Master's Profile: Emily Lim
Current Position: Aerospace Engineer at Blue Origin (Kent, Washington)
Undergraduate: BS in Mechanical Engineering, Duke University, 2015
Duke MEMS Path: MS in Mechanical Engineering (4+1 program), 2016
What do you do at your job?
I am an aerospace engineer at Blue Origin, and I work on various parts of their orbital launch vehicle, the New Glenn. I recently completed Blue Origin's one-year New Graduate Rotation program where I rotated through Structures, Engines, and Test. My first rotation consisted of fracture analysis of welded joints on pressure vessels. My second rotation involved designing propulsion components for the vehicle's reaction control system. My last rotation was in Test, where I manufactured, assembled, and operated test campaigns for a variety of engine components such as valves. I am now positioned in the In Space Propulsion group where I will continue my design work on reaction control systems.
How did your time at Duke prepare you for your current job?
From courses to extracurricular activities to the people I met, I would say Duke was a huge part of who I am today. It has only been a year since I graduated, and I have already applied so much of what I've learned from my classes, including structural analysis, materials, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics. The hands-on skills I gained from Duke Motorsports and my master's thesis work have been a great help with designing and testing engine components. Most importantly, the people I interacted with gave me the support I needed to be successful. I still keep in touch with professors and they still give me technical advice. I often talk with Duke Motorsports teammates and I learn so much from their industry experience. Duke provided the opportunity to learn and practice a variety of technical skills in addition to building a lifetime network.
What was the most valuable part of your Duke experience?
The most fun, challenging, and valuable experience I have from Duke is being a part of Duke Motorsports. I attribute a large part of my ability to design, build, and test complex mechanical systems to the constant practice I had on the team while building the race car every year for four years. Not only do you gain technical skills, but you also learn how to work effectively with people and how to lead a diverse group of individuals, where team dynamics continue to change from year to year. A lot of students come out of college or graduate school thinking their job will only envelope technical tasks. However, I believe every engineer has the responsibility and duty to also contribute to their team's culture and ultimately contribute to their team's success, beyond the completion of individual assignments. This insight was developed from my experience with Duke Motorsports and it has strongly influenced how I operate with people at work.
What were the most useful classes you took at Duke?
From a general mechanical engineering standpoint, the most useful course was Mechanical Design. The class covered practical design knowledge such as bolt sizing, motor selection, instrumentation, coupling mechanisms, and seals. The course also included two machining projects which required students to design and manufacture a part using a mill and a lathe. The project portion helped students learn how to design for manufacturing which definitely carries forward in industry. From my specific job standpoint, I have used fluid mechanics (undergraduate) and compressible fluids (graduate) the most. Many companies, especially in aerospace, have pressurization systems for component testing, and bringing up those systems require a lot of fluid calculations.
What advice would you give to someone considering a master's degree in MEMS at Duke?
You must be proactive in your education. Although Duke MEMS provides a number of great resources, it is up to you to find applications to use them. I highly recommend starting your own project, taking on research with a professor, or joining one of the many engineering student groups like Duke Motorsports. Being able to scope out a project is more difficult than it seems, and a lot of times in industry it is up to the responsible engineer to set the requirements for a design. Duke is a great place to practice the fundamental design process because it providesthe facilities, equipment, and mentorship needed to take ideas from initial concept to production. You will learn so much more if you actively seek out these opportunities outside the classroom.
Why did you choose Duke for your MS degree?
I love learning, and I saw the Master of Science program as an opportunity to engage in a different means of learning through research, where you often work on problems that no one has ever solved. A major part of why I stayed at Duke for my MS degree was the chance to work with my undergraduate professor and Duke Motorsports advisor. He taught both the introductory mechanical engineering course and senior mechanical design course, two courses which have significantly impacted the MEMS program. While advising the Duke Motorsports team, he taught many students how to work through complicated builds and troubleshoot emerging problems. Throughout my undergraduate career, I was also able work with him on projects ranging from medical devices to hydroelectric power. I learned an incredible amount from him and I was confident that I would learn even more from him through Master's research. The MEMS professors at Duke are experts in their field and I believe you can find an advisor who will invest in your education and accelerate your learning.