Dr. Kenneth K. O
UF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
2003-2004 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
My students and I have established the Silicon Microwave Integrated Circuits and Systems Research Group in 1995. Since then, the research group has been applying silicon IC technologies to wireless communication systems (900 MHz to 100 GHz) and has emerged as one of the leaders in RF (Radio Frequency) circuits and technology. The group has grown to nine PhD, nine Master of Science and one undergraduate students, one industry professor and myself, and annual funded research has reached one million dollars for the 2003-2004 academic year. Over the eight years, three students have completed their high honor projects, one student has finished a highest honor project, 13 students have graduated with Master of Science degrees, and seven students have successfully defended their PhD dissertations. The rate of publications is 10 per year. In 2000, the group had papers at every major silicon circuits and technology conference where the best in the research and development of an industry with an annual sales of several 100 billion dollars is presented. The most satisfying fact about this is that these papers were authored by five different students.
The goal of the doctoral program in the SIMICS group is to nurture and to transform students into researchers and scientists whom I can call my colleagues. In my colleagues, I look for technical depth and breadth, independent thinking, good communication skills, leadership and, most importantly, being a good person. The way I try to bring out, instill and nurture these traits is to challenge doctoral students to attempt to solve the difficult engineering problems of the day with my guidance. It is my belief that the problem should be sufficiently difficult so that a candidate feels lost at some point in the program. Finding a way from this with the help of advisor and others is the essence of completion of a PhD program. Through this process, besides gaining knowledge and learning how to gain knowledge, the students learn humility. Through this process, they find inner strength and confidence to lead and be independent in their thinking as well as to face any challenges they encounter. Of course, to be able to experience this in a protected academic environment with an advisor whose primary mission is to nurture and educate is the unique privilege to be in a PhD program.
A simple principle for guiding my conduct as an advisor to PhD candidates, which my former PhD advisor shared with me is that a professor is measured by his or her students and their success. It is in the best interest of a professor to promote his or her students and their work. To be an advisor means not only guiding a student through the PhD program but also to have lifelong friendship and mentorship helping to create and identifying leadership opportunities for the former students as they mature in the scientific and engineering community. This is first done by properly crediting the work done by students. There is normally tendency to credit the advisor for the work of PhD students. To overcome this, at every chance available, the student’s contribution must be clearly stated. In addition, it is critical to build relationships with the managements of corporations where the former students are employed and professional organizations. Whenever possible, I recommend my former students as technical reviewers for papers submitted to journals and conferences. Another way of promoting students is, whenever appropriate, to provide opportunities for invited talks. I am relatively junior in the academic community, and I am anxiously waiting for the day when I will be able to recommend former students to technical committees of major conferences, as well as for major awards in the field.
Good communication skills are a must for success in the engineering world, and for being a professor and a leader. I require all my foreign research students to take at least two semesters of conversation/composition courses. This is obviously beneficial to the students, but in the long run, this is also very good for the advisor who has to read and suggest revisions of their papers and theses. Additionally, the students are required to give presentations on their research as well as topics relating to their research to the group around two times every year. Critiques of these presentations in a group setting are used to improve presentation skills of the entire group. In addition, the students are required to give five-minute updates on their progress each week to the group. These are all implemented to increase information flow in the group, and also to improve verbal communication skills of the students in a group setting, as well as to help create an environment where problems are openly discussed and solutions are sought in a team setting.
A tradition in the group, which I work hard to maintain, is students helping each other, and senior students helping to guide junior students. This is done by helping students to experience the practical benefits of helping each other, and being a good person or a good team member. This is done by identifying situations where students must work together, such as sending out a big circuit for fabrication, preparing for a major research review or resolving measurement problems affecting a large number of students, and suggesting that students work together. For this to have the proper effect, the task must be successfully completed, and this requires the advisor’s attention and interest. In addition, as students near the completion of their PhD programs, they are asked to help and work with junior students. This is necessary for transfer of knowledge, and also provides opportunities for the senior students to develop mentorship and leadership skills. In most cases, doctoral students are asked to be a teaching assistant for at least one semester. The students are asked to hold office hours and lab sessions where a large number of students are present. This sensitizes the students to the issues associated with teaching and interacting with and motivating a large group. This is usually a great opportunity for students to develop leadership skills.
This appears to have at least not caused any serious damage. It has been only three years since my first PhD student graduated. Despite this relatively short period, former students have already started to make their marks. Dr. Chih-Ming Hung and Dr. Yo-Chuol Ho made critical contributions in introducing an RF integrated circuit for 2.4-GHz Bluetooth application by Texas Instruments Inc., which is poised to dominate the market. Dr. Feng-Jung Huang has designed a variable gain amplifier at MAXIMInc., which has been selected as the product of month by RF Design Magazine. Dr. Brian Floyd of IBM Research Division at Yorktown Heights has been nominated by IBMfor the Eta Kappa Nu Outstanding Young Electrical Engineer Award. The students are making the SIMICS Group, the UF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the UF College of Engineering and the University of Florida look great. Their successes, of course, are the key for improving the reputation and quality. In the past two years, we have seen noticeable improvements in the quality of applicants to the department, especially in the electronic circuits area. It is hard not to partially attribute this to the successes of the doctoral students when they were at UF and now out in the world. This, of course, places us on a path of improvement with positive feedback. Personally, seeing the former students succeed, and knowing that I have played a small role toward it, are the most satisfying part of being a professor.