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MIT’s Justin Lai: Why Engineering Portfolios are Important

Engineering Portfolios

Why engineering portfolios are important, from MIT’s Justin Lai

If you’re an engineer, you better start thinking about your engineering portfolio

We recently sat down with Justin Lai, Invention Education Associate with the Lemelson-MIT program, to talk about the need for engineering portfolios. Previously, Justin was a researcher in the MIT Ideation Lab.

As a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Justin’s research looked at how people design through process and in practice, how to teach students to design products for people. Two significant teaching projects Justin helped create are 2.97 Designing for People (two week short course) and Discover Product Design (one week pre-orientation program).

How did you become such an advocate for student portfolios at MIT?

At the MIT Ideation Lab, under Prof. Maria Yang, I co-led new efforts to bring the product design process to students, especially earlier in their time at MIT.

With my colleague, Geoff Tsai, we interacted with many students who were interested in getting product design work experience. As portfolios are a must have for the application process, we realized there were no resources tailored for our Department of Mechanical Engineering students that would help them in the portfolio creation process.

Then, with the guidance of our advisor, along with Prof. David Wallace and Writing Across the Curriculum lecturers, Jane Connor and Jane Kokernak, Geoff and I developed a basic lecture workshop that outlined the beginning steps of making a engineering portfolio.

From your experience, what benefits do students get from creating an engineering portfolio?

Overall, the students are able to communicate about their past experiences more clearly, regardless of whether the actual portfolio is needed in a given application process. Also, once they’ve created their engineering portfolio they are able to respond to unexpected opportunities of displaying their work (there’s no replacement for being ready now). For any sort of creative work, the portfolio is an example of how they can creatively communicate. Finally, going through the portfolio process once will give them motivation to better document future projects.

What are your top tips for student on how to build an engineering portfolio?

  • Consider your audience. One version of your portfolio will not suit the needs of all your users.
  • Document now. Filter and sort later. Try to capture everything you can and don’t assume you’ll be able to go back to re-document; you often won’t have time.
  • Develop a workflow to archive and retrieve the raw materials of each project.
  • Design on paper first.
  • Get feedback often. It’s the easiest way to discover what isn’t clear

What excites you most about Seelio?

Our main message to our students has been about the process of making a portfolio—that the process is more important than getting bogged down in how to use specific design tools. We were excited to see this platform that isn’t focused on a particular industry, like ones that typically ask for portfolios (graphic design, architecture, industrial design), and allows you to get your projects displayed quickly.

Take a look at some engineering portfolios from current MIT Students:

Preserve Those Projects!

T’was the week before finals and all through the campus, not a creature was stirring… well maybe in the library!

As the semester comes to a close and finals are approaching, we know the hours spent and RedBulls consumed seem pretty daunting. Don’t worry, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, you’re almost there! As an inspiration for the final stretch, we have included a gallery of some impressive final projects we have seen on Seelio to date. Keep going and maybe one day if you upload your project, it could end up on the gallery!

Gallery Final Projects

Some of our highlighted final projects this week include:

Stand & Rest by Michelle KimBA Art & Design, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’11) Michelle Kim University of Michigan Engineering

Neuromap – Deep Brain Stimulation Probe by Paul KapoorMEng Energy Systems Engineering, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’10)

Java and SQL in EECS282 by Chihiro JimboBA Informatics and BA Anthropology, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)

Design of Health Informatic Web App: SmartData by Ray Hu, MS Information, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)

Google Wallet Marketing Project by Jay Ahn, BA History Concentration European Studies, Northwestern University (’12)

Gummy by Matthew SchulteBS Computer Engineering, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’15)

Dynamic Simulation of a Compressor by John FisherBS Mechanical Engineering, University of Notre Dame (’13)

Capstone Project for Playtex Products Inc. by George Joseph Ferko VBS Materials Science Engineering, Lehigh University (’10)

Integrated Product Development

6th Grade Dramatic Structure: A Study of the Vikings by Courtney CalesBA Theater and Communication, Loyola University Chicago (’12)

BucketBOT Modular Robotics Challenge by Thuan DoanBS Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (’15)

Integrated Product Development by Adam Wells, BS Architecture and Program in Entrepreneurship, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)

The Discotective by Tyler Johnson, PhD Electrical Engineering, University of Washington (’17)

Gesture Recognition using Depth Information by Anant AgarwalBTech Computer Science and Engineering,  Jaypee Institute of Information Technology (’13) 

Proposal: Liquid Crystal Thermometer by Veronica LiBS Chemical Engineering, Columbia University in the City of New York (’15)

Personal Custom Electric Scooter by Franco MontalvoBA Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (’13)


There were several other inspiring projects we didn’t have a chance to show. See a more complete list of them here.

As soon as you are done with your final project, don’t forget to upload it to your Seelio for your peers, parents and potential employers to see. After all, you’ve worked hard on it, get keep your work alive!

Good luck with finals!


Featured Gallery: Interns of Interest!

Happy December! First semester is ending and that means one thing, the start of internship application. For those of you who don’t already have jobs lined up, don’t panic, there is still time! This month, spend some time researching companies you are interested in. Also, take time to think about what kind of job you want (marketing, product engineering, policy etc.) and for what kind of company you want to work (corporation, startup, NGO, etc.).

Just in case you are lost, we have somewhere for you to start! Check out our featured gallery of internships this week. See what some of these interns have done in particular roles/at particular companies. You can also go onto Seelio to search for other showcased internships. Finally, don’t forget to check out the Seelio Jobs section for more opportunities!

Internship Gallery

Some of our highlighted interns this week include:

Social Media Intern at Crowdrise by Taylor Davis, BA Informatics: Social Computing, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)

Music World Entertainment Internship by Natalie ChengMBA Music Business, Belmont University (’13)

Music World Entertainment Internship

Web Marketing Internship by Jared HanstraBS Mathematics, University of Notre Dame (’13)

Intern Within Productions at Kaufman Astoria Studios by Lauren CorriganBA English Writing, Saint Mary’s College (’13)

Retinal Camera for Mobile Phones by Deborah Tien, BS Astrophysics, Wellesley College (’12)

SDE Intern, DataminingTools Inc. by Sagar Jauhari, MS Computer Science, North Carolina State at Raleigh (’14)

Analytics Intern by Gavin Owens, BS Computer Science, University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign (’13)

NASA Ames Research Center Summer Intern by Kendrick Wang, BA Business Information Management, University of California – Irvine (’13)

Media Intern at Design for America by Elizabeth MillerBA Radio/Television/Film, Northwestern University (’12)

Allison Transmission: Summer Intern by Mike BrajerBSE Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’14)

Mike Brajer Summer Internship

Internship at ThreeWill by Alex Ryan, BEng Electrical Engineering, Clemson University (’15)

Intern, Save the Children International by Munmun KhanBA International Studies & BA Community Action Social Change, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)

Boston Dynamics by Thuan DoanBS Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (’15) 

Intern at Cataphora by Paige DeRaedtBS Mathematics and BS Statistics, University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)

Civil and Environmental Engineering / Land Surveying Internship by Bradley RockBSE Civil Engineering (Focus Environmental Engineering), University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (’13)



Seelio is working to create theme galleries for the next few weeks. If you have any ideas, feel free to contact Chelsea (chelsea@seelio.com).