How to Have Fun in A Ph.D. Program

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant

photo of Gyuho Song, MSE alum, adjusting a grip for the mechanical test of materials.

Gyuho Song (’20),Ph.D., adjusting a grip for the mechanical test of materials.

“Believe it or not, I decided to be a materials scientist when I was ten,” said Gyuho Song, UConn MSE alum (‘20). “To be precise, I decided to ‘invent a new material’ after watching an animation about a miniature car on TV. It was a fictional unbreakable-yet-strong ceramic and I thought it was really cool. (I didn’t know there is a trade-off between ductility and strength when I was ten – I learned that as an undergraduate.) From there, I fell in love with physics and math in high school, went to study materials science and engineering (MSE) in undergrad, and came to the US for an MSE master`s degree in 2014.”

When asked which professors inspired him the most during his time at UConn, Song listed four.

Professor Bryan Huey, Song remembered, was kind to all. Song was a self-funding student, looking everywhere for research assistance. When Professor Huey got funding for a new project, he called Song to ask if he was interested in joining the team. Song credits that opportunity as the reason he managed to continue his studies and get to where he is today. Professor Avinash Dongare’s teaching was so incredible, Song said, that he could not stop studying and playing with what he had learned from the course. Professor Dongare helped him to see the world completely differently, and is the reason he began to learn computation, machine learning and cloud computing. Professor George Rossetti’s class, Song added, showed him materials science on a completely different level than what he was used to, and had him beginning to think about how amazing MSE knowledge can be in the real-world industry. Professor Seok-Woo Lee, Song’s advisor, was the best fit for him. As a curious person, Song likes to try new things, and Professor Lee allowed him to do so – as long as he got his work done. With Professor Lee’s patience and guidance, they even turned one of Song’s curiosity-driven projects into a publication.

Professor Lee speaks highly of his experience advising Song. “Gyuho is a very inquisitive person who was always willing to learn new things. He always had many research ideas and did not hesitate to share and discuss them with me. I enjoyed talking with him a lot. Even though he was interested in many different topics, he never lost his deep focus on his research. I feel that Gyuho is a born-to-be researcher.”

Currently, Song works as a senior engineer for Frore Systems in San Jose, California. “While at UConn, I attended many entrepreneurship seminars and was fascinated by many startups. As a materials scientist and engineer, Frore being a Silicon Valley tech startup was too awesome not to jump on. I considered it an adventure because the company was still in stealth mode when I applied, and there was not much information about it online.”

“At Frore Systems, like any startup, new problems pop up everywhere, out of nowhere, everyday,” Song explained. “My job is to figure things out – to find a way to investigate the root cause. On top of that, it’s a very fast-paced environment. When we have a meeting at 10am and I am assigned to figure out a problem, I read papers and study theories, put things together, and make sure to have some preliminary experimental data gathered by 4pm the same day. When it works, it feels good to be a scientist! When it doesn’t, I miss all the resources available at UConn (SEM, TEM, XRD, nanoindentation, etc.).”

Cover of Gyuho Song’s new book, titled PhD Unlocked: A Real-World Guide to take you from Funding for school to Your First Job Offer as a Doctorate.

Gyuho Song’s new book, titled PhD Unlocked: A Real-World Guide to take you from Funding for school to Your First Job Offer as a Doctorate.

One of Song’s recent accomplishments has been writing and publishing a book, PhD Unlocked: A Real-World Guide to Take You From Funding for School to Your First Job Offer as a Doctorate. “I wrote the book after moving to Silicon Valley and meeting lots of super-smart Ph.D. holders. When I talked to them, a large number did not seem to have had much fun during their Ph.D. programs. Because I personally had had so much fun and loved every moment at UConn, I decided to write a book about how to make the most out of a Ph.D. program.”

Song listed three kinds of people who he hopes will be impacted by his book. The first group is not only undergraduates, but also people who are already working for companies – those that have a passion for learning and thinking in depth. He wants them to know that a Ph.D. program is not a scary thing; it can be really fun, and truly transformative. Second, he hopes his book reaches people who may be struggling to afford their education. Song worked to save money for graduate school and feared it wouldn’t be enough. He hopes to share with that specific audience that it is possible if you know where to look for funding opportunities. Lastly, he hopes to reach current Ph.D. students who are struggling with their research, writing, or job searches. Song said that he was incredibly lucky to have great advisors and faculty around him, but still saw other students struggling. On top of that, he mentioned that job search was brutal – as is the experience for many students – but eventually, good things happened. He hopes to share that positive energy with students who are currently encountering the same obstacles.

When asked what advice he has for current or prospective materials science students, Song said, “The more advanced work gets, the more collaboration is required. If you like learning and understanding the world more than meets the eye, consider a Ph.D. in MSE. I enjoyed studying MSE at undergrad, but things got so much deeper, more extensive, and – most importantly – more fun at graduate school. You never know what you may end up falling in love with once you are there.”

“I love UConn,” Song said by way of final thoughts. “I really want to do anything I can to help the students there and make the university proud. UConn is my home – it’s where I grew as both a scientist and a person, and met some amazing people (including my wife). If anyone has questions about graduate school, working at a startup, Silicon Valley, or anything at all, they can reach out to me via email or LinkedIn. They will get a response from me in a day.”

Published: January 31, 2024

Categories: alumni, industry, news

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