Ann Marie Sastry
There is a saying, "those
who can, do; those who can't teach." My belief is that those who can, do.
Those who care, teach. And also do. Before becoming an assistant professor (I
have been an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics
at the University of Michigan for 4-1/2 years) I worked in industry and at Sandia
National Laboratories. While teaching is an element of every profession, the University
is the place where research and teaching are most closely tied, and I enjoy this
Engineering research really combines the personal with the professional: it allows a researcher to ask the question "what technology should exist," and then set about making it exist. My own research at the University of Michigan involves modeling and experimentation on statistically disordered microstructures, and then using the experiments, computer tools and analytical solutions to design better materials. It also means, in biological materials, being able to show why nature selects certain materials for certain functions, and then determine how function can be restored or improved. My students and I do research on many kinds of materials which share the characteristics of being heterogeneous (made of two or more materials) and stochastic (not constructed according to a specific pattern, but rather according to a set of statistically-described distributions of characteristics). We've studied materials ranging from battery substrates (in Ni/MH batteries for electric vehicles, and Li-ion batteries for electronic goods and cars) to polymeric composites, to nerve tissue, to sea urchin eggs. It has been rewarding to work on problems which I feel can positively impact society, though cleaner cars, lighter, more efficient structural materials, and improved clinical understanding of disease.
I always loved being around the University. My parents, as educators themselves (Dad was a math professor, and Mom was a teacher, in addition to other jobs), were my greatest influence and always encouraged me. I chose Mechanical Engineering simply because as a freshman at the University of Delaware, I had not decided what to do for a career, and ME seemed as interesting a major as any other! After becoming involved in undergraduate research that I was hooked. And it was clear that to direct my own efforts scientifically, I would need to get a Ph.D. My husband, Prof. Christian Lastoskie (Chemical Engineering, Michigan State University) and I went to graduate school at the same time at Cornell. My husband has always been a great source of support and inspiration to me. And, we enjoy the faculty life together tremendously-which we now share with our daughter, Katherine Rose, 2 years old (who is the joy of our lives).
Katie now also inspires me in my job as a faculty member - and I now see some things coming full circle, through my little girl (now I at least understand my own parents' confidence that my potential was unlimited!) and my students (whom I constantly tell never to assume that something cannot be done). My goals are to build my research program to the point at which we are influencing the way that other people think about microstructure, in addition to solving good technical problems. And, of course, to educate a few generations of students, and stick around long enough to see them achieve their goals.
My best advice - ask questions. You will be probably be surprised just how much even very busy people will make time to talk with you about how they have achieved their goals. Assume in all things that you really want to do, that you can - and then figure out how to assemble the resources, and then plow ahead. You won't succeed every time, but you'll miss most of the interesting problems if you only work on the ones which you know have solutions.