Not long after Dar-Wei Chen had accomplished something when his younger brother would often come along and do it better. But Chen has no hard feelings. On the contrary, he credits his success to his brother. “He inspired me to always reach higher,” Chen says. Reaching high has led him to receiving from Georgia Tech an M.S. in Psychology in 2015 and now a Ph.D. in Psychology. He received his B.S. in Engineering, major in Industrial and Operations Engineering, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
You could say that a Ph.D. is in Chen’s blood. His father is a professor at New Mexico State University, and his mother is a researcher for the Army Research Laboratory. Still, graduate school was “an unpredictable adventure,” Chen says, although he considers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Winter Park High School still the most difficult challenge he has faced.
The rigor of the IB program prepared Chen well for Georgia Tech, which he liked for its prestige and cutting-edge reputation. “I’ve been fortunate in terms of family and educational experiences through my whole life,” Chen says. “I try to be consciously thankful of those blessings, especially now that I’ve completed my Ph.D., the most important accomplishment of my career so far.”
What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?
When you go through something as long and difficult as a Ph.D. at Georgia Tech – it was as hard as I thought it would be – you learn how people cope with stress. I’ve learned that students run their own race through graduate school and have different experiences. It’s no use to always compare yourself with others and often feel inadequate in the process.
"It’s very exciting to land a job that gives me freedom to influence projects intellectually and the opportunity to work in various fields.... I know that my Georgia Tech Ph.D. was a major factor in getting this job."
What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?
My dissertation defense, but that’s too obvious. I’ll instead go with a sappy answer: Who I’ve become while at Tech. Aside from my immediate family, Tech has been the single largest factor in shaping who I am today.
Being surrounded by supportive people and getting through the rigors of a Tech education gave me confidence about my place in the world. I suffered from many insecurities all the way through college. I was never sure if I’d ever turn into someone I could be proud of professionally and personally.
Which professors or classes made a big impact on you?
The foundational courses – statistics, research methods, and introduction to engineering psychology – gave me the basic skills and information I needed to succeed in this field.
Courses in my Human-Computer Interaction doctoral minor expanded what I knew to be possible and emphasized how important technology design is to people from all walks of life. Chris Langston’s “Web Usability and Access” class opened my eyes to the struggles of vision- and hearing-impaired people. Because of that class, I can forever be an advocate for those people.
What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
Watching a Tech football game from the sidelines.
It was incredible to experience the physicality and passion of the game from close up, combined with the pageantry that accompanies every Tech football game. I’ve never had such a fun opportunity to feel the game that I’ve always loved watching from afar. I gained a new appreciation for football that I can carry with me for the rest of my life.
What unique learning activities did you undertake?
I greatly enjoyed opportunities to apply theories I learned throughout graduate school.
While working at the Army Research Laboratory, I applied learning principles to the development of a simulated shooting range that would be used to train cadets on the fundamentals of marksmanship.
The Georgia Tech chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society provided opportunities for me to apply design theory to many areas of life such as the American voting process, online work collaboration tools, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s pamphlet for immunization schedules. These applied experiences are important because I want to be versatile in industry work.
What advice would you give to incoming graduate students at Georgia Tech?
Never apologize for doing what’s best for you.
If you’re struggling and need to take a break from things, take a break – even though it seems like everyone else is working harder than you. Your life and health aren’t on hold just because you’re in graduate school. Everyone else is struggling, too, in some way.
If you’re not sure about your current graduate school path, discuss the matter with as many people as you need and determine whether you need to change course. A tough decision might be necessary, but ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for you, because you will live most directly with the consequences of that decision.
If you’re not sure whether you should ask about an opportunity that might help your career, err on the side of asking too many times and possibly being bothersome. The worst that people can say is “no.” Often they’ll be flattered that you asked and might keep you in mind for future opportunities.
There are many opportunities for meaningful work, even though the path might not be straightforward and the odds seem to be against you.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I have accepted a job offer from Soar Technologies, in Orlando, Florida, to be a principal investigator in their Intelligent Training business area.
It’s very exciting to land a job that gives me freedom to influence projects intellectually and the opportunity to work in various fields, such as defense, transportation, and medical service. I know that my Georgia Tech Ph.D. was a major factor in getting this job. My Tech degree will continue to be an asset in my professional career.