Finding a School/Life Balance

By Ariana Chae '15

At Olin, we often spend our days running from one meeting to
another, trying to do everything at once. Yet after talking to '07's Sara
Wheeland, nee Marshall, I'm beginning to have a new perspective on what it
means to be truly busy. Sara graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree
from Olin, then went to graduate school at UC San Diego. The title of her
dissertation was, "Metamaterial Composites with Tunable Electromagnetic

The really exciting part? Sara managed to go to graduate
school and build a family at the same
, and she rocked at them both!

Crazy Graduation Photo.jpg

Graduation Day Juggling Act

What was it like? How
did you do it?

"Being pregnant didn't affect my work too much.  By the time I became pregnant with Anja (my
first child), I had finished my coursework, although I took Mandarin classes
throughout the pregnancy.  I had also
finished working with polymer synthesis, so I didn't have to worry about
chemicals.  Luckily for me, neither
pregnancy prevented me from doing what I had been doing before.  With Anja, I was able to continue playing
tennis twice a week until I was 35 weeks along. 
With Oliver, I was able to continue walking, playing, picking up and
running after Anja until the day I gave birth.

The major challenge was trying to entertain and take care of
Anja while trying to run simulations and tests. 
I became more efficient with the little time I had.  My adviser was very understanding and
supportive.  I was moved into a single
office so that I could bring Anja with me and not disturb anyone.  This was a tremendous help.  Just having the support at work makes a huge
difference.  Toward the end of my thesis
work, Anja went to a nanny twice a week and my father-in-law looked after her
twice a week so that I could go into the lab to perform my experiments."

That is so impressive.
So, what are you up to now?

"I'm currently taking care of my two kids, Anja and Oliver.
I passed my defense on January 30 and received my degree in March.  My diploma came last month and I officially
graduated on June 15,2013.  I
have been applying to companies in San Diego, though I may start to look for
post-doc positions.  I'm not in a hurry
to find work, since I'm having fun raising my children.  This gives me some time to find some really
interesting work."

I understand you're
married to another Olin alumnus. 

"Yes, my husband Cody graduated from Olin  the same year as I did, and works at Qualcomm
here in San Diego.  He was recently promoted to Staff Engineer within the
Test Engineering group.  He works on
hardware testing and other fun tasks for the wireless power team.  Cody
currently mentors one employee and will be mentoring another starting next
week.  Outside of work, he is an amazing father, husband and best friend
who enjoys cooking, playing, and learning new code!"


Any advice for Olin students?

"Provided you have a supportive
adviser, grad school is a great time to have kids as you generally have more
freedom in your schedule than with a typical industry position.

One Word of Caution:  Having children in grad school may delay the
completion of your studies (I had originally wanted to finish last June), but
they are totally worth it!"

Swwet Kids.jpg

 Oliver and Anja

Sara's story is an inspiration: we can chase more than one
dream at a time. Whether your dream is to go to grad school, have a baby, find
an awesome job or save the world, with the right planning, motivation, and
support, you can accomplish anything!

Posted in: Alumni Speak, Graduate School, Research