Lin Zeng is a professor, doctoral supervisor as well as the dean of the Department of Sociology at the Wuhan University. He is also a tenured professor at the Illinois State University. Professor Lin received his bachelor and master degrees in Philosophy from Wuhan University in 1982 and 1988, and his master and doctoral degree in Sociology respectively from McGill University and from York University in Canada. His main research fields are educational sociology and the research methods of sociology.
Pursuing the academic dream
In 1977, Professor Lin came to study at Wuhan University among the first group of college students immediately after the recommencement of college entrance examination. Before college he taught math in high school for years, being an adept of logic thinking. At WHU he chose to study logic, a branch in philosophy. During his postgraduate period, he turned to the study of historical materialism which is closely interconnected with sociology. After working as a visiting scholar at a Canadian university, he decided to study for his second master’s degree in sociology in McGill University in Canada, a university with remarkable reputation often called the “Harvard of Canada”. He later pursued advanced studies in educational sociology at York University in Toronto and received his doctor degree.
Obstacles and temptations filled Professor Lin’s path in his quest for knowledge. You cannot imagine how hard it was for a Chinese student to study abroad in 1980s. As one of the earliest group of students to go abroad, Professor Lin could not get significant subsidy from the government, so he had to take part-time jobs during his leisure time to cover the living and studying expenses. Apart from these, his academic life was uneven at the very beginning. At that time, the sociology field of study was dominated by western scholars who did not believe in the academic capability of Chinese students. It was difficult for Chinese students to achieve in this area. In order to establish himself in the western academic circles, he chose his studies in the field of sociology taking advantage of his mathematical and scientific background in which western scholars were weak.
Professor Lin steadfastly stuck to his academic dream despite all hardships. He gave up the opportunity to become a government official after graduation, and refused to abandon his studying and turn to the computer industry for a higher salary.
It was in the spirit of persistence and arduousness that Professor Lin had made a few great achievements. Dozens of his academic theses were published to make him known and recognized by the western scholars. He conducted research on the national strategy of college student employment for the Canadian Human Resources Ministry, and he was even appointed as a tenured professor of the Illinois State University.
When referring to his academic achievements, Professor Lin replied modestly, “I haven’t done much. Knowledge is infinite. Thanks to the two kinds of cultural backgrounds, I can look at matters from opposite perspectives, which is of help to my research.” He added, “Everyone must have his own dream. Set a goal or a dream, and unswervingly stick to it, then you’ll succeed. Persistence and concentration are keys to success.”
Always remembering the root
In 2013, Professor Lin returned to Wuhan University and worked as the dean of the Department of Sociology. When asked why he abandoned his career abroad and returned to the mainland China, Professor Lin replied, “Human beings are shaped by culture and environment. Having lived in Wuhan, and studied at Wuhan University for so many years, I have a special and deep affection for Wuhan and Wuhan University. In addition, I can do much more for my Alma Mater, for my hometown and for my country coming back.”
Professor Lin still remembered what Wuhan University was like in late 1970s. “At that time students worked really hard. Every morning, hordes of students read aloud English, walking back and forth the Cherry Blossom Avenue. In the evening after the lights went out in the dormitory, some students still read books under the streetlight.” As for Professor Lin, the campus is crammed with valuable memories.
When it comes to today’s Wuhan University, Professor Lin approved the aim of Wuhan University to build a first-class university. He also suggested conducting more substantive cooperation in academy, and bringing in accomplished international scholars and professors to Wuhan University for academic and scientific projects, especially accomplished Chinese scholars who studied abroad in 1980s. They are nearly at retirement age, and be passionate about serving their motherland.
He encouraged young students, “The aim will be realized sooner or later. It is an unalterable trend. A university should put itself on the platform worldwide and compare itself with others to make progress. You, the young generations will make possible the great future of Wuhan University.”
Stimulating the creativity of students
Having experienced both western and Chinese higher education, Professor Lin thought that Western education provided a freer environment for students, whose frequent interactions with teachers in class and active participation in research contribute to their creativity and innovation, however, due to immoderate freedom, it takes college students six years on average to graduate for too many things distract their attention. In China, students have a more systematic knowledge frame for a dozen years’ basic education. Besides, schools and parents consider education to be of major significance and supervise students’ studying, which is conductive to some extent. But excessive pressure and bondage will dent students’ creativity.
In Professor Lin’s opinion, Chinese higher education still has a long way to go. To enhance its level, it’s important to mobilize the initiative of teachers and students by transforming teaching methods and increasing the interactions between them. Students ought to transform passive learning to positive learning. He also predicted that in the future higher education will be personalized, for example, students will acquire knowledge through conversations and debates with teachers.
Advice to graduates
Annual graduation season is around the corner. Based on his own experience, Professor Lin offered some advice to graduates. He advised graduates to choose their path in light of their own condition, goals, and interests. The paths for future are variable according to individual needs and targets.
As for students who plan to study abroad, it is of benefit to see a larger world and deepen their thoughts in a different environment. He referred to his own experience, “I have had received both Chinese and western higher education, and lived abroad for 25 years. Overseas life widens my field of vision and provides unique perspectives to my research.” He also suggested that students who want to acquire significant knowledge should go to smaller countries to pursue their studies.
And it’s up to them and based on their personal ambition whether they seek employment or continue studying. For some who want to build careers, it’s better to find a job. For others who would like to continue further in the academic environment, they should work towards a master’s degree. “It is difficult to find an ideal job at the very beginning. Try to go beyond your capability. It is also a good choice to do an ordinary job, based on solid knowledge and capability and be the master in your field.” Professor Lin said.
(Edited by Diana & Sijia Hu)