UROP recognizes Professor William Tang for his dedication to undergraduate research. Through his mentorship, he is able to help focus the curiosity and enthusiasm of his students into confidence and character that will benefit them throughout their future careers. Professor Tang’s passion for mentoring comes from his recognition that today’s undergraduates may become significant contributors to society.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

Quite a few years ago, I came across an exceptionally bright and highly motivated student who wanted to pursue undergraduate research in my lab. His intense curiosity and unquenchable enthusiasm for research deeply impressed me. Mentoring this student was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career at UC Irvine. The best reward was seeing this student graduate at the top of his class and go on to study for a Ph.D. in the top-ranked biomedical engineering program in the nation. Since then, I have continued to pick out motivated students and guide them into the fascinating world of biomedical research. I have structured many undergraduate research projects, all related to applying micro- and nano-technologies for probing the mechanical properties of tissues and cells. The undergraduate researchers are exposed to the broad spectrum of cellular biomechanics and, at the same time, engage in a specific hands-on task that contributes to the overall program.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I look for students who are first and foremost highly motivated in pursuing research and are driven by curiosity and a passion to learn. They also need to have a decent GPA, which is an indication of their academic preparedness for research. They need to be excellent team players, or at least willing to learn to be excellent team players. So far, all undergraduate researchers in my lab have stayed on for at least two quarters simply because they enjoy their research tasks and want to continue. Any students who wish to join my lab can expect to be engaging in meaningful work that lasts beyond just 10 weeks.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

I will first find out about their skills, interests, passions, and motivation for doing undergraduate research. Some students are good at computer modeling, theoretical analyses, designs, etc. Other students are more drawn to hands-on experiments, studying the biology, or engineering and creating the micro devices. Some plan to enter the career world after graduation, and others are preparing for graduate school. I structure their research tasks to best fit the students’ situations and potentials to maximize their educational benefits. I then monitor their progress, provide individual guidance whenever necessary, and pair them with graduate students who are their day-to-day mentors.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

The biggest benefit undergraduate students reap from engaging in research is the experience of solving complex problems for which no prior solution exists. In the process of learning to seek viable solutions, they acquire the skills to do literature searches, the people and communication skills to seek advice and opinions from others inside and outside the lab, and the necessary mental discipline to stay with a problem and approach it with creativity and optimism. Ultimately, the experience builds their confidence, their perseverance, and character if they conduct their research with the right attitude and expectations.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

I personally benefit by observing how students learn to do research and how they interact with each other, which in turn helps sharpen my teaching and mentoring skills. I also benefit in the long term by having contributed to young future leaders who, one day, may become significant contributors to society. The thought of that adds significance and motivation to my own work.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

Undergraduate research is one of the ways to prepare you for the future, whether you are going into industry or continuing to graduate school. Like the rest of your education, you are investing your time and energy into getting ready for the “real world.” You can extrapolate the problem solving experience now into the rest of your life. So do it with passion and purpose.

Research Interests: Micro- and Nano-technologies for studying biomechanics, implantable micro devices, and micro fluidics

Faculty Profile: http://www.eng.uci.edu/user/178

Email: wctang@uci.edu

Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '09 Professor Donald D. Hoffman
Nov. '09 Professor Bruce Blumberg
Oct. '09 Professor A. J. Shaka
Sep. '09 Assistant Professor William M. Tomlinson
Aug. '09 Professor William C. Tang
Jul. '09 Professor Donald McKayle
Jun. '09 Assistant Professor Gillian R. Hayes
May. '09 Professor Jane O. Newman
Apr. '09 Associate Professor Mark P. Petracca
Mar. '09 Professor Richard T. Robertson