Q&A with Jaclyn (Nesbitt) Johnson

Jaclyn (Nesbitt) Johnson

Jaclyn (Nesbitt) Johnson

BA in Physics, 2006—Illinois Wesleyan University
MS in Mechanical Engineering, 2008—Michigan Tech
Graduate Certificate in Sustainability 2010—Michigan Tech 
PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, 2011—Michigan Tech

Current position: Postdoctoral Researcher and Instructor, Michigan Tech Combustion Research Facility, Houghton, Michigan

Q: In brief, what was the focus of your research?

A: My research first focused on the development of an optically accessible, constant-volume combustion vessel research facility, including all subsystems for operation. I then used this facility to study spark-ignition flame kernel growth and development—and, using optical diagnostics, diesel spray and combustion characteristics under a wide range of conventional engine conditions.

Q:  What was the most challenging aspect?

A: Overcoming experimental pitfalls—I learned not to give up when testing is not working or when continuous problems in experimental setup arise, etc. Getting a graduate degree is a long-term commitment, and sometimes it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Intermediate obstacles can sometimes make it seem challenging to continue.

Q What was the best part about the experience?

A: Being involved in the development of a state-of-the-art combustion research facility; a laboratory with unique capabilities and infrastructure was the best part. There are only a handful of such labs operating in the world. Pursuing a graduate certificate in sustainability provided exposure to different concepts and courses, which in turn permitted me to improve my critical-thinking ability, and enabled me to gain well-rounded views in my research.

Q:  Were there any experiences at Tech that helped with your current success?

A: Jeff Naber has provided me with several key opportunities and experiences, including presenting at various research conferences, and involvement with industrial sponsors in several externally funded research projects. This exposure helped me to develop strong communication and critical-thinking skills. As a result, I am now a better researcher and scholar.

Q:  Did your time in graduate school change (or shape) your life, and if so, how?

It taught me a lot about perseverance—that hard work and determination will pay off. When I started graduate school, my plan was to complete a master’s degree and then find employment; however, the option to work in a state-of-the-art research laboratory with a supportive research advisor led me to continue on to receive my PhD. An advanced degree, in turn, has opened up opportunities to stay in the Houghton area, which I love, doing postdoctoral research and teaching some courses—which is very rewarding! In addition, I have become a mentor figure to fellow graduate students starting their work in the laboratory, with a chance to teach and educate fellow students in not only lab operation, but also in our particular research area of combustion.

Q: What advice would you give to first-year graduate students?

A: Do your research when picking an advisor. Find one who does research you are interested in—someone who can provide the necessary mentoring you need to succeed without conflicting ideas or expectations. A good fit between advisor and graduate student is imperative, not only for successful graduate education and research, but also for personal development and future opportunities after graduate school. Take classes that are relevant to your degree, but study what you are interested in, as well, so you can become well-rounded. Work hard to develop solid communication skills—not only through internal meetings at Michigan Tech, but also externally, by writing papers and communicating with project sponsors. It doesn’t matter how advanced or exciting your research is—if you can’t effectively communicate your work orally or in writing, you aren’t benefiting from the full potential of all your efforts.