UCSB AICHE INTERVIEW SERIES: PROFESSOR BRADLEY CHMELKA

Bradley Chmelka, PhD, is a chemical engineering professor at UC Santa Barbara with research focusing on new catalysts, adsorbents, optoelectronic materials, porous ceramics, heterogeneous polymers, and biominerals. Due to his industry experience, Professor Chmelka offers a unique perspective on the differences and similarities between academia and industry. In his interview, he tells of his journey as an undergraduate, life in industry and choices that led him to graduate school and eventually becoming a professor at UC Santa Barbara. During undergraduate, Professor Chmelka worked at both a natural gas processing plant and an oil field in Wyoming. After graduation, he was hired by Unocal Corporation to work at a shale oil operation in Colorado before being accepted to UC Berkeley for graduate school two years later. He then attended the Max-Planck-Institute for Polymer Science before becoming an Assistant Professor at UCSB. For those interested in attending graduate school, this interview is especially valuable. It is recommended that the videos be watched sequentially.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Part I:

1. Undergraduate and Industrial Experience
2. Deciding a Path After graduation
3. Why Industry Over Graduate School

Part II:

1. Return to Graduate School
2. MS vs PhD
3. After PhD

Part III:

1. How Micro and Macro Topics Relate in ChE
2. Difficult to Maintain "Visibility" in Industry
3. Recommendations to Undergraduates

Part IV:

Graduate School Admissions and Career Tips

UCSB AIChE Interview Series: Professor Chmelka - Part 1

UCSB AIChE Interview Series: Professor Chmelka - Part 2

UCSB AIChE Interview Series: Professor Chmelka - Part 3

UCSB AIChE Interview Series: Professor Chmelka - Part 4

UCSB AICHE INTERVIEW SERIES: Prospective Graduate Student

Interview Q&A

  1. Why did you want to go to graduate school?

 

Graduate school wasn’t in my mind at first, but after I tried doing research I found it to be very interesting. I really like the way of thinking, I mean, the way one looks into problems as a researcher.

 

  1. Getting prepared to attend grad school can be very demanding. It requires a high GPA as well as research experience. Was there a specific moment that it got really hard and made you want to give up? Could you give some examples and talk about how you made it through?

 

Oh yes, there were a lot [of moments like that]. One of the examples was in my sophomore year, when the math and physics weren’t taught in a very easily understood manner. It was very discouraging and made me question whether I could do it. But I just stuck with engineering, and I kept telling myself that if I don’t give up and keep working hard, I am going to enjoy it in the end. It turned out that Chemical Engineering is cool!

 

  1. In the statement of purpose for the research programs you applied, what are the specific things that admissions are looking for?

 

One of the most important things is they want to see you have the learning skills to look into completely new problems, and also the research skills to approach problems that have not been encountered before.

 

  1. Could you talk about the undergrad research that you are doing? Is it in the same direction as the PhD research that you are interested in?

 

My undergrad research and the PhD research that I am trying to do are not exactly in the same direction.  The undergrad research I am doing is more cell-based and the PhD research I am looking to do is more cell-system based, looking into how the cells interact and work in a system.  Though the directions are not the same, I still learned a lot during my undergraduate research.

 

  1. How did you manage to balance your studies and research considering the ChE course load?

 

First thing is to study early. Starting things early helps a lot.

 

Another important thing is not to get hung up on things that are not important; for example, being stuck on one problem for the whole night with other things left un-done. I realized this after some time—I need to ask myself whether it’s worth the time.

 

Try to make other commitments. I would exercise, walk along the beach, take short showers… just make sure to have fun as well as work hard.

 

Other than that, studying with friends in the major helped a lot.  Whenever possible, try to find a good study group, and that will act in a really positive way for you.