UCL Centre for Engineering Education


Interview with Gigi, a PhD student researching AI and engineering education

2 February 2023

Gigi is a second year postgraduate research student, with supervisors from the Centre for Engineering Education. We ask her about her research, her experience as a student at UCL and her life in London.

Students at summer school

Hi Gigi! Tell us a bit about yourself – what stage of your PhD are you in and what’s your project about?
I’m currently in my second year and am preparing for my Upgrade in a few months. My research is taking a look at how underrepresented undergraduate students perceive AI in their engineering curricula. My research will be a comparative study at both US and UK universities, so I am glad to start data collection in the US later this year!

What does a typical day or week look like for you?
Most of my days are spent reading articles about my research to develop the introductory chapters of my thesis. I go into the centre of engineering education office for meetings with my supervisors or if I would like a break from working at home. Last semester, I was a PGTA for two classes, so I was on campus a lot more!

What’s one thing that you’ve enjoyed the most during your PhD?
I really have enjoyed how my supervisors have allowed me to curate my research to my interests and career goals. With their guidance, I have really felt like the project has been my own and not based on topics they have told me to focus on. I have also been lucky enough to attend conferences in countries I have never been before which has allowed me to network and develop a professional persona in the engineering education sphere here in Europe.

What’s been the most challenging part of it?
The most challenging part has been learning conduct research as a social science researcher. Though I completed my MSc in Engineering and Education at UCL last year, my background is in engineering, so I have had to learn how to write my chapters as a social scientist- however, my supervisors have been very good at guiding me in the right way when it comes to this!

Where do you see yourself 5 years after completing your PhD?
I hope to be working at a university in either the US or the UK in their engineering and/or engineering education departments. One of my greatest passions is teaching, so I would love to be working with undergraduate students so they get the most out of their bachelor degrees. I had a wonderful time at the SEFI conference in Barcelona last year, so it would also be nice to have the opportunity to work with them so I know more about the latest engineering education research going on in Europe.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer students that are thinking of doing a PhD?
I have a tendency to over think about things and I was anxious about starting a PhD straight after my MSc, but, to students thinking about doing the same or starting it after working in industry, I would say the greatest support you will have throughout the next 3/4 years will be your supervisors. I think it would be a good first step to find a faculty member whose research interest aligns with yours, and this can be done even before you have all the fine details of your project figured out. Talking to them and sharing ideas will help you develop your project more - even though the process seems intimidating, you can do it!

What makes UCL (and the Centre for Engineering Education) a good place to study?
Aside from UCL’s ranking and the CEE’s strong influence in engineering education worldwide, what made me apply to UCL for both my MSc and PhD has been the people I work with. All the faculty members and other PhD students have been so supportive and their positive influence has been lovely especially since my family is back in the US and London can get lonely at times! In addition to all the resources available at UCL and the rare opportunities network with those working on similar projects around the world, this support has truly been invaluable. 

Lastly, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
To keep up with socialising, my friends and I usually try to hit up the pubs on the weekends to catch up. This year, I am trying to get more into more hobbies so I am starting ballet lessons and attempting to learn how to bake. Living in London is really helpful if you to pick up niche interests to seem more interesting!