This ongoing series is looking at PhD alumni who are doing non-academic jobs. Each person tells their story and provides tips on finding work in the non-academic sector. To read other stories in this series, please visit our Alumni Success Story archive.
Qi (Jacky) Liu is a lead researcher in the Advanced Computing Lab at the GE (General Electric) Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY, USA.
At the beginning of 2014, he will move to a new position at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, as a senior software engineer working on the Windows Azure cloud computing platform. “The new position will allow me to solve Internet-scale problems that would have an impact on people’s lives,” says Liu. “I feel excited about the opportunity.”
During his PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Carleton, he completed an internship at the Multicore Computing group of the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, sponsored by the MITACS Accelerate Ontario Program.
Upon graduation in 2010, he continued to work at IBM as a postdoctoral researcher, looking at parallel simulation on heterogeneous computing platforms and performance analysis of cloud computing infrastructures.
“My PhD study at Carleton focused on high-performance parallel simulation as well, which led naturally to my work at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center,” shares Liu. “My postdoctoral research further extended my knowledge in parallel and distributed computing architectures, helping me to take on great challenges like those found in my current position.”
Says Liu: “My PhD study would not have been possible without the ceaseless inspiration, continuous support, and unending encouragement of Prof. Gabriel Wainer. I am especially grateful for his commitment to providing a stimulating research environment and his investment of time and effort in my professional and personal development.”
Today, Liu is working on high-performance computing for innovation in materials and biological sciences. It usually involves large-scale simulations running on parallel computers to study system dynamics at the molecule level. A PhD was required for his current position and the one at IBM.
Liu points to a July 15/13 article in Forbes magazine that explains the importance of his research. “That’s why the future of innovation is simulation,” explains the article. “Whereas before, we would sit amongst ourselves, decide how the world might work and test our ideas in the market, now we can test them in a virtual environment built by real world data at much lower levels of cost and risk.”
Regarding what current PhD students can do for future employment, Liu suggests: “Work on stuff that really matters in the real world. Keep eyes wide open on latest trends and developments in the field. Be prepared for new challenges!”
Tips from other PhD alumni include:
“Besides the obvious method of continuously networking, the other one is discovering how to package your diverse skillset to be of value in the marketplace. I didn’t know the concept of being a data scientist before I started my job search and that my various skills allowed me to do this job. It is through the discussions and interviews that you refine your value proposition. Think of it as both product and market development. Seeing the need and marketing yourself as the solution for it.” –Rod Story
“Network early and often. Your peers and colleagues can provide you with the connections to find that first job. Also, try to best to distinguish yourself from other job seekers. It is a very competitive job market, and novel skill sets and accolades can definitely help grab the attention of hiring committees.” –Kyle Hanson
“Don’t limit yourself by what is typically done. Look into every opportunity that presents itself and you might surprise yourself by what you find.” –Crystal Blais
“If you’re looking for work outside of the academy, be comforted to know that there are many PhDs in non-academic jobs. Be proud of your PhD and use it as a source of confidence.” — Howard Fremeth
“Many opportunities are not posted, so keep in touch with your friends and colleagues, and try to network as much as possible. Your next opportunity may be only a conversation away. Don’t be afraid to approach organizations and let them know what you are able to offer.” — Jeff Gilchrist