Graduate Study
Ph.D. Student Spotlight
Ph.D. Student Spotlight: Danyang Tong

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Danyang Tong

When Danyang Tong first started at Northwestern, she was worried that asking too many questions would bother her mentors. But as she gets ready to graduate, she’s since realized that asking for help and being there to help others is one of the most rewarding parts of the academic journey. 


1. Where are you from?

I am from Inner Mongolia, China. 

2. Where did you get your undergraduate degree, and what was your major? Do you have an MS? 

I got my undergraduate degree at Beijing Forestry University in China with a major in civil engineering. I got my MS at Northwestern in structural engineering. 

3. What attracted you to engineering?

My mom is an architect and I have been exposed to civil engineering since I was little.

4. What attracted you to pursue a Ph.D. in your specialty area?

I was interested in physics, especially mechanics, when I was in high school and later, I was interested in exploring the mechanics of different materials. 

5. How do you explain your thesis research to a non-scientist?

My research is about predicting the permafrost degradation behavior in the arctic region due to the global warming effect. The thawing of permafrost has profound implications: it releases vast amounts of greenhouse gasses that have been sequestered for millennia, contributes to the loss of habitat for diverse species, and damages infrastructure in Arctic and mountainous regions. 

Understanding and predicting the effects of permafrost degradation are not only crucial for scientists and engineers but are also of paramount importance to global communities. These changes directly affect global climate patterns, potentially leading to more extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, and disrupted ecosystems, which in turn impact agriculture, housing, and health on a global scale. In response to this, my research aims to develop a robust model capable of capturing the long-term mechanical behavior of frozen soil under cyclic temperature changes. This model will help predict future changes in permafrost and inform strategies to mitigate its impact on our environment and societies.

6. What attracted you to NU?

Everything: the environment, the reputation, the location and the academic atmosphere. 

7. What has been the highlight of your time at NU and CEE?

When I was invited to present myself to the prospective Ph.D. students. 

8. What has been the most challenging aspect of your graduate school experience?

The most challenging aspect of my graduate school experience is to face and solve all the new problems during the research. Our projects usually take several years to finish and to complete those projects, we need to be patient and learn how to do independent study. 

9. Can you tell us about your experience being mentored or mentoring others?

When I first got my mentor here, I was afraid of bothering them, so I tried to avoid getting advice from them. Then gradually I figured out that they are willing to help, and they usually provide you with their ideas; combined with their experience, they are an essential part of my education.

10. What are your interests or hobbies outside of your research?

I like to explore new restaurants around me and learn some new things during my spare time. I am currently learning French and piano.