Megan Li is a first-year doctoral student in Earth, planetary and space sciences but for the third-generation Bruin, getting a degree at UCLA is practically a family tradition. Her grandfather immigrated to Los Angeles from Taiwan in the 1960s and earned a doctorate in system sciences at UCLA. But being an immigrant made it difficult for him to pursue a career in engineering.

Li’s father and uncle are Bruin alumni, as is her mother. Li, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics and astrophysics from UC San Diego, is now a researcher with UCLA SETI, which aims to find evidence of other civilizations in the universe. She works just steps away from the library where the master’s thesis and dissertation her grandfather wrote can still be found. 

In a first-person essay, Li describes her family’s journey, her path to UCLA and why she is so passionate about her research.

“A quick walk through our building will reveal that almost everyone is doing something completely different from their neighbor,” Li writes. “While I work on SETI, my office mates are looking at asteroids and Venus. Someone downstairs is looking at infrared measurements of the moon, and another group blows objects through a giant sandbox to learn about dune formation. 

“When I look back at my academic journey that’s not what I focus on. I think about my grandparents’ struggle as they moved from Taiwan to Westwood. I think about my parents falling in love in the library on top of Boelter Hall. I think about my weekends at the Rose Bowl in Bruin blue and gold, and I think about how much I love sharing SETI with everyone I know. Science is not just about numbers, it’s about passion.”

Read more of Li's story on the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences website.

Mu Tung Li’s dissertation from 1971
Courtesy of Megan Li
Mu Tung Li’s dissertation from 1971.