Pictured above: Jian Zhang discussing his work with colleagues at a recent RFID Lab event
We'd like to introduce you to Jian Zhang. Jian is the Auburn RFID Laboratory's first student researcher to complete his Ph.D. (Electrical Engineering) while working as a member of the lab.
But Jian wasn't always an Auburn Tiger. Before becoming Auburn University RFID Lab's first doctoral student, he attended Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. There, he received his bachelor's and master's degrees in Applied Physics with an electronic specialty.
We began our interview by asking about his choice to attend Auburn University. When I asked him "Why Auburn?" he responded with a smile and stated "Well, that's actually an interesting story..."
“I searched for schools in America and found a list that was A-Z and Auburn was almost at the top. I found out it had a very good engineering school and it is in a small town so I submitted my application and now I’m here.” Though the simplicity of his choice may seem comical, he expanded on the story and emphasized that he wanted a different experience than what he had thusfar in his academic career, which is why he was looking at American universities in smaller towns.
As he went through the list, he did simple searches along with the names and Auburn featured that it was a small town, which he wanted, and had a ranked engineering school. He decided that those qualities together made Auburn the place for him and he submitted an application for the Ph.D. program.
As we continued the interview, he noted that the RFID Lab wasn't even located at Auburn yet when he came to the states, but he was able to have the opportunity to join one of the initial lab teams once it was established. While discussing the RFID lab, we proceeded to ask him what about the lab he enjoyed the most. Was it the team? The research? After a moment of thought, he answered.
“My favorite thing is the freedom here. The innovation as well. Anything happening in the RFID community, we will know about it here first and from that you can use the technology involved to help influence daily life. Like the plane seats we recently received from Delta. We can see how RFID can be used when traveling and for airplane compliance.”
He continued to emphasize that the lab was always up to date with the latest technology for RFID and other tracking technologies, so the students are able to gain hands-on and real world experience, while having the freedom to test new ideas and innovate.
He then moved on to discuss how the lab affected his education and his passions by stating: “I have many resources here. Not only the RFID technology and RFID equipment, but I have access to talking with people who work in the RFID industry.”
The lab offers "Mentor for a Day" luncheons where the students have a chance to meet with leaders and innovators in the industry and ask them questions in order to learn about the latest RFID research. RFID Lab Director Justin Patton is also considered a thought leader in the RFID community and the students have an all-access pass to speak with him, ask questions, run ideas past him and more, and that experience is invaluable.
Because of all of these opportunities, Jian is thankful for the placement of Auburn University on the A-Z list. It may have been a simplistic way to choose his next academic career move, but he has no regrets and is thankful for the opportunity to attend this prestigious university.
Without a doubt, Jian would have completed his doctorate and found his passions without the assistance of the lab, but he recommends that students branch out and find opportunities because you never know where they will lead. Jian is now applying for grants to continue the research that he has been working on for the past two years at the lab. He recommends the lab to students of all higher education levels and majors, and offers some advice:
“Just be open, and try many new options because being here at Auburn, you have many opportunities. Also be open to any new techniques. It may be something you don’t know about or have never heard of before, but that doesn’t matter, you will gain skills and knowledge in many techniques by being involved here at the RFID lab.”
Be open. Learn from those around you. Take advantage of the opportunities surrounding you. Sounds practical enough, right?
Thank you for the advice and congratulations, Jian!