The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - 14

Special Section: Graduate Education

Graduate Student Profiles

Vibhor Nigam

Yohan
Seepersad

Lambda
Senior Data Scientist,
Comcast, Philadelphia

Beta Alpha
Senior Product Engineer,
Lam Research

Education

Education

* Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology
(KIIT), Bhubaneswar, India (B.Sc)
* University of Pennsylvania (MSE, Robotics)

* University of West Indies, St. Augustine Campus (B.Sc,
Electrical Electronics & Communication Engineering)
* Drexel University, USA (PhD, Electrical Engineering)

Why did you go to graduate school?

Why did you go to graduate school?

I was always interested in robotics and wanted to learn
more about the fundamentals of how robots work.
During my undergraduate studies, I was participating in
various robotics competitions, which further piqued my
interest. The University of Pennsylvania has one of the
best robotics programs in the world. Thus, when I got
the admission there were no second thoughts.

I love science; it seemed like the natural course to
follow for someone who enjoys studying and learning
about new things.

Did you begin your graduate studies immediately
after graduating with a bachelor's degree?
No, I worked for two years in industry as a systems
engineer, which kind of gave me a good perspective of
what corporate life is like.
How did you fund your graduate study?
Through educational loans and part-time jobs.
What advice do you have for students considering or
beginning graduate study?

Did you begin your graduate studies immediately
after graduating with a bachelor's degree?
Yes, I graduated from the University of the West Indies
in June of 2010 and started graduate school in the fall
of 2010.
How did you fund your graduate study?
I was a teaching assistant for all five years of the PhD,
an experience I would not trade for anything. Between
that and a few research assistantships, I was able to
have my degree fully funded.
What advice do you have for students considering or
beginning graduate study?

Have a proper plan to chart out the entirety of your
master's study. Two years is not enough time to explore
and figure it out. Also build networks with your fellow
graduate students.

Do not rush into an area or project early on. Take
enough time to find a project and an advisor that fit well
with your interests, even if they are not well-defined at
the time. It will make the research enjoyable and your
graduate student years unforgettable.

In hindsight, what do you wish you had done
differently during graduate school?

In hindsight, what do you wish you had done
differently during graduate school?

I went for a major switch from mechanical engineering
to the machine learning/AI side in robotics, which
requires knowledge of the fundamentals of computer
science. In hindsight, it would have been better to take
some time to carefully plan my coursework and build
up fundamentals.

Taken more classes outside of my department, even
if they were audits for no credit.

THE BRIDGE

Katelyn Brinker

Gamma Theta
IEEE-HKN Student Governor
(B.S. EE & B.S. CpE 2017, M.S. EE 2019)
IEEE-HKN Outstanding Student
Award Recipient
Katelyn Brinker is a PhD student in electrical engineering at
Iowa State University supported by a NASA Space Technology
Research Fellowship. She graduated from the Missouri
University of Science and Technology with bachelor's degrees
in electrical engineering and computer engineering in May of
2017 and with a master's degree in electrical engineering in
July of 2019. She was inducted into the HKN Gamma Theta
Chapter in spring of 2016 and has since served as Bridge
Correspondent, Coordinating Secretary, and President of her
chapter. Currently, she is serving as a Student Governor to the
HKN Board of Governors.

My path to graduate school:
As an undergraduate, I was often told that I should consider
going to graduate school and I often felt unsure that getting
a graduate education would be the right next step for me.
This uncertainty stemmed from my a) not completely
understanding the different options I would have for
graduate school (M.S., thesis, non-thesis; M. Eng.; PhD; etc.),
b) not knowing what I wanted to do with my career, and c)
not being confident in my ability to succeed in a graduate
school setting.
These doubts were chipped away, though, by a collection
of extracurricular experiences, undergraduate research, and
an internship at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). As
an undergraduate, I was heavily involved in the Mars Rover
Design Team (the world champions of the University Rover
Challenge in 2017!), IEEE, and HKN. I also worked as a Peer
Writing Consultant at the Missouri S&T Writing Center for

three years. In my junior year, I started doing undergraduate
research with Dr. Reza Zoughi in the Applied Microwave
Nondestructive Testing Laboratory, which then gave me the
opportunity to get involved with the IEEE Instrumentation
and Measurement Society. Through these experiences and
with encouragement by mentors and professors, I started
to realize that I wanted a research-based career. By the end
of my summer 2016 internship at SwRI, I was convinced
that I wanted to do a thesis-based master's degree with my
undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Zoughi. Because I was
already involved in undergraduate research and knew my
future advisor, I was able to apply as a senior to the NASA
Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) and the
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). I was
very fortunate to be selected for the NSTRF for my master's
study. The fellowship funded my tuition, research materials,
and conference travel on top of providing me with a student
stipend and allowing me to do research at NASA Centers for
10 weeks a year.
At the end of my senior year, I was also selected as
my HKN chapter's nominee for the IEEE-HKN Alton B.
Zerby and Karl T. Koerner Outstanding Student Award.
In my application I was able to write about these
extracurricular, internship, and research experiences and
I was honored to be a co-recipient of the 2017 award.
Receiving this honor provided me with a big confidence
boost going into my master's degree that helped me tackle
the imposter syndrome I felt, especially at the start of my
graduate education.
In starting my master's degree in electrical engineering, I
didn't think I was going to pursue a Ph.D. I had funding for
two years through NSTRF and wasn't ready to commit to a
Ph.D, but after doing research at my university, presenting
my work at a conference and receiving the best student
paper award, and doing research at NASA Langley Research
Center in the summer of 2018, I realized that I did want to
earn a Ph.D. So, in the fall of 2018, I applied for two more
years of funding from NSTRF and was fortunate enough to
receive it.
In May I defended my master's thesis and now I am
pursuing my Ph.D at Iowa State University with my
undergraduate/master's advisor, Dr. Zoughi, and the
support of NSTRF. Concurrently, I am working as a NASA
Pathways Intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in
the Telecommunication Networks and Technologies Branch.
I credit making it this far to the experiences I had during
my undergraduate career with IEEE, HKN, and the Mars
Rover Design Team and to the skills and research passion
I've gained through graduate school. One day, I hope my
education and experience will lead me to my dream of
working for NASA full-time.

HKN.ORG

15


https://hkn.ieee.org/ https://hkn.ieee.org/

The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019

Contents
The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - Cover1
The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - Cover2
The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - Contents
The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - 4
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The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - 7
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The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - Cover3
The Bridge - Issue 3, 2019 - Cover4
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