It draws great attention of students whenever there is an empty position in the faculty. It has been especially so in the case of Department of Environmental Horticulture, for there has been up to 3 empty positions out of 8 in total. The wait was long and the expectation was high. This fall, the unveiled was none other than professor Kim Seung-il, who specializes in bioinformatics and thremmatology.
He is a young professor, unlike typical images students would have on professors one. Without much exaggeration or flatter, he appears to be about the same age with any seniors we can easily run into in our daily school lives. Also, he has an interesting story of having finished undergraduate studies at the University of Seoul (UOS) (Dept. of Statistics, ’02) and turning the course to environmental horticulture in his masters and doctorates. With much curiosity and high expectation, The UOS Times decided to find out more about the lately welcomed professor of the UOS.
Q. First of all, we would like to congratulate you on joining the faculty. It is indeed an achievement. How do you feel about it? A. I finally got a job, and that is amazing (laughs). It is great - especially so in this nice weather and close to my home. It is a tremendous honor to be hired as a professor in a school in which I had my undergraduate degree. I feel great responsibility with joy. I am contemplating on how I can contribute to the school as a new member.
Q. You have majored in statistics at the UOS. How did you come to change your career into the field of environmental horticulture? A. There was nothing really energetic about it. I joined the school in 2002, and served the military in 2003 after 3 semesters. I had a lot going in my mind when I returned from the service. I had no other option but to study. I recall, I took 23 credits for all the other semesters left respectively and it led me to reconsider my major from a very fundamental point of view. With a vague idea in wanting to learn to handle the data on the field of biology, I took Biology and Experiments 2, which was conducted by the Dept. of Environmental Horticulture. The module was more on morphological botany unlike my expectation, but I kept holding on to it. At the end of the lecture, the professor asked me what I want to do for my future and introduced me to another professor he knew related to the field of biological statistics. That became the subject of my graduate studies. The funny thing is that I originally thought I would be doing biological statistics, but in fact I was doing bioinformatics. I think I just took one step at a time and it led me here. I hated coding during my undergraduate days, but I ended up working with lots of codes. Life seems quite ironic.
Q. Could you explain your research and field of studies in detail for the readers of The UOS Times? A. Bioinformatics is a field of study in which we find out about the genomes and their sequences and assembling them in an order that can be utilized in a way that benefits humans. It is more applicable in plants since there are less regulations and barriers in terms of handling the organism. My master’s and doctorate papers were on uncovering the genomes of Capsicum spp. (commonly known as the ‘hot pepper’). It has 30 mega base-pairs of genes, similar to that of human beings’. The field was rather untraveled and new in Korea, so I took pride in my studies. Throughout the research, there were many trial errors but also many other lessons learned. My team could develop techniques of our own in terms of decoding the genomes more efficiently and effectively, which could be applied to other organisms.
Q. Students have high hopes and expectation on new professors, especially if they are young. Is there anything that you want to try or innovate as a young professor? A. I want to become a good professor, not a good ‘young’ professor. Now, I am in charge of a lab which does not only involve myself but also others. Sometimes the person in charge can be very stubborn and unchanging. I want to be a professor who knows how to bend the rules and communicate. I even thought about keeping the door of my room open, but the hallway was too loud (laughs). I want to be someone who can work things through by talking, and not to be too authoritative. I want to be a bearable kkon-dae (stubborn old person, in English).
Q. Thank you so much for your precious time and insightful words. Please give a few words of advice to students who have dreams of becoming researchers or professors. A. I have heard the saying: 70 percent luck and 30 percent technique to succeed. In the oriental atmosphere, people tend to blame themselves for their failures and shortcomings. Nevertheless, I would like to tell them as long as they have put in their best, it is never because something was short in themselves, but just that the timing and circumstance were not right. I also have had my share of failures. I believe after having equipped oneself with that 30 percent of technique or skill, the rest is left up to other factors one cannot control. Personally, I also believe it is important to find the balance between work and life, so that one’s life does not get to drained by the work. In my case, getting married and having a child to take care of made me sustain myself through the hardship.
University of Seoul is an institution in which its members take pride in. Nevertheless, it is cold truth that for students who want to pursue a career in the field of academics, UOS may not be their first choices. Indeed, a survey in 2017 showed that about 47 percent of the professors had their undergraduate studies in Seoul National University. However, professors like Kim Seung-il provides a good example of the rest of 53 percent to show that hard work and focus pay off to live the dream. Running into a good model like him from time to time on our campus will boost confidence and provide the seed of hope in the minds of UOS students.