Against the advice of many of his colleagues, Professor Farghalli A. Mohamed accepted an undergraduate into his research group a number of years ago. Seeing the contributions the student made and how the experience improved the student’s confidence and academic performance helped Professor Mohamed realize the vital importance of research experience to an undergraduate education. In the years since, he has developed a passion for mentoring undergraduates in his research group. His students develop confidence, practical skills, and experience that help them as they apply to graduate schools and for jobs. In return, Professor Mohamed feels that he has become a better teacher, mentor and leader. UROP is proud to highlight Professor Mohamed for his continuing contributions to the undergraduate research culture at UC Irvine.

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

About 17 years ago, one of my students stopped by my office, asking if he could join my Research group, Initially, I was reluctant. First, his grade point average was about 2.3/4.0. Second, some of my colleagues warned me that I should not take undergraduate students to do research in my laboratories because they might become a burden not only on my graduate students but also on my research budget. However, that student was persistent in his request. As a result, I finally decided to let him work under my supervision. Surprisingly, he did a good job in my lab. Because of his background in mechanical engineering and design, he came up with good ideas that made contributions in terms of enhancing the efficiency of some of our mechanical testing machines. I was really impressed. He was taking four units with me, and as a result of his hard work, sincere dedication and strong interest in research, I gave him an “A.” He continued his work in my labs for five quarters. Because of the encouragement and the support he was receiving from my graduate students and me and because my graduate students began to tutor him, his performance in his courses improved. He started getting Bs and As in his upper division courses. One day he told me that by my allowing him to work in my lab, he gained his confidence and started to believe in himself. He graduated with a grade point average of 3.3/4.0. He was admitted as a graduate student at UCI. I suggested that he should work for another faculty member so that he could broaden his research interests beyond what he learned from my research projects. After some discussion, he agreed to my suggestion and worked under the supervision of one of our dynamic Materials faculty. He did well in his program and graduated after four years with a Ph.D. After several years of working in different places, he recently joined one of the major manufacturing companies in Orange County as a senior scientist. Amazingly, he has 15 patents. Still once in a while, he stops by my office asking me if he could join my research.” I say to him, “yes, you are welcome, but I cannot afford to pay your salary.”

This experience has led to my strong interest in mentoring undergraduate research. Also, I learned that encouragement and support via mentoring undergraduate research can make a difference in the academic progress of a student.

I have directed projects on: (a) the role of impurities during superplastic deformation and cavitation, (b) mechanical behavior of composite materials, (c) processing of ultrafine grained and nanostructured materials, (d) deformation mechanisms in nanocrystalline materials, (e) nanoscale softening, (f) corrosion behavior in nanostructured materials, and (g) correlation between behavior and microstructure using a variety of advanced techniques.

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 highly motivated, dedicated, and patient, and I expect that the student will be: (a) eager to learn and contribute, and (b) able to work in a team.

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

I have had an “open door policy” and any undergraduate student who works in my laboratories can stop by my office to talk to me or send me an e-mail requesting a meeting. Also, I meet students individually every two weeks to discuss progress. I assign a group of two to four students to one of my graduate students. I inform my graduate students of the nature and scope of activities each undergraduate student will perform. I hold a group seminar every three weeks in which undergraduate students talk about their activities.

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

Students have gained confidence and maturity as a result of working independently or as a member of a group. Working in a group has enhanced their oral communication skills and preparing reports on their activities has sharpened their writing. They have learned: (a) how research projects are planned and executed, and (b) how research results are presented. Finally, their involvement in advanced research allows them to gain practical experience in areas that will enhance their opportunities to secure future professional careers. For example, by working with graduate students, undergraduates who are interested in graduate school have directly observed graduate students “in action” but also have gained guiding information about the graduate school application process.

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

The following are some of the benefits that I have gained from mentoring undergraduate research: (a) I have learned that Research and Teaching are inseparable; the former generates new knowledge and the later transmits such knowledge. (b) I have learned that I should not underestimate the ability of undergraduate students to participate in advanced research just because they do not have as much knowledge as graduate students do. (c) I have learned how to develop personal connections with undergraduate students based on trust and respect. (d) I have learned how to offer my mentees constructive criticism but allow them to learn from their mistakes. (e) I have enhanced my leadership skills by guiding diverse undergraduate students of different backgrounds, personalities, and cultures. (f) I have been able to recruit to our graduate program undergraduate students who have the potential to excel as graduate students.

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

Students embarking on undergraduate research should be willing do their best to take advantage of the opportunity that is offered to them to work under the supervision of faculty members. They should not hesitate at any time to ask their supervisor questions about the research in which they participate. I advise them not to be afraid of making mistakes. However, they need to acknowledge their mistakes and then act quickly to correct them. They have to report what they observe. They have to know how to work with others. They should be ready to listen and share their ideas with others working with them in a research project.

Research Interests: Mechanical behavior of engineering materials (metals, alloys, composites, ceramics, nanocrystalline materials); correlation between behavior and microstructure; creep; superplasticity; and strengthening and fracture mechanisms

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '12 James C. Earthman
Nov. '12 Kenneth J. Shea
Oct. '12 Jeanett Castellanos
Sep. '12 Barry Siegel
Aug. '12 Martha L. Mecartney
Jul. '12 Brandon Brown
Jun. '12 Wayne Sandholtz
May. '12 Farghalli A. Mohamed
Apr. '12 Susan T. Charles
Mar. '12 Katherine Faust
Feb. '12 Donald R. Blake
Jan. '12 Elizabeth Cauffman