Dr. Denis Guangyin CHEN

Department: Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering
Program: PhD
Graduated: 2013
Hometown: Christchurch New Zealand

Why did you choose to pursue your postgraduate studies at HKUST?
After earning a bachelor’s degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from the University of Canterbury I wanted to learn more and try something new. I found HKUST to be a top ranked university in Asia and was attracted by the engineering research fields here. Specifically, there was research in the Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering at HKUST that didn’t exist in New Zealand. China is a rising power in electronics and has huge market. I wanted to explore what’s in the region and Hong Kong seemed like a good gateway for that. I also chose HKUST based on its close distance to family in Shanghai, and the American culture at the University is a good fit with my background growing up in New Zealand.

What do you think about the environment at HKUST?
The most difficult part about moving to Hong Kong was adjusting to the lifestyle here—not the technical or academic environment. I had a seamless transition from New Zealand since the style of course work, projects, and research, were similar to my past experiences at the University of Canterbury. There was some culture shock when I first got here, like adjusting to the weather and the size of my room, but the conveniences of public transport and amenities makes up for the downsides.

One of the most challenging aspects of HKUST is its diversity of culture and language. It is difficult to thrive in research even if you are technically competent unless you are able to immerse in the culture of the lab and try to build meaningful connections with your labmates. Most labs here have a significant presence of students from Mainland China, even for my lab which has one of the highest concentrations of postgraduate students with international backgrounds. So it’s a good idea to learn a little Chinese and even Cantonese beforehand to better your mingling with the HKUST community.

How have extracurricular activities influenced your life at HKUST?
Too much time in the lab has a tendency to stifle research innovation. A diverse repertoire of activities forces your brain to work in different ways and complements your creativity. It helps you to look at a problem in different ways. For instance, there is an analogy between innovations in the lab and performance music. Both require a degree of interpretation of existing frameworks while striving to create something original.

What is your relationship with your supervisor like and how do you handle disagreements with him?
My supervisor plays the role of a sagely advisor. I bring ideas to him to seek the benefit of his experience and wisdom. I consider the supervisor-student relationship to be akin to a “marriage”. You need to talk and figure out how to make the relationship work, what he likes or doesn’t like. The key to an enjoyable relationship is engagement.

A supervisor has lots to do and he’s not intentionally “not helping” or “forgetful”. You need to be the one to take initiative if you want to make the most out of your collaboration: can you communicate your ideas to your supervisor; are you aware of what else is going on in the lab; can your ideas contribute to the direction of the lab?

You need to present your ideas succinctly and give your supervisor constructive input to get constructive feedback. For example, what did you learn from the failure and what are the next steps to make it work?

What are your career plans?
I have spent 5 years in academia and have learnt much about research but I recognize that it takes a variety of other skill sets to translate good research ideas into tangible societal impact. I want to widen my perspective and apply my PhD skills in real products. In 10 to 20 years’ time I picture myself as an engineer in an entrepreneurial capacity. As such, I will need to learn more from outside of academia, so I decided to try industry. Recently, I accepted a position of Sensing Systems Hardware Engineer with Apple Inc. at Cupertino, California