Success measured by academics
Success is measured in many ways. For some, the ability to turn personal success into lessons that teach others how to achieve the same success is the most rewarding. Such is the case for two University of Missouri College of Engineering alumni who have found themselves transitioning from one university to another as both start their careers in academia.
Jesse Eickholt and Zheng Wang are both recent graduates who earned positions in higher education teaching computer science.
Eickholt headed north to Central Michigan University where is an assistant professor. He graduated in 2013 with his doctorate in computer science and a minor in college teaching. He said he’s always found working with students interesting.
“I taught at the primary and secondary levels for a few years before starting my graduate career, and my intent was always to teach afterwards,” he said. “Along the way, I had the opportunity to do some research and found it to be exciting as well. For me, that sealed the deal.”
In addition to being a teaching assistant, he was a member of MULTICOM, a team of researchers led by Jianlin Cheng, an associate professor of computer science, who have participated in the biannual international Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP) competitions. This experience in informatics carried over into his research as a professor. His current research includes machine learning, deep learning and structural bioinformatics. The courses he teaches cover upper-level computer design and architecture.
Wang graduated in 2012 with his doctorate in computer science. He now teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Computer Science. As a student, Wang worked in Cheng’s lab and focused on bioinformatics. He was a member of MULTICOM..
That research also carried through to his career at Southern Miss. where he teaches bioinformatics courses and is researching malignant human genome conformation. Wang said the freedom to choose and conduct research, plus the opportunity to make an impact on human health, were some of the reasons he chose academia. Even in another state, he still feels close connections to Mizzou: one set of the data he uses in his research is from a 10-year-old leukemia patient at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.
“Sometimes, when I look at the data on my computer, in my mind I see a boy with leukemia needing my help to fight against cancer,” he said. “This makes me feel what I am studying is real and influential to people’s health and lives. I am doing something meaningful. I don’t think I can cure cancer, but I am contributing to a cure, even a very tiny little bit.”
Eickholt suggests that students who are looking into becoming college professors get a sense of the type of research or institution in which they’d like to work.
“I knew I wanted to go into academia and I started taking some additional courses to better prepare,” Eickholt said.
Wang agreed. “You should have passion toward what you are doing and be able to pass it to your audience,” he said. “Today’s job market, particularly for getting a tenure-track position, is tough. You sometimes need some luck, but you need to be determined and get yourself ready before luck comes to your door.”