A  Grateful  High  Flyer  Who  Gives  Thanks  to  HKUST  in  All  Sincerity

The story of Dr Yating Wan is definitely an encouraging and inspiring one. Having graduated with the Excellent Student Award and as an Outstanding Graduate from Zhejiang University in 2012, she fought her way to become a PhD student in Electronic and Computer Engineering at HKUST. During her five years as a PhD student, Wan continued to harvest research awards. She has been invited to be a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and is now working in one of the top groups in silicon photonics.

As of today, Wan has become an invited reviewer of the academic journals Optics Express, Optical Materials Express, Optics Letters and Photonics, where she participates in making decisions about acceptance or rejection of journal articles. Among her long list of 30 publications and conference papers are eight publications (including two cover journals) of which she is the first author. She is also the first author of a published, post-deadline conference paper which involved extremely stringent selection processes.

As a pivotal member of the joint HKUST-UCSB team, she and her teammates working with Prof Kei May Lau demonstrated record-small electrically pumped micro-lasers epitaxially grown on industry standard silicon substrates to realize high-performance micron-sized lasers directly grown on silicon, a cheaper alternative to wafer-bonding techniques. Subsequent research findings had been covered by major media including Semiconductor Today, Xinhua, People’s Daily and Phoenix TV etc.

Top-notch and Affordable Research Facilities

Obviously a diligent and tenacious student, the high flyer humbly and sincerely attributed her success to HKUST. “I had been very fortunate to be able to work with an excellent professor and a superb team on an outstanding research platform,” she said repeatedly.

With close contacts with Stanford, Cornell, UCLA and Rice University, Wan stressed that HKUST’s facilities were not only top-notch but way more affordable from users’ point of view. “At HKUST, we used to pay only HK$40 every time we used the fabrication clean room; the monthly maximum was capped at HK$800. Now in the US, we have to pay US$35 per hour, and there are additional charges for certain facilities; we certainly feel the pressure since the charge is almost seven times higher than HKUST’s.”

Wan continued, “Engineers need good facilities, no matter how good the research idea or team is. HKUST has first-rate fabrication equipment, as well as technicians with a great sense of responsibility; both are crucial for good results. Its Nanosystem Fabrication Facility and its Materials Characterization and Preparation Facility are both of top quality.”

PhD Supervisor as Female Role Model

People are even more important than facilities. With the belief that a PhD supervisor is of utmost importance to one’s studies, Wan has nothing but gratitude and due respect for her PhD supervisor Prof Kei May Lau.

Her relationship with Prof Lau is not just teacher and student, but more like close friends. “Prof Lau is like a motherly figure to me. When I was frustrated with work or lost in personal matters, Prof Lau gave me advice and comfort as if we were family members.”

Wan admires Prof Lau for being an outstanding female engineer and a capable mother. “From career, family to personal life, she is my role model. In those days when engineering research was more male-centric and involved heavier gender bias than it does today, Prof Lau had already gained international recognition because of her work, while taking care of her family.”

She is equally glad to work with HKUST’s research team. “I had excellent teammates as Prof Lau is good at selecting the right team members. Those who were more experienced than myself, such as Qiang Li with whom we co-wrote a published paper as equally contributing first authors, had given me lots of guidance and support. I find myself very fortunate.”

The University’s research platform and Prof Lau’s strong network had given Wan the opportunity to attend important conferences and exchange insights with world-renowned scholars. One of them was Prof John Bowers from UCSB who, because of her strong portfolio, invited her to become a visiting scholar and ultimately a postdoctoral scholar before she graduated from HKUST.  

Other scholars she had met at HKUST included Prof Evelyn Hu from Harvard University who gave constructive input to their research, and Prof Joyce Poon from the University of Toronto. Wan was happy to collaborate with Prof Andrew Poon and other teams in HKUST, taking advantage of the University’s culture which encourages cross-team collaborations.

Watching Sunset from Seafront Library

While working hard at HKUST, Wan did not forget to appreciate the beautiful scenery at the seaside campus. “I had been very lucky as my supervisor gave me freedom to do my work and strike a work-life balance. Reading books in the library facing the sea, I enjoyed watching the color of the sky gradually changing. Those moments were so memorable!” she recalled with delight. The outdoor and indoor swimming pools of HKUST were also her favorite places where she used to go in the early mornings.

Spending Her Best Years at HKUST with No Regret

Speaking highly about Hong Kong’s East-Meets-West culture and HKUST’s all-English education, Wan thinks that the years at HKUST helped her adapt to her current work and studies in the US.

Looking towards the future, she remarked, “A soldier who does not aim at becoming a general is not a good soldier. Similarly, a PhD student who does not dream about making a difference is not an exceptional student. I like Hong Kong and I long for coming back to the city to become a professor.”

The academia in Hong Kong certainly looks forward to her glorious return.