Graduate Student and Graduate Research Assistant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctor of Philosophy, Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ’28—expected
Master of Science in Engineering, Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania ’21
Bachelor of Arts, Physics, Italian Studies, Bryn Mawr College ’20
In December 2021, Tong "Tori" Dang was finishing the last semester of her electrical engineering master's degree, working as a research assistant at Penn's Singh Center for Nanotechnology, and managing the daunting task of applying to PhD programs. She planned to start her doctoral studies in electrical engineering in the fall. In the interim, Tori knew she should take a few extra courses to boost a particular skill set. "I wanted to catch up on computer science," she says. "Programming skills are very useful for engineers and I wanted to be more confident in the subject before starting a PhD." A simple internet search led her to the perfect option right where she was already working and studying: the Penn Alumni Program.
Enrolling in the Penn Alumni Program for the following semester was simple. "The web page was straightforward and the application was really easy," Tori says, "way easier than the PhD programs I was applying to simultaneously. I didn't have to worry about an application fee or uploading transcripts or anything. And I think I got notified of my acceptance within a week."
Through the Penn Alumni Program during the subsequent spring and summer, Tori took five courses across three schools at Penn while also working full time as a research assistant. As an international student from Beijing, China, Tori was happy to be sponsored by Penn to continue working at the Singh Center until the start of her PhD program. The role also gave her a few more months to wrap up research she had started as a grad student. "The Singh Center has played a very important role in my academic career," she says. "I started working there in 2020 with just a general interest in nanotechnology. I ended up really liking it and decided I wanted to do a PhD."
Through the Penn Alumni Program, Tori took three computer science courses at Penn Engineering and Databases for Analytics at Wharton as preparation for her doctorate. "I took conversational Italian, too," she adds. Tori had studied Italian as an undergrad and did a semester abroad in Italy, but her master's curriculum left no room for language courses. "So it was a fun addition to my schedule and a good opportunity to pick up an old interest," she says.
Tori matriculated into the PhD program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in August. She plans to continue studying nanotechnology and dreams of advancing and commercializing nano-enabled everyday products and new technologies. With the computer science courses she took at Penn, Tori is better prepared to take a broader set of coursework in her doctoral program.
"I was open to taking classes anywhere to further prepare for my PhD," she says, "but I think Penn was the best choice for me. As a Penn Engineering alum, I knew and trusted the curriculum, so I was really glad that I found the Penn Alumni Program."