Friday, May 2, 2014

From China to America: An Aerospace Engineer’s Journey

By Peter Lyu, PhD student, University of Michigan

I came to study abroad in the U.S. through a joint degree program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) so I applied to the Aerospace Engineering program at the University of Michigan in my sophomore year. Because most Chinese students have a very solid background in Math and Science from high school it helped me transition to the U.S. curriculum easier. However, the most challenging part for me was team work. As an engineering student, you are often required to work in teams. The grades not only depend on the quality of the assignment, but also the peer evaluations from your teammates. It took me awhile to sharpen my communication and teamwork skills. 

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In terms of applying to graduate school, there are a few more factors to consider. Besides comparing the overall university quality, the ranking and the quality of the major that you are interested in is also important. Many universities offer research-based masters or doctoral degrees especially in engineering and sciences. Therefore, I also looked at the research aspect of the program, such as reputation of the faculties, research facilities, and research funding opportunities, etc. 

In my senior year, I applied to a number of universities with strong aerospace programs. I ultimately chose to stay at University of Michigan mostly due to my research interests. When I was an undergrad, I worked on a few undergraduate research projects. The one with my current PhD advisor on the topic of aircraft design interested me the most. I decided to continue to work on this research at Michigan, and I am really glad with my decision.

Additionally, for the aerospace department at the University of Michigan, all PhD students are covered with a 5-year guaranteed funding. My first year was covered by a departmental fellowship. Now, I am funded by a research assistantship (RA) though the research project that I am working on.

Graduate students in general have more funding opportunities than undergraduate students. The most common way to get funded is by being a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA). At least for engineering and science courses, a professor would usually hire a graduate student that has previously taken the class to assist him/her in teaching the lectures, organizing practice classes, or administrating lab work. Usually TA positions can cover the entire or at least a portion of your tuition, in addition to a monthly stipend to cover living expenses. There are also many fellowship opportunities from the department, university, or other funding agencies. Universities usually have many resources to help you navigate through different fellowship applications.

What I value most from my graduate school is not only the knowledge that I learned, but more importantly the skill that I needed to work in a team-oriented environment, such as communication and leadership skills. Experiences such as making presentation at conferences, discussing at research meetings, collaborating with teammates, have really helped sharpen my skill sets. I believe those skills will be very beneficial for my future career.


Hello everyone, my name is Peter Lyu, and I am current a PhD candidate at University of Michigan. I came to U.S. in 2008 under a joint degree program between Shanghai Jiao Tong University and University of Michigan. Since then, I have embarked on a wonderful journey. I have driven 40-foot-long campus buses for 2 years. I got my boating license in 2010 and my private pilot license in 2011. I have also developed several websites and mobile apps. It's my pleasure to share with you my experience of studying in the U.S. 


*Portions of this article were originally published on April 2013.

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