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Learning New Skills in a Constantly Evolving World

A student keeps apace of his field’s fast-changing technologies.

Written by Philip Baker
man on bridge

Hear from a student working in a high-tech and fast-evolving field who found in the Graduate Student-at-Large (GSAL) program a great way to begin learning the new skills he needed.

As a research engineer working at Argonne National Laboratory in their Systems Modeling, Control, and Simulation group, Ayman Moawad analyzes the energy consumption of hybrid and electric vehicles—all before they’re built or on the road. Ayman and his team do this by developing large-scale simulation processes that mathematically model new automobile plans sent to them by major manufacturers. Using computers of enormous power and speed, they replicate real-world scenarios with spot-on accuracy in order to learn the new designs’ impacts on fuel economy and greenhouse emissions.

No End to New Knowledge

The long of the short of it is that Ayman has a background deep in computational and mathematical engineering, holding a Masters of Science in Mechatronics, Robotics, and Computer Science from the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, France. It’s an educational background that might seem thorough enough to exempt him from any future learning. But as Ayman points out, the world is a constantly evolving place—his area within it in particular—and there’s no end to new knowledge that might be learned and skillsets waiting to be acquired.

Warming Up to Being a Student Again

Consequently, when he decided to embark on a path that would lead him to acquiring his PhD in Statistics, he received the full support of his upper management. Their only question for him was where he’d begin. Having been away from school for several years and feeling a little rusty about his student skills, numerous people told Ayman about the GSAL program as a great way to warm up to the situation of being a student again.“It seemed the most natural and convenient way for me to get back on track,” Ayman says. “And it was a great way to get closer to the different departments I was interested in. Overall, the GSAL program was very beneficial for me when it came to refreshing my theoretical knowledge in the subject matter and also getting closer to the people in the mathematics and statistics department at the University of Chicago.”

Great Way to Test the Waters

In Ayman’s case, there was an additional factor making the GSAL program appealing. Having received his education in France, he didn’t really know what to expect from a university in the United States. “The French system,” he says, “is more rigid. The curriculum and courses you take are almost entirely predefined. I didn’t know how I’d react to the more open situation in the United States.” Having taken two classes in advanced mathematical analysis through the GSAL program, Ayman says his reaction to the freedom students in the United States have to select their classes and manage their time was only positive. In fact, he’s excited to experience more of it. Next fall, he will begin his Masters of Science in Statistics at the University of Chicago, a natural next step on his way to his PhD.

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