Celebrating the graduates of Spring 2020: Taleana Huff

PhD graduate Taleana Huff reflects on her time at UAlberta, including outstanding research and a heartwarming story about ribs.

News Staff - 4 June 2020

As June 12 approaches, and the University of Alberta prepares to celebrate its graduating class with its first-ever online convocation, it isn’t only the achievements of undergraduate students that we’ll be celebrating. Taleana Huff, graduating with the PhD from the Department of Physics, is just one of the graduate students that will be celebrating the culmination of years of study and research.

Huff joined the Faculty of Science at Alumni Weekend 2019 as a guest speaker on the future of smaller, faster, more energy-efficient electronics Join us in meeting her as she looks back on her time studying at UAlberta, and reflects on joining the research community on campus.

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

Two reasons. First was family. I was raised in North Dakota, but my mom and dad were originally from Edmonton. Coming here meant I had an immediate support network of extended family in the area. Second, and this was probably the more prominent reason if I am being honest, the student salary. Compared to other grad programs I was considering, UAlberta was a step above in taking care of its graduate students with a liveable wage. Not having to worry about funding meant I could focus more on being my best for studies and research.

Tell us about your experience in the Faculty of Science.

One word: amazing! The Faculty of Science is a huge advocate of its students and has gone above and beyond for me. They have done highlight articles on my research, arranged having me as an invited speaker for Alumni weekend, featured me in the alumni magazine New Trail, and even sent me warm personal emails congratulating me on a successful PhD defence. It really made me feel like I was part of the Faculty of Science family. You are all the best, but I would like to take a second to give personal shout-outs to Dawn Graves, Connie Duniece, Jennifer Pascoe, and our new awesome dean Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell.

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

Definitely the night I got the result that ended up laying the foundation for my thesis—binary information storage in a quantum dot pair. I was working super late, it was probably around 11 p.m, and I was starving. I didn’t want to leave because the experiment was working, but I hadn’t eaten since lunch. I was emailing my exciting results to my advisor Robert Wolkow, professor in the Department of Physics, as they were developing and mentioned how hungry I was. Robert and his wife Danica packed me a delicious rib dinner and Bob brought it over so I didn’t starve to death. Ribs and results!

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

For current students, find a hobby that is not related to your major at all and make time for it, even when you are super busy with academics. I know this sounds impossible with the schedules we often have but having something outside of academics made me a more productive researcher and kept me sane during crunch times. For future students, the single most important decision you will make with the most long-reaching impact on your graduate journey is choosing a good advisor. A good advisor is invaluable and certainly enhanced my experience.

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

Doing COVID research, surprisingly! Right before COVID started I was incredibly fortunate to get hired as a nanotechnology researcher through the National Research Council of Canada. I was to work with my former grad advisor Robert Wolkow as part of this and was originally tasked with continuing development of my graduate work on power-efficient atomic electronics. COVID threw a wrench into the works unfortunately, but Bob was able to quickly form a partnership with a biophysics research group on campus for COVID research, offering our high-resolution machines to assist them in imaging key parts of bio-entities. It has been a challenging new area of research for me but hopefully will have fruitful dividends.

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?

Hopefully with a bottle of good scotch, some BBQ meat, and the company of my boyfriend.

What's next after graduation?

Being a scientist is what I had dreamed about ever since I was little. I am so excited to finally be living that dream as a bona fide nanoscience researcher for the National Research Council of Canada. While I am sure it will continue to be challenging and push my boundaries, I am also excited to see how my research will develop over the years and what contributions I can make to our collective knowledge.