Siming Zhang University Of Bristol
Course: MSc Communication Networks and Systems
Home city: Beijing
I’m fortunate to be involved with lots of projects that have a close relationship with industry. It not only looks good on my CV, but it’s also given me a more concrete understanding of engineering and more confidence for later in my career.
What attracted you to electrical engineering?
Firstly, my parents played a big part. Many Chinese students get a lot of advice and direction from their parents around what to study. We do listen to our parents more than in Western culture. My friends also took a lot of advice from their parents. Also, my dad is an electrical engineer and my mum is in science, so I grew up with that.
Secondly – and this is more important than the first reason – I have an interest in engineering in general; I like logic, and trying to understand things at a deeper level. I also got a lot of confidence from achieving high scores and getting good feedback from my engineering work, so that helped me to feel good about my ability.
What have you enjoyed about the course?
I’d heard how strong Bristol University is for wireless communication and how it’s a good, well-rounded university, and the course lived up to my expectations. We covered many subjects including optical and wireless networks and I enjoyed the multiple disciplines combined in one course. I think that really helped me decide that I wanted to focus on wireless communication for my PhD.
I didn’t think I’d have such hands-on experience and have the opportunity to work with hardware so much during my studies here. I thought it’d be more theoretical, but now I can combine the theoretical with measurements and that’s really good experience to have.
The masters degree also has a three-month final project which you work on over the summer. We are each assigned a supervisor and mine was Professor Andy Nix (the Dean of Engineering). Having that good relationship with Andy helped him see I was capable of doing a PhD and he recommended me for a scholarship to pay for my PhD tuition fees.
As a Chinese student, how have you found Bristol as a place to live?
A lot of the parents in China worry about their childrens’ safety overseas: even though we’re in our 20s, we’re coming to a different country and are all by ourselves. But I think the people of Bristol are really friendly and very civilised. I feel safe here.
I applied for several courses and got offers from Southampton and Imperial, too. But I chose Bristol as I’d visited here before and really enjoyed the city. It feels like a proper English city.
I love cities that have rivers and are close to the sea. I find it a clean city, but really vibrant. I find London’s too crowded, and Bristol’s close to London anyway, so it’s easy to visit. The weather’s better than you expect, too, because it’s quite far south.
We have a good amount of Chinese presence in Bristol University. I’ve made lots of friends from being at the same uni and living close to one another. I’m more comfortable with Chinese friends, and that’s helped me to adapt.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Bristol?
I really like visiting the harbourside and just walking along the river. There’s loads of restaurants there. It’s even better now it’s summer, I really enjoy that. And also we have events like the Balloon Fiesta and lots of music festivals. I do think summer’s a really good time to be in Bristol.
What’s been your biggest achievement or greatest sense of personal satisfaction during your studies?
There’s one project called Bristol Is Open that I’m involved with a lot. My research group, CSN, was given £1 million funding to buy a massive MIMO (multiple-antenna technology) from National Instruments. That’s a really big investment and along with other colleagues, I’ve been helping to load and build the whole system. We’ve done a few tests already, once in March and once in May. We did two measurements that achieved a world-first measurement – the spectral efficiency beat everyone else in the world. I felt really proud to be part of that project and to be recognised by academia around the world.
Our research group has attracted a lot of industrial collaborations and big European projects and I’m fortunate to be involved with lots of projects that have a close relationship with industry. It not only looks good on my CV, but it’s also given me a more concrete understanding of engineering and more confidence for later in my career. Getting that validation from industry really helps a lot. I now feel quite strong about going and getting a job, and feel confident about my position and my research work.
What are your plans after you finish your PhD?
Through talking to Professor Andy Nix I learnt about a Chinese scientist from China Mobile and I had an opportunity to meet her at a conference in the US, where we established a connection. She said they were doing quite similar research at China Mobile, and she asked if I’d like to go and work for her after finishing my PHD. Part of it will be doing research related to 5G and they have plans for me to liaise with other international organisations to do research.
It’s brilliant, I’m now sorted with my job! And it’s based in Beijing where my parents are now.
What would you say to a Chinese student coming to Bristol?
If you decide to go abroad, a really attractive thing is you’ll learn a different language and you’ll be very fluent in that language. Also, with the MSc course, you get a different perspective from your undergraduate degree. You’ll be more involved with the current state-of-the-art facilities and you’ll get really good opportunities to work with industry that’ll give you a very strong position in the work place.
There are opportunities to get scholarships, too, at Bristol. I didn’t have that with other universities and that really helped me to decide to stay in Bristol. It wasn’t just about the money, but it was also the honour to get recognised that I was a good student and they wanted to invest in me and improve my skills. That’s open to Chinese students and is a really good thing.
I would say, it’s really changed me personally, and not just as an academic. I think I’ve become more open and just enjoy living in this environment. I’ve really enjoyed my years in the UK. It has given me so many memories that I’ll treasure when I go back to China.