“Find What Research is the Best Fit for You”

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of MSE graduate student Cassidy Atkinson

MSE graduate student Cassidy Atkinson

Cassidy Atkinson, a final year materials science and engineering (MSE) Ph.D. candidate, discovered her passion for MSE during her undergraduate college tours because of its wide-ranging applications across various fields. “I like how broad a field it is because it is truly relating to everything, but everyone’s research is so niche.”

Throughout her time at UConn, Atkinson had several inspirational professors. “Professor Alpay and Professor Frame have stood out to me as being professors that I look up to and I feel comfortable having a conversation with, whether research related or not. Other faculty members in the department have also taught me a lot, including Professors Nakhmanson, Goberman, Brody, and Lee. They are all very knowledgeable in their fields and I think their enthusiasm for it comes off clearly in the way they teach and interact with their students.”

During her sophomore year of undergrad, Atkinson received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) award, a competitive accolade where applicants propose summer research projects. Her winning project, titled Chemical Trends in Al-Cu and Al-Ag Interfaces from First-principles Theory, was guided by her faculty mentor Professor Pamir Alpay.

Also during her undergraduate studies, Atkinson participated in multiple projects with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), an experience that she credits with shaping her decision to pursue a Ph.D. “I already knew that I wanted to pursue higher education. Being at the research lab and talking to the professional researchers there helped me realize that it would be beneficial for me personally to go directly to graduate school after finishing undergrad. I think if I had taken a break and gone into industry instead, I would’ve had a difficult time going back to school.”

Atkinson proceeded to delve into her past research endeavors, detailing how they paved the way for the research she currently conducts as a grad student. “I started doing density functional theory (DFT) as an undergrad and I really enjoyed doing computational research, so I decided to keep pursuing it as my graduate research. I wanted to learn more about the computational side of things for my PhD. A lot of my current research focuses on seeing the impact of impurities on properties and structural stability of various material systems. I mostly focus on ceramics, but am also working on a side project looking at the effects of impurities on aluminum.”

Atkinson’s research has resulted in three publications on topics such as silicon carbide grain boundaries, enhancing the electro-optic effect in HfO2 and ZrO2, and analyzing the local atomic environment in calcium lanthanum sulfide ceramics. Additionally, she is currently working on two more papers focusing on calcium lanthanum sulfide and aluminum impurities.

In 2023, Atkinson embarked on a six month research project in France through the Chateaubriand Fellowship. This prestigious grant, awarded by the embassy of France in the United States, aims to support outstanding Ph.D. students from American universities pursuing research opportunities in France. “It was a great experience to see how research is done in a different country. I really enjoyed the people that I worked with and the environment that I was in. It helped me grow as a researcher and learn how to communicate my own research more clearly.” 

When asked what advice she has for any current MSE students, Atkinson said, “It is important to get involved in research. If a professor is doing research that interests you, reach out to them and see if there is any opportunity for you to join their lab. Don’t be afraid to reach out to multiple professors and find what research is the best fit for you.”

Published: May 1, 2024

Categories: computation, fellowship, graduate students, news, research

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