I defended my PhD in Polymer Science and Engineering in August of 2011. During May of that year I networked at ANTEC with a former group member from Alan Lesser’s research group who happened to work at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, TN. After a phone interview and an onsite interview I received a job offer from Eastman. I was initially tasked with two major projects. The first was a market facing applications development effort that led to the commercialization of a molding and trim product. The second project was presented as a need for improved weatherability for polyesters. I dug into the academic and corporate literature to see what had been done already, and I came up with several proposals for how to drive the effort forward. The weathering project has led to a multi-year collaboration with NC State University.
The academic skills I honed in graduate school around understanding structure-process-property relationships have been critical to my success at Eastman. Although the materials I work with now are very different from the materials I worked with in graduate school, understanding how the monomers, chain architectures, and processing all control materials properties is similar. However, being in an industrial setting also requires a sense of how the structure or processing changes needed to improve performance will affect the business side of the equation. Cost, time-to-market, and alignment with corporate strategy become important variables in development work.
One of the most valuable experiences I had at UMass was repeated exposure to the intersections between different sciences. It could be composites and marine biology or polymer chemistry and medicine. A broad view of where different technologies intersect is necessary to innovate with what may otherwise be very well known materials or processes.
Due to Eastman's strong interest in polymer science and the high quality students at UMass my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to recruit numerous UMass students to fill applications development positions at Eastman over the past few years. We highly value the collaborative atmosphere that exists at the University. Students who are able to demonstrate good polymer science fundamentals, creativity, and effective collaboration skills make great candidates, and they tend to thrive once they arrive in Kingsport. We look forward to continuing to recruit at UMass and in PSE.