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Faculty Spotlight

September 2016 - Q&A with Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Ryan Berke.
Ryan Berke

Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up in Columbia, MD (about midway between DC and Baltimore) but I’ve lived all over. I went to undergrad at the University of Maryland, grad school at The Ohio State University, and worked as a postdoc at the University of Illinois before I came here.


Q: What was your childhood dream?
A: I grew up watching Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Magic School Bus, and I always had a sense that I wanted to go into engineering and science. When I was a kid I thought that meant working for NASA. Then Mythbusters came out and I got really excited about running experiments. Hooray for good role models on TV!

Q: What led you to choose Mechanical Engineering?
A: During undergrad I started out double majored in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, and I picked Mechanical because it was the most general and I knew it had a lot of physics. Then around junior year I took my first quantum class and I decided that pure physics wasn’t for me after all. (No offense to physics majors. My sister has a PhD in Physics and I have a lot of respect for what she does.)

Q: What was the best moment of your career so far?
A: When I first moved here two years ago, I had never written a research grant proposal before but I knew it was going to be an important part of my job so I decided to spend about four months focusing on one proposal and writing it very well. It was an equipment proposal from the US Department of Energy worth about $220,000 which would massively expand the measurement capabilities of my lab, but it was also highly competitive. I had a lot of help from some very patient people, especially my colleagues in MAE and Monica Kessel from the Dean’s office. I submitted the proposal in February 2015 and regretted it almost immediately when I realized I couldn’t buy any of the instruments from its budget until I knew whether I’d gotten the grant or not. Four months after I submitted, just as I was about ready to give up, they announced the winners and I was one of them. If I could go back and do it again there are things I’d do differently now, but I won the first federal research proposal I’d ever written and I’m still very proud of that.

Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I read a lot of comic books – I have a digital subscription for Marvel’s back issues and I’ve been reading a bunch of old X-men titles. I also follow a bunch of podcasts which I listen to while hiking and gardening. I also knit and crochet. 

Favorite podcasts: Radiolab, This American Life, Serial, Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, and the Ezra Klein Show.

Favorite comic: Ex Machina, by Brian K. Vaughan. It’s about an engineer who gets the power to talk to machines, becomes the world’s first superhero, and runs for mayor of New York.


Q: What is your favorite thing about Utah State/Logan?
A: I love spending time outdoors in Cache Valley, whether it's hiking, biking, boating, or having campfires.

Q: What's your favorite TV show?
A: Currently on the air, probably Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I really liked Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock when they were still on, although Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is pretty good too.

Q: What has made the biggest impact on your career?
A: There’s a lot of truth to the saying “it’s who you know, not what you know.” I’ve known for a long time that networking was important, but a few months ago I found out just how important when I ran a job search panel discussion for our department’s PhD students and realized that every panelist had gotten their current job through either their network or their advisor’s network. I owe a lot to my old postdoc advisor, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.