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Malaysian Student Strives For Balance
by James White

Photo Courtesy Gerald Ling

Ling, a graduate student from Malaysia, is the only member of his family tree in the U.S.

Gerald H. Ling is a scientist who doesn't fit the stereotype of the narrowly focused, research-consumed graduate student.

Ling, 26, a doctoral candidate in chemistry who hopes to receive his degree in fall 2008, applies his inquisitive, precise outlook to the world around him. He is just as likely to apply his precise, analytical ethos to the lighting in his cozy Coventry apartment as to a chemistry experiment.

Although Ling's day job is conducting research in the field of polymer sciences, he has consuming interests beyond the lab as well, like cooking and photography. He says he has seen a lot of students in the sciences become so consumed by their focus on results a degree, a research position, a job that "they don't have a life."

His outlook belies the difficulty that he has faced, circling the globe from his home in Malaysia in pursuit of an education. Bringing this balance and measured perspective to his life is what Ling considers the crowning accomplishment of his academic career.

When Ling begins preparing a dish a process that can take the better part of six hours it's easy to appreciate that this is a man who considers every detail. His small kitchen counter is an immaculately organized workspace. Madeline Peyroux plays softly on hidden speakers. Shiny copper and stainless steel kitchenware, prized purchases from William Sonoma, materialize from wall racks and widely dispersed cubbies.

He doesn't measure his ingredients proportioning comes naturally to him but he does carefully consider the implications of each element he adds.

"Do you think it's rich enough with milk? Or should I use cream?" he asks while crafting a creamy spinach sauce. Of course, Ling decides to go with the cream, the better to contrast the dry wine he'd already blended. Paula Deen, a favorite TV chef, would approve.

He admits his studies have made him, as he puts it, "intolerant," by which he means that he has little patience for the haphazard. He says he's learned to consider many perspectives but he's grown to abhor imprecision. It's a mindset Ling credits to his U.S. education.

His path to UConn was anything but clear-cut. He left Malaysia at 17 because he wanted a different kind of college experience, and because of what he calls overt racism at most Malaysian universities. Malaysian law stipulates the percentage of students of each ethnicity who may be admitted to colleges. Ninety percent of the slots are reserved for ethnic Malays. As a Malaysian of Chinese ancestry, this meant that Ling was essentially out of luck applying to local schools.

His first stop was England, where he has relatives. He chose the U.K. because Malaysia operates its schools on the British system, so it was a natural segue. In England, Ling studied for his "A Level" exams typically taken at age 18 or 19. The exams are taken after what would be high school in the U.S., but before university studies.