by MARY CATHERINE GASTON
Meet Caixing Xiong, seemingly typical Auburn student. Her favorite building on campus is the Student Rec Center. She loves Auburn football and adores Cam Newton. If you passed her on the Haley Concourse, you’d never know that, in fact, she is anything but typical.
Aside from looking and enjoying life just like any other college student, Xiong has little in common with most of her counterparts on the Plains. That’s because this soon-to-be Ph.D. candidate is part of the College of Agriculture’s 3+2 program, an accelerated master’s curriculum in which students from Chinese universities complete their first three years of coursework in China and then come to Auburn for two additional years, after which they will have both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Xiong, a native of Xichang in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, is one of the six members of the first 3+2 class from China Agricultural University. During her third year as an entomology student at CAU, she attended a presentation by Auburn College of Agriculture faculty and graduate students about the study abroad program. Nannan Liu, chair of Auburn’s entomology and plant pathology department and a graduate of CAU, was among those presenting.
“I knew I wanted a master’s degree but wasn’t sure whether to get it at CAU or abroad until I met Nannan Liu,” Xiong says.
The two clicked, and Liu quickly offered Xiong the opportunity to work in her Auburn lab while completing the degrees. In her first year at Auburn, Xiong and her fellow CAU 3+2 students finished the coursework required for their undergraduate degrees, but that’s not all. Because her academic program at CAU required her to complete an undergraduate thesis—and she hadn’t done so before coming to Auburn—Xiong was faced with completing not just one but two theses in two years.
She was able to do that thanks to a passion for the research she conducted. Focused on the bedbug olfactory system, Xiong’s work in Liu’s lab may soon facilitate the development of bedbug detection tools.
Even for the passionate student, completing the research and writing for two theses in two years requires a high degree of discipline, Xiong says.
“If I could give any advice to students who are considering this program, I would tell them to complete their undergraduate thesis during their first three undergraduate years in China,” she says. “Once you are at Auburn, regard yourself as a graduate student, or you’ll be very stressed out at the end!”
She also encourages her fellow students from abroad to get involved on campus and make friends. That’s how she discovered her love for American football—specifically, the Auburn Tigers.
“The graduate students in our department were so helpful to us while we were in Auburn,” she says. They hosted football parties and explained the game to us.”
Those gatherings will always be among her favorite Auburn memories.
There’s one more memory she long will treasures, even though it didn’t turn out the way she’d hoped. She and some friends scored tickets to watch Cam Newton—her favorite player—and the Carolina Panthers take on the Atlanta Falcons last December. It turned out to be a heartbreaker of a game, as it was the Panthers’ only regular-season loss.
Still, she’ll carry her love of Auburn with her when she heads to College Station, Texas, to begin her Ph.D. at Texas A&M next month. Continuing her interest in the sensory systems of blood-feeding insects, she’ll likely complete research on the mosquito Aedes aegypti, infamous carrier of the Zika virus.
She’ll also take with her a deep appreciation for the Auburn 3+2 program, her professors and fellow graduate students.
“At Auburn, the outstanding professors and colleagues I met taught me how to conduct scientific research,” she says. “This program opened my eyes and inspired me to pursue a higher degree.”
Find out more about the College of Agriculture’s 3+2 programs here.