Assistant Professor, U Mass Lowell
I am an assistant professor of Plastics Engineering. I actually started out my career as a Chemical Engineer and many of my professor colleagues are mechanical and materials engineers. Plastics is a multidisciplinary field that involves people with many backgrounds.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career when I entered college, but I knew I liked the outdoors and I was ready for some sort of adventure. I ended up studying chemical engineering because I felt there were many different types of jobs and it would not close any doors for me. After college I worked in the oilfield in New Mexico. It was exciting but the rig locations were not in places I consider ideal for living. When I left that job I knew I wanted to do something that would help rather than harm the environment, but I had trouble finding a good job so I went back to graduate school. Once there, I fell into plastics because my adviser was both an environmental advocate and a polymers researcher. A happy accident!
Getting a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I am very glad I did and glad I chose to become a full time professor. I like the freedom, both intellectually and schedule-wise, of my job. I like the diversity of things I do every day, such as teach, work on research in the lab with students, interact with industrial clients and write papers and proposals.
I think the most important impact young people entering Plastics Engineering can make is to improve the environmental health and sustainability of plastics. Plastics get a lot of bad publicity for causing environmental harm, but they also have a lot to offer if we continue to innovate in a responsible way. For instance, degradable plastics could reduce the litter problem and less toxic molecules show promise to replace the bad actors in plastics today. In fact, plastics have a huge advantage over other materials because they are light weight and recyclable – using them can decrease energy consumption considerably.
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