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From student to faculty: Alumni in academia

For many engineering graduate students at The Ohio State University, becoming a tenure-track professor is the ultimate goal. The ability to conduct exciting research and work with students to shape the future is an opportunity few would pass up.

Alumna Sarah WatzmanSarah WatzmanSarah Watzman, who completed her BS, MS and PhD in mechanical engineering all at Ohio State, is the most recent department alumna to reach that goal: receiving her PhD in May 2018, she started as an assistant professor at University of Cincinnati Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering in August 2018.

Sarah had many great achievements at Ohio State, but a couple stand out to her: “I am definitely incredibly proud and honored to have been an NSF Graduate Research Fellow.” She also points to her dissertation research on coupled thermal, electrical and magnetic transport. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked on something so intensely in my life,” she said.

In preparing to be a professor, Sarah says her advisor, Joseph Heremans, PhD had a huge part in developing the necessary skills and mindset.

“I think the biggest thing I learned from him was to never say you can’t do something. [His] mindset and his enthusiasm and openness to new ideas helped me gain a more open-minded and creative approach to research for myself. I think this has helped prepare me to run my own lab as a professor, one in which I can think outside the box to come up with and pursue new ideas.”

Sarah was also a part of the department’s new Future Academic Scholars Training (FAST) program, which she says helped prepare her to teach and how to think about teaching.

Sarah took classes in engineering education and best pedagogy practices that encouraged discussion. “These discussions helped elucidate my own personal attitude towards teaching and being in the classroom so that I already had an approach in mind once I became a professor,” she says.

“Additionally, I helped my advisor with inverting his undergraduate thermodynamics curriculum, which gave me insight on course planning. I also got to teach his class for a couple weeks while he was traveling, which helped me realize how much fun teaching can be.”

Reflecting on her first semester as an assistant professor, Sarah says it was an exciting one. “It has been a good but weird transition! I went straight from grad school to my current faculty position, so I’m still adjusting to no longer being a student and actually being in charge of my own research direction. I know I’m in a new, exciting position, but I’m still the same person."

"I think the biggest ‘wow I am a professor’ moment came to me when I was on the phone with my PhD advisor discussing a collaborative grant proposal—I asked him about something and he goes, ‘you’re in charge now, you decide!’ Not something you are used to hearing from your advisor, so I think that was a big moment for me.”

Sarah joins nine other department alumni who became faculty in 2017 and 2018:

  • Hyunsu Kim (PhD ’11), advised by Ahmet Selamet, is an assistant professor at Dong-Eui University in Busan, South Korea
  • Hyun Sik Kwon (PhD ME ’13), advised by Ahmet Kahraman, is an assistant professor at Dong-Eui Unversity in Busan, South Korea
  • Hyungyu Jin (PhD ME ’14, MS ME ’13), advised by Joseph Heremans, is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology in Pohang, South Korea
  • Kevin Disotell (PhD AE ’15, MS AE ’13, BS AE ’10), advised by James Gregory, is an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio
  • Hafez Tari (PhD ME ’14), advised by Marcelo Dapino, is a full-time lecturer at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio
  • Zhangxian Deng (PhD ME '15), advised by Marcelo Dapino, is an assistant professor at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho
  • Elena Caruthers (PhD ME ’17, MS ME ’15), advised by Robert Siston, is an assistant professor at Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio
  • Scott Monfort (PhD ME ’17, MS ME ’15), advised by Ajit Chaudhari, is an assistant professor at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT
  • Lt Col Michael Walker (PhD AE ’18), advised by Jeffrey Bons, is an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Air Force Institute of Technology in Dayton, Ohio

by Jonathon Miles, department communications intern