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Olivia Donaldson

PhD/Materials Science and Engineering 
Post-Doctoral Scholar 
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of California Irvine 

How Did You Find Your Job?

I found my job through networking. When I was finishing my degree I started talking to my PhD advisor about what kind of jobs I was interested in and what I was looking to do. Your advisor is your main advocate so if you can get them to start speaking to their contacts, it helps. It’s helpful to let your network know that you are defending and they may know of something that you may not. Once I found out about the opening I applied to the position and had the opportunity to interview for the position at MRS (a conference we were both attending).

Position Description

I am a researcher in the Nanoscale Mechanics and Materials Laboratory working with Professor Tim Rupert. My research is two-fold with my first project focusing on the consolidation of nanostructured powders and the second focusing on wear damage. The first project is looking at consolidating nanostructured powders at high temperatures so as to create materials with nano-sized grains with desirable mechanical properties through the incorporation of amorphous intergranular films. The second project looks at how wear damage can be used to control the microstructure of a nanostructured material to create a wear map.

Structure of a Typical Day

My typical day is fairly similar to that of a graduate student but all I do is focus on my research. I can say that no day is ever the same since I am working on multiple projects at one time. A “typical” day consists of data analysis and sample preparation depending on what needs to be done. I meet with my post-doc advisor only once a week so most of the week I get to decide when and how I want to get things done. I am the only experimental post-doc within the group that I work in so typically my day is broken up with questions from the graduate students as well as helping them run, set up or fix their experiments. Additionally, on certain days I may need to characterize my samples so I may need to change my hours due to the availability of the microscopes or the equipment I need to use. When this happens I just modify my schedule so that I start and then leave work early that day.

Advice to Other Students

My advice for other students would be to start working on your network early and remember small things go a long way. If you are at a conference and you meet/talk to someone, send them a thank you email. It may seem silly but it’s something that they remember. Everyone can send a LinkedIn request but they’ll remember something like a thank you because they don’t get it often. I would also suggest for students to consider internships or to see about doing research at national labs. I had the ability to do an internship at Sandia National Laboratories in NM and it gave me a great perspective on what research is outside academia and exposed me to an incredible group of scientists I never would have met otherwise. My biggest piece of advice is just to believe in yourself. The process of a PhD breaks you down but you can get through it and it is totally worth it in the end.