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Spotlight on Ju Ying Shang: PhD Candidate in Materials Science and Engineering

Created: January 21, 2019

Ju Ying Shang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering. She studies low-dimensional electronic materials and how the application of these materials will improve the functionality of electronic devices. She currently serves as president of the Graduate Leadership & Advocacy Council (GLAC).

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My research focuses on low-dimensional electronic materials and how to improve upon current technology to make items like our phones and computers lighter, faster, and more versatile. In order to realize these goals, I study the fundamental aspects of these materials. The question I aim to answer is, “What physical mechanisms are taking place such that a low-dimensional material exhibits this property?” Once we understand the cause and effect relationships, we can ultimately design a low-dimensional material that will allow us to make an electronic device with state-of-the-art performance.

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
The most memorable twist of my career is when I was accepted into Northwestern as a PhD student. Prior to Northwestern, I was working as an engineer in a small startup company. My dream wasn’t to be an engineer - it was just something that I could do (and I'm pretty good at it). At some point, I decided that I needed more design in my life, starting with forming a lifelong goal. The goal I zoomed in on was to devote my professional career to science and engineering, with the aim of making our lives better. Going back to school to earn a PhD is the first step in achieving this goal. My acceptance letter from Northwestern showed me that I am on the right track and that I do have what it takes. 

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
I find that the most challenging thing about research is the willingness to think. I tend to do experiments without looking at the big picture. When I slow down and think (often because my adviser demands it), I find it to be extremely rewarding. In this process, I organize my thoughts, experimental data, and all relevant literature. From there, I gain a deeper understanding of my project and I form a more direct approach. 

What books are on your bedside table?
The most recent books I finished reading are The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert and Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman. In addition to these two, many other books have been on my bedside table at one point or another, such as Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky, and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. 

What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a first-grade teacher; in second grade, I wanted to be a second-grade teacher; in middle school, I wanted to be an archeologist; and in high school, I thought about becoming a journalist.

Tell us about a time when things did not go as you planned, what did you learn?
In research and in life, things almost never go according to plan. There are too many instances to recount here. The conclusion I reached from all of these experiences is that I should be as prepared as I can be, but also be willing to embrace change.