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Doctoral student set to continue teaching, bioinformatics research at Southern Miss.

A man sits in front of a ledge.

Zheng Wang earned his doctorate in computer science at MU in 2012 and accepted a professorship at The University of Southern Mississippi last May to continue teaching and conduct new research.

The human body, like any biological system, is a chemical machine. Networks of proteins and chemical mechanisms react to complete the infinitesimally complex processes that make life possible.

Researchers at MU have met the challenge of modeling the molecular stuff of life with great success, and now one post-doctoral student is set to bring his expertise to a new institution — not as a student, but as a professor.

Zheng Wang, who earned his PhD in computer science at MU in 2012, accepted a professorship at The University of Southern Mississippi last May to conduct new research and continue teaching.

His tenure-track position begins Aug. 19 at the Southern Miss School of Computing where he’ll teach a course in C programming language and establish his own bioinformatics lab.

“Bioinformatics research is very exciting to me, and this is a very exciting opportunity,” said Wang. “I think I’m going to focus on my research, meanwhile trying to do a great job teaching. Both are important.”

Wang studied and conducted research at MU since 2008, focusing on the computational strategies needed to accurately model proteins and other biomolecules. A computational approach to some of the big questions in the life sciences, Wang says bioinformatics has provided an experience that’s as interdisciplinary as it is specialized.

“I have been working on multiple projects in bioinformatics, including human genome conformation, which is the study of the three dimensional conformation of the human genome. This is a novel area of research,” Wang said.

“This research applied the Hi-C technology to the B-cells of cancer patients — leukemia and lymphoma, to reveal the differences of their chromosomal conformations in comparison to healthy human beings. I think this project played an important role in my job hunting.”

Genome conformation accounts for one of Wang’s four major interest areas in bioinformatics; three other interests are protein structure prediction, protein function prediction, and biological network modeling, all of which he has been exposed to under the direction of his PhD adviser Associate Professor Jianlin Cheng.

Cheng is a computer science professor with a concentration in bioinformatics, and is the leader of MULTICOM, a team of bioinformatics researchers (including Wang) who compete in global competitions like The Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP).

“Since Zheng joined my group in January, 2008, my objective has been to train him to become an outstanding, independent scientist in the field of bioinformatics…” said Cheng. “He not only became very skillful at identifying and solving important scientific problems, but also produced a number of high-quality research papers.”

To date, Wang has contributed to 18 published journal articles as a member of Cheng’s lab, 10 of which list Wang as the first or joint first author.

“I think the training that Zheng received during his PhD study and thereafter has helped him develop extraordinary research capabilities and excellent communication skills that make him very competitive in the extremely tough academic job market,” said Cheng.

In addition to his research, Wang began teaching last year under the “Mizzou Advantage Future Faculty Preparation” postdoctoral fellowship, guided by Dong Xu, a James C. Dowell Professor and Computer Science Department chairman, and Wang’s teaching adviser Associate Teaching Professor Dale Musser. Wang taught three courses in Java, Perl and computational social networks, and measures the success of his first year teaching by the high evaluations he received from students.

“I’m very happy that I received high evaluations from my students because, no matter what, I’m an international student, and English is not my native language. I needed to convince   the university that I can teach besides doing research,” Wang said.

Wang’s experience not only impressed The University of Southern Mississippi, but other institutions and an industry company as well. Wang finally decided to stay in the academia as he can continue his research in bioinformatics.

“I appreciate Dr. Jianlin Cheng for the great training in bioinformatics research, which plays a critically important role in my job hunting; and the enthusiastic and rigorous research attitude I learned from Dr. Cheng will be continuously beneficial and unchangeable,” Wang said.

“I will continue doing [research in bioinformatics]. There’s something in there that I can make contributions to, and I want to find it and establish my research. When I am at MU, I am proud of being a Mizzou tiger; and after I leave, I will try my best to let Truman the Tiger be proud of me.”