Three years after obtaining her master’s, postdoctorate researcher Wenzhao Wei was on her way to becoming USD’s first physics Ph.D. student.
Before Wei, there were two other physics students expected to graduate before her. But because of personal reasons, they didn’t make it past the master’s program.
Wei, who graduated in August and is now postdoctorate, said she was “happy” finding out she was the first Ph.D. graduate.
“When I learned I was the first one, that was only a couple of weeks before I planned to defend my dissertation,” she said. “I was surprised to know I was the first.”
Wei’s thesis was “Advanced Germanium Detectors for Rare Event Physics Searches.”
“The rare event physics are physics processes that (have) pretty low probability to occur — about one event per year,” Wei said.
Wei said writing her thesis was time-consuming.
“Basically, the main body of my thesis is the research work I have done during my Ph.D.,” she said. “I spent about six months to complete my thesis writing.”
Joel Sander, a physics professor on Wei’s thesis committee, said she has a lot of strengths as a physicist.
“She is organized and responsible — the things she’s responsible for, she gets done,” Sander said. “She’s thoughtful in how she does her work, and she’s hardworking.”
Before coming to USD for physics, Wei studied computer science in China. She discovered soon after that computer science wasn’t for her.
“I asked myself, ‘What is something I’m really interested in?'” she said. “The first thing, I’m sure, is that I want to become a teacher in the future. I asked myself what I want to teach — I really like math and also English. The compilation of math and English is physics. I showed great interest when I was in high school in physics.”
Dongming Mei, a professor of physics and Wei’s mentor, said it was “exciting” seeing Wei graduate as the first Ph.D. student.
“She is very careful and meticulous in terms of studying physics,” he said. “Of course, she’s very good in terms of making progress on a daily basis.”
Wei said her two advisers, Mei and physics professor Jing Liu, helped her a lot during her time at USD.
“When I was confused doing research, especially at the beginning, they gave me a lot of directions and they showed me how I can finish the work I’m interested in, the research and how I can get started,” Wei said. “I think the most important thing I learned from them is how to concentrate on things you’re interested in, and how to find out the solutions you want to.”
Some topics Wei’s worked on at USD are Monte Carlo simulation, physics analysis, dark matter searches and particle physics.
Mei said Wei went through her Ph.D. program very quickly.
“She was indeed an excellent graduate student in the program,” he said. “In the beginning, I was a little worried about her background. When she came, she worked very hard and she actually made up all the requirements for physics major in a very short period of time.”
Wei said she’s interested in teaching in the U.S. after her postdoctorate.
“I like to spend time with students. When they have questions, I would like to find the answers for them. I enjoy being involved with students and helping them find answers they don’t know,” she said. “The most important thing I hope my students will learn from me is how to find the solution. Not just searching online, but thinking first and what they need to do and then find what they want.”