In her job as a process engineer, Fei Hua Li works on the forefront of technology – developing processes on semiconductor fabrication tools to help create the next generation of nanoscale logic devices that will affect our lives in ways that most of us can hardly imagine. Fei’s fascination with and desire to influence the technology of our future has been in force since her high school days.
Back then, she chose University of Waterloo’s Nanotechnology Engineering (NE) program precisely because of the unique opportunity it provided to learn about the most cutting edge technology.
After considering all of the universities with strong math and engineering departments, she pursued her undergraduate studies at Waterloo.
“I was so excited – new technology in a new program! Waterloo’s high McLean’s university ranking and strong reputation as an engineering school gave me confidence that it could deliver,” says Fei.
Science and Engineering Fundamentals
Like many of her classmates, she worked hard to handle the volume of new material and the pace of classes. “I probably didn’t get enough sleep in my first years of university,” she says with a laugh.
“We were learning the broad base of science and engineering that we needed to tackle specialized nanotechnology. The academic workload was high, and I tried to do it all on my own. It was tough, at first. In my later years, once we moved into lab work, group projects and planning for the future, time management became my challenge,” she says.
Happily, each stage of growth brought new coping strategies – and many of them came with new friendships.
“Eventually, I learned to work with my classmates. I became friends with people who shared their strengths and taught me strategies I hadn’t acquired yet. I could have continued to do it all on my own, but things were easier to manage when two brains tackled the problem instead of one.
"I was surrounded by inspirational classmates – people who motivated me to work hard academically. Despite my interest in the classes and material we covered, I may not have been so studious and hardworking without their support,” says Fei.
Similarly, Fei’s connections helped her identify and pursue her career path.
“My co-op jobs were interesting, and so were the people I worked with. Many of them were graduate students who helped me understand what was involved with advanced academic studies.”
While she came to her undergrad studies with an open mind about her career, her work in the labs and the experience she gained at her co-op jobs, including contributing to published research papers, helped her decide on a specialized research-oriented career.
Fei’s Co-op Work Term Employment History
Fei’s broad nanotechnology education and status as a published researcher increased her graduate school options. During the research phase, many of her work term colleagues, who shared their grad school experiences, became valuable sources of information and advice.
Fei earned her PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University in California. Throughout her studies, she collected knowledge, hands-on techniques and personal skills to begin influencing our futures through nanotechnology. And now she puts them to work as a process engineer at Lam Research.
Technology and Teamwork
“My work is directly related to my undergrad studies at UWaterloo. Those early classes piqued my interest and my work in nanofabrication gave me hands-on skills that became the foundation for what I do now,” she says.
At the same time, the skills she developed while overcoming the challenges of the academically rigorous NE program – including relationship building and teamwork – were advantageous.
“Now,” she says, “I work in a team environment with other managers, engineers and technicians to solve problems. I meet with customers to understand what they need and then I figure out how to meet their technological specifications. I don’t operate tools anymore, but I analyze the data that others collect – and I use it to understand a problem and solve it. It’s quite fun!”
Based on her experiences at UWaterloo, Fei shares some advice for undergraduate Nanotechnology Engineering students:
- Take steps to build strong relationships with your classmates. Friendships help everyone weather the challenges of school and provide unforeseeable benefits long into the future.
- Take advantage of your co-op jobs. Use them to advance your skillset and build a strong foundation. They offer tremendous opportunity to learn valuable skills and find out early what type of work you enjoy most. Get to know your supervisors and colleagues, who can teach you many things and support you throughout your career.
- Leverage your co-op position for opportunities to publish papers, which can improve your graduate school options.