Faculty Mentorship Spotlight: Yuan Xie

Faculty Mentorship: Interview with Yuan Xie,
ECE and CE Professor

Photo of Yuan Xie with grad students

Interviewed for the Fall 2016 ECE Current newsletter

What does mentoring mean to you, and why is it important in your profession?

Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. A great professor not only produces great research papers, but also mentors and graduates great students. Students are a professor’s legacy! It is important for me as a professor because a mentor plays an important part in improving someone’s life, helps them gain confidence, helps them grow intellectually and personally, helps them develop skills such as how to do research, how to write papers, give presentations, and how to network. All of which helps them to have a successful career. It is a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor and also a lifelong learning experience for me.

As a student, did you have a faculty mentor?

Yes, when I was an undergraduate student at Tsinghua University, China, Professor Hui Wang was my mentor; when I was a graduate student at Princeton University, both Professor Marilyn Wolf and Professor Niraj Jha were my mentors. My first job after I graduated with a PhD, was with the IBM Microelectronics division. I also had a great mentor there, Mr. Kerry Bernstein. Later, when I started as a young professor at Penn State, Professor Mary Jane Irwin was my great mentor. I am extremely lucky to have had many mentors during different stages of my career path.

Which aspects of an academic career do you find most rewarding?

I think the most rewarding aspect is to see the growth of students that I trained and mentored, and eventually see that they have a successful career, some in industry, others in academia. Some of them even have graduated their own students who are my “academic grandchildren.”

How have your scientific accomplishments been shaped by having a cadre of students around?

Students are my colleagues; they work together with me on various research projects. The scientific accomplishments are the outcomes of our work together.

What you hope your students take away from their time in your lab?

I hope that my students can master the essential skill set for their future career path, either in industry or in academia. They should have strong communication skills such as written/oral presentation/networking. They should know how to independently identify problems and find solutions to solve problems. After they graduate from my lab, they should be able to become the leader/ expert in whatever career path they choose.

How do you measure success as a teacher?

I think the success of a teacher is measured by the success of his/ her students. I feel successful when the students I mentor become a successful professor in a university, or a successful engineer/ researcher in industry. I have graduated 23 PhD students (including co-advisees) and many of them are doing very well in industry or academia. Also I am very proud that out of the 23 PhD students I graduated, eight of them are women PhD students, and four of them joined academia and became professors in the U.S., China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. As David Patterson from UC Berkeley said eventually, students are your legacy.

Do you keep in touch with any of your former students?

Yes, I keep close relationships with my former students. For example, I have a WeChat group that includes more than 30 former students (including MS and REU students). Many of my students work in the Bay Area and when I visit, we always try to have a reunion.

What is the greatest thing a student has ever taught you?

The process of mentoring has taught me many things. One thing I realize is that I should never underestimate students’ potential and should always encourage them to be the best of themselves.

Learn about Xie's research at the Scalable Energy-efficient Architecture Lab (SEAL)