Office Hours: Benjamin Osoba
Benjamin Osoba @phdirac
Electrical Engineering Ph.D. Student at University of California, Berkeley
What inspired you to attend graduate school?
When I was an undergraduate student at Norfolk State University, I spent a lot of time tutoring other students. My interest in teaching and academia was catalyzed through this experience. Additionally, through summer research internships at Cornell University, UC Berkeley, and the Department of Defense, I found that I also enjoyed research. Therefore, I determined that a Ph.D. program would be the best medium for improving my investigative ability while earning the credentials necessary for academia.
What was your proudest moment in grad school?
My proudest moment thus far was my Master of Science degree graduation. This is largely because attending Berkeley had long been one of my dreams, especially throughout my upperclassmen years at NSU. It meant a lot to finally be considered an alumnus. Additionally, my mother and the rest of my family were able to attend the commencement ceremony. It felt incredible to see how proud my family was. Aside from my academics, I produce and engineer music; I released a beat tape on graduation day to commerorate the occasion in my own special way.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint” is probably the best piece of advice I have been given regarding graduate school (especially for the Ph.D.). It’s easy to get discouraged in such a long-term and rigorous program, so it’s important to understand how to pace yourself throughout.
If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?
I would describe my Black grad experience with “Face the World” by Nipsey Hussle. In this song, he describes a number of struggles that he has experienced or observed. In each case, the challenge is shown to be surmountable through determination and faith. I have found that sentiment to be appropriate for describing my experience at Berkeley thus far. Additionally, the song ends with the lyrics, “Regardless of what you’re into; regardless of what you’ve been through; I feel like I gotta tell you [that] you got something to contribute.”
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
I mainly struggle with balancing different responsibilities. Since my second year at Berkeley, I have served in a leadership role in the Black Graduate Engineering and Science Students (BGESS). I also was assigned a management role in my adviser’s lab space. Such responsibilities, in addition to coursework, research, and mentoring, have been challenging to maintain effectively. In order to resolve this, I now try to stay very intention with what responsibilities I accept or decline. A Ph.D. program is difficult enough, so I keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with saying “No.”
If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself?
I would just remind myself that I deserve to be here, since “Imposter Syndrome” is an issue that I (and many other doctoral students) struggle with periodically.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
Because of our lack of representation at Berkeley (Black students make up roughly 2-3% of the total student population), my fellow Black classmates and I have worked to cultivate the Black experience. This has led to my aforementioned involvement with BGESS, as well as my collaborative activity with other diversity student groups. In doing so, I have had opportunities to learn more about the challenges for increasing diversity and the approaches to solving such issues.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
My current goal is to become a professor of electrical engineering at a research institution. In doing so, I can help solve the issue of lack of diversity in academia while also leveraging my expertise to help the next generation of engineers. Additionally, I would like to stay active within the music community. I look up to scholars such as Dr. Christopher Emdin, J. Rawls and 9th Wonder, who have found ways to incorporate or emphasize the intersections of hip-hop within academia.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
I would recommend exploring many different fields of research during undergraduate school. I began at NSU as a music education major, then switched to electrical engineering. Even further, I conducted research in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), materials science, semiconductor device simulation, and more. Throughout all of these explorative experiences, I learned what facets of research interested me (and conversely, which ones didn’t). I feel that surveying the various options available in a field of study helps to improve perspective.
Feel free to reach out to Benjamin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on social media: @phdirac