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Think Yourself, Feel Yourself (UST-Korea Polar Research Institute(KOPRI) Campus, Professor Hyun Park)

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A huge iceberg is rising to a great height, and an icebreaker is vigorously advancing toward it. The building of the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI) was designed based on the landscape of the poles. Professor Hyun Park, the Dean of Polar Science Major, has taken care of the institute for 20 years. He puts his focus on students who are going to stand on their own feet as researchers later on by raising their sense of independence to think and practice for themselves.



Eight years after he started his teaching career on KOPRI campus, one of his students became the first doctoral degree holder in the major. The professor spared no efforts to give advice and consultation for the student’s dissertation, which was awarded a prize from the UST Head of Research Institute. He found it more meaningful as the award recognized the student’s excellence in his research.



You gave full advice to Dr. Do-hwan An for him to his doctoral degree dissertation ‘Induced Immune Reaction of Antarctic Fishes and Relative Changes in Gene Expression’

The research about organisms living in the polar regions has been in place since long, but Dr. An’s research about the genome of the higher organisms of the Antarctic was the first of its kind in the world. It means that there were rare cases and examples to which we could make reference, and that we had to build the foundation of the research from scratch. We had to pay more efforts and went through rougher difficulties. While Dr. An was writing his paper, he was stuck in the laboratory even in the weekends, spending almost 10 hours a day with me. I tried to lend him a helping hand with his research paper by providing advice and consultation as much as possible.



Polar Science Major seems to have a different research process from the other majors.

Only after you personally go to the poles and complete the basic research in about two months can you kick off your research process in earnest. The travel to the poles require thorough preparation as even a minor accident there would lead to a catastrophe, and we can go there only once a year.

Before Dr. An went there, he told me that he did not even have overseas travel experience. His trip to the Antarctic was his first trip abroad. A one-way trip to the South pole takes about a week. I was seriously worried that Dr. An had to go there alone even without his fellows. During his stay there, we shared the progress of his research via e-mail almost every day.





When Dr. An was at the pole, you passed down special fishing tips to him.

He had to catch the samples for his research, the Antarctic cod, on a boat. The fish is not fond of the baits that we usually use such as earthworms. Besides, you cannot find earthworms at the poles. In 2009, I conducted my own research at the South pole, and I used beef as bait to catch the samples. I shared with him knowledge based on my experience. “They don’t take pork. You have to use beef.” “You should get along well with the cooks of the cafeteria to get beef.”(laughs) Fortunately, maybe owing to the tips that I gave him, Dr. An successfully caught a lot of Antarctic cod in just a relatively short time.





Do you have your own teaching philosophy for nurturing excellent researchers?

I always advised my students to ‘think a lot’. Today, we can easily acquire pieces of theory and knowledge through books or the Internet. However, what is important is for them to apply those to their own research. I give them a full and detailed lecture and advice, but eventually, I focused on encouraging them to think  for themselves. Their research should belong to none other than themselves. Moreover, to take hold of it, students have to think for themselves and feel its consequences.
In addition, I tell them not to be afraid of failing. In a research project, countless hurdles would hold you back. But that’s just a trial-and-error process. I believe that my role is to help students analyze the cause of the failure and the direction of the project.



What was the occasion to have such a teaching philosophy?

As a researcher, I started my own career at the graduate school doing the most trivial tasks such as lab preparation. When I was first assigned to the Polar Research Institute, there was nothing else but only one experiment table. At that time, it was also difficult for me to procure research equipment one by one by myself, but eventually, the experience greatly helped me. The case does not apply only for me. My students, who are now studying and performing their researches in decent facilities with great equipment, have to manage their own laboratories later on when they graduate from the doctoral course and begin to work as professional researchers. I want to help them become ready for the time when they have to stand on their own feet as researchers.



When is the most rewarding moment to you as a polar scientist?

UST is the only institute in Korea where you can learn polar science. When the Polar Research Institute was assigned to UST, only one or two students joined the institute. I have personally witnessed the growth of the institute and the size of the research workforce as I took charge of the major. Realizing the growing awareness of polar science, which was once a very unfamiliar field, is such a rewarding moment.




Do you have any comments for the students?

Research at the poles always entails a matter of survival. That’s one of the issues that make polar science one of the roughest fields. But as the places cherish numerous sources of secrets, it allows you to carry out Big Science. If you have nothing less than passion and enthusiasm, you can try anything there. That’s the most interesting point in polar science. I hope that, someday, students would have curiosity and excitement toward the unexperienced ecology of polar areas.