3 ASU faculty aren't doing what they originally set out to — and their lives are better, and more interesting, for it
Education is what’s left after you’ve forgotten what you learned in school, Albert Einstein said.
Curiosity and learning how to learn — what some call being a master learner — are far more powerful indicators of success than a choice of major. A specific field of study might just be a stepping stone to something else.
Only 51 percent of college graduates working said their job is related to their major, and 32 percent said they never worked in a field related to their majors, according to a pair of surveys by CareerBuilder.
As crushing as that might sound right now to students immersed in differential equations or thesis wrangling, it’s not the end of the world.
In fact, it might be the beginning of a whole new one. Three of Arizona State University’s most accomplished faculty members aren’t doing what they set out to do, and they couldn’t be happier or more successful.
Rolf Halden is an engineer who practices chemistry. Phil Christensen is a planetary geologist who engineers instruments. Randy Nesse is a psychiatrist who studies biology.
Curiosity carried all three of them away. They more or less fell into what they do now.
Halden has a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate. He is the spokesman for the American Chemical Society, but of those four degrees, not one is in chemistry.
“I’ve found a place I really appreciate and love to work in,” Halden said. “I got the job based on being an engineer, but I keep the job by combining chemistry and biology and using the quantitative tools from engineering. It’s a convoluted professional path. It’s also a long one if you look at how many degrees I’ve picked up.”
Christensen has four instruments in space and three more slated for flight.
“For me, it’s really been fun,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point now where I find coming up with the idea, designing it, making it happen and seeing the end product of this instrument that was a cartoon on the back of an envelope five years ago and now it’s a piece of hardware sitting on a desk — that is really satisfying. … That creative process is almost more fun than the science you do with that instrument once you’ve built it.”
Nesse became curious about evolutionary processes when he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. He asked some biologists a few questions about evolution. They laughed at him.
“It was really made possible by these really receptive biologists at the University of Michigan,” said Nesse, founding director of ASU’s Center for Evolution and Medicine. “It really started with curiosity, not just about evolution again, but how things in the body seem out of design. ... A lot of it is we just can’t help ourselves. We get interesting ideas and that’s how we are.”
A chemist who isn’t
ASU scholar collaborates on solar research, benefits Arizona and Pakistan
The U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy is making gains in research
It can be tricky balancing affordable electricity bills for customers and profits for utility companies, but the happy medium might lie in solar energy storage.
Abdul Kashif Janjua, a fall 2016 exchange scholar from the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy at Arizona State University, analyzed data and patterns to find an equilibrium for both sides of the equation.
Kashif collaborated on a research paper titled, “Customer Benefit Optimization for Residential PV with Energy Storage System” under the tutelage of George Karady, a professor of electrical engineering at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellow.
Different combinations of solar panels and different sized batteries were tested in concert to find the right combination. The research accounted for variables like load, temperature and battery discharge rates to derive the best result for both customers and utilities.
The paper was presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Power Engineering Society’s general meeting in Chicago in July. Presenting the paper at the Power Engineering Society was significant because the organization acts as one of the largest forums for sharing the latest in technological developments in the electric power industry, for developing standards that guide the development and construction of equipment and systems, and for public and industry education.
Kashif compared the climates of Arizona and Pakistan saying that, “they are quite similar so photovoltaic systems are feasible in both areas.”
The research can be used to optimize variables like the size of the photovoltaic system and various charging strategies, “[with] the only difference being the tariffs which can be programmed into the developed algorithm,” Kashif explained. This leaves a door open for computers to eventually determine the right balance, possibly even using artificial intelligence in the future.
Over the next five years, Arizona is expected to install 3,380 megawatts worth of solar electric capacity, ranking it fourth in that time period in the United States. Meanwhile, Pakistan has been suffering from rolling blackouts from six to 16 hours a day. Both areas have much to teach each other about renewable energy.
The collaboration process with Pavan Etha and Anil Chelladurai, electrical engineering graduate students at ASU, as well as the mentorship he received from his time at ASU has been an invaluable asset to his education. Of Karady he stated that, “he was [the] most supportive, helpful and encouraging professor.”
He went on to say that Karady’s “knowledge and experience with electrical systems can be rarely found even in the best universities of the world and he was not reluctant to share each of his experiences related to our field."
This type of collaboration between the United States and Pakistan is a hallmark of USPCAS-E because it allows for progress in energy research for the countries’ mutual benefit.
Kashif’s time at ASU rolls into the eventual completion of his master’s degree at Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology in the field of energy systems engineering. Plans are in the works for him to pursue a doctorate and then potentially apply his research in the commercial sector. In the meantime, he is in the process of publishing another research paper along similar lines in Pakistan.
The USPCAS-E project has now reached a point in its evolution where the return from this type of investment in education is now resulting in exciting research findings. Outcomes from USPCAS-E’s scholars are timely as they fall at the heels of Pakistan celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence and its continued collaboration and development with the United States.