Alumni Profiles Series: Yang Yang

 February 1, 2018

Yang Yang

Dr. Yang Yang is currently a software engineer for Google. Prior to joining Google, he worked for Ericsson as a software engineer. Dr. Yang graduated from Duke in 2013 with his Ph.D. in Physics; his  interdisciplinary Ph.D. thesis project spanned Physics and Electrical & Computer Engineering in gallium-based ultraviolet nanoplasmonics, which can be used to enhance optical signals from chemical molecules. Dr. Yang now resides in New York City with his wife.

How has your Duke education helped you to get to where you are now?

Reading my most recent performance review reminds me of what my daily life looked like during my Ph.D. studies at Duke. Although I had a major thesis topic, I still needed to manage and meet the immediate requirements of many smaller projects in parallel as well as browse a number of research articles every day to generate new ideas. Being able to complete several tasks simultaneously and dig into new topics quickly are important skills that I acquired through my studies at Duke, and they help my current work.

Another great benefit of attending Duke is that students can be involved firsthand in lots of decision-making processes. I’m glad I had the opportunity to serve as the GPSC academic officer and communication director, where I coordinated over 10 luncheons to connect graduate students with university officials and oversaw the GPSC website redesign. In addition, I was elected graduate student representative to the Board of Trustees academic affairs standing committee. These experiences have certainly improved my communication, collaboration, and decision-making skills.

Do you have any advice for current STEM graduate students considering an industry career?

Duke provides a variety of resources and opportunities for academic and career growth. It is important to always keep a dream in mind while you remain committed to your current work. Had I not worked hard enough to read papers or manage to complete several projects at the same time, I would not have learned to manage tasks in parallel and digest new things quickly. Had I not expanded my research project to include computational modeling, I would not have had the chance to improve my coding skills.

In addition, taking some basic industry-related courses (e.g. algorithm classes for computer science), pairing with classmates who have the same interest in industry, connecting with alumni, and finding an internship before graduation can help.

To quote a Google philosophy, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” Committing yourself to the work you care about will make you happy; deciding whether to stay in academia or move to industry will then be a simple choice.

Do you have any advice for new international graduate students at Duke?

I remember going to a Subway on campus on my first day as an international student at Duke. When I tried to order, I could not remember the names of many vegetable items available at the time—I even called lettuce cabbage!

When international students come to Duke, they will see many cultural differences, both positive and negative. They might feel isolated or a little uncomfortable in front of others, but on the positive side, this can give room to learn new cultures and get exposed to diverse groups of people. I think it would be beneficial for international students to be engaged on campus, such as by joining GPSC or community service.

Did you attend any of Duke’s basketball games?

There should be a rule that requires students to attend at least one game before graduation. It’s not only basketball, but more about standing together with fellow students and shouting out “Let’s go Duke!”


Hananiel Setiawan
Hananiel Setiawan

Ph.D. student, Medical Physics

Hananiel Setiawan is currently a Ph.D. student in Medical Physics and a Duke University Scholars Program Graduate Fellow studying the application of physics in the field of medicine. His career goal is to contribute to research in cancer diagnostics and treatment. Originally from Indonesia, Han has lived on three continents and very much enjoys exploring new places. Connect with him through LinkedIn, Twitter, Scholars@Duke, or his website.