Four graduate students tell us why they chose SUTD and why they think more people might consider doing the same.

Tell us about your research:
Song Wenjian M Ridhuan: I started my PhD at the Engineering Product Development (EPD) Pillar in 2015, after graduating from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering. My research area is in the field of applied and fracture mechanics, and for my PhD research I am focusing on enhancing the mechanical reliability of silicon-based photovoltaic modules, more commonly referred to as solar panels. I plan to submit my thesis by the end of this year.


Harry Lim: I’m pursuing a Doctor of Engineering at SUTD. I just started this year and I expect to complete my doctorate by 2022. My degree revolves around condition-based maintenance for equipment in storage. For example, emergency equipment such as life boats are always on stand-by, and it can be hard to determine their level of functionality over time. My research involves building prognostic models to understand how the health of such equipment gradually degrades. This lets me predict the equipment’s remaining useful life so that pre-emptive measures can be taken. This topic is derived from my organisation’s business requirement, which is why I’m sponsored to study this.


Koh En Yan: My PhD research is on accent conversion through neural networks, at the Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD) Pillar. If you have a lecturer with a strong accent, my research can potentially convert what he/she’s saying into an accent that is easier to understand. I hope to finish my PhD in 2021.


Elif Esra Aydin: I am currently studying urban scale sustainability, focusing on environmental performances. This research area is important and highly relevant to rapid urbanisation and global warming, and my goal is to explore designs to create more comfortable, livable, and healthy urban spaces.

Considering the multi-disciplinary research that I’m working on, I see myself as a 62.5% architect, 25% engineer, and 12.5% urban planner.


Why did you choose SUTD?
Wenjian: Choosing to pursue my graduate studies at SUTD was a rather simple and straightforward choice. I wanted to be in the pioneering cohort and play a part in defining the culture of SUTD. The university’s focus on innovative design was also an appealing and refreshing change from the traditional engineering disciplines.

Most importantly, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be a PhD student under Assistant Professor Arief Budiman, who was a student of the renowned Professor William D. Nix at Stanford University. Thanks to Professor Budiman’s affiliation with the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, I have had two opportunities to perform scientific experiments at one of the world’s brightest light source! I am very grateful for this invaluable experience.

My choice to join SUTD was also helped by the fact that my supervisor in NUS, Professor Andrew A.O. Tay, joined SUTD as a Senior Research Fellow to collaborate with Professor Arief Budiman on a project. I have a close working relationship with Professor Tay since my second year of undergraduate studies, so I was eager to embark on this PhD journey in SUTD!

Harry: Most universities require PhD researches to be aligned to a specific faculty, but SUTD gives us the flexibility to adopt a cross-functional, outcome-based approach in designing our research. I attribute this to the multi-disciplinary pillar designs at SUTD. The cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge allows us to conduct research and develop holistic solutions from different lenses. I was deciding between doing my doctorate in Singapore and in the UK, and I eventually chose Singapore.


Elif: I initially came to SUTD to work with Assistant Professor J. Alstan Jakubiec, who is working on my professional interest. When I got in touch with him, I felt that we can work well together. Although he eventually moved to the University of Toronto in December 2018, I am still working with him via weekly Skype meetings.

Associate Professor Bige Tuncer is my current supervisor in SUTD. She’s a good role model for me – she is a successful woman academic, and she also has a great personality. Both Professor Alstan and Professor Bige are amazingly supportive supervisors. When I face obstacles in my research, they are always there to provide help and advice.

En Yan: I first considered doing postgraduate studies after I received SUTD’s email to its alumni about the programmes. I eventually decided to apply because I really enjoyed my undergraduate experience in SUTD. I also much prefer studying to working!


How is student life as a graduate student?
Wenjian: I am passionate about serving the community and interacting with people. I served as President of the Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), where I had the opportunity to be the voice of the graduate students. The GSA holds an annual lunch for students who matriculate in January, as well as a barbeque at the end of each academic year.

Outside of SUTD, I am a volunteer gardener at the neighbourhood community garden at Our Tampines Hub, and I occasionally tutor as a volunteer. I really enjoy the camaraderie with the other volunteers, and interacting with members of the public who come from all walks of life!

En Yan: I’m still active in Fifth Rows as a postgraduate student, although I’m less involved now that I’m busier with my research. I was in four Fifth Rows during my undergraduate years, so I simply continued with them as a postgraduate!

Although Fifth Rows are run by undergraduates, they welcome postgraduate students too. I’ve seen postgraduate students join the Chamber Ensemble practice, and some even join bands as guitarists. I was a vocalist in a band during my first year of postgraduate studies, all the way until the other members graduated. I’m also active in the Korean Club and Christian Fellowship.

Elif: I thought that I would have more time as a graduate student, compared to when I was an undergraduate. However, reality has its own idea, so I learnt to manage my time more efficiently. Since I started living in Singapore, I have been trying to balance my time between working, traveling and meeting friends. Singapore is such an amazing country to explore and photograph. As an architect, I love exploring my environment by travelling, wandering and being lost in the streets without using any map apps. I love the different cultures and the wide variety of cuisines available! When I first came to Singapore, I was exploring new places weekly. Although I’m busier now, I still try to visit a new place every month.

Harry: I have two children, a ten-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter. My current research work involves a lot of modelling and simulation, so I can work from my laptop. I normally work during the day, when the kids are in school, and at night after they go to bed. These windows of uninterrupted time are very conducive for working!

What do you like about your SUTD experience so far?
En Yan: Whether it’s the staff, faculty, or students, I’ve never had any issues getting help from them! There’s a very friendly environment in SUTD.

Harry: Before I approached my thesis advisor, I went to the SUTD website to shortlist professors who I wish to work with, based on their research interests. I emailed them and they were all very friendly and responsive. They were also open to being co-advisors, which I think is something unique to SUTD.

I like it that the campus is small! Everything is within walking distance, so there’s no need to take a bus to get to places.


Elif: I like the cosy environment here, because it’s similar to my university experience in Turkey. I believe that having a small campus provides more opportunities to learn, to know more people, and to have fun! I’m not exactly into the canteen food but I like to spend time with my friends there.

Wenjian: I think the culture in SUTD facilitates personal growth. I made my share of mistakes and faced obstacles in my research, but my advisors always guided me through. They taught me to learn and grow from mistakes. The professors are very approachable and open to ideas, and they have diverse backgrounds and experiences.

There are also a wide variety of food options nearby at Changi City Point, East Point and Changi Airport.

Any advice to prospective students or those considering doing post-graduate studies?
Harry: Besides my research, which has a very specific focus, SUTD offers a multidisciplinary educational experience. I have also been attending classes from the other pillars on my own. I have been working for over 20 years, and I believe that in today’s workplace, we need to be able to integrate our knowledge from different domains. If you want to be able to plan and customise your own curriculum, then I would recommend doing your postgraduate studies in SUTD.

En Yan: If you want to expand your knowledge before joining the workforce, or just simply prefer to be in an academic environment, then you should definitely consider a PhD programme. When you’re pursue your PhD, you also have the flexibility to pursue your interests!

Elif: You should consider the scholarship, the relationship with your advisors, the working environment, and lifestyle before you apply for any PhD positions. It takes at least four years to complete a PhD, so it is important that you enjoy the process! Some people might prefer a bigger campus, or a location closer to the city centre. It’s important to choose a school that matches your expectations.

Wenjian: Pursuing a PhD is all about the journey, and not the destination. While the destination is more or less fixed, the journey is not. Create your own unique graduate student experience and grow as a person!

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