BYU ECEn alum and Diao Junming recently took a huge pay cut and moved from Silicon Valley and a position at Apple to Starkville, Mississippi for a new job. He is elated, and so is his former mentor, Dr. Karl Warnick.
“He is super happy because this is not an easy job to get,” Diao said. “Sometimes you are very good, but you sometimes still need luck.”
Diao landed a tenure track assistant professorship specializing in electromagnetics at Mississippi State University earlier this year. The elusive position took four years of searching, and Diao has sacrificed a lucrative Apple paycheck, but he said it’s always been his dream to be a professor. Now he needs to decide what kind of professor he’ll be.
“Dr. Warnick is my role model. I want to be a professor like him,” Diao said. “But maybe better.”
He said he wants to do the same things Warnick did for him when he was a PhD student: give students room to grow, be open to new ideas, and show kindness to his students. He especially appreciates Warnick because he gave him the chance to study in the first place.
Before any of this began, Diao graduated from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China with two degrees and two theses to his name, but a 3.0 GPA. He said his friends usually boasted 3.9’s or 4.0’s, and he also failed to meet the minimum English language requirement. Exams weren’t his strong suit.
“But I am very good at doing research,” he said. “I think I am a unique person.”
While most professors wouldn’t have given his application a chance, Warnick did. He gave Diao a special application that enabled him to go to BYU without a passing English score and took him on as a PhD student. And that chance to study was only the beginning.
They worked on beamforming antennas for a radio telescope, which converted Diao to wireless communications. Diao said that during their time researching together, Warnick gave him “lots of room to grow up,” let him do independent research, and encouraged him even when they had disagreeing opinions.
He also said he appreciates the experience Warnick gave him. Thanks to his mentorship, Diao has a strong publication record: six publications and a first author in the top journal in his area. (A publication record carries weight in making a name in academia).
“His successful mentorship of me got me interested, and I want to continue doing research in academia,” Diao said.
He beat out over a hundred other candidates for his new professorship, one of only two in his field that become available each year.
In six years, the MSU electrical and computer engineering department will do an evaluation to decide if he can be a tenure associate professor. Diao said he will need to work super hard on his research and teaching, but he is excited despite the challenges ahead.