How did you decide to come to Drexel Materials for a Ph.D.?
I was introduced to Dr. Taheri at a conference by my master's professor who suggested I put Drexel on my list of places to apply. I chose Drexel because, as a nontraditional campus in a large city, it promised to be very different than my undergraduate and master's experience at Iowa State University. I felt that my particular project with Dr. Taheri would expose me to lots of new people, cutting-edge experimental equipment, and unique facilities that would provide a great foundation for my career.
What does your Ph.D. research involve?
The focus of my research is to understand how grain boundaries contribute to the response of ferrous alloys to damage that occurs when it is exposed to radiation in the core of a nuclear reactor. The majority of my work is done using in-situ transmission electron microscopy, which allows me to observe the damage occurring in the material in real time.
Have you had the opportunity to travel as part of your Ph.D. study?
I keep a running list of places I have traveled to since starting at Drexel because it often seems as though I am away from Drexel more than I am actually here. So far, in a little over three years, I have been on 31 research-related trips and 29 more for extracurricular activities or personal reasons. A lot of my research is done in collaboration with the national laboratories and, in fact, some of it, such as the irradiation of my samples in a TEM at Argonne, cannot be done anywhere else. I have made repeated trips to Argonne, Sandia, and Los Alamos (including one three-month stay), as well as one-time trips to Oak Ridge and Idaho National Laboratories. In addition, I travel to several conferences each year and for extracurricular activities such as serving as a student board member for ASM International or visiting Washington, D.C. for Congressional Visit Days.
What are your plans post-graduation?
For me, it is important to maintain my focus of collaborative research and development for interesting materials problems with real-world applications. My personal drive as an engineer is to improve the way we interact with our natural world by creating materials and systems that are cleaner, more efficient, and smarter. I also hope to continue my involvement in professional organizations and actively promote science and engineering to people outside the field. I'm currently looking for a career with that perfect blend of practicality, purpose, and good, challenging science and I will begin to narrow down its starting point over the next year.
How do you feel your Drexel Materials degree will prepare you for your post-graduation plans?
I feel that my Drexel Materials degree has prepared me to handle a future in any of the three career sectors: academia, industry, or federal (national laboratories), and has given me the opportunity to seek the career I desire. In addition to the coursework and research, the Drexel Materials department offers the possibility to be exposed to lots of new ideas, people, and experimental techniques through seminar speakers, networking and collaboration, outreach activities, and teaching experience.
Do you have any advice for students looking for a Ph.D. program?
Don't just rely on the name recognition when picking a university, or even the professor's publication list. Find out more about the professor, their group, and most importantly, your specific role, and make sure that's what you want! Is the professor very hands-on with weekly one-on-one meetings, or are you expected to function autonomously? Are they established or just building a lab? Do the students in the group collaborate well? How is your project funded: industry or federal? Who are the co-PIs (co-Principal Investigators) and how involved are they? Will your work be done primarily at the university or will you be reliant on getting instrument time at other facilities? The answers to these kind of questions will play a big role in your satisfaction and what you ultimately get out of your Ph.D. studies!