Phil Defends his PhD!

Today Phil successfully defended his PhD. His external committee member was Prof. Feng Jiao, a faculty member in Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware.

Phil completed his PhD in 3 years and 4 months during which he:

  • Published 32 papers, many in Science and Nature family journals.
  • Held research internships at IBM, Toyota, and UC Berkeley
  • Was awarded multiple scholarships including NSERC CGS-D
  • Was named to the 2019 Forbes Top 30 Under 30 – Energy list
  • Competed and advanced as a finalist in the Carbon XPRIZE

Posted below is the Acknowledgements section of Phil’s thesis.

Acknowledgments
I begin with an apology for the length of this section – please feel free to skip it completely, I promise to not be offended. The accomplishments described within this thesis are only possible because of the tremendous belief, trust, and support that the following people have graciously given me. Without them, none of this would be possible.

I was a combination of nervous, scared, curious, and excited going into my first one-on-one meeting with Ted. His considerable reputation preceded him. I still remember the intensity of his gaze as we spoke for the first time. Surely a man who has accomplished so much, in such a short time, and with such intensity must be part cyborg, or rather multiple clones, or maybe a brilliant insomniac. Early in my PhD I had written Ted about a falling out with my MSc supervisor, about how grateful I had been for the opportunities and the trust he had shown me, opportunity and trust that I had longed for but never received from my previous mentor. He told me that to get trust you need to give it. The value of trust is sharply obvious in the Sargent group, a bustling hive of exceptional scientists who all work collaboratively and openly. Over the years I have had the joy and privilege to learn more about the man behind the gaze. I have seized every opportunity to probe Ted on his motivations, his plans and strategies, his advice on problems and challenges, all to learn about his success in hopes of recreating a little bit of it for myself. I have learned so much from Ted throughout my PhD, not only about science and academia, but about leadership and communication, about trust and respect, about the courage to fail and the strength to continue when you do. But most of all I learned the power of writing in bullet points.

Ted, thank you for letting me be a part of your lab, for sending me around the world to preach the gospel of the Sargent lab, for trusting me to help build scientific collaborations and organize rich research symposia, for CIFAR, for XPRIZE, for supporting every scholarship, every publication, every conference, every media interview, and every opportunity. I owe my scientific career to you and for that I am eternally grateful. I hope I can live up to the support and trust that you have invested in me.

A PhD is an exercise in determination. Nights can be long waiting for an experiment to finish, working on getting that one figure just right, or finishing slides for a conference. However, there is some comfort in knowing that sitting next to you are people going through the same thing. I now turn my attention to thanking my fellow students, for bringing fun into the lab and becoming my friends rather than just being my colleagues. To Andrew, for reminding me to be about the music – you’re the sweetest metalhead I’ve ever known. To Rafa, for his company during those cold nights in Saskatoon, the next SkipTheDishes is on you. To Olivier, for the deep conversations about life, career, and happiness on our drives up to Ottawa. To James, for being James – the trap-loving, meme-making, breakfast-building tour de force that you are. To Grant, for being a wise source of advice during the thesis writing sprint. To Petar, for always being the best dressed and giving me an image to aspire to when I grow up. To Andy and Jeff, for always being there to play a little Smash. Thank you to all the former students who have moved on to great things – Brandon, Xiwen, Mengxia, Amireza, Chris – for giving me an example to follow. Thank you to Jeannie, Stacy, and Jennifer for making sure the group continues to exist – without you, we would be in utter chaos. To all the current students and those yet to come whom I didn’t have the privilege to know more deeply, I offer this bit of advice: While the pressures will seem great and the expectations high, while you may feel like time is moving at lightning pace and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to, take a moment to step back, to appreciate where you are and how far you’ve come. A PhD is one of the most rewarding things you will experience, because it is entirely and completely a product of you – you can do this.

When I began in the Sargent group three short years ago the catalysis research effort was essentially four people, Cao, Min, Bo, and Sherry. Today it is a juggernaut of science, 25+ talented researchers publishing discoveries month after month with no end in sight. I feel so privileged and proud to be part of the growth of this group. I want to acknowledge the contributions of every single person who has brought the Sargent group to the forefront of electrocatalysis research. But for brevity’s sake I will acknowledge more deeply two people who I believe are the cornerstones of the catalysis group – Cao and Alex Ip. To Cao, your genius is matched only by your warm spirit. You are an inspirational scientist and engineer, you attack every problem with creativity and vigor, and I have learned so much about electrons and protons and doing good science from you. You have been so humble, knowing full well that you contribute to the success of every person in the catalysis lab more than anyone, and yet you have only been kind and genuine to those who seek your wisdom and help. In the history books of the future I have no doubt in my mind your name will be mentioned for all the discoveries you have made and the ones you have yet to uncover. To Alex, thank you for all your support and advice throughout the years, I have learned so much about loyalty and hard work from watching you and working beside you. Your leadership and tenacity brought us through the XPRIZE, bringing us closer to a goal we originally thought impossible. Thank you for being an academic big brother and mentor, for always being there to listen to my monthly identity crisis, for bringing me back from the brink when my imposter syndrome would run wild from the pressures of the day.

To my friends at the Walmer Ranch: Pat, Gill, and Ben – you were the best roommates I’ve ever had. Thank you for all the adventures we shared, for all the nights watching the Raptors, playing Rocket League on our dingy hole-ridden couch, watching movies, drinking tea or beer, cooking and sharing delicious meals for each other, playing Dungeons and Dragons, playing with Claire (that magically soft princess of a cat), just being there at the end of a long day in the lab. I’ve never felt more comfortable and at ease than just chilling out on in our living room (if you could call it that) together. The simplicity of just being there with you guys was more calming than any yoga mantra could ever be. You brought balance to my life and I am thankful to you for keeping me grounded throughout this journey. Without you guys I would have lost my sanity long ago.

To my Dad and Mom, thank you for your love and support. As I’ve grown older I’ve begun to try and see the world from your perspective. To try and understand how you’ve shown me love through your hard work and sacrifice, and how those years of a strict upbringing were done only for concern of my future. I recognize now, as I begin a career of my own, what you gave up moving to Canada to begin anew. One of my greatest motivations is to make your sacrifice worth it.

To my little sister, whose life is bright and just beginning. My only advice to you is to do what you love, to do it with intensity, and if you don’t know what that is then do anything and everything until you find it. Don’t let the world tell you what you can do, do what you want and let the world figure you out instead. While I wasn’t around much as you were growing up – I was too busy trying to figure out what I loved – I hope I can be around more now that you’re beginning your journey to adulthood. Thanks for being my sister and I will always be there to help you when you need it.

Finally, I want to acknowledge Danielle – the first person I think about when I wake up, and the last person I think about before I rest my head to slumber. Thank you for being so amazingly supportive for the last 4 and half years. For sticking through long-distance with me when I moved to Toronto, and then to New York, and then to Berkeley, and then to San Jose, and for welcoming me home after every long trip. We had a conversation once, or maybe it was many conversations throughout the years, about our views on career and vocation. I envied you for finding your dream job so quickly. I would often talk about the unknown future, and how scared I was of picking the wrong pathway. You reminded me how lucky I am to have different pathways to choose from. You have been nothing but supportive of me on my journey through my PhD. Being with you is a respite from the gear-turning, it’s the only time I can be completely and totally immersed in something else. Thank you for all your love and support and understanding as I took every opportunity that passed across path. I would not be the man I am today if it weren’t for you, much less have gotten through this PhD. I dedicate this work to you – je t’aime.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s