Fellow presentation and intro to your career path
My name is Zoe Jiang, and I am originally from China. I came to the United States in 2011 to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University (MSU). I was inspired to choose this field because many of my family members work in the engineering industry as manufacturing engineers, mechanical engineers, and electrical engineers. As a child, I vividly remember watching my father create engineering drawings, using a pen and ruler set to depict the 2D structure of individual parts in a 3D machine on a large sheet of paper. I found it fascinating and desired to develop the same skill, combining my passion for drawing and designing with mechanical engineering knowledge. Moreover, I have always enjoyed working with tools, building, and repairing things, which further convinced me that Mechanical Engineering was the ideal fit for me.
During my time at MSU, I began to realize that I had a multitude of options for my future career, so I decided to explore various areas. Given my affinity for mathematics and coding, I pursued a second major in Computational Mathematics. Additionally, I selected aerospace engineering courses as my elective focus to broaden my horizons and explore additional possibilities. In my junior year, I joined a mechanical engineering lab, although its primary focus was on microfluidics and biosensors. To my surprise, I found tremendous enjoyment in the research I conducted in that lab. Consequently, I decided to continue working in this field and successfully applied and was accepted as a Ph.D. student in the same research lab.
Over the years, I have held positions as an undergraduate assistant, graduate assistant, and postdoctoral research associate in this lab. My primary focus has been on designing and fabricating microneedle arrays, developing wearable skin patches, designing and fabricating sampling devices for dermal interstitial fluid, and working with electrochemical biosensors.
Having spent almost nine years in academia, I began to wonder about the potential changes in my life if I transitioned to the industry. Recruiters started reaching out to me on LinkedIn, further fueling my curiosity. Ultimately, I decided to make the move to the industry and accepted an offer from Spear Bio, a startup company dedicated to developing ultrasensitive immunoassays for the detection of targets in small sample volumes. I was originally hired to specialize in the design and development of microfluidic devices, which aligned perfectly with my area of expertise. However, as is often the case in startup companies, the direction swiftly evolved. The company made a strategic decision to prioritize the development of additional assays rather than focusing solely on microfluidic aspects. Consequently, I transitioned to the platform development team, where my role shifted to optimizing the assay workflow. This new objective aimed to enhance both the efficiency and quality of the final product. By leveraging my skills and knowledge in this context, I actively contribute to improving the overall performance of the company's assay development process.
Mechanical Engineering career options
Here I listed a few examples of the diverse career options available within the field of Mechanical Engineering. It’s important to note that many of these roles can overlap or have specialized subfields, offering even more opportunities for specialization and growth.
- Mechanical Engineer
Design, develop and optimize mechanical systems and products.
- Automotive Engineer
Design, development and testing of vehicles and their components. Focus on areas such as engine design, vehicle dynamics, safety systems and fuel efficiency.
- Manufacturing Engineer
Optimize production processes and systems. Analyze production methods, develop efficient workflows, and implement quality control measures to ensure the smooth and cost-effective manufacturing of mechanical products.
- Robotics Engineer
Design and develop robots and automated systems. Create intelligent machines capable of performing complex tasks in various industries.
- Design Engineer
Create and develop mechanical systems, products and components. Utilize computer-aided design (CAD) software and apply engineering principles to design innovative solutions.
- Biomedical Engineer
Design and development of medical devices and equipment. Create innovative solutions that improve patient care and treatment outcomes.
- Energy Engineer
Design and implement sustainable energy systems. Focus on renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and the development of innovative technologies to reduce environmental impact.
- Aerospace Engineer
Design and develop aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems. Work on aerodynamics, propulsion systems, materials science, and structural analysis to ensure safe and efficient flight.
- Project Engineer
Oversee the planning, coordination, and execution of engineering projects. Manage resources, budgets, and timelines to ensure successful project completion while meeting client requirements.
- Consulting Engineer
Provide expert advice and solutions to clients on various mechanical engineering projects. Offer technical expertise, feasibility studies, and design recommendations to assist clients in achieving their engineering goals.
- HVAC Engineer
Design and develop heating, cooling and ventilation systems for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Ensure optimal indoor climate control and energy efficiency.
- Research and Development Engineer/Scientist
Focus on innovation and the development of new technologies. Conduct research, design experiments, and collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to advance mechanical engineering knowledge and create groundbreaking solutions.
Main hard skills you use on daily basis in your current job
- Experimental design
As a research scientist, we develop experimental plans and design studies to address scientific questions or validate hypotheses. We need to consider factors such as sample size, controls, statistical analysis, and ethical considerations.
You can hone this skill through projects in your college courses. Most mechanical engineering departments offer design courses that require students to complete a final project. You can leverage these class projects as opportunities to refine your abilities by meticulously planning your experiments or work. This includes developing a detailed timeline, considering potential approaches, identifying alternative methods, and determining materials requirements. By actively engaging in these class projects, you can effectively practice and enhance your skills in experimental planning and project management.
- Laboratory techniques
Research scientists should be proficient in various laboratory techniques. For example, some skills such as microscopy, pipetting, protein purification, qPCR, PCR, cell culture and other specialized techniques for biotech company; some skills such as CNC, 3D printing, laser cutting, photolithography and other specialized techniques for mechanical engineering laboratories.
You can develop and refine this skill through various avenues. Firstly, consider enrolling in specialized courses that are specifically designed to cultivate the desired skillset. These courses provide focused instruction and practical exercises to help you develop proficiency. Additionally, during summer or winter breaks, seek out internship opportunities in relevant industries or companies. These internships offer valuable hands-on experience and a chance to apply your skills in real-world settings. Alternatively, you can explore the option of joining research laboratories at your university during regular semesters. This allows you to gain practical experience while working alongside experienced researchers and contributing to ongoing projects. By actively pursuing these opportunities, you can effectively practice and enhance the desired skill, bolstering your overall capabilities in the field.
- Data collection and Analysis
Research scientists need to collect data from experiments, perform data analysis using statistical tools, and interpret the results. Software like EXCEL, Prism, and specialized tools for data visualization and analysis.
Proficiency in this skill relies heavily on your ability to utilize data analysis tools and software. To enhance your expertise, there are several methods you can employ. Firstly, leverage the built-in help function within software applications like Excel. These resources provide guidance on specific functions and features, allowing you to familiarize yourself with their usage. Additionally, for software such as Prism, the company often provides a wealth of tutorials and courses that you can pursue to deepen your understanding and proficiency in utilizing the software effectively. Another valuable resource is YouTube, where you can find informative videos related to data analysis and software tutorials. By actively seeking out and utilizing these resources, you can strengthen your proficiency in data analysis tools and software, empowering you to extract meaningful insights from your data.
Soft skills you use on daily basis in your current job
- Adaption to Technology
Research Scientists work with various scientific instruments, data analysis software, and technology platforms. Being adaptable and continuously learning new technologies and tools helps to effectively utilize available resources and stay updated with advancements in the field.
Working in a new job often involves tackling unfamiliar tasks and continuously acquiring new knowledge. Embracing this need for continuous learning is crucial. Since the company shifted its development focus, I have found myself immersed in a realm that is new to me, therefore, I have implemented a series of effective strategies to ensure a smooth transition and optimize my learning experience. One of the key practices I have adopted is meticulous documentation of my learnings through detailed notetaking. This proactive approach allows me to create a comprehensive record of the knowledge I acquire along the way. I have found that referring back to these notes proves immensely helpful in retaining and applying new information effectively. Moreover, I actively engage with relevant literature and seek guidance from experienced colleagues. Additionally, when utilizing expensive equipment, it is essential to adhere to established protocols and carefully review user guides. Revisiting the notes regularly will enhance familiarity with new techniques and promote proficiency in using the equipment. By adopting a proactive approach to learning, you can confidently navigate new challenges and maximize your effectiveness in the job.
- Communication and Collaboration
Be able to clearly articulate your ideas, present research findings to colleagues and stakeholders, write scientific papers, and collaborate with team members. When working in multidisciplinary teams, collaborating with colleagues, technicians, and other researchers to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and work together towards common research goals are essential.
To improve this skill, you can engage in group projects with your peers, actively participate in discussions, delegate tasks, and foster open communication within the team. Join student organizations related to your field or project teams that work on specific engineering challenges can also offer opportunities to collaborate, communicate, and solve problems. Engaging with peers who share your interests will enhance your ability to work effectively in a team setting. As I work on unfamiliar subjects, I regularly consult my experienced colleagues for second opinions when developing or improving assays. Likewise, I actively participate in brainstorming sessions to help overcome bottlenecks in their projects, which facilitates knowledge exchange and skill-sharing. This collaborative approach fosters a dynamic learning environment for all involved.
- Attention to detail
Precision and attention to detail are paramount in scientific research. A research scientist must meticulously follow protocols, record data accurately, and maintain rigorous quality control to ensure reliable and reproducible results.
To improve your attention to detail, there are several effective practices to consider. Throughout my academic journey, I consistently prioritized meticulous attention to detail in my coursework and assignments. I developed a habit of double-checking calculations, measurements, and units to ensure utmost accuracy and precision. This experience ingrained in me a strong commitment to paying attention to even the smallest of details. Prior to submission, it is important to thoroughly review and edit your work to identify and rectify any errors or inconsistencies. Engage in the process of reviewing and proofreading your work to enhance its quality. I also seek feedback from classmates or instructors, as their insights can provide valuable perspectives. Over time, with consistent practice, you will become more accustomed to this level of attentiveness, and paying attention to details will become second nature to you.
My personal path
Each person's job-seeking journey is unique, and it often involves various challenges and decisions. When I contemplated transitioning from academia to industry, I took proactive steps to refine my LinkedIn profile, providing more comprehensive details about my accomplishments and experiences over the years. As a result, recruiters reached out to me through InMail and conducted initial phone interviews. Furthermore, due to the publication of my research articles in esteemed journals, I was fortunate to receive an email and LinkedIn message from the CTO of Spear Bio, expressing interest in my work and offering me an interview opportunity at their startup company. Following three rounds of interviews, I swiftly received an offer from the company. However, a significant hurdle emerged in the form of the H-1B visa lottery.
Previously, I held a cap-exempt H-1B visa, which limited my employment options to non-profit institutions. Since most industry companies are for-profit entities, they require the cap-subject H-1B visa, which is subject to a lottery system. Unfortunately, the selection rate in recent years has been remarkably low, and despite my efforts, I was not fortunate enough to secure a spot. Moreover, my application for an O-1 visa, an alternative option, also proved unsuccessful. I have a friend who submitted around 2000 job applications and, through sheer luck, finally obtained a job offer. Remarkably, he was selected for an H-1B visa during his initial application. This serves as a reminder that the journey towards your dream job can be arduous, and difficulties may arise at any stage.
In light of these experiences, I have come to realize the importance of perseverance and preparation. It is crucial not to hesitate or rush through the process. Instead, be well-prepared and resilient in the face of challenges. The path to your desired position may be strewn with obstacles, but with determination and strength, you can navigate through them.
What would you tell your younger you regarding building your current career?
Exploring different areas and gaining diverse experiences can be highly beneficial in finding your true passion. By exposing yourself to various domains, you have the opportunity to discover what truly resonates with you. When you engage in work that aligns with your genuine interests, it can significantly enhance your daily life and make it more enjoyable and fulfilling. Ultimately, pursuing a career or engaging in activities that genuinely captivate your interest can contribute to a sense of ease and contentment in your everyday life.
During my time as a post-doc, I encountered the task of incorporating 3D printing techniques into my product designs, however, nobody in our lab had prior experience with this technology. Thus, I took it upon myself to unravel the intricacies of operating and optimizing the 3D printers, as we were aiming to fabricate high-resolution prototypes. The setup process posed numerous challenges, spanning both FDM-based and VAT-based 3D printers. To inject a sense of enjoyment and excitement into the learning process, I began utilizing SolidWorks to create models of keychains and decorative objects. This allowed me to explore the capabilities of the printers while simultaneously honing my skills. It was immensely fulfilling when I finally mastered the entire process and gained the ability to troubleshoot problems along the way. The journey of overcoming obstacles and acquiring proficiency in utilizing 3D printing techniques proved to be both rewarding and invigorating.
Final tips and insights
To enhance your career prospects, take advantage of the resources available at your school's career center. Seek feedback and suggestions on your resume, and practice mock interviews with peers to refine your interviewing skills. Conduct research on jobs that align with your interests and examine their requirements to identify the necessary skills. Create a list of these skills and focus on improving and acquiring them. During semester breaks, you can actively pursue internship opportunities to gain valuable experience and establish professional networks. These steps will help you develop a competitive edge and increase your chances of securing your desired position.