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PhD Workshop

Curious about what a PhD in STEM is? Unclear about the PhD process? We held a free Virtual Workshop discussing these topics and more! If you missed it, you’re in luck. The talk and panels – including the extensive Q&A sessions – are recorded and posted on the Armani Lab YouTube Channel.

Details on the program:

We are holding a free workshop, bringing together faculty, recent PhD graduates, and industry members in a series of interactive panels. There will be five sessions on the below topics (longer descriptions and bios of panelists at the end).

  • Overview of PhD programs
  • PhD Admissions process
  • Choosing a PhD program
  • PhD isn’t just for academia
  • Concluding remarks

The entire event will be streamed online (for free), and the audience can interact with the panel (ask questions).

Thank you to Photonics Media for supporting this event!

PhD Workshop Program and Schedule

For each session, at least half of the time is dedicated to questions from the audience. All times at Pacific Daylight Time (PDT). When submitting questions to Slido, please use the indicated hashtag in your question.

Overview of PhD programs, 9-9:55am: General introduction to the PhD. The timeline for getting a PhD (in the US), funding sources including brief discussion of fellowships, and role of advisor in the process will be discussed. (#Overview)

  • Prof. Andrea Armani, University of Southern California

PhD Admissions process, 10-10:55am: Panel of faculty members will discuss general practices for making admissions decisions. (#Admissions)

  • Prof. Heather Hunt, University of Missouri
  • Prof. Ben Miller, University of Rochester
  • Prof. Joseph Shaw, Montana State University

Choosing a PhD program, 11-11:55am: Panel of recent PhD graduates will discuss the key parameters that should be considered when choosing a PhD program and a PhD advisor. (#Choosing)

  • Dr. Samantha McBirney, RAND
  • Dr. Orad Reshef, University of Ottawa
  • Dr. Nishita Deka, Sonera Magnetics

~ Break: 12-12:15pm ~

Beyond academia, 12:20-1:15: Panel of researchers working in industry will discuss the impact of having a PhD on their careers. (#Beyond)

  • Dr. Behnam Analui, Abtum
  • Dr. Ward Lopes, Nvidia
  • Dr. Taylor Lenten, Amgen

Concluding remarks, 1:20-1:45pm: The key points from the day will be summarized, and any remaining questions will be answered (or forwarded to appropriate panel).

  • Prof. Andrea Armani, University of Southern California

Learn about the Panelists

Prof. Andrea Armani: Andrea received her BA in Physics from the University of Chicago and her PhD in Applied Physics with a minor in Biology from the California Institute of Technology. After completing her PhD, she continued as a post-doctoral scholar in Biology at Caltech before joining the University of Southern California where she is now the Irani Chair of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. In her free time, she enjoys running and spending time with her husband, two dogs, and cat.


Prof. Heather Hunt: Heather received her MS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State University in 2004. After graduating from California Institute of Technology, she worked as a post-doctoral scholar at USC and then moved to the University of Missouri, where she is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical, Biological & Chemical Engineering and a Faculty Fellow for Strategic Initiatives in the Office of eLearning at the University of Missouri System.  Outside of work, she loves running (especially marathons), biking, and camping with her husband and 6 year old daughter

Prof. Ben Miller: Ben Miller did his undergraduate work at Miami University (Ohio), receiving a BS in Chemistry, and an AB in Math and German. He then completed a Ph. D. in Chemistry at Stanford, and an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard. He is currently Dean’s Professor of Dermatology, Biochemistry and Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, and Optics at the University of Rochester. As a child, you might find Ben shearing sheep as part of a 4-H project; these days you’re more likely to find him training for a triathlon when he’s not in lab.

Prof. Joseph Shaw: Joseph received his PhD in optical sciences from the University of Arizona. After researching at the NOAA Environmental Technology Laboratory in Boulder for several years, Joseph returned to academia and is currently a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Montana State University.


Dr. Nishita Deka: Nishita received her PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences from UC Berkeley in 2019 and her BS in Electrical Engineering from USC in 2013. During graduate school, she co-founded Sonera Magnetics, a startup building neural interfaces for healthcare and consumer applications. In her free time, she loves swimming, traveling and exploring new interests.

Dr. Samantha McBirney: Samantha received her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 2018 and her B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of California-Berkeley in 2012. After graduating from USC, she went to work for the RAND Corporation – a nonprofit nonpartisan think tank that conducts research with the goal of influencing policy and decision making. In her free time, you can find her with her husband running, traveling, or with their four pets.

Dr. Orad Reshef: Orad received his PhD in Applied Physics from Harvard in 2016 and his BS in Physics from McGill University in 2009. He is currently a Banting Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa. In his free time, he is definitely not running, but he’s probably listening to podcasts, indie music and watching hockey in the comfort of his couch at home.


Dr. Behnam Analui: Behnam received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 2006 and was a research scholar at the University of Southern California Viterbi 2010-2014. He has been with five startups, two as founder/CEO and two as CEO executive advisor. He sold his company, Abtum, a device startup out of USC, in Dec. 2018. He is an avid watcher of Netflix and HBO shows. His favorite is the West Wing.

Dr. Taylor Lenton: Taylor received her BA in Chemistry from Wellesley College and her PhD in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. After working at Intel and then Gilead, she now the Director of Commercial Insights at Amgen.

Dr. Ward Lopes: Ward received his BA in Physics from Swarthmore College and his MS and Ph.D. in Condensed Matter Physics from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining NVIDIA, Ward was a physics professor at Williams College and at Mount Holyoke college, and was the Director of Product Research at Arryx, Inc. He spends a lot of his free time pursuing and teaching his hobby of pottery and particularly appreciates the fact that, in Silicon Valley, riding a motorcycle reduces commuting time and makes parking much easier than commuting in a car.


Thank you to Photonics Media for supporting this event!