Welcome to the Experimental Mechanics Laboratory (EML)

Mechanical Engineering Department, College of Engineering, San Diego State University

The purpose of this page is to transmit the necessary information that will contribute to your success here and beyond. The foremost objective of the research program is to provide you with state-of-the-art engineering training while you contribute to the goals of the EML and advance your career. Your training will be broadly based within the areas of Mechanics of Materials, Experimental Mechanics, Composite Materials, Smart Materials, and Biomechanics. It will be achieved through your own work as well as that of other members of our group and our external collaborators whose work and experiences you are also expected to learn from. The goal of our lab is “Advancing Mechanics and Broadening Participation in Engineering.” We hold this goal close and dear, and you are expected to do the same.

In addition to learning how to choose, design, and expedite new experiments, an important goal for you should be to develop excellent communication skills that will promote your advancement in the engineering profession. This involves becoming a contributor who can present his own work and a listener who can offer constructive criticism. Thus, participation in presentations, seminars, abstract and manuscript preparation, as well as journal and manuscript reviews, will constitute an essential part of your training.

Every student is responsible for her/his project, whereas you are expected to continually work on the research problem you were assigned and try to overcome challenges and obstacles by suggesting solutions or feasible path forward. You are expected to be in the lab and work closely with the PI. There are many concurrent projects in the lab, yours is one of them, and all the projects are not only important but also vital for the survival of EML. Your unwavering support and contributions are expected and appreciated.

At EML, we operate with three rules in mind: 1) focus on learning; 2) having fun while learning; and 3) respect to each other, to the lab environment, and most importantly to Dr. Youssef.

This page provides you with guidance as to what will be expected of you—and what you can expect—during your time here. Meeting this challenge should provide you with a good foundation for a career in engineering.


Communication herein is broadly defined as oral, written, and visual such as in seminars, talks, abstracts, manuscripts, participation in the lab and weekly meetings, and communication of experimental results. This is the most important way to improve your opportunities for career advancement. Through your ability to acquire, develop, and communicate experimental results, your worth as a contributing graduate researcher will be evaluated by the scientific community. Your communications will be continuously evaluated by Dr. Youssef and other senior researchers appointed by him. They may be asked to evaluate you, or you may want them to write you a letter of recommendation. Therefore, it is invaluable to make a good impression through hard work, group participation, and good communication skills.

Future employers will look for a good engineer who not only has a strong academic record but one who can also contribute to their department or company as an advisor – through stimulating discussions and collaborations; ideally they want someone easy to communicate with. Therefore, along with good presentation skills, you should work to develop a highly valued ability to offer constructive criticism in meetings. Although this does not mean that you should feel pressure to make comments, quality remarks can help the speaker and make a good impression. You will have this opportunity by attending seminars, research symposia, and conferences.

Weekly Meeting:

You will be expected to discuss your work in one-on-one weekly meetings with Dr. Youssef, which will be arranged at the early stages of your involvement in EML research. You should prepare presentations, documents, or charts to discuss your findings from the literature review, design of experiments, and new experiments. Always have your raw data with you during the meeting and be very organized.  We may also engage in a discussion of your data at any time without a formal presentation. Weekly meetings are a good venue for a detailed review of publications from other research groups (i.e., journal article review). There is no excuse to miss the meeting unless we discussed beforehand. You are also required to attend and participate in the Weekly Group meeting, where you will discuss new results or challenges in your research project. Major updates are defined as tangible and measurable progress in your project. This, of course, does not include emails to vendors, communications with others in the lab, etc.


As soon as you become a member of the Experimental Mechanics Laboratory, you serve as a front for our lab and our research. You are expected to hold the upmost professional behavior when communicating internally or externally. Always start your emails by “Hi Dr. Youssef” or “Dear Dr. Youssef,” use the similar greetings while communizing with others as well. You must write complete, concise, and well-constructed sentences. Text-message and chatting language are PROHIBITED in email communications. You must include a signature block in your emails such that “Thank you, Joe Smith, Graduate Research Assistant, Experimental Mechanics Laboratory.” Again, this is part of your training to become a professional and job-ready engineer.

Authorship and Collaborations:

Because of the way that projects develop at EML, there is usually no conflict over authorship. Nonetheless, on (rare) occasion, disputes over the first authorship may arise. We want to avoid this by discussing it openly ahead of time. In case of a dispute, I will be the primary determinant of the order of authors. Some conflicts may arise when a student comes into a project that is already ongoing and for which other or previous students have already done considerable work. Often the later arriving students have little appreciation or knowledge of the contribution of the departing or departed student, and naively believes that the project is His or Hers and should be in full control. It is important that we discuss any anticipated order for authorship not only at the beginning of collaboration but also as it continues as it can change depending on the development of the project and the work done or to be done. What is most important is not to assume anything about the situation and to discuss it with me.

Criteria used for determining the first authorship are not altered because someone is looking for a job. One is no more entitled to the first authorship when they are on the job market than the circumstances normally dictate based on their work relative to others. As a member of the EML, you should expect to coauthor only if you have made significant contributions. Although collaborations among EML members are encouraged and common, these should be entered into and agreed upon explicitly by the individuals involved as well as me. Usually, coauthorship requires you to generate data that is included as a Figure in a published paper; simply providing advice/suggestions does not count as a “significant” contribution. I may make exceptions depending on the case. I may ask you to teach someone a technique or experiment, but this does not mean you should necessarily expect to be a coauthor. These important issues should be discussed to avoid potential misunderstandings. Likewise, you may benefit from the help of a colleague who knows the experiment that you need to learn. Before you enter into collaboration with a non-EML member, speak with me first, and certainly refer the potential collaborator to me. It is also required that you talk to me before you request materials from others. I prefer that you send me a draft of the request before you send it to the outside researcher. Requests by others for EML equipment or materials used must be discussed with me before they are distributed. Under no circumstances, no material, equipment, data, and tools should leave the lab without my written approval first.

As alluded to above, another recurring issue is “ownership.” It must be well understood that all data, equipment, analysis, charts, publications, and intellectual property is owned by the Experimental Mechanics Laboratory and Dr. Youssef as its director and principal investigator. Even when people understand that EML “owns” the project, they often think that the project they are working on is “theirs” and interpret that to mean that they have extensive rights with respect to the project including the right to decide with whom they can collaborate and even the right to decide the future scientific direction of a project, even to the point of believing they can override the PI’s preferences. These are false perceptions, and you are encouraged to develop the correct understanding by realizing that all project ideas originated by Dr. Youssef only to fit into the vision of the lab as well as the research direction envisioned by him. We do not work on ideas suggested or generated otherwise. Any violation of using or leaking EML’s intellectual property, defined above and includes all the common definitions of intellectual property, will result in immediate termination and may also result in legal action.

Conduct of Research

You should function at the EML with the highest degree of scientific integrity. Honesty, criticism, and responsibility are expected of you and other students, and you must bring to my attention if something goes wrong.

Work Habit:

In addition to providing training, the EML is responsible for maintaining a competitive research program whose progress is monitored regularly and funded according to its productivity. Everyone’s efforts are of paramount importance to our success. The EML has been provided with funding to maximize the time available to graduate and undergraduate researchers to conduct meaningful experiments. You should place a high priority on optimizing your use of the resources to enhance your ability to generate results. The extent to which you achieve this will likely be the most important determinant of your success. You are expected to spend your time in the lab designing, preparing for or performing experiments, and discussing data in a professional manner. If you are not busy, you may be distracting others in the lab. If you are away from the lab, I will notice. I prefer that your schedule overlaps with mine as much as possible because this increases opportunities for us to communicate (I usually arrive by 7:00 AM and depart after 7:00 PM). I am sometimes available on the weekend, just ask if you want to meet with me or need my help then. I often get much work accomplished on weekends, and I will be glad to see you do the same. Your “work ethic” is one of the important questions potential employers will ask me as your supervisor. Use your time well, work efficiently, put in long and productive hours in the lab: strong efforts on your part will be noted most positively.


Devote a lot of time and attention to maintaining your laboratory notebook. Your notebooks will remain at the EML even after you leave. They will be part of the official record of our work in EML. I expect the following:

  • A daily record containing the month, day and year,
  • detailed information about your experiments
  • pages must be numbered
  • Your notes should be neatly written, clear, concise, and rich with information (concentrated into one or two pages per experiment), in English.

Each experiment should have easily identifiable sections:

  • Title or Objective
  • Methods (e.g., flow chart or schematic, system-level diagram, etc.)
  • Results (photo or statement of result)
  • Conclusions
  • Suggestions for the next experiment (if applicable)

Other material and notes (e.g., computer printouts, technical information, order forms, etc.) may be kept as a separate record so as not to interrupt the flow of the daily experiments or clutter the primary notebook. Keep one notebook for each project. I find that this improves readability and flow, and decreases confusion.

  • Cross-reference to other projects as necessary
  • Detailed information is an important part of the record and must be included as well as the raw data obtained
  • Negative data must be documented and included.
  • Daily research activities should be recorded as complete accounts of the experiments performed.
  • I also ask that you summarize your results, in your notebook, in the form of a short paragraph or two, once per month. I expect to look through your notebook, and I may on occasion ask you to submit it to me, so that I may examine it carefully. I should be able to find your experimental results on a particular project, read and follow your notes without difficulty. I truly believe that these are good practices that will benefit your research.

Lab Environment

As you noticed about the EML during your discovery stage, it is an experimental laboratory with many ongoing experiments and lots of scientific testing equipment. Therefore, safety is a very important issue that we have to be aware of and work on all the time. You will be provided with safety training, which is renewed annually. You also are expected to contribute to a safe lab environment by following common lab safety practices. Another compulsory requirement is to maintain a clean and clutter-free laboratory. Thus, you are expected to actively participate in regular laboratory cleaning and reorganizing days with your colleagues and peers. Your leadership in maintaining clean, clutter-free, and safe lab will be noticed and greatly appreciated.  Finally, unnecessary and distracting conversations, as well as negative discussions, are completely prohibited in the lab. These results in an unsafe and unhealthy environment. Please restrain from such conversation, rather be eager to instill positivity and healthy work environment that promotes everyone scientific and engineering as well as personnel wellbeing.

A final note is warranted here. Your research project will be defined as a priori during our initial discussions. While I do understand that the nature of research may imply a change in the plan or the approach, it rarely implies a change in direction. In other words, the project objective and expectation are not going to change. Hence, the only path to graduation on a timely manner is completing the project.

Thank you for your interest in the lab and our research. If you have any questions or wishes to arrange for a meeting, please contact Dr. Youssef (gyoussef@sdsu.edu)