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A Current Student's Perspective: The Reality of Pursuing your Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering



Note: this interview was condensed and edited for clarity. 

Is graduate school really the new undergrad? Are you cut out for conducting research in your field? While Electrical and Computer Engineering is a growing field, there are still concerns you may want answered before applying to graduate school. We're taking you straight to the best source of information: a current student in our graduate programs.

Xinan Wang is a Ph.D. student at SMU in the Lyle School of Engineering and currently conducting research concerning Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). We got a chance to hear from Wang about what life and research look like in SMU's ECE Ph.D. program.

Keep reading to learn more about the great professors at SMU, research opportunities during a Ph.D. in Engineering program, conquering fears about grad school, and much more.

Download our new digital resource today: "The Degree that is  Propelling Society Forward: A Complete Guide to Earning Your  Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering!"

Xinan_WangTell us a little bit about yourself. What initially got you interested in ECE as a field of study?

My name is Xinan Wang, and I am from China. I came to the U.S. after I finished my undergraduate study. Electrical/Computer Engineering includes a very broad field of disciplines for instance, radar, communication, power, electronics, circuit design, machine learning, algorithm research … so ECE definitely provides you with many possibilities for a future career. Since elementary school, I have been good at math and physics and that matches the requirements of ECE very well. That is why I chose ECE.

Did you encounter any hesitations, obstacles, or fears about pursuing a Ph.D. in ECE?

Of course, you never know what’s gonna happen while studying for your Ph.D. I am always afraid that one day I will find the research I have been conducting for a long time, proves to be a waste of time. But fortunately, this has not happened yet. In your Ph.D. study it is important to learn how to do risk management before you start a research topic.

You have to evaluate the practicality, innovation, timeliness, and difficulty of that research topic and have a plan B for every obstacle you might meet. That is a very important skill Ph.D. students are trained in and having this skill will distinguish you from other students. 

Why did you choose the ECE Ph.D. program at SMU?

SMU has a high reputation in academia. Dallas-Fort Worth is also a flourishing area which can provide me more opportunities in the future. Of course, the professor I work with closely at SMU is interested in the power area, and he is a young, enthusiastic researcher. I think this is the biggest attraction for me.

Now that you have experienced the program, what’s your favorite part about it?

Unlike most other universities, SMU features small class sizes. In undergraduate, I rarely saw a classes with less than 50 students, except for some CS undergraduate courses. Therefore, you have plenty of chances to discuss your questions with the professor.

Also, SMU provides the supercomputer ManeFrame for student use. The Lyle School of Engineering at SMU also provides General Use Linux Machines for students to use, which is super helpful to my research. You can do a lot of cutting-edge research with these tools, without worry about hardware limits.

What has been your favorite research project so far?

There are several: PMU attack detection and recovery, energy disaggregation, residential customer baseline load estimation, and Electric Vehicle (EV) service to the grid. So far, my favorite research is EV service to the power grid. In this research you have to consider the interest conflicts between EV owners and the utilities. The highly non-linear logic structure inside the model makes it impossible to be solved by traditional optimization tools. We have to use machine learning-based approaches to reach a better and better solution.

What are you most proud of from your years in graduate school?

I am most proud of my two conference papers, one journal paper and two ongoing journal papers. Besides those, I also did a lot of presentations on different occasions which have been enjoyable experiences.

What are your career plans? How has the ECE Ph.D. program at SMU helped prepare you for your future?

I want to be a data scientist in the power area and serve the power industry using my acquired knowledge. SMU and the professor that I work with have a lot of connections to this academic area and industry, which gives me plenty of chances to interact with the industry.


Read more student stories by downloading our comprehensive guide: "The Degree that is Propelling Society Forward: A Complete Guide to Earning Your Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering!"

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