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Alumni Spotlight: Yildiz Bayazitoglu

Yildiz Bayazitoglu

Yildiz Bayazitoglu, M.S. and Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, Barbour Scholar, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Rice University

Rackham alum Yildiz Bayazitoglu has been shaping graduate students in mechanical engineering at Rice University for four decades. Her distinguished research and exceptional teaching and mentoring are hallmarks of her illustrious career, one that showcases the exceptional faculty that help comprise U-M alumni.

Dr. Bayazitoglu has made significant contributions to radiation and convective heat transfer, phase-change heat transfer, thermophysical property determination, and solar collector design and analysis. A frequent keynote speaker, she has numerous patents in her name and is the author of more than 200 publications. She is an honorary member of the Turkish Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Some of the many honors and awards she’s received include the Society of Women Engineers Distinguished Educator Award and 2012 Achievement Award, American Society of Mechanical Engineers Heat Transfer Memorial Award and Heat Transfer Division 75th Anniversary Medal, Rice University Brown Superior Teaching Award, the Hershel M. Rich Outstanding Invention Award, Graduate Student Association Teaching/Mentoring Award, Rice University Chance Teaching Prize, Rice University Faculty Impact Award and Rice University Presidential Mentoring Award. She was also the recipient of University of Michigan Mechanical Engineering 2013 Alumni Merit Award.

All of this to say, she is fantastic at what she does and at sharing it with grad students. Yildiz shared with us her own experience as a graduate student at U-M and how her graduate education at U-M influenced her career.

Yildiz and her husband came to U-M for their graduate degrees from their homeland in Turkey. Here at U-M, Yildiz spent two years as a Barbour Scholar. She remembers some of the regular gatherings: “I remember about ten of us coming together every semester. With some, I made friends and we would see each other whenever we had time. There was a big event and we – as international students – would bring dishes from our countries and come together and have dinner. I remember a gathering in a professor’s house when we dressed up in clothing from our native country and performed small dances or shows from our culture.”

Yildiz recalls her years in Ann Arbor with fondness. “I liked it very much. Certainly the academic life, but I also enjoyed the city and the beautiful parks. Ann Arbor is a very impressive small town.” Overall, she feels her experience as an international graduate student was really great. “There were international activities we enjoyed, and faculty members would invite us to their homes for holidays to experience American life. They were very interested in our well-being, and community members were also. When we first moved to Michigan, we lived in a small bedroom of a house and I was the same age as one of the homeowner’s daughters. She took me in as one of her daughters and we lived with her for a semester before moving to our own apartment.

Their first son was born after two years at U-M. “It was a wonderful motherhood experience.” She shares that being a young mother and graduate student at that time wasn’t easy. “Unless you have a very supportive husband, I wouldn’t have recommended women to have kids then.” She did appreciate that being a graduate student gave her flexibility in the daytime, in comparison to the experience of working mothers in traditional jobs.

They returned to Turkey for two years, where Yildiz worked as assistant professor at the Middle East Technical University before settling in Texas. There, she was a visiting assistant professor at the University of Houston before accepting a faculty position at Rice University in 1977. Since 1996 she has been the Harry S. Cameron Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

As a faculty member for forty years, Dr. Bayazitoglu has seen a number of changes in graduate education over the decades. She notes, “Graduate students have more challenges now. The biggest challenge is to be able to get the time and concentration that graduate school and their research needs. It is significant to commit to a specific research area and accomplish something in that small area – that is something graduate students should be fighting for. And that isn’t easy with so many good things happening around them.”

Her advice for current students is to choose the right advisor. “For graduate students, the most important thing is your advisor. After that, get to know the people around you. Before you choose your advisor talk to other students, call alumni, study the records of professors and their students, and interview them. That’s exactly the thing you want to do to select the right advisor. You will be working with that person for many years. Ask a lot of questions before making your choice.

She also emphasizes the importance of exploring other disciplines. “Take new courses, not only the technical courses you are required to take. Explore music or theater or whatever interests you, if you have the time. Don’t confine yourself to courses in your research field, think about long life hobbies, especially if you haven’t had them in your undergraduate studies.” Her third piece of advice stems from her own experience: “If you don’t have a small baby, travel.”

Now, she makes up for the travel experience she missed as a graduate student and young mother at U-M. Yildiz says, “We travel as much as we can. I’m making up for lost time!” She also spends as much time as she can with her three children and their families, cooking family meals and retreating to their lake house for family events and holidays together.

Her graduate experience at U-M shaped her career in that the reputation of the University of Michigan most likely helped her find a university job. Yildiz says, “From that point of view, it is very important to go to a very reputable university. That’s the first thing people will see. That and who your advisor is. Afterwards, what you do individually is what matters. From then on, you shape your career or success.”

And indeed, Yildiz has shown just how very successful you can be.