Engineering graduate's positive attitude has helped her excel
Xiaoyu Dong loves a challenge.
The newly minted Dr. Dong arrived at Memorial in 2016 to begin a master of engineering (M.Eng.) degree, but in four short years she has completed not only her M.Eng. degree, but a PhD as well.
“It was exciting being promoted to a PhD,” she said. “I worked in Dr. Hodjat Shiri’s lab for one year and had planned to apply for a PhD program after I completed my M.Eng. The promotion helped me to jump over these steps and enabled me to spend all of my time on research.”
Dr. Dong is from Shandong, East China, and holds a bachelor’s degree in oil and gas storage and transportation engineering with a focus on pipelines from China University of Petroleum (East China).
She says she has learned “a thing or two” in academia, but what has resonated most on her journey to graduation are the possibilities that become available when you embrace change and have a positive attitude.
“I grew up with a supportive and loving family,” said Dr. Dong. “I am an only child and when I chose to travel to a foreign country on the other side of the world to chase my dreams, my parents transferred all their worries and concerns to positive emotional supports to help me.”
Dr. Dong became aware of Memorial University while she was completing her undergraduate degree,.
“I heard that Memorial was powerful in engineering and had a wide range of research projects in offshore and marine topics,” she said. “I was excited to learn about Dr. Shiri and his expertise in offshore geotechnics.”
She enrolled in Memorial’s master of engineering program to extend her knowledge from structures to complex fluid-soil-structure interaction.
Switching her research field was challenging, but Dr. Dong found it to be motivational and enjoyable and she thrived in her first year at Memorial.
She published three prestigious journal papers in her first year, and, while most of that first year was spent in the library – writing codes, reading books, running models and writing manuscripts – Dr. Dong found a silver lining.
“I enjoyed the atmosphere in the library,” she said. “Everyone there works so hard and is full of enthusiasm. The books standing on the shelves felt like friends keeping me company.”
Adjusting to her new school and research was easier than adjusting to life in St. John’s. While Dr. Dong enjoyed the snow when she first arrived, by the second winter she was struggling.
“I felt troubled by the snow buried up to my waist and I felt like I couldn’t move,” she said.
Instead of letting it overwhelm her, she took up snowboarding, and as her love of the sport grew, her anxiety about the snow dissipated.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of cutting soft snow with the edge of my snowboard and speeding up on the hill slope with my hair blowing in the wind,” she said.
Dr. Dong says she could not have done this without the support of her parents.
“Staying connected to my family has been such a huge support for me,” she said. “Mom and I created a book club and we spent a lot of time chatting about my dad’s garden over pictures they shared with me.”
On March 30, 2020, Dr. Dong successfully defended her thesis, “Numerical modelling of pipeline and riser seabed interaction.”
“The subsea environment is complex, and risks are challenging the operation or serviceability life of subsea pipelines and risers,” she explained. “Subsea risers and pipeline-seabed interaction have been proven to have significant effect on performance.”
“Two challenging topics in pipeline and riser seabed interaction I explored as part of my thesis are the effect of riser-seabed interaction on fatigue life in touchdown zone and the effect of trenching/backfilling on lateral response of buried pipelines.”
Dr. Shiri was so impressed by Dr. Dong’s performance as a student he offered her a three-year post-doctoral position on his research team.
“Dr. Dong was an outstanding student,” said Dr. Shiri. “Publishing three journal papers in the first year of a M.Eng. program is a unique achievement in this challenging area of engineering that needs a range of expertise from offshore geotechnics and structures to naval architecture and fluid dynamics. While completing her PhD and M.Eng. programs simultaneously, she published nine additional journal and conference papers. She will be a huge asset to our team.”
“Dr. Dong is a passionate and condition-less supporter to her teammates and other students. Her personality is contagious. She is very nice, always smiling, very polite, and always on time, motivating and helping others by all means.”
Dr. Dong is excited about the opportunity.
“It is now time to transit from a research-only PhD to a research-teach combination as a post-doc fellow,” she said. “I am currently involved in national and international collaborative projects led by Dr. Shiri and I am looking forward to expanding my research skills and gaining experience in teaching and supervising students.”
“As for my research work, I will have a chance to expand upon my main research topic and explore related fields to extend my expertise. Hopefully, this position will enable me to extend my professional skills and obtain more academic expertise to well prepare myself for both researching and teaching.”