ASSD - Meet an ASSD Member

Advancing the Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing

Amy Walker

Amy_Walker_Photo_ASSD-(1).jpgI am an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas. The ultimate goal of my group’s research is the development of simple, robust materials for constructing complex two- and three-dimensional surfaces by manipulating interfacial chemistry. These structures have applications in organic electronics, sensing, catalysis, photovoltaics and optoelectronics. Our current efforts focus on the formation and patterning of molecular thin films (self-assembled monolayers, SAMs) and the reactions of patterned films with metals, semiconductors and biomolecules, as well as the development of analytical techniques for probing the structures produced. My group employs surface science techniques, in particular time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF SIMS) and reflection absorption infrared spectroscopy (RAIRS) and calculations of molecular structure (density functional theory, DFT) in this work.
However, rather than tell you about my group’s research I thought I’d tell you about all the activities that a professor gets up to (and your graduate advisor never told you!). A professor’s job has three components to it which are often called research, teaching and service. At a research university (like mine) a professor runs a research group. This involves mentoring graduate and undergraduate students as well as post docs, raising the grant/contract money to run the group (we have to pay your stipends!), direct the research, write papers, etc. Each semester I teach one 3 credit hour class, which includes preparing the curriculum, writing the classes, setting homework and exams, and at the end of the semester evaluating the class. However, teaching also involves one-on-one teaching in the lab (informally), developing new curricula and/or classes, and a variety of other activities. Service is perhaps the least well-known part of being a faculty member. A university and its department are run by a large number of faculty committees. For example in my department, I’m part of the graduate admissions and recruitment committee, the curriculum oversight committee and graduate qualifying exam committee. At a university level I’m involved in the selecting and mentoring scholars for the McDermott scholarship program (a prestigious scholarship at University of Texas at Dallas), on a graduate scholarship committee, and a peer mentor to a junior faculty member. I’m also active in professional societies, in particular the AVS, and this year I’m the chair of this division (please email me if you have comments or concerns or you’d like to get involved!).
Just to give you an idea of what my week can be like, here’s my diary for last week:
Monday: My graduate students in “MSEN5360: Materials Characterization” have an exam tomorrow so I spent the morning working with students who have questions about the material. I also had to finish making the exam key and review a paper for Analytical Chemistry. Refereeing of papers is an important task as it’s important to give constructive feedback.
Tuesday: 8.30 am: It’s exam time(!) Thankfully only two students were late – Dallas traffic can be appalling in the morning. After the exam, I started grading and graded through lunch. At 2pm I went a joint group meeting with my collaborator, Manuel Quevedo, and his students. Straight afterwards I went to the investiture of several colleagues as Chaired Professors (the highest honors the University gives). It’s nice to see them being honored but it got kind of long as 19 professors were honored. Straight after that it was off to my group meeting where one of my undergraduates presented her work for the first time.
Wednesday: Off to St. Louis for the day to chair the PhD Defense of my student, Jen Dertinger. I was an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis before I moved to the University of Texas at Dallas, and several students remained as PhD students at Washington University in St. Louis. It was very odd to be back. After Jen’s successful defense, it was back off to the airport to return to Dallas.
Thursday: Taught “Materials Characterization” today – returned the graded mid-term exams and started the discussion of optical and electron microscopy. After class, I went to the Departmental Colloquium given by Prof. Weidong Zhou from University of Texas at Arlington. From about noon to 2pm I also met individually with the students in my group, so we could discuss their research that they’d been doing. Afterwards I met with the colloquium speaker. Then I got in the car and was back off to the airport to fly to San Antonio.
Friday: Went to a day-long meeting with colleagues from University of Texas campuses at Dallas, San Antonio, Arlington, Brownsville, Pan American, Permian Basin and Tyler, and Texas Southern University. The purpose of this meeting was to plan strategies for recruiting and retaining students from under-represented groups to MS and PhD programs, and then preparing them for academic careers. 
I hope that I have shown you that a professor’s job can be very varied – it really is what you make it! I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have – there’s so many different types of “faculty careers”.

Best Wishes,

Amy Walker
Department of Materials Science and Engineering,
University of Texas at Dallas,

Ph: 972 883 5780