ChemE Future Leader: Daniel Shi

Daniel ShiAs a teenager, Daniel Shi (ChemE 2T2 + PEY Co-op) knew he wanted to study engineering, as the thought of actualizing ideas into tangible applications intrigued him. “I’ve always been interested in biology and how we can use the physical sciences to address problems within the human body,” recalls Daniel.

He chose U of T Engineering because of its globally-recognized program, renowned Professional Experience Year (PEY) Co-op, robust programs for studying abroad, and opportunities to network with a highly diverse student population within the downtown of Canada’s largest and fastest growing city. Deciding on the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry came down to flexibility, “I liked that I have the freedom to design my education according to my career aspirations.”

Daniel recently sat down with Jennifer Hsu, ChemE’s Manager of External Relations, to reflect on his student experience, joy of landing an exceptional PEY Co-op placement despite the pandemic, and his goals for the future.

What extracurricular groups and activities do you participate in?

Prior to PEY Co-op, I was mainly involved in Skule™ clubs and various personal development activities. I served as the Webmaster of CSChE and VP Finance of Skule™ Badminton Club in second year, and I became the Chem Club Third Year Representative and Co-President of the Skule™ Badminton Club in third year. During the summers, I researched with the University of Alberta on their polymer gene therapy project (after first year) and then with ETH Zürich on their soft artificial heart project (after second year). I also worked with Professors Jennifer Farmer and Greg Evans over my second year summer to create bioengineering problem sets for integration into the ChemE curriculum through the Engineering Education Teaching Fellowship Program (E2TFP).

Why did you choose to do PEY Co-op?

The PEY Co-op program offered an attractive opportunity for me to gain real-world work experience that complements the theory I learned from my curriculum. Unlike most other 4 month co-op placements, I feel that U of T Engineering’s 12-16 month placement provides time for me to get involved in larger projects and truly integrate into a company. This allows me to not only fully sample a potential career path, but also acquire new skills that are integral to my future career.

In what industry and company are you doing your placement?

I am currently working at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), a leader in the semiconductor and microprocessor technology industry. My role as the Radeon Business & Product Management Intern resides in the business sector of their operations.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There really is no ‘typical’ day for me due to my position’s dependence on AMD’s product schedule. A few of my standard responsibilities include leading product launches on a global scale, analyzing historical trends to forecast pricing/business cases, and collaborating with product managers to manage past and future products. In terms of projects, I completed three major ones over the past four months. I coded a Python script to help my team’s market analysts determine how competitive our past products were priced. I then forecasted several business cases for how much market share a proposed product was expected to hold. I also led the press sampling for the RX 6600 XT launch. This meant that I tested and coordinated sample shipments to reviewers for benchmarking before the product was released to the general public.

What opportunities has your placement exposed you to?

One of the most significant advantages of my placement is that it requires me to connect with a variety of teams and managers. I enjoy having the opportunity to expand my professional network and become exposed to projects that involve various teams outside of business. It allows me to understand the broader product development process unlike the more technical roles that focus on one step. Just being at AMD also has its benefits, as the company has various groups for employees to join. Some examples include AMD Go Green, AMD Asians Making a Difference, and the Intern Steering Committee which includes a job rotation program. This program allows intern pairs to take turns mentoring each other on a monthly basis and learn about other teams at AMD. In addition to all the groups, the company also provides personal development opportunities, such as heavily discounted Udemy courses and regular “UAMD” sessions where experts or employees teach others in university-lecture-style tutorials.

What were your expectations before starting your placement? Is your placement meeting your expectations?

I readily accepted the offer for this position because I wanted to improve my soft skills and my competency with business/management. I knew that these skills would be highly transferable across various industries, and I felt that I was lacking more on my relational abilities than my technical competencies. I thought that this position would offer me an opportunity to improve this part of myself, in addition to diving deeper into my interests in computational technology and gaming.

What challenges have you encountered during your placement and how have you navigated them?

The largest challenge I encountered was adapting to the work environment. In school, your job is to absorb knowledge and apply it to closely-related projects and examinations that occur regularly. At AMD I need to be ready to take on new projects at a moment’s notice. They often happen abruptly, and sometimes I need to re-arrange my workflow several times a day to ensure that certain tasks get completed on the same day that I receive them. In addition, many of my smaller, urgent requests come from other teams that require specific information or modifications to the company’s internal databases. Rather than having all the knowledge myself to perform the task, I usually need to rely on my communication network and the relevant managers to fill in the blanks before I complete it. Some projects, like leading product launches, carry high expectations from every team involved—from R&D, supply chain, engineering to marketing. Not being able to release a product on time severely damages the company’s reputation and costs sales.

What have you learned from your placement that will help you during your last year in the Department and beyond?

I believe that my new soft skills and improved ability to tackle open-ended real-world problems will prepare me greatly for the remaining projects I have in fourth year. I believe that the Chemical and Biomedical Engineering capstones, however, will require much more independence from teams and involve much heavier research and smarter assumptions. This is likely where team communication and robust problem solving will come into play and become a significant factor for success. Outside of university, the real world is filled with even more questions without correct answers, and the projects are not as standard as the problems students deal with in university. PEY Co-op definitely helps me come to terms with this reality and ideate ways to cope before I start my career.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am still interested in working for the medical and biomedical engineering industry. I believe that my engineering knowledge and perspective will be useful for ideating solutions to biological problems that traditional science has not solved yet. I would like to either pursue an MD at a medical school or a Master’s/PhD in Biomedical Engineering. In all likelihood, I would still be in my respective educational programs (i.e. residency and PhD term) five years into the future. After the MD though, I would then like to join a hospital to practice medicine and lead my own research to address the technological shortcomings of the industry. If I end up in graduate school, I would then like to join the R&D division of a medical device company such as Medtronic or Sanofi to focus on technological development.

Interested in hiring a PEY Co-op student? Click the link to learn more about U of T’s PEY Co-op program.

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