[Editor's note] As we enter college admissions season, we hope to provide an insider’s account of the College of Engineering. In order to do so, we interviewed current students about their life at Peking University. The series will contain six interviews.
Dongkun Zhang is a junior majoring in theoretical and applied mechanics. He was president of his class and recipient of the Boeing scholarship, PKU “All-round Student” Award, and Suzhou Industrial Park Scholarship.
Q: Why did you choose COE?
A: When applying for university, I chose COE after careful screening. On one hand, I chose the Department of Mechanics to follow my interest in physics and especially in mechanics. An old discipline, mechanics is of full vitality in the modern world, and COE combines well the theory with application.
On the other hand, Department of Mathematical Mechanics, the predecessor of Department of Mechanics, had a long history and well-established syllabus after long-term development, providing systematic training for the students.
In addition, COE places high requirements on mathematics. Having participated in mathematics competitions in high school, I have a strong interest in mathematics.
Q: What kind of platforms has COE provided for your studies and research?
A: In terms of courses, the College offers a variety of elective courses besides the mandatory ones. Many classic elective courses (for example, application analysis, continuum mechanics, etc.) often attract students from other colleges and even those from other schools to attend. Some elective courses are dedicated to teaching professional tools (such as engineering drawing, AutoCAD, etc.), some courses make in-depth analysis and exploration to the major courses (such as plastic mechanics, computational fluid dynamics, etc.), and some courses make introductory overview on emerging areas (for example, composite materials and structural mechanics, bioinformatics Introduction, etc.). In the second year we choose majors, afterwards our classes are small sized, with about 20 students, so the teachers can give full attention to every student.
In terms of research, as COE faculty conduct research in a broad range of areas, such as fluid
mechanics, solid mechanics, materials science, biomedical, aerospace, dynamics control, finite element analysis, and multi-scale computing, there must be something for you. COE faculty members are highly active in international academic exchange; many of their research are at the forefront [of their fields].
In terms of external exchanges, there are lots of internship programs and short/long-term exchange programs tailored for undergraduates. Many supervisors also take students to other schools for short-term exchange. This semester (Spring 2012), there is a one-week visiting program to Japan and a two-week exchange program to Taiwan University.
Q: Does COE care about the students’ after-school life?
A: Yes, in addition to the Peking University scholarships, COE has many scholarships and stipends (such as the Schlumberger Award), to commend students with good academic achievement and support those with financial difficulties. Every year the Student Union organized regular activities, such as sports meeting, chess game, Karaoke contest, and photography contest, in order to enrich students' extracurricular lives. The college basketball team, football team, badminton team, volleyball team and many others participate in the PKU Cup. In addition, when entering COE, each student is paired up with a faculty mentor who takes care of his non-academic life in the next four years.
Q: How have you grown since you entered Peking University?
A: I have grown so much. I have cherished friendship; the friendships with my classmates will be my largest fortune in the future. I have developed open-mindedness and an optimistic attitude, after many unexpected frustrations and experiences of many ups and downs. I have established rigorous scholarship [skills], which is essential not only for the mechanics studies, but also for all disciplines. I have also learned a lot from many COE teachers, not only how to develop a professional career but also how to deal with people and things in everyday life.
Q: What advice do you have for incoming freshmen about university and major selection?
A: The comprehensive power of a university is certainly important, so I will not go into details. Here I would like to mention that the location of university is equally important. Learning at university is not confined within the classroom, but also in the outside world. Living in an international metropolis, you can come into contact with all sorts of people to experience the international trend and help broaden your horizons.
In terms of what to study, choosing the popular professions also means more brutal competition and higher going-out rate, while the top professionals in the so-called unpopular fields are also respected by the world. No one can predict the future direction of various disciplines as time changes. Rather than pursue employment prospects and future income, we should have a down-to-earth attitude and do the things we are really interested in.
For the science and engineering students who are not in a hurry for employment after undergraduate studies, I recommend studying basic science disciplines such as mathematics and mechanics, as they have broad applications in many industries. You will enjoy more choices for graduate studies.