We didn’t have such a undergraduate research program when I did my BS at National Taiwan University (NTU), but I fell in love with finite element modeling and structure mechanics analysis when I took graduate-level courses during my senior year at NTU. The passion of my later MS thesis adviser about his teaching and research really inspired me for pursuing the Master’s degree, and then, the 2-year MS study opened the door for me to exploring new research opportunities in structural optimal design. I didn’t make my mind to further study my PhD at the time when I graduated from NTU, and I even hesitated to take this challenging action. After 2-year military service, I was working in industry for Tai-Power company for about 6 months. That was the time I decided to come to the US for conducting advanced, cutting-edge research, which is what I liked and am continuously enjoy doing.
Like many other successful faculty, I did not have a particular mentor, walking me through the process of being an effective mentor. Instead, I learned a lot by observing how my PhD adviser and postdoctoral supervisor manage their lab. On the one hand, my PhD adviser (Dr. Jiun-Shyan Chen now at UCSD) is very rigorous, self-disciplined, and hard-working in terms of doing research. I learned how to write technical papers to a high-quality journal as well as conducting novel and rigorous research in Numerical Methods and Computational Mechanics. However, I also observed that some of our lab members sometimes lost self-motivation because our adviser was pushing us so hard, which may not be a good model for mentoring American students. On the other hand, my postdoctoral supervisor (Dr. Michael Sacks at UT Austin) is always giving overall big picture of the research project and he is very good at inspiring his research folks. He does not push hard on students or postdocs, giving a little bit more freedom but sometimes less instructive. I learned a lot about how to run experiments in a tissue wet lab as well as working with undergraduate and graduate students. I would say I am setting up my own mentoring model at OU based on my experience and learning at these 2 labs, kind of in between these two totally different styles.
Even though I only had samples collected in my first year at OU, I have been enjoying working with many talented undergraduates from various engineering disciplines, which significantly helped quickly establish my lab in the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. The advice I would like to offer to UG students is trying to get started in UG research as early as possible, so that they could develop new skills and gain as much unique experience as possible during doing research in one single lab or in various research labs. If the students envision going to graduate school would be his/her next career goal, beginning his/her research journey would be extremely beneficial. (But at the same time, not sacrificing the GPA.)
Our undergraduates are very good at hands-on projects and they are all very motivated to conduct biomechanics research in my lab. I also encourage my students to conduct good research and grab all possible opportunities to make presentations to general public and/or scientific societies. OU and the State of Oklahoma many great venues for this, such as C2C Summer and Spring Symposia, OU-OUHSC Biomedical Engineering Symposium, Undergraduate Research Day, AIAA/ASME Oklahoma Symposium and Research Day at the Capitol.
The most challenging part of mentoring students (not necessarily just UG’s) to me is to keep both of us on the same page and to maintain the same level of common goal(s) through effective and clear communication. The working style difference is another aspect I tried very hard to cope with. I think having regular individual meeting to discuss about his/her research progress as well as lab group meeting to implicitly provide peer pressure help to keep track of how everybody does in the group. Of course, there also comes with an issue of my own time management for having these research meetings in an effective way.