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5 Questions for a Scientist: Materials Scientist David Kok

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.

Get to know David


Occupation: Ph.D. Graduate Student
Institution: University of California—Irvine
Field: Materials Science and Engineering
Focus: Multi-Phase Ceramics

David Kok is a first-year Ph.D. student in materials science at the department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at University of California—Irvine. He attended Mt. San Antonio Community College before transferring to California State Polytechnic University—Pomona, where he received a B.S. degree in chemistry. Before David started his academic career, he enlisted in the Marine Corp after high school.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
As a graduate student, I am required to attend classes, be a teaching assistant for undergraduate classes, pass all of my graduate student exams and tests, and conduct research.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
I first learned about materials science when I participated in a summer REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at UC Irvine when I was still in community college. In fact, the professor assigned to be my mentor back then is the same professor that is my Ph.D. advisor now. That summer I worked on developing a transparent ceramic armor. Because of my past military experience, I was really excited to help on that project. This really opened my eyes to the field of materials science. Before then, I didn’t know that this field even existed. This experience really showed me that no matter what interests you, there will always be research or even a major/department dedicated to that field.

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
My favorite part of being a scientist is working with really smart, talented, and amazing individuals. I learned early that teamwork is key to success, and this especially applies in the scientific community. No matter how hard you work, you will never be able to know everything. Although I am striving to be an expert in my field of research, I am constantly working with scientists who have more knowledge than me on something outside of my field. It is this teamwork that really progresses science. I also am constantly interacting with my labmates in my research group. Not only are they very talented and smart individuals, but they are fun to be around. As graduate students, we work hard together to achieve our academic and research goals, but we also enjoy our time together. There is no better feeling than coming to work and being able to have fun and see your friends every day.

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
As a graduate student, your typical day will differ depending on the year you are in. As a first-year, I am required to take a full load of classes. This quarter, I am taking 14 units of graduate level classes, which are very demanding. A large part of my day is devoted to classes and studying, but I also am doing research. As a researcher, my day varies depending on what type of experiments I have running and what machines I have to use. I am able to plan out my schedule ahead of time. If I have an exam coming up, I make sure to not plan any experiments that require a lot of attention. Also in between my classes and research, I have meetings with my advisor and other professors on almost a daily basis. Regardless if it is classes, studying, research, teaching, writing, or administrative work, being a graduate student is definitely a full-time job and more.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
My advice to a future scientist is to stay motivated. Becoming a good scientist is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Doing well/poorly in one class, exam, or even a subject does not make you a good or bad scientist overnight. It is a slow process of obtaining knowledge and demonstrating competency over time that makes you truly a good scientist. It will be a long and sometimes difficult road, but you can do it if you stay motivated. Finally, I would say have fun, meet new people, make friends, and strive to make a positive impact on our society. I like to say that we are all on the same spaceship called Earth, and we need to help each other to ensure that we don’t crash.

Image credit: David Kok