November 7, 2009Her job: Aerospace/Aeronautical Engineer, University of Central Florida
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I am an assistant professor teaching aerospace engineering classes, conducting research in the area of aerospace structures and materials and mentoring students.
Why did you choose engineering?
Engineering gives us the ability to push human limits and turn dreams and imagination into reality. In developing technologically advanced systems, we can do things and go places that nature didn’t provide us the ability to. The beauty of it is that in the search for solutions, we learn more about nature and the reason why things are created the way they are.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I went to school in three different continents! My Bachelors degree was in Mechanical Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where I was born and raised. I did my Masters in Aeronautical Engineering at SUPAERO (now known as ISAE) in Toulouse, France. My PhD was in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University in Indiana, USA.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I previously worked at an aerospace company in structural repair, maintenance and analysis and enjoyed the challenges of finding real-time solutions to many different challenges. In my current job, I teach classes and work with students on research ideas to develop next generation aerospace structures and materials. I guide them to develop and perform experiments in our lab and at national facilities, understand and analyze results and make decisions that will bring us closer to our goals. I work to make engineering an exciting experience for them and lead them towards opportunities to develop their engineering career.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I enjoy the ability to use theory to examine problems and develop practical solutions. There are so many characteristics and processes out there waiting to be discovered and I like that engineering research helps us develop new methods and find answers to what limits a structure, material or design. This gives us new ideas on how to improve them. Engineers work systematically and our step by step progress will lead to new materials and designs that can make a profound difference in our lives.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
I am most proud of the team effort it took to complete my PhD in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at Purdue University. It could not have happened without the support of my mother, who braved the cold to stay with me and help look after my kids and my husband who flew back and forth every few months to be with us. My kids cheered me on every step of the way and my sisters gave me encouragement and support to move forward.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
Having lost my father at the age of 16, I struggled through the next few years worrying how I would support myself through school financially and realize my dream of becoming an engineer. It took some failures and a lot of effort and encouragement from my family for me to pull myself together and make it happen. Doing my masters in France I had the great challenge of studying Engineering in a new language, but this challenge gave me a skill for life! When I planned to do my PhD, my biggest challenge was how to achieve both family and career goals. I was lucky to have great family support to help me through this. All of the challenges I faced only helped me become a stronger and more capable person.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I am really fortunate to have a great family. My husband is an environmental engineer and my two sons are in middle and elementary school. They encourage me all the time and we are a great team helping each other to keep the household running.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
My immediate goals for the future are to be a great teacher and mentor to my students and to build a successful research program. In the long term, I hope to develop my research with my students and together make significant scientific impact to the aerospace engineering community.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
In the little time that I had with my father, he was a great influence in the way I look at life. He was an electrical engineer who was passionate about his field. He taught me how to dream big dreams and made me believe that nothing is out of reach. He also taught me how to believe in myself and to take on challenges without hesitation. Learning from his confidence and optimism, whenever I am faced with a challenge, I always believe that I can overcome it! My mother’s strength and resilience in the face of adversity is a trait that I constantly draw inspiration from.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
The key to success is to always dream big dreams. You can only go far if you set your targets high. Draw inspiration from people around you who have beaten all odds to get where they are and think of your stumbling blocks only as instruments that make you stronger and more resilient to challenges that you will face in the future. Never be afraid to take on a challenge and have confidence that you will succeed. There are many occasions along the way when you may find yourself faced with an opportunity to prove yourself, take it and the success will make you distinct from others who stayed on the beaten track. Build on the support system that your family and friends provide to help you move forward in achieving both your career and family goals.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
Outside of work, I enjoy playing with my kids and cooking. I love learning new languages and wish I had more time to do so. My favorite book is "Le Petit Prince" by Antoine de Saint Exupery, a great aviator. I read this when I was young and again when I was older and it never ceases to bring forth new interpretations to life as I go through different stages of it.