Celebrating the graduates of Spring 2020: Roshan Achal

Roshal Achal graduates with a PhD from the Department of Physics, specializing in low-power, atom-sized electronics.

News Staff - 6 June 2020

As the University of Alberta celebrates its first virtual convocation on June 12, we’re taking the opportunity to meet some of the amazing graduates of the class of Spring 2020.

Meet Roshan Achal, graduating with a PhD from the Department of Physics, who joined the Faculty of Science as a guest speaker at Alumni Weekend 2019. Achal’s work focuses on low-power, atomic-scale electronics and data storage techniques, and he reflects on his academics and memories at UAlberta.

What led you to pick the University of Alberta for your studies?

Having had the opportunity to explore many different options for graduate school, I quickly realized that the University of Alberta had some of the best laboratory facilities in the world for what I wanted to research. I was also interested in technology commercialization, and there was an excellent entrepreneurial atmosphere on campus. Coming from Calgary, I did not have to travel very far to find a great supervisor and a unique hybrid program that combined both interests, all while still being close enough to visit family. Another important consideration that I feel is not discussed often enough was that graduate students were paid a very livable salary compared to many other institutions.

Tell us about your experience in the Faculty of Science.

My experience in the Faculty of Science has been very positive. The people and staff of the Faculty have made it a great place to be. The Department of Physics administrative staff were wonderful and helped me navigate mazes of university forms. I was also very fortunate to have had the chance to work with the Dean and the Faculty of Science office on several occasions. I am really grateful for my interactions with all of them, and for the opportunities they gave me (like answering these questions!). Without their help and enthusiasm, my PhD work would have never reached such a wide audience. I was also able to learn a lot from many of the professors in the faculty, who were generally very approachable and helpful when I was trying to tackle tough problems.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at UAlberta?

One of my favourite memories would probably be the night that I created the densest solid-state memory in the world and then stored a portion of the Super Mario theme in it. I was so excited, but there was no one around I could tell since it was about 4 a.m. It was one of those rare moments of creating something new that makes science so exciting. It led to a lot of great memories afterwards too, because when the news finally broke, the media took some interest in it. It gave my family an opportunity to see and understand what I had been working on in a fun way, because while they have always been very supportive of my pursuit of education, they weren’t always sure what I was actually doing.

What advice do you have for current and future students at the Faculty of Science?

My advice for current students would be to have fun and diversify your program as much as possible. There are so many different opportunities on and around campus that are worth pursuing. Science is great, but it doesn’t have to be your whole life. During my program, for example, I found that I really enjoy speaking to the public, I was able to learn practical business skills, and I had the chance to try a lot of different—sometimes strange—recreational sports.

My advice for future students would be that the most important thing about graduate school is finding the right supervisor who matches your style and expectations of a program. It’s okay to look around and get to know a professor before committing. It’s definitely better to have a good supervisor and an okay project than a great project and a bad supervisor.

How have you spent your time during COVID-19 distancing?

The distancing has given me a chance to do a lot more science outreach. It’s a little cheesy, but the COVID-19 situation really highlighted to me that there is a lack of communication and understanding between scientists and the public. I discovered how much I like presenting during my program, and I wanted to do my small part to help make scientific topics more accessible. I started using Twitter of all things, and I’ve had a lot of fun making a few short “science at home” videos for the public. It has also been a good way to keep in touch and collaborate with scientists around the world during the increased distance.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

That depends on the physical distancing regulations! I’d love to be able to go celebrate with my family and friends. Especially with my grandparents, because they were disappointed that the in-person convocation had to be canceled for the first time in over a century. Otherwise, I’ll probably have a nice meal at home, a few drinks, and really try to let it sink in that I officially have a PhD and am (probably) done school forever!

What's next after graduation?

I was a little more certain of my answer before all of the changes caused by COVID-19, but catching up on sleep is near the top of the list for sure! I was also able to line up a position that allows me to continue my research into atomic-scale electronics in a more industrial role. I have always thought it would be great if Alberta became one of the top nanotechnology centers of the world, so I am excited to be able to work towards that goal as well.