Meet Andra Chen
(This story is Part 3 in a series featuring MSE M.Eng. students and the projects they worked on.)
Some students with a four-year undergraduate degree in materials science decide to jump right into the world of work. Others know that they would like to explore further research and the possibility of teaching, so they often look for a Master’s of Science or a doctoral program where they can continue their studies.
What about those students who know they want to join industry, but hope to do so with advanced technical and practical skills that would enhance their value to employers?
For these students, Cornell’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) offers a professionally-oriented Masters of Engineering (M.Eng.) program. As the program’s website says, “Cornell M.Eng. graduates can be found in almost every field related to the physical sciences and engineering. Many students leverage the advanced problem-solving skills developed in this program to pursue leadership careers in business, technology management, or governance. Cornell is one of only a few institutions in the U.S. to offer this type of program.
This two-semester program in Materials Science and Engineering includes classroom work in core areas of study as well as one management course and six technical elective credits. But the key part of the M.Eng. experience is the corporate-sponsored project each student works on. The project counts for anywhere from four to eight credits and is done in close coordination with a representative from the sponsoring company.
Rather than speak in generalities, let’s look at a recent MSE M.Eng. student to give a small taste of what is possible.
Andra Chen ’20 M.Eng.
Chen earned her undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. As an undergraduate she had several research experiences, including two at two different national laboratories. So to say she had a fair sense of what lab research looks like would be an understatement.
What she didn’t have a real sense of was what work as a materials scientist might entail in industry. “In a research lab, often you are trying to investigate things no one else has studied,” says Chen. “You are trying to understand underlying mechanisms. As I got closer to my graduation day I realized that I was more interested in the end user perspective and in engineering products that would be used and that would allow me to see the impact my work was having.”
This wish led Chen to decide to apply to Cornell MSE. In the course of her years at Michigan and at those national labs, she came across many Cornell-affiliated students and researchers, both in person and through their published papers. She also learned about Cornell’s Synchrotron and Center for Materials Research. “Deciding to come to Cornell for my MSE M.Eng. was one of the best decisions I made,” says Chen. “the professors and students in the department are wonderful, the facilities are amazing, and the expertise in nanotech and electronic materials was exactly what I was looking for.”
Once she got to Ithaca, Chen was not disappointed. Classes were useful and challenging and the project she worked on gave her great experience and taught her many new and useful skills. “Alex and Marissa do a fantastic job of setting up the logistics and recruiting companies with some really valuable projects for M.Eng. students to be a part of,” says Chen. (“Alex” is Alex Deyhim, MSE’s Associate Director of the M.Eng. program and “Marissa” is Marissa Porter, MSE’s Graduate Student Services Assistant.)
The project Chen worked on was a partnership with engineers from Universal Instruments and Indium Corporation and was titled ‘Gallium-Indium Based Liquid Metal for High Performance Thermal Interface Materials.’ The project, which had to be altered due to COVID restrictions on building access, sought to identify the thermal degradation mechanism in solid and liquid hybrid metals that Indium wished to use as a thermal interface material and to then propose a materials solution to mitigate the problem.
Chen worked on the project for both semesters of her M.Eng. studies. “Now that I am out in the work world I can see how useful my project experience was,” says Chen. “It was a real-world project with real companies and the focus was on very practical considerations. It was very different from my research experiences as an undergrad. Another useful aspect of my M.Eng. project was getting to work with people from different disciplines. I was part of a cross-functional team and this forces you to learn how to communicate with people who speak a different specific technical language.”
Jim Wilcox, Director of the Electronics Assembly Research Consortium at Universal Instruments (and a Cornell MSE Ph.D. alum) is a strong believer in the value of project partnerships like this. “Andra Chen's exploration of liquid metal thermal interface materials is but one example of the breadth of technical insight we derive from the industrial outreach that is core to the Cornell MSE Masters of Engineering program,” says Wilcox.
“Universal Instruments has been fully engaged with the MSE M.Eng. program from its inception. Each year we bring an ambitious M.Eng. student or two into our laboratory as active research assistants. With top-notch experimental and analytical skills, they tackle a wide range of process and materials research tasks with minimal oversight. Competent communication of their research program direct to our customers at the close of their assignments completes the package for us. And of course the experience leaves them with highly marketable skills; all are quickly hired into various facets of the microelectronics industry. It's been a productive partnership all around.”
Chen has been no exception. Shortly after graduation from Cornell she was hired as a Rotation Engineer at Lam Research in Fremont, California. Chen says the experiences she had and the things she learned in the MSE M.Eng. program were very valuable assets in her job search.