uc davis materials science engineering alumni feature

Alumni Spotlight: Lauren Hughes

Lauren Hughes graduated in 2018 with a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering. During her time at UC Davis, Lauren received a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for her graduate-level research work with electron microscopy. Below, Lauren reflects on her time in the Materials Science and Engineering graduate program and where she is headed next.

Department of Materials Science and Engineering: What was your favorite thing about Davis?

Lauren Hughes: Coming from Oakland, I took some time to adjust to Davis. However, after five years, I’m having a hard time leaving. I loved the sheer volume of interconnecting parks, biking home at night (or at dawn...graduate student lab schedule), having a large garden, the farmer’s market and the old trees that line the streets. There is also something peaceful about staring into an open field and seeing nothing but sky.

MSE: Why did you choose to attend UC Davis?

Lauren: I chose to attend UC Davis for three reasons. First, I was interested in electron microscopy programs. Second, talking with Professor Klaus van Benthem about his group’s work in electron microscopy during the graduate student open house. It really caught my attention and he later became my faculty advisor. Third, I’m from the Bay Area and did not want to leave Northern California.

MSE: What was your most memorable moment or experience at UC Davis?

Lauren: Scientifically, my most memorable experience was turning solid tungsten blocks into an exploded metal foam in the furnace due to a misreading the material safety data sheet. My advisor has never laughed so hard at a lab mistake. Personally, my most memorable experience was celebrating July 4th in the park with friends.

MSE: What advice do you have for incoming graduate students?


  1. Everyone feels stupid and flounders at some point in graduate school, especially during the first year. You are not alone when you feel like the class dunce!
  2. You are going to assume everything is harder than it actually is—that homework problem usually has a very simple and basic answer.
  3. You still need to study ALL the background information for the preliminary and qualifying exam.
  4. Your work will come in spurts. Take a break when there is down time because the next month will be 60-plus-hour weeks.
  5. A storyline is important for any piece of writing. Create a story for your fellowship applications, your presentations and your papers. A story is not just for the creative arts—everyone appreciates and better understands knowledge generated with a clear storyline.
  6. Your last six months will be draining and exhausting, but the moment you graduate, the feeling of relief and accomplishment will be un-paralleled and immediate.
  7. Take a real, long vacation before you start your next job.

MSE: What are your post-graduation plans?

Lauren: I accepted a postdoctoral research position at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the National Center of Electron Microscopy. The next two years will be focused on using 4D scanning transmission electron microscopy to map solid-state battery materials.

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