UCL Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering


Nine ONG students passed their PhD this year!

18 December 2020

Despite the added complication of a global pandemic, nine(!) of our research students successfully defended their theses in 2020, including three viva exams passed in December alone! Let’s take a look back at this incredible achievement…

ONG members in the pub

In January, Paris Andreades was the first of our 2020 graduating students to pass his viva, only weeks before Covid-19 reached the UK. Since this was a time before social distancing, Paris was able to celebrate his success with friends and fellow PhD students at a local pub, along with his supervisor Dr George Zervas, his examiners and Head of ONG Professor Polina Bayvel. Paris is now leading the electronics engineering team at ORCA Computing.

Hui Yuan and Joshua Benjamin successfully defended their theses in February. Hui joined the team after finishing the first year of his PhD at Bristol and is now working as a senior engineer at Huawei in Beijing. Joshua started the group's ‘virtual viva’ movement after his defense moved online at the last minute due to an examiner (very sensibly) deciding not to travel after becoming unwell with flu-like symptoms only a few days before the exam was due to take place. Joshua remains with the ONG, and is now one of our post-docs working with Dr Georgios Zervas. 

Daniel Semrau passed his viva in May, and although a little disappointed not to be examined fact-to-face, he was able to celebrate with friends and several beers in Berlin. Daniel is now at Infinera. Eric Sillekens also defended his thesis in May and he’s still with us, working as a postdoctoral researcher for the TRANSNET Programme. Here’s what Eric thinks about being a part of ONG:

“In our group, it feels like you’re surrounded by the smartest people, always willing to help, in an environment where everyone improves and has the greatest time in the process – you feel you can stay at your sharpest."

Fast-forward to September, when Xianhe Yangzhang, successfully defended his PhD thesis before moving to Beijing to join Huawei’s Research and Development team. Xianhe says an online viva is great because: “you can wear pyjama pants, and nobody will know". Absolutely!

And finally, we ended the year with three of our students – Boris Karanov, Tom Gerard and Kari Clark – completing their PhDs. We officially said goodbye to Boris in September when he left to join the ICT Lab at the Technical University of Eindhoven. Tom recently joined Infinera, but before he left we asked him about his favourite time from his PhD. He said:

“The best moments of my PhD were all based around collaboration. A wonderful example of this was the last days of Dr Yuta Wakayama’s stay with us who was visiting from KDDI Japan. After a week of intense lab work combining Yuta’s programming experience with our laboratory skills, we had a group picnic with football in the park and a dip in the Hampstead Heath ponds. This tight fit of international collaboration, cutting-edge research, socialising in the group and engaging in cultural activities was amazing fun and totally typical of life within the Optical Networks Group.” 

Kari has been with ONG since 2014 and is hoping to continue his research with us. His advice for new PhD students is: “Work hard at your PhD, but make sure that you look after your mental and physical health too. Get involved in a society, learn a new language, play sports – whatever interests you most. I really enjoy playing board games and being a committee member of the UCL Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. And if you run into difficulties, don’t be afraid to ask for help, there’s always someone in the team happy to provide it.”

Discover more about the highs and lows of PhD life in an extended Q+A with Tom and Kari over on the ICCS website.

We are extremely proud to see our student researchers succeed. Nine graduating students in 2020 is an absolute triumph especially considering the circumstances. Well done and congratulations from all the team!