WHEN embarking on a research project, finding the right direction is always tough, at least, initially.
Ms Lu Qingyang — a research student at the College of Engineering, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) — faced that conundrum too.
To decide on her area of research, she read up on published papers for ideas, attended seminars and had discussions with her professors.
After around six months, she decided that her research project would focus on the qualification and certification of 3D printed metal parts.
The 25-year-old is currently pursuing her PhD in Mechanical Engineering in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and expects to graduate in 2020.
Associate Professor Wong Chee How, associate dean (Academic), College of Engineering, NTU, says the university’s postgraduate engineering programmes typically see professionals from the public and private sector, as well as fresh graduates.
Last year’s enrolment saw more than 3,000 postgraduate students in the College of Engineering, NTU.
After completing her undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering at NTU, Ms Lu went on to take a one-year Master of Science in Composites in 2014 at Imperial College London.
She returned to NTU as a PhD student last year and hopes for a career in teaching when she graduates.
“My current work builds on my technical knowledge. I believe what I am doing now will be a stepping stone to broaden my perspective in conducting future research work analytically and enhance my transferable skills.
“I also hope to develop myself professionally and be confident in conveying my knowledge to others,” she says.
A typical day for her involves research work in the laboratory or at her desk from 9am to 6pm, followed by lessons from 6.30pm to 9.30pm.
She is given the flexibility to plan her own timetable and has lectures and tutorials three times a week.
Ms Lu says: “I decided to pursue a postgraduate course to focus on my area of interest and develop it further.
“Pursuing a postgraduate course is more than just gunning for an academic qualification.
“I can also gain professional skills and acquire connections with fellow graduate students, academics and industry experts.”
Ms Lu shares that the initial stage of research work has a steep learning curve.
“I was demoralised at times, but being optimistic and self-motivated is important.
“Knowing that people around me have also faced similar problems and are not giving up motivates me to strive forward as well,” she recalls.
She likes that, as a PhD student, she has access to material resources, high-end machines and advanced technologies related to her field of research.
She is inspired by like-minded people and “leading thinkers” in her area of study.
In addition to research, she continues learning through her course modules such as Laser Assisted Manufacturing, Design and Analysis of Experiments, Prototype and Rapid Prototyping, and Digital Image Processing.
Digital Image Processing is especially useful for her research as she works with infrared images.
The module taught her the fundamental theories behind image processing and how to use computing codes to apply these theories to enhance the quality of images.
She also learnt about the common issues faced in image processing and how one can resolve them by writing relevant algorithms.
Another useful module is Prototype and Rapid Prototyping, which has given her a head start on her research topic, as it provides an overview on the 3D printing technologies available and the principles of operations.
Working with teammates to solve problems has helped Ms Lu improve her interpersonal skills.
The course has also provided her with opportunities to widen her professional circle.
Research students can attend a variety of talks conducted by guest speakers and faculty members.
Ms Lu says: “Events like these allow us to stay updated with state-of-the-art technologies through networking with professionals.
“Finding friends who are focused and motivated is easier as well in graduate school.”
A postgraduate course allows one to develop both academically and professionally, as you get to develop ideas on a subject that you are deeply interested in, she adds.
“It is also part of investing in one’s future and potential.
“A postgraduate environment often acts as the academic version of professional training, equipping students with the necessary knowledge and professional skills, and getting them ready for their careers,” says Ms Lu.