I am a 2nd-year Ph.D. student studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. I have a dual bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering and International Business. This is me composing this exhilarating chapter of my bold adventure in the realm of science and engineering.
Megan passed the Preliminary Exam in the subject area of Controls!
Every Ph.D. student in the UCB MechE Ph.D. program has to pass the preliminary exam in one's major subject area as a precursor to the Qualification that would come later. Megan can now officially pick Controls as her major!
From A Humanities Student To An Engineering Researcher:
A Little Bit More About My unconventional Background
Being the only business student in an engineering classroom, my story has been a manifestation of a passion for science and engineering.
In my childhood scribbling book, sketches of novel spacecraft filled the pages with unrestrained creativity. With a wide range of interests spanning science and Liberal Arts. As a member of the Humanities Gifted Program in high school, I also composed an award-winning history thesis. The hope of reaching advanced technology through entrepreneurship motivated me to major in International Business, but with time I came to realize the passion was never about profitability, but the nature of innovation powered by knowledge. This enlightenment ushered in a second major in Mechanical Engineering, and I persisted to get both degrees with a straight-A performance and six appearances on the Dean’s List (top 5%). With a 4.2/4.3 GPA, I also graduated within the top 5% of my cohort. I also took graduate courses in Control Systems, Electrical Engineering, and Computer-Aided Design/Manufacturing within the 214 credits.
It was excruciatingly hard for someone who lacked a high school science education to keep up with the class, and frustration built up to fear and unbearable pressure. It was the ultimate test of my resilience, and the asperity invoked empathy for those who struggle in the classroom. Perseverance, hard work, and discipline eventually supported me to get both degrees, and despite the hardships, my enthusiasm for engineering was strengthened, for this profession was empowered to combat real-world problems with both academic and hands-on abilities. As the biggest beneficiary myself, the double major experience also turned me into a staunch believer in the power of education and knowledge.
Being one of the few girls in the class, I was never discouraged by this unbalanced ratio. I learned that gender itself does not create disparity in abilities, and communication and mutual respect are the twin pillars that support meaningful collaboration that would eventually become the must-have ingredient to innovation.
Both of my majors offered valuable lessons beyond knowledge. Training in business school allowed me to present ideas professionally, and it also lent me the ability to identify problems and potentials of a subject and an astute sense of human interactions. Group projects with business and engineering students alike prepared me for teamwork in a diverse environment. I led an international group of students to build a billiard car, with members from Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan, where I encouraged candidness to overcome cultural differences. In the Practice of Engineering course, the quest to construct a propeller-driven autonomous car required a ten-member cross-group collaboration. I represented my team to initiate effective communication to get the final perfect score. My experience as a Research Assistant also involved working with graduate students on multiple projects, where I learned the intricacies of workload distribution and recognition. My time at UCB is characterized by a series of collaborations, where I have to work with senior members of the lab and also with my fellow engineering students on class projects. Cultural differences bring both challenges and opportunities, and I encourage communication and promote mutual respect so that conversations flow more smoothly. In a world where human activities often transcend traditional academic boundaries, my interdisciplinary learning and communication skills could serve as a bridge to unite all talents.
My university career also allowed me to experience different cultural influences. As a member of the fencing varsity team, I had a unique opportunity to train with international fencers from Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I also noticed how as the minority on the campus, international students’ rights were sometimes overlooked. With few quality English courses to choose from, they often needed some help with homework and course materials which I would love to provide. I also served as a voluntary service provider to assist students from Europe and South-East Asia to navigate their lives at NTU.
In my final years at NTU, I witnessed how a series of events precipitated the redefinition of human civilization: the pandemic compounded a lack of workforce in an aging society, while global warming questions the balance between survival and sustainability. In these predicaments, engineering provides a way out: robotics could maximize the valuable workforce, green technology promises a future to last, and exploration into space opens the next chapter for our civilization. A passion for physics and engineering, mixed with an urge to propel human civilization, electrified me to pursue a higher degree, and I looked to equip myself with the necessary tools.
Under Prof. Chun-Yeon Lin’s advisory, I initiated a collaboration with graduate students to study eddy-current sensors, first as an undergraduate researcher and later as a research assistant. Our focus revolved around non-destructive sensing that could expedite automation. Closed-form solutions and numerical analysis revealed that the frequency response of the induced magnetic flux density corresponded to characteristics in metal plates. Corroborated by Finite Element Analysis and experimental results, a sensor, and complementary algorithms were developed for simultaneous geometry and conductivity estimations.
Upon graduation from NTU, I served as a Research Assistant at the Mechatronics and Intelligent Automation Laboratory (MIARL) led by Prof. Lin. In less than a year, I co-authored an article published in the IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics and a conference paper that won silver in Best Paper Competition at the 18th International Conference on Automation Technology. I was part of the development of multiple Eddy-current sensors or magnetic sensing systems, and I also derived a mathematical model to predict the induced electromagnetic force in a sensing coil. Among the sensors is the harmonic Eddy-current sensor for simultaneous estimation of electrical conductivity and geometry for non-ferrous metal plates, and the expansion upon the existing Distributed Current Source method is also published in IEEE Access.
Versatility, hands-on ability, and communication skills were also cultivated. I had independently built a quadcopter and a crude robotic hand in my first year of engineering study, and during my time in the Fluid Instability Lab supervised by Prof. Chun-Ti Chang, I developed a flange-less high-pressure boiler with certified CAD skills. My boiler design has a 1.5 times pressure rating than traditional counterparts and reduces the installation time by 90%. The design was brought to life in collaboration with manufacturer Senter Ltd. Concurrently, I developed a C/C++ library for numerical calculation of quasi-mechanical equilibrium, which was the theoretical fulcrum of Prof. Chang’s studies on liquid nitrogen. The program, referencing the CoolProp library, requires only 10% run time compared to its MATLAB predecessor.
The asperities in my engineering study also spiked a passion for teaching, as I understood the importance of a quality lecture and supporting materials. Serving as TA in the Automatic Control class, I engaged in a wide range of pedagogical practices, from composing homework to hosting discussion sessions aiming to boost students’ comprehension. The awareness of inequalities also prompted an effort to combat the uneven distribution of educational resources on the NTU tutor team, where I serve as a voluntary physics lecturer to help disadvantaged high school students prepare for the university entrance exam.
My Ph.D. journey at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) starting in Aug. 2022 marked the start of another chapter in my life, where my eyes are opened, and my horizons broadened. With the Mechanical Engineering Department Fellowship, I joined Prof. Liwei Lin’s lab and work with the most passionate and intelligent colleagues. Despite being in a lab that specializes in microfabrication technologies, I chose Controls as my major to add to the talent pool such that more interdisciplinary studies can be carried out.
Aside from being a part of the rigorous research, the classes also strengthened my fundamentals and hinted at the exciting possibilities in the future. The first Advance Control theory class covered all about the basics of modern linear controls, while the second one goes through state estimation and Kalman Filter. The Experiential Advanced Control Design class taught me the essence of Model Predictive Control (MPC), the backbone of the current state of the art in this field. Introduction to MEMs talked about the microfabrication processes, where the technologies being used are analogous to that in IC fabrications. Aside from the mechanical engineering side, I also work to incorporate more diverse capabilities into my academic arsenal. The Introduction to Machine Learning class touts the prospect of enhancing research across fields and tapping into the world of Artificial Intelligence. In term of physical science, Quantum Mechanics presents the refreshing and novel view on the world from the perspective of fundamental particles, and the sophisticated interpretations absolutely captivates me, and from which my interests for quantum computing stem.
Different cultural influences have shaped my experience in both my undergraduate and graduate studies. As a member of the NTU fencing varsity team, I had a unique opportunity to train with international fencers from Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I also noticed how as the minority on the campus, international students’ rights were sometimes overlooked. With few quality English courses to choose from, they often needed some help with homework and course materials which I would love to provide. I also served as a voluntary service provider to assist students from Europe and South-East Asia to navigate their lives at NTU. As I moved across the city where I grew up to the West Coast, I was also welcomed by an eclectic blend of cultures and greeted by people from around the world. I have friends from Korea, Iran, the UK, Columbia, and India, and my interactions with them bolstered my belief in the positive correlation between diversity and innovation. I also learned to navigate in an environment where people embrace the value of inclusions and celebrate their differences.
My current short-term goal is to embark on my dissertation research in preparation for my qualification exam. , and where interdisciplinary collaboration is encouraged so that my unconventional background could thrive. I am open to working with any advisor on all kinds of inventive topics, especially in the field of space engineering, robotics, transportation, and green technology. I would love to devote myself to the development of unique and innovative technologies that could contribute to the advancement of human civilization.
Now that I could fully immerse myself in the arduous but rewarding life of a Ph.D. student, a galvanizing future starts to emerge in my mind. I envision a career in academia under the influence of my scholar father. With my unconventional background, I could bring a different dimension to the class and invigorate aspiring students. Concurrently, I could also engage in research to bring meaningful contributions to the engineering society. There are also numerous other possibilities beyond academic institutions, especially when submerged in the diverse and high-spirited atmosphere in the Bay Area. I am also open to undertaking a start-up company to combine my expertise in engineering and business. With corporate social responsibility highlighted, I hope to impel positive changes and achieve common successes beyond the corporate level.
Going back to the inception of my journey, the deeply rooted passion in childhood sketches planted a seed that burgeoned a decade later as I found myself becoming an unconventional engineering student. With extensive knowledge and skills capable of imminent impact on any scientific research, I believe MIT is the place where I can live up to my ultimate potential and devote myself to the scientific world. Maybe one day, the innovative spirit in that little girl could wield the magic she had yet to understand and turn the futuristic world of prosperity into reality.