outbreak is vital to the health of each student. Therefore, I ask every one of you not to return to the University for the time being to cooperate with the University and wait for further notice. We must realize the risk of infection on our way back to the University at a peak time when millions of people rush back to work. Returning to the University now will not only bring potential risk to yourself, but also to other students as well as teachers. Not returning to the University means being responsible for ourselves, to Tongji, and to the society. This is the responsibility and commitment of Tongji people. The battle to contain the NCP without gunpowder in the battle field requires each of us to “row together towards the same goal”.

Rowing together towards the same goal is the spirit embedded in the blood of Tongji people who always stand up as long as there is a need for the country and the society. So far, three batches of over 100 Tongji people have joined the Shanghai Medical Team to provide medical support to Hubei; and there are countless Tongji people in Shanghai, working in hospitals and community health service centers in the frontline. Professor WU Mengchao, a famous doctor in China and an alumnus of Tongji, said that he wanted to cross the river with every patient on his back. Doctors cannot let go of their patients; they feel obliged to move forward with them. They choose to take the responsibility and fulfill the sacred mission of curing people like “angels in white”, which gives new interpretations to "rowing together towards the same goal ".

As a researcher of clinical medicine, I studied and lived in the United States for more than 20 years. I have long been engaged in research related to HIV virus, Zika virus and HIV dementia. They are all RNA virus, which bears some similarities to the novel coronavirus. So, I also felt the urge to do my virus experiment in the laboratory. While many of my medical colleagues, including the medical staff from Tongji hospitals, are fighting with the NCP in the front line, can we, the researchers, make contributions as much as we can?

Here at Tongji University, Party Secretary FANG Shouen, President CHEN Jie and other university leaders have attached great importance to the prevention and control of the epidemic. Resolute and comprehensive measures have been taken to contain the outbreak at the University. They led teams in person in implementing the anti-epidemic prevention work. Staff from the University’s administrative offices, schools, canteens, hospitals, securities and student communities responded promptly to ensure that all measures are implemented carefully and well in place, with no details missing. It is a contribution to block the spread of the virus and ensure the safety and health of staff and students.

On February 3, Huoshenshan Hospital, a makeshift hospital in Wuhan, started to receive and treat patients, and the construction of Leishenshan Hospital, another makeshift hospital, is to be completed in couple of days. The design and construction of these two makeshift hospitals showcase the strength and sweat of many Tongji people. It is a contribution to race against the time in combating the epidemic with Chinese speed.

Professor ZHAO Xudong participated in the compilation of Guide to Public Psychological Self-help and Consultation of NCP organized by the Bureau of Disease Control and Prevention of National Health Commission of China. The book Psychological Self-help – Epidemic Rescue for All People composed by him jointly with LIU Zhongmin, the director of East Hospital of Tongji University will be published by Shanghai Science & Technology Publishing House soon. They plan to donate the first 100,000 copies to residents in Hubei and Shanghai. It is a contribution to build a solid dam to safeguard our psychological health.

The young team led by Professor ZUO Wei, whose average age is only 28, sacrificed their time of the Spring Festival in their endeavor to discover the receptor genes of the NCP. Their research results were not submitted for publication as usual. Instead, all data and source codes were made public on the BioRxiv platform so that other researchers could share their research findings and work together to prevent the virus from spreading further. It is a contribution to write a research paper on the front line of fighting against the epidemic.

On January 22, the National Natural Science Foundation of China issued the Special Project Guideline for Basic Research on Traceability, Pathogenesis, and Prevention of NCP", and officially launched the research program on NCP. Fifteen research teams of Tongji University headed by professors submitted our research applications. It is a contribution to provide theoretical and technical support in search of effective ways to contain the NCP with determined joint efforts.

At this critical moment of fighting against the NCP, all of you should be fully aware of the severe situation, inherit the University spirit of "rowing together towards the same goal ", and support the University’s decision to study at home, and protect yourself and your family members. It is the biggest contribution for you to make: to take your responsibility, fulfill your commitment and show your integrity.

Regarding the issues of study and employment that you are concerned about, the University is actively taking measures to ensure that the graduation and degree applications will not be affected as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The time for thesis defense, degree awarding and other relevant issues is postponed; likewise, course withdrawal and re-selection, petition of exam scores, re-sit of exams, and retake of courses are postponed. The University is making coordinated efforts to minimize the adverse effect on such academic issues as thesis defense, graduation, degree awarding, and overseas exchange caused by NCP. If you have any difficulty or concern, please contact your supervisor, tutor of your class or counselor of your year. We are always here to help you.

At present, we have suspended all basic research in laboratories with the School of Medicine for the benefit of every student’s safety. One of my PhD students who has stayed in Shanghai to complete her experiments during the winter vacation is faced with the same difficulty as everyone else. Her experiment is approaching the end and she needs to race against the time. But under the current situation, we have to stop to do other work that does not need to be performed in the laboratory. The experiment is suspended, but the academic exploration continues. The research group can conduct group meetings online or through other means. Those of you who will graduate this year may reschedule your arrangement for graduation thesis, including what you have completed, what to be completed, the estimated time required as well as improvement of your research plan. In addition, you may start writing your graduation thesis at home, report the writing progress to your supervisor regularly, and send it by email or WeChat. You are advised to complete the first draft of your graduation thesis as soon as possible, so that you may improve your thesis with data obtained from experiments to be done in the lab following your return to the University. You may also check, based upon the University graduation requirements, whether your thesis meet the University standards and whether there are papers waiting to be composed for publication. Those of you who are not expecting graduation this year may also contact your supervisor for advice to do literature reading and academic research.

Many famous people have the habit of doing meditation, sitting alone in the early morning or late at night, focusing their thoughts on the beginning of all things, listening to the heart in silence, heeding the choice deep inside. SU Shi, a famous poet in ancient China, composed the following verse. "Only the breeze on the river and the bright moon above the mountains deserve to be taken as sound for the ear and scene for the eye". For you, even if the breeze cannot be brought into your arms to brush your face; even if the birds cannot be kept in your cage to entertain you, isn't it a pleasure to be able to pass by the beautiful scenery and feel the "endless power of the creator"? The Confucius said, "Orchid grows in the deep forest, but comes into full bloom regardless of loneliness; a gentleman keeps his integrity in spite of his poverty". I hope that you can make full use of this relatively lonely winter vacation to think and plan your study and research without being affected much by the NCP. Spring is a good time to start our plan of the year. I hope you can make a good plan to realize your goal so that you will have no regret for the time lost in our efforts to beat the NCP.

Let us pay our highest respect to those who are fighting in the front line to protect our safety and health. Let us show our respect to their selfless devotion by shouldering our responsibility and keeping to our commitment! We are proud of them and of ourselves that we are rowing together towards the same goal!

Let us wait quietly for the Spring to come, to share the beautiful scenery of Tongji University.

ZHENG Jialin
School of Medicine
Tongji University
February 5, 2020

Source: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/u4R_QadYZrbqkMDKcXxZ2Q