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Dr. Kihm’s Philosophical Nature Leads to Success with PhD Students

The past five years have been lucrative for Dr. Kenneth D. Kihm, Magnavox Professor in MABE, as he managed to graduate four PhD students who then effectively landed jobs as assistant professors in a relatively short amount of time. Dr. Kihm’s former students and the universities they teach at are:

  • Dr. Charles Margraves, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Mechanical Engineering Department
  • Dr. Seonghwan “Sam” Kim, University of Calgary, Canada, Mechanical Engineering Department
  • Dr. Joey B. Tipton Jr., University of Evanston, Evanston, IN, Mechanical Engineering Department
  • Dr. Chang Kyoung Choi, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department

It may have been the words of Leonardo da Vinci that inspired Dr. Kihm to formulate ideas on how to successfully mentor his students who, Dr. Kihm stated, spend a few “golden years” of their lives under his supervision. A favorite quote of Dr. Kihm’s is one by da Vinci who stated, “It is true that nature begins by reasoning and ends by experience. Nevertheless, we must begin with experiments and try through it to discover the reason.” Most likely though, Dr. Kihm’s success rate stems from a few of his own philosophies that he instills in his students for them to use as guidelines.

Kenneth D. KihmThe first philosophy is about requiring his students to obtain a demanding research topic. “I carefully think about the scope and future demand of dissertation topics for their successful placements. I have tried hard to receive timely funding for the relevant topics; however, if it is unsuccessful, I take every effort to facilitate bridge funding sources for their start-up,” Dr. Kihm said. The second is that his students need to recognize the significance of publishing papers and journals. “I emphasize the importance of the number of quality publications since nothing is more impressive than a good list of publications as a new PhD graduate,” Dr. Kihm said.

The third philosophy is to master the skill of presenting his or her research. “I often quote that the future fate of their years of research efforts can be determined by the last 45 minute presentation during a job interview. Regularly, I urge them to analyze their video rehearsals, which I believe is the best way to improve one’s presentation skills,” he said. And lastly, Dr. Kihm stated that it is important to keep up the hard-working spirit. “I ask them to invest a few years, sacrificing many nights and weekends instead of naïvely expecting that a graduate student can treat research like a 9 am to 5 pm job. I often remind them that the number of hours they spend can hardly be defeated by anything else in achieving quality research and rewards,” he said. Ultimately, Dr. Kihm’s philosophies are intended to guide graduate students to become young academic leaders for the future of both the country and the world

Dr. Kihm has strived to uphold these philosophies throughout his 25 years of teaching at both Texas A&M University (1988-2004) and the University of Tennessee (2004-present). “The best reward of my career as an educator has been enjoying watching my former students’ growth and success as independently recognized scholars and engineers,” he said. MABE looks forward to the continued accomplishments of Dr. Kihm and his graduate students.


Former student: Dr. Charles Margraves
Past Research: Near-field Nanoparticle Tracking to Examine Intracellular Vesicle Trafficking
Present Activities: Cultivating ideas to write a research proposal together in the area of nanoparticle tracking.

Former student: Dr. Seonghwan “Sam” Kim
Past Research: Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) Cantilevers as Microscale Thermofluidic and Biophysical Sensors
Present Activities: Preparing a book chapter on “Near-field nanoscale thermometry” for a book to be published by Royal Society of Chemistry.

Former student: Dr. Joey B. Tipton Jr.
Past Research: Role of Free-Electrons on Evaporative Transfer of Liquid Metal
Present Activities: Continually working together and recently submitted a co-authored manuscript for ASME Journal of Heat Transfer.

Former student: Dr. Chang Kyoung Choi
Past Research: Development of an Integrated Opto-Electric Biosensor To Dynamically Examine Cytometric Proliferation & Cytotoxicity
Present Activities: Working together for ASME K-22 Heat Transfer Visualization committee co-organizing conference sessions and co-editing ASME Journal of Heat Transfer.