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Name: Irem B. Ustunol

Year: 4th Year

Country From: Turkey

Sponsoring Agency: The Ministry of National Education

Field of Study: Biomedical Nanotechnology

Majors and Minors: Nanoengineering, Ph.D.


  • Why did you decide to study in the U.S.? What made you choose to come to San Diego?"
    American universities are well known for the quality of their scientific research and the opportunities for growth that they offer their students. I wanted to explore the academic culture that exists in the U.S. and attain the best education I could possibly get in my field. I believe sharing our unique perspectives and experiences can enhance our sensitivity and help us to better understand and work with each other in a diverse community. I would like to leverage the experiences I gain here and encourage breakthroughs in research in my home country. 

    I preferred California because of state support on freedom and diversity. I chose to study in San Diego because of my field of research and research interests. UC San Diego is one of the top schools in the nation for nanoscience and bioengineering, and San Diego is a major hub for biomedical industries and research institutes. And of course, where else can you find amazing weather like this?! 

  • How did you become interested in UC San Diego and your program? What do you hope to gain out of your experience here, academically and personally?
    Once I decided to go the U.S. to further my education, I did a lot of research on school selection and the application process. UC San Diego offers B.S, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Nanoengineering, so it was one of the schools that really sparked my interest. I contacted previous alumni to hear about their research and academic lives at UC San Diego. My cousin advised me through the process to help me make the best decision. Lastly, I reached out to professors in my target department to understand more about their research and requirements before finally submitting my application.

    I hope to get my Ph.D. degree along with the fulfillment of academic ethics and knowledge. I have already made amazing friends, and every day I am learning new things, especially about diversity and about embracing different cultures. I hope to meet more people and participate in more academic events in the future. 

  • What challenges/difficulties did you meet while preparing your stay in the U.S. or adapting to your new setting in San Diego? How did you overcome them?
    I have never lived in another city without my family, let alone country. Coming to the U.S. without family was initially very challenging and overwhelming. I learned the term ‘homesick’ through firsthand experience. However, it did not take too long to adjust to San Diego. The weather and people here are great. From the beginning, my roommates and my advisor counseled and guided me, and I have been lucky enough to have good people around me to talk to whenever I needed support. It also helps to know my family is always just a phone call away. 
  • How do you find the academic climate at UC San Diego and within your program? Describe any highlights and/or challenges.
    I was used to working as a part of a big group of people. However, in graduate school, it was a bit difficult to adjust to working on individual class projects. There are also differences in the education system here compared to the education system in my country. Compared to the work I was used to; the graduate level classes here require a lot more individual research and significantly more time invested. My department hires a small number of graduate students every year, so this helped us to get to know each other well and exchange knowledge. The academic demands placed on us are high in Ph.D. programs, but thankfully, my department academic coordinator and faculty I work with are very open to discussions and help me to resolve any issues quickly.
  • Do you participate in research? If so, describe your project/lab. Why did you become interested in this topic?
    I have completed the required coursework for my program, and I am now working on my thesis research. I use different spectroscopic and microscopic methods to determine molecular level interactions between environmental nanoparticles and biomolecules. I was interested in this topic because I wanted to be able to understand the fate of our environment, understand human exposure to nanomaterials and discover some of the unknown fundamentals in nano and surface science. 
  • What extracurricular activities do you participate in? Are you a member of any student organizations?  What is the best experience you’ve had so far? How do you spend your free time in San Diego?
    I work as a mentor in the Jacobs School Undergraduate Mentoring Program (JUMP), and I currently have 3 undergraduate engineering student mentees. Besides JUMP, I participate in different dance groups and perform cultural dances across Southern California. I would say these performances have been the best experiences for me. I have performed Indian Bollywood dances at UC San Diego as a part of the Association of Indian Graduate Students (AIGS) and at December Nights in Balboa Park as a part of Anatolian Folk Dance Group. I love exploring nature and outdoor activities. I go hiking on the weekends and spend time with friends, trying to cook and taste as many different cuisines as I can. 
  • What was a defining moment in your academic career that shaped who you are now?
    There is not really any single defining moment for me, it is more of an accumulative experience that I have acquired throughout the process of learning. I am a more confident person than I was before. The more you learn, the more you realize how much more there is that you can do research on.
  • What have you accomplished during your studies at UC San Diego that you are most proud of? How has this impacted you?
    I have studied many scientific techniques and learned how to apply these to my research and to look at a problem from different perspectives. As my mom always says, ‘Every difficulty has seven different solutions with it’. At UC San Diego, I honed my problem-solving skills, and l am most proud of learning how to self-motivate and never give up. 
  • How will your experience here in San Diego fit in your educational/professional plan/future career?
    The university has many resources, supporting staff and faculty members. The facilities and academic meetings, seminars and multi-disciplinary research that exists at our school help us to create a professional network and gain interpersonal skills. I strongly believe that being a part of UC San Diego will equip me with the best tools and help me to choose the best direction for myself after graduation. 
  • What is one thing you would tell aspiring sponsored students?
    I would advise aspiring sponsored students that self-motivation is a must, and that they should learn from their mistakes and failures and not let any setbacks stop them from working hard. If you are an aspiring sponsored student, get involved and consult with experts, your efforts will result in positive outcomes; so never lose your drive or self-confidence! Anything you learn and gain during your academic and personal life will help you in the other areas of your life as well.


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