Lehan Yao is a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in materials science and engineering. He currently studies nanomaterials and their uses for everyday life — from electronic devices, medicines to environmental protection. Let's catch up with the grad student in a fun Q&A.
Lehan Yao is a graduate student pursuing a doctorate in materials science and engineering. He currently studies nanomaterials and their uses for everyday life — from electronic devices, medicines to environmental protection. He earned his bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from Soochow University in Soochow, China. Let's catch up with the grad student in a fun Q&A.
Q: What drew you to materials science and engineering?
A: “Materials science can be close to application, industry and people's daily life. When I was graduating from high school, I wasn't so sure whether I wanted to join academia or industry. So, if later I find myself not suitable to be a scientist, I can find an industrial job.
“Another reason is I would like to see how my research can immediately benefit society and peoples’ daily lives, which gives me a sense of achievement.”
Q: What made you choose to study at Illinois?
A: “Ranking and location. When I was admitted as master’s student to UIUC, I was also holding a Ph.D. offer from a not-so-good university. I believe higher ranking can offer me a better chance of finding a good job.
"Champaign-Urbana is a great place of doing research. We have great restaurants, clean streets and friendly folks here.”
Q: What are some of your fondest memories from your time at Illinois?
A: “The time I spent with my ex-girlfriend. We used to cook food, prepare for exams and play video games together. Spending more time with people you love can relieve your pressures.”
Q: What research did you conduct during your time at MatSE?
A: “I study nanomaterials’ self-assembly. Basically, I’m building novel materials from very, very small building blocks — around 10-8 m in size. In the nanoscopic world, you are unable to hold them with your hand or any tweezers but instead, you rely on changing the environment to manipulate the physical interactions between them; that's why we call this self-assembly.
“Sometimes you can successfully build new materials with unique properties. Sometimes you can reveal new physics rules that govern those small object's behaviors. But most of the time, experiments simply fail.”
Q: What are some of the unique opportunities at Illinois you’ve taken advantage of so far?
A: “We have a lot of research talks from people all over the world on campus and the department shares with us the schedules and encourages us to join. This can allow you to know the most up-to-date research trends and famous people in the field. The talks can bring inspirations to your research and can help you decide the future directions to explore.”
Q: How do you think your time at MatSE will better prepare you for your career?
A: “I think speech is the most important part. I'm not a native English speaker and I'm an introvert, so speech was the most difficult barrier in perusing my career. Here at MatSE, graduate students give research talks every year. This really helped me a lot in building my confidence and improving my communication skills.”
Q: What tips do you have for those considering applying to MatSE for grad school?
A: “Keep your GPA high and join lab research. Lab research is not the lab experiment classes. You should contact professors and get involved in their research. Most of the time the professors are really nice to undergraduate students interested in doing research, and their labs often need more people to help with the research. Research experience can help you a lot in your application.”
Q: What advice do you have for current MatSE grad students?
A: “Keep a work-life balance. Set a clean boundary between your course work, research and personal life. This can keep you motivated in the long run. Learn some psychology knowledge, learn about yourself, and learn some stress management skills.
Q: Why is earning a grad degree from MatSE so important?
A: “For me, I simply feel like I'm young and have plenty of time to explore the unknowns and to benefit society and human beings. I think the training you receive, your scientific achievements and other skills you learned here are all more important than the degree itself.”
Q: How do you hope taking the extra step and earning a MatSE graduate degree will help you elevate your career?
A: “Undergraduates only learn the basic knowledge, which might or might not be used in their careers. A Ph.D. is more like a training process. It can prove you have the capability to finish a project from scratch independently. I think this is necessary for high-rank positions in companies.”