Jennifer Bernhard

Jennifer Bernhard

University of Illinois
Urbana, IL, United States
Jennifer Bernhard
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I'm a professor, so my work has many pieces. I'm a teacher, I'm an engineer, I'm a researcher, and I'm an advisor and mentor. What all of this means is that I get to do lots of different things every day and I get to think about and work on really cool engineering problems. In particular, my work and teaching is largely in electromagnetics and antennas, which are critical pieces of wireless communication and sensing systems.

Answers by Dr Jennifer Bernhard

Dear Kathryn,

I decided to become a professor because I love learning, I love teaching, and I love being able to work on the kinds of technical problems that I find interesting and that make a difference in the way people communicate – I study antennas.  I love engineering because it is fundamentally a creative process – we take what we know about physics, chemistry, biology, and math and apply those things together in new inventive ways to produce new devices or techniques.   Also, being a professor provides a lot of flexibility in terms of the work-life balance and my schedule – I can balance my time between my job and my family.   Of course, sometimes lots of things pile up (like my e-mail!) and sometimes I fall behind, but I’m always doing something different every day and working with other people, which is a very enjoyable part of the collaborative process.  I’m so glad that you’re into engineering!   Don’t  be afraid to experiment and try different areas to see what you like best!

Prof. Bernhard

Dear Sarah,

I'm so excited that you’re ready to become an engineer!  General engineering means different things at different schools, but usually the first two years of courses at any institution are roughly the same for all engineering majors, so taking the physics, chemistry, and calculus courses while you’re at community college is the right first step.   Some schools accept transfer students into a “general engineering” major and then give students time to sample classes over a semester/quarter or two and choose a major from there.  Others require students to declare a major when students apply.   Talk to the transfer advisor(s) at the schools to which you’re considering applying, and they can provide some more school-specific advice.  They can also help you to plan your curriculum so that the transition between community college and your new institution is a positive and smooth one.  You can also ask them to refer you to other transfer students who have followed a similar path to yours.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get as much as information as you need.  Finally, since each school is different, you can always apply differently to them – if a school has a general engineering major, great – apply for that to start, and move to another engineering major if you find one that you like better.  If it doesn’t, talk to the advisors there, do some homework about the different kinds of engineering, and choose a major that you think is the coolest and most interesting.  Good luck!!!

Prof. Bernhard

Dear Saw Zi,
Mechatronic engineering has a variety of definitions, but in general, it is the combination of using electrical engineering and mechanical engineering to develop robots, tools, or other devices that achieve a goal, whether that is electromechanical assistance for wheelchair users, or electrical control and feedback for mechanical devices such as manufacturing machines to name just a few.  You may also be familiar with mechatronics for animated, moving displays at places like Disneyworld.   So, mechatronics involves electrical engineering, but there are also lots of other areas in electrical engineering that are different, such as semiconductor devices (such as transistors), lasers, electromagnetics and antennas (my field!), circuits, communications, power engineering, and signal processing.   For both mechatronics and EE in general, there are lots of opportunities for jobs that involve design, development, and testing for any electrical system or device that you can name.    So, really, it is about choosing a field that you love and find interesting, and when you do that, you’ll be successful in your studies and successful in your career.  
Prof. Bernhard


Dear Mohit,
It sounds as if you have some decisions to make about the path of your career.  If you want to leverage your existing background in information technology, it might be better to pursue positions that require that background and experience, rather than other positions that require training or a background that you don’t have. On the other hand, if you want to pursue a position in Facility Management that requires the EE/ME background, you could consider getting a professional masters degree in one of these fields (several schools have part time and online options) that would help you to qualify for these kinds of positions.  The key with either of these pathways is that you pursue the path that you enjoy most and that you find interesting and rewarding.  Good luck!
Jennifer Bernhard


 Dear Farah,

   It is best to find a field and topic of study that you love, so if that means going to a different program to do that, then that is what you should do. I know that there are several programs around the country in quantum electronics that are actually within departments of electrical and computer engineering, so it may be possible for you to pursue your interests without changing "majors." The only complicating factor that I see in moving to a physics department is that, depending on the department's requirements, etc., you may need to take more physics-oriented background courses at the start. ECE and Physics curricula have a great deal of overlap, but the two disciplines view some of the research issues from different perspectives. However, if this is the path that you want to take, find a strong program and advisor that will help you navigate this process and you should be in good shape. 

Hi, Darshita! I understand your frustration with the situation -- it is a feeling that lots of young women have, especially at this stage in their careers. My advice on this is to put your best foot forward and make sure that you feel confident going into the interviews. You can do lots of things to make sure that you feel confident in the interview. The first, and most important, is to be confident in your technical abilities and knowledge. This will be reflected in your course grades that any interviewer will see, and also in how you answer technical questions during the interview. For this, you can practice answering questions with a friend, or there may be a practice service available at your university's career center. You mentioned that you didn't have any experience in the field. While you're still in school, you can pursue an internship or an engineering coop experience that will also help to build your confidence and your resume. If those two aren't an option, you can investigate the possibility of getting some research experience with a professor at your school. You can approach the professor directly, or talk to an advisor to see how to get involved. This will also help to give you some experience and build your resume. Another aspect of feeling confident in the interview is being comfortable and confident in your appearance and demeanor. Choose clothing that is professional, tasteful, and that is something that an adult would wear. In other words, wear a suit. Even if you are small and look young, the clothes will help you to feel and appear older and make a good first impression. Best, Jennifer Bernhard