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‘Model student’

PhD spring graduate excels in academia and in industry

The Gazette’s latest special feature celebrates Memorial’s newest alumni.

By Jackey Locke

A global pandemic didn’t deter Dr. Zijun Gong in his pursuit of a doctoral degree.

He remembers when he arrived at Memorial in 2015 to begin his PhD in computer engineering on positioning and communication techniques in networks. He completed the requirements of his doctorate this spring.

“I came to Memorial mainly because of Dr. (Cheng) Li,” said Dr. Gong, who is from Jinzhong, in China’s Shanxi province.

“In 2013 Dr. Li gave a presentation at Harbin Institute of Technology, where I obtained my master’s degree. I was really inspired by his presentation, so I applied for his PhD.”

Effective and efficient

Thankfully, COVID-19 didn’t negatively impact his journey to his degree.

It wasn’t the same for some of his friends, a number of whom whose work came to a halt when they could not access their experiments due to public health restrictions.

“Fortunately, for me, my research is mostly based on computer simulations, which means it’s not a big problem for me to work from home. The only thing missing is the academic atmosphere of the lab, and I hope that we will be allowed to come back to the campus soon.”

Dr. Gong says he received the support and guidance he needed from his supervisor, Dr. Cheng Li, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

From left are Drs. Zijun Gong and Cheng Li.
From left are Drs. Zijun Gong and Cheng Li.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

They met weekly to discuss research problems; Dr. Gong says Dr. Li was always available to hear his ideas. He also says he was “tough.”

“I learned to adjust and to prepare carefully for each meeting by reviewing the material thoroughly. Those meetings also taught me how to effectively and efficiently present my ideas and thoughts, which is a very important quality for researchers.”

For his part, Dr. Li says he was impressed with Dr. Gong’s performance.

“Zijun was a model student, and I am so proud to have had him as a student,” he said. “He is humble, creative, serious and strict for high-quality work. He is bright, proactive and highly motivated. He is also an outstanding team player with an excellent personality and very thoughtful of others.”

“I hope I can find a job in Canadian universities, but I am also scanning internationally.” — Dr. Zijun Gong

Dr. Gong also taught courses during his program. Over the past two years, he taught Advanced Digital Systems and Wireless and Mobile Communications. He says he aimed to make the material interesting for students by using practical examples from everyday life.

“For example, in Wireless and Mobile Communications, one of the assignments I give is to simulate the communications between cellphones and base stations,” he explained. “In these examples, students can clearly see how different components work together for correct data transmission.”

Making an impact

This past January, Dr. Gong was awarded the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship, which will support his research for two years.

“I already applied for the position at the University of Waterloo, under the supervision of Dr. Sherman Shen,” he said. “If everything goes well, I will join Dr. Shen’s group in June 2021. Meanwhile, I am looking for jobs in academia. I hope I can find a job in Canadian universities, but I am also scanning internationally.”

In 2017 Dr. Gong worked with St. John’s-based PowerHV as an intern through a Mitacs project.

Under the supervision of Sizwe Dhlamini, the company’s CEO, Dr. Gong designed and implemented a monitoring system for high-voltage transformer bushings, including hardware and software. He has since been promoted to shareholder and chief technology officer.

“While I am one of the owners of the company, my major focus right now is my research,” said Dr. Gong. “The competition in academia is quite fierce in Canadian universities, and I need to devote all my time and effort to that. The post-doc position at the University of Waterloo is only for two years, so I hope I can improve my academic record and find a permanent teaching job during that period.”

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