Susan Su

Current Position: Patent Examiner at US Patent and Trademark Office
Susan Su
Highlight Don't be discouraged if you find some classes boring or difficult, they're not representative of what you will end up doing.
Why did you choose engineering? I chose engineering primarily because I was very good at math and also because I came from a family of engineers. And it didn't hurt that engineering was one of the best paid professions out there.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have? I attended Binghamton University (part of the State University of New York system) for undergrad and obtained my B.S. in mechanical engineering. I was having such a great time in college that I wanted to stay in school for a few more years, so I went straight into a Ph.D. program in bioengineering at UC San Diego and got my degree in 2007.
What do you like best about being an engineer? I occasionally like to take apart no-longer-functional things to try to fix them. In grad school that happened quite frequently with some really old lab equipment. Since it would cost much less to try to fix it on my own than to purchase a brand new one, I set out to solve the problem. Most of the cases I was able to provide a temporary fix, but a few times I actually made the problem worse so I have to seek help from others. But that is what engineering is all about, there are trials and failures, and then you realize that you can learn a lot from other people's expertise if you just ask.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of? So far I am most proud of getting my doctorate. Graduate school for me consisted of repeating the same experiment many many times and not knowing when you have done enough. It takes a lot of determination and a lot of hard work for about 5-6 years.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career? One of the greatest challenges I encountered was the language barrier when I first arrived in the US at age ten. I was a very shy kid, so for several months I didn't understand what was going on in class. There was no short-cut to learning and mastering a language other than lots of practice. So I read a lot, did all of the writing assignments given in class, and at some point I started to understand the words that my teacher and fellow classmates spoke. Once I learned the basic sentences, it became much easier to learn new vocabulary and to communicate at the same level as my friends.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals? I would like to eventually get involved with international policy, particularly in promoting better China-US scientific collaborations. For the next 2 years or so, I hope to build up a good network with the various groups that work on the broad field of international science policy so I can have a better idea of where exactly I can fit in and whether or not it is something that I can do for the long term.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices? My mom has tremendous influence on me. She is a very intelligent and hard-working individual. She is my role model and also my greatest supporter.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering? Most people generally associate engineering with cars and heavy machinery and working with safety goggles on all the time. But the engineering disciplines have changed so much in the last few decades. The engineering education you get in college will prepare you for an unbelievable number of possible jobs/careers out in the real world. Don't be discouraged if you find some classes boring or difficult, they're not representative of what you will end up doing.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book. It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I love watching television. I watch mostly the law/crime/forensic shows such as CSI and Law & Order, and I also watch a lot of the shows on the Discovery Channel such as Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs. Of course I also have healthier hobbies/activities, like indoor rock climbing, tai-chi, and Argentine tango, where I met a lot of very very good friends.