Experienced numerous failures

Assistant Professor in Seoul National University

What do you think are the strengths of UNIST Chemistry?
The biggest strength of UNIST Chemistry is the 29 professors. Each professor has a unique major, which means you can take classes in various fields of chemistry. Thanks to the special strength of UNIST chemistry department, throughout my degree, I was able to learn various chemistry fields, from basic chemistry to the latest applied chemistry fields such as solar cells, rechargeable batteries, and nanomaterial chemistry. Collaborative research projects between professors are also very active, which is a great advantage to student researchers having a chance to expand their research field.

What was the most difficult part during your degree and how did you overcome?
The most difficult thing during my degree was accepting failure. The first paper in which I participated as a first author came out in September of my 5th year of graduate school. During that time, I experienced numerous failures in experiments, and I only blamed myself, not knowing how to handle those failures. Watching me fail for a long time, one day, my PI said “If you have learned anything from that failure, it is no longer a failure.”. After that I changed the definition of ‘failure’ to: “If I have failed differently than before, it is not a failure. Instead, I simply learned new experimental factors to consider in future experiments.”. Of course, I tried not to repeat the same failure. While I was an undergraduate research student and a graduate student, I wrote 17 research notes and about 1,700 pages. By knowing and avoiding 1700 failure factors, I succeeded more often than failed in experiments, and I was able to overcome difficult times.

What do you currently do after graduation?
I am an assistant professor in the department of chemistry education at Seoul National University. This is my 2nd year at SNU. The 1st year was very busy. This year, since it is the second repetition of the lecture, I expected it to get better than 1st year. However, considering the long time to prepare for lecture and tension before lecture, it seems that there is a long way to go to get used to as a professor.

What is the most rewarding and happiest moment in your career?
In class, I feel rewarded when students listen to my lectures and show understanding gestures. I want students to feel the fun of chemistry that I had felt while taking classes at UNIST. I’m not used to giving lectures to someone because I’ve only researched for a long time. Before giving a lecture, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to deliver the content. It is rewarding to see the students nodding their heads as they listen to the lectures that I prepared after such a lot of hard work. A happy moment for me as a researcher is when the research idea works as I expected. When the experiments work as I expected, I feel happy because I have come a little closer to the knowledge of nature that I did not know.

Do you have any long-term goal or dream?
I’ve always wanted to do ‘meaningful research’, and this has now become my goal. My own standard of meaningful research is that even a single line of research remains in a textbook that someone will learn 100 years from now. Now I am making various attempts to find my own research field, and I do not know where the end of that journey is. Starting from the knowledge I have learned so far, I am now expanding my research area to find the meaningful research. Currently, I am interested in separation based on porous materials. Someone in the future, not me, will know where my research destination was and whether my dream came true. Today, I just do my best to make my dream come true.

As a UNIST graduate, what advice would you give to students?
Fail a lot and learn. You don’t have to be successful, you don’t have to get great results. Try a lot, fail as much as you can, and just learn from it. UNIST is more tolerant of your failures than anywhere else. If you have a dream in research, I am sure that UNIST is the finest place that provides the most wonderful environment. Under the umbrella of UNIST, I want you to fail and learn as much as you can, strengthen your skills, and go out into the world to make your dream come true.

alumni interview
Assistant Professor in Seoul National University
Senior Researcher in Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute