When searching for a career, all signs pointed to academia
As an undergraduate, Ruifeng Zhang (BMatEng(Hons) 2011, PhD 2016) found himself wondering, “What am I going to do for a job?” He fantasised about working within industry as an engineer, but found himself instead reaping the rewards of academic research – a path that led to his doctorate and his current position as Assistant Professor at Central South University in Hunan, China.
“I got my first glimpse of research during my summers at Monash,” explains Ruifeng. “I discovered that gathering knowledge, technical skills and new ideas added colour to my life.”
Ruifeng vividly remembers being introduced, while a student, to a 3D polymer printer and its products. “Additive Manufacturing is the most exciting innovation I’ve witnessed,” he says. “And when I encountered a printer for metal alloys, I couldn’t help feeling amazed by its unlimited potential for manufacturing.”
Along with 19 other Monash design and engineering students, Ruifeng used 3D printing technology to create Christmas ornaments designed by children with muscular dystrophy. The ornaments were sold to help fund cure research for the disease. “This was a highlight of my university experience, and the first time I’d used technology to help others,” remarks Ruifeng.
As part of the 2+2 Program, Ruifeng completed his final two years of undergraduate engineering at Monash after doing his first two at CSU. “When I found out that I could join the Program in Australia, I figured why not give it a try as I’ve already left my hometown,” shares Ruifeng. “And it’d give me an opportunity to experience a different culture and life.”
Ruifeng credits his professors at Monash with having given him the encouragement he needed to shape his career. He describes, for example, how the Head of Department met with him every day for three weeks to resolve a problem that might have jeopardized acceptance of a paper. Without this ongoing support, Ruifeng very well may have chosen a different path.
Despite its many pressures, Ruifeng continues to enjoy academia. “You need to know what you really want or what you really like,” he advises. Passion for your work, after all, makes it feel more like fun.