Bec Gray

'My goal is to have a career full of new challenges and constant learning...'

  • Bec Gray

Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Mechanical Engineering

PhD Student, Princeton University, New Jersey, USA

Bec is thoroughly excited about her studies at Princeton University thanks to receiving a Graduate Fulbright Scholarship for Science and Innovation.

‘My goal is to have a career full of new challenges and constant learning. This is why I am doing a PhD, to teach me how to research and how to continue applying what I learn to new projects.’

She is studying within the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department for her PhD as an extension of her studies at UC in Mechanical Engineering.

‘I specialise in Control Engineering and Dynamic Modelling, which I think is fascinating because it can be applied to areas outside of engineering, such as studying the human body and natural phenomenon,’ she says.

Using honeybees as inspiration, Bec is investigating a new decision-making model inspired by honeybees and how they choose a new hive site. Once a honeybee nest reaches full capacity, around half of the colony splits off and departs to form a new colony, using scouting bees to find a new hive site.

‘They have a very sophisticated method of choosing a new nest, and it’s been shown experimentally that they very reliably choose the best option from the alternatives presented to them, and can also handle a deadlock between two equal alternatives.

‘In an engineering setting, it can often be cheaper or more efficient to use a group of simpler agents, rather than one complex one, so the aim of our model is to leverage behaviours seen in honeybees for application in engineered systems, which gives the same robust decision-making. Our model is agent-based meaning it’s easy to apply to real life systems, and allows us to consider heterogeneity within agents.’

To support her studies, Bec also received the J R Templin Travelling Scholarship (administered by the New Zealand Guardian Trust Co. Ltd) to cover travelling costs and the First Year Fellowship in Natural Sciences and Engineering from Princeton University.

Finding her PhD at Princeton more theory-focused than UC’s practical approach was at first a big adjustment, especially in advanced mathematics; but working alongside her lecturers throughout her final year of study at UC was a great preparation in deciding on her area of specialisation.

‘I did an independent study with Prof. Paul Docherty in my last year, which was my first taste of approaching studies in biology with an engineering perspective, and that ended up being the thing I’m most interested in, so I’m really glad that I did that!

‘What is very different is how old it is! Princeton was established in 1746, so nearly 100 years before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, and I joke to people that my university is older than my country.’

Choosing to first study Engineering at UC was an easy choice for Bec.

‘I chose Canterbury because of the two main engineering schools in New Zealand Canterbury had the better university lifestyle. I like that the campus had its own suburb and student area. I also wanted to move away from home to somewhere different.’

Bec found the social aspect of her courses her favourite part of UC, advising potential students to ‘see your classmates as your peers rather than your competition’.

‘I think we worked together really well and had a good sense of humour,’ she says, ‘so although an engineering degree is a lot of work and hours it was fun because you were with your friends the whole time.’

Bec absolutely recommends students take the opportunity to study overseas if given the chance.

‘Anyone who is considering studying in the US should definitely apply! I don’t think people in New Zealand realise how accessible the US education system is to us.

‘My lecturers were invaluable in helping me getting accepted into Princeton. They gave me advice and encouragement throughout the entire process. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to apply if it wasn’t for them.’

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