Master's Profile: Zekun Cao

Zekun CaoCurrent Position: PhD Student in Mechanical Engineering (Duke Immersive Virtual Environment), Duke University

Undergraduate Degree: BS, Thermal Energy & Power Engineering, East China University of Science and Technology, 2017

Duke MEMS Path: Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, 2017

How did your time as a master's student at Duke prepare you for a PhD?

My path was a bit atypical—I graduated with my MS in three semesters instead of four. So less time meant more work, but I felt that my time at Duke prepared me for the workload going into life as a PhD student. Although my time as an MS student was a bit more brief, it really showed me my potential. People who are pursuing a PhD also need professional knowledge and research experience, and in addition to the courses I took as a MS student, I also felt that my research and thesis were essential to prepare me for my life as a PhD student.

What was the most valuable part of your Duke experience?

My research was the most valuable part of my Duke experience. I studied virtual reality, so in addition to my coursework I also did a lot of work with computer science and Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) with my work from MEMS, which was challenging but rewarding. I also enjoyed the socials on Friday with other graduate students in Duke Engineering. It gave us a chance to sit and relax and talk with our peers about our work in a less rigorous setting.

What were the most useful courses you took at Duke?

Programming, Data Structures and Algorithms in C++ (ECE 551) was very helpful to me. Although it's exhausting, a heavy workload and challenging, you get a lot of training in programming in a relatively short time.

What advice would you give to someone considering a master's degree in MEMS at Duke?

I felt that pursuing my MS degree at Duke gave me the opportunity to explore lots of topics that I didn't have a chance to study during my undergraduate career. Because Duke encourages interdisciplinary work, you can branch out and study lots of different fields within MEMS, based on your interests.

Why did you choose Duke for your master's degree?

Duke has a reputation for great academics. I also thought that the school itself provided students with a nice and quiet environment, which I thought was suitable for research and study.

What advice can you give to students who are going on to a PhD after they obtain a master's degree?

Take the time to enjoy your research and opportunities that come your way! The workload can be overwhelming at times, but it helps to show you your true potential as a researcher.