Study Buddy (Explorer): Viral story of Chinese nurse in her 40s admitted as PhD candidate to same university as son

  • Chen Lan has gone viral on mainland social media inspiring millions with her perseverance to pursue her dream no matter her age
  • Each week, Study Buddy Explorer presents an interesting story that we have adjusted to be more accessible for all English learners
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Chen Lan (bottom and inset) is aware that her memory may not be as good as the younger students, but she is determined to achieve her goals. Photo: SCMP composite

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] A Chinese nurse has been admitted to the prestigious Zhejiang University as a PhD candidate. This happened one year after her son was also enrolled by the institution. Her story has trended online after millions were inspired by her hard work and perseverance.

[2] Chen Lan is a nurse with 29 years of experience working in eastern China. She has gone viral online where she is seen as an inspiration for people wishing to pursue their dreams at any age.

[3] Chen is in her late 40s. She started working at Jinhua Municipal Central Hospital in Zhejiang province in 1993 after graduating from nursing school. She had aspired to study at university ever since, the People’s Daily reported.

[4] In 2002, she took the gaokao test, China’s university entrance exam. She failed to achieve the minimum score for her ideal nursing course. But she did not give up. In the following years, she obtained a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. She did this while working full time and being promoted to the principal nurse position at her hospital.

[5] Five years ago, she set a new goal – pursuing a doctoral degree in nursing at Zhejiang University’s School of Medicine. She admitted the application benchmark was so high that she failed on her first application.

[6] Chen then adjusted her strategy. She set more specific goals such as achieving a score of 6.0 – which is considered competent – on the IELTS English-language test and getting academic papers published in international journals. She passed the preliminary entrance test last year and a retrial in May of this year. In August, she received an acceptance letter from Zhejiang University.

[7] She quit her job at the hospital to study full-time as a doctoral degree candidate. “I am saying goodbye to the hospital where I’ve worked for 29 years. Too many memories of mine happened here,” Chen wrote on WeChat.

[8] “The nervousness of working for the first time, the joy of receiving an award for the first time and the anxiety of leading a team for the first time. They are all the steps of growing up ... but I choose to move forward to pursue my dream.”

[9] Her son Tong Zheye, who was admitted by the College of Agriculture and Biotechnology at Zhejiang University, said he admired his mother’s courage and persistence. “Let’s go for it together,” he said.

[10] Chen said it would be “interesting” to be a fellow student with her son. “We will both study on the Zijingang campus of the university. I’ve told my son that I won’t go to ‘harass’ him,” she said. Chen said she was aware of the challenges ahead. “As a middle-aged person, my memory ability might not be as good as other students. It will be extremely difficult for me to study. However, I believe I can overcome these hurdles.”

Source: South China Morning Post, October 4


1. In paragraph 1, what does “the institution” refer to?

2. How has Chen Lan inspired others according to paragraph 2?

3. Decide whether the following statements about Chen are True, False, or the information is Not Given in paragraphs 3 to 5. Blacken ONE circle only for each statement. (4 marks)
(i) She started working as a nurse when she was 20 years old.
(ii) She dropped out of nursing school before joining Jinhua Municipal Central Hospital.
(iii) Her results on the 2002 gaokao test were not good enough for the nursing course she wanted to attend.
(iv) She obtained her master’s degree in nursing in 2010.

4. According to paragraphs 5 and 6, Chen had to _________ before being accepted by Zhejiang University’s School of Medicine.
A. pass preliminary entrance tests
B. achieve a certain score on the IELTS English-language test
C. get her academic papers published in international journals
D. all of the above

5. Find a word in paragraph 6 that means “acceptable and satisfactory”.

6. What did Chen give up to pursue her doctoral degree according to paragraph 7?
A. her post at a hospital
B. her duties to her family
C. her studies in university
D. her ambition to be a doctor

7. What do the experiences mentioned in paragraph 8 refer to?

8. According to paragraph 9, what does Tong Zheye think about his mother’s decision to further her studies?

9. Based on information from paragraph 10, what is Chen worried about, and why? (2 marks)

Chen Lan received her acceptance letter from Zhejiang University in August. Photo: Captured from Baidu


1. Zhejiang University
2. She has inspired them to pursue their dreams at any age.
3. (i) NG; (ii) F; (iii) T; (iv) NG
4. D
5. competent
6. A
7. Chen’s memories working as a nurse at a hospital (accept other similar answers)
8. He admires her courage and persistence.
9. She is worried that her memory might not be as good as the other students because of her age.

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