Alex Abulnaga, BASc '18, Electrical Engineering

Alex Abulnaga
“By pursuing a career in academia, I hope to use my knowledge and skills to develop meaningful technologies with the potential to leave lasting impacts on industry and society.”

While at UBC, I had the opportunity to explore a wide range of experiences that helped me to grow both personally and professionally. During my degree, I developed a passion for academic research through positions at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and UBC. At UPenn, I worked on a novel non-invasive ear surgery procedure for restoring a type of sensorineural hearing loss, while at UBC I helped to develop a synthetic skin with shear sensing capabilities for use in robotics applications. UBC has undoubtably helped me tremendously in advancing my career, but what I am most grateful for are the connections I made, and for all the friends and family who supported me throughout my degree.

Why did you choose engineering?

When I chose to study engineering, I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to do professionally. I felt that a degree in engineering would allow me to gain exposure to wide range of fields, and that I would hopefully find a topic of interest. Engineering at UBC allowed me to experience many of the different disciplines through the common freshman year, and I eventually chose to pursue electrical engineering despite not having previously considered it. While it ultimately took some time, I eventually found a topic in which I was passionate in my junior year of the program.

What has made your time at UBC the most memorable?

The most memorable moments from my time at UBC occurred in the latter half of my degree, when I was able to explore various industry and research positions through co-op. These internships provided tremendous technical experiences and were particularly memorable as a period of great personal growth, as they provided the opportunity to travel, work and live in different areas, which allowed me to experience different cultures and to be fully independent for the first time. I took these experiences as an opportunity to reflect on myself and my goals, and I believe that I matured significantly as a result. I am also extremely grateful for the amazing friends and mentors that I met during my time at UBC.

What have you learned in engineering that is most valuable?

The value of an engineering degree lies not within the content alone, but rather in the challenging nature of the work: it forces you to think in a critical and technical manner. Throughout my time at UBC I’ve learned to dissect problems by understanding their fundamental physical nature, while also being mindful of practical aspects such as economics and ethics. I believe that engineers are able to think in a well-rounded manner, and that the most valuable part of the degree is learning to think like an engineer.

How do you feel a degree in engineering has benefitted you compared to a different field of study?

The most unique aspect of studying engineering is that students have the opportunity to explore a wide range of topics and experiences during their degree. Each engineering discipline covers such a broad variety of topics and students are able to experiment with many different fields through their coursework. In addition, the co-op program allows for further experimentation; I was able to work in many different fields including manufacturing engineering, hardware design and academic research. The breadth of my electrical engineering degree allowed me to explore many different topics and I eventually found an area in which I was passionate.

What advice would you give a student considering engineering?

Engineering is an extremely rewarding program that allows students to explore a wide range of topics and to learn to think in a critical manner. The degree also opens many doors and allows for opportunities in different industries as well as in academia. It is also a very challenging program and requires discipline and excellent work ethic to be successful. For students considering an engineering degree, I would recommend reflecting on what they are currently passionate about, while keeping in mind that interests change, and many people end up on different paths than they might have initially imagined.

What are your plans for the future?

Following graduation I will commence graduate studies in electrical engineering at Princeton University. As a PhD student I hope to investigate emerging materials with unique optical, electrical and quantum properties, and to utilize these materials in the development of novel nano/optoelectronic devices. I am interested in a variety of applications for these devices including quantum computing, biomedicine, energy harvesting and post-silicon electronics. In the long term, I hope to pursue a career in academia and to eventually become a professor. I hope to utilize nanotechnology to tackle problems faced in electronics, medicine, energy and computing.

How will you go on to make a difference in our world?

I hope to use my experiences and knowledge gained as a UBC electrical engineering student to help improve society. I believe that UBC has provided me with an excellent foundation to allow me to be successful in my future studies. By pursuing a career in academia, I hope to use my knowledge and skills to develop meaningful technologies with the potential to leave lasting impacts on industry and society. My goal is to one day become a professor and to help mentor and teach the next generation of students.