Farnaz Niroui was in grade twelve the year University of Waterloo’s Nanotechnology Engineering (NE) program began. She had her sights set on a career in engineering when her physics class project on space elevators directed her attention toward carbon nanotubes: “I was interested in how a material so small can have such unique functionalities.”
In her new position as an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the power of small things still fascinates her. She’s now pushing the limits to make small things do more – integrating electrical engineering with materials science and chemistry to develop new platforms for active devices and systems with emerging applications.
Back in high school, Farnaz began investigating the nanoscale at about the same time that Waterloo’s new NE program was receiving a lot of publicity. She was keen to study in a program that combined some of her favourite topics, including physics, chemistry and biology, and excited to learn about a field that was rapidly growing and offered a lot of opportunities.
Farnaz’s Co-op Work Term Employment History
Farnaz appreciates the broad exposure to many disciplines that she gained in her undergrad program and the foundation it provided for her future studies. Even though Farnaz always knew that she would like to pursue graduate studies after the Nanotechnology Engineering program, at the beginning of her undergrad years, she did not have a clear idea of which field to pursue. As she was exposed to many branches of science and engineering and collected more hands-on experience in her co-op work terms, her research interests evolved.
Mentorship and Supportive Network
While the co-op jobs themselves were valuable, so were the connections she made with her employers. They played an important mentorship role as she began focusing her interests and choosing a specialty. “When I began my studies, I hadn’t considered how having mentors from within this emerging field would be important, but it was. They were able to provide valuable perspectives and guidance that I could not have found elsewhere,” says Farnaz.
With encouragement – and letters of support – from professors and co-op mentors, Farnaz and others from her class applied to various graduate programs in Canada and the US and, interestingly, in diverse fields including electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, bioengineering, chemistry and materials science. “The diverse skill set that we had acquired during our undergraduate studies and co-op work terms provided us with an advantage when it came to graduate school opportunities,” says Farnaz.
After completing her undergraduate studies at UWaterloo, Farnaz completed her Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She continued her research as a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California Berkeley before returning to MIT as an assistant professor.
Now that she has moved from one side of the desk to the other, Professor Niroui shares this advice for Nanotechnology Engineering students:
- Leverage the interdisciplinary form of the Nanotechnology Engineering program to learn broadly about different fields, and use that knowledge to identify the areas that interest you the most and explore them in depth.
- The co-op program provides an excellent opportunity to work alongside and learn from experts in the fields in which you are interested. They can be valuable mentors, helping shape your career. To date, I still get in touch with some of my co-op advisors to seek their advice as I make decisions about my career.
- Look beyond the academic – do extra-curricular activities, get involved, volunteer and take on leadership roles. These experiences will enlarge your social circle and round out your skills. You’ll have more to draw upon as you consider your options for the future.
- Explore and enjoy your time at Waterloo.