Talk with Nima Nazemzadeh (PhD Researcher)

This week we got a chance to have a talk with yet another competent and really kind chemical engineer, Nima Nazemzadeh. He is a person with strong expertise within not only engineering but also within economics, modelling and teaching. He is currently working as a Chemical Engineering PhD Researcher at Technical University of Denmark (DTU) until 2022. He comes from a broad international background, having done his MS in Process Engineering from Politecnico di Milano in Italy. Before that, he has done BSc in Chemical Engineering and Economics (Minor) from Sharif University of Technology in Iran.

Within his PhD research at DTU, he is focusing on multi-scale modelling of bioprocesses by incorporating machine learning algorithms, computational chemistry, and first-principles modelling. Given his in-depth expertise within the topic, he has achieved very impressive and incredible results. Through his hard-work, humbleness attitude and strong work ethic, his papers and research has been in the forefront within academic industry.

Undoubtedly, Nima therefore has a broad and volatile expertise ranging from process engineering to economics. His expertise are reflected within his PhD tenure, both as a researcher and as a teacher. He plans to move into the industry after his PhD. Apart from his PhD, he has strong experience under his belt, having worked as an Engineering Intern at Nargan Engineers and Constructors and also as a Teacher at Ehsan High School.

We were lucky to have an opportunity to interview Nima, who has broad experience and academic history. He is someone whose experience really shows that with hard-work and perseverance, chemical engineering can bring many volatile career paths. We have asked him questions regarding his education and Phd for you to read as well.

Education

To begin with, we started by asking him questions regarding his education.

How was the workload of your degree? Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

My degree had extensive workload. I spent most of my time on doing the research of my project. There was not much chemistry before my Ph.D. I had to take a few course of Chemistry in my Bachelor and Masters. But the topic of my PhD needs a lot of understanding in chemistry and I would prefer to say that every day I learn something new.

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

Computational Chemistry and Population balance modelling.

What line did you choose to focus during your degree?

Process and Systems Engineering. Since in this area you will learn about various systems that you need to work with in industry and it gives you the chance to broaden your knowledge in different studies and then apply the knowledge to your purpose

Did you get your degree from your home country or did you go abroad? if yes, from where to where? How did you do it?

I have done my B.Sc. in my home country in Iran. However, to continue my graduate studies I decided to move to Italy since, there was a good start for me to go Politecnico di Milano as a well-known university to study process engineering specifically. It has been my passion to learn about different processes that we work with in chemical industry. However, I always had an eye to also enjoy my life by travelling to different countries and learn from various cultures. I always thought that by seeing different cultures you can learn from them and grow. Hence, for my master thesis, I heard a bout a project in Technical University of Denmark and I went to Denmark. It was very joyful journey for me to study and see two different countries in only two years of my being abroad journey. But the funny thing is that during my stay in Denmark I was always travelling back to Italy to see some old friends and not the least to finish the remaining exams, which was not easy by fortunately with a hard working attitude and with the help and support from all the people whom I was working with, it worked out perfectly for me. After graduating from my master program in Italy, I got a Ph.D. offer from my supervisor in Denmark Associate professor Seyed Soheil Mansouri and basically I went back there to continue my studies.

Did you have student jobs during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

I used to be a mathematic teacher in Iran while I was doing my B.Sc. program back there. Mathematic was something that I loved maybe completely in opposite to most of people. I do not know how it helped me in my career directly but it improved my sense of responsibility for the job I am taking. Apart from that I did not have any student job. I have to add I do not know if I could handle a student job back then in master degree, since I was focused on my study and I could barely find a time for another job.

Work Experience

Which industry do you work in and for how long have you been in it?

I have only had an internship in NARGAN (oil and gas company in Iran) for about 3 months. That is my closest interaction with chemical processes in industry. However, now I am employed as a Ph.D. student

What is your daily work routine like? What do you do at your job?

Doing mostly research. Discussing scientific matters with other colleagues. Helping the students we are currently working with.

What are the typical tasks which you have to deal with?

Mostly we are focused on our project tasks, which are defined by us and the group of supervisors

Could you tell us a little about your PhD research area? A small summary which can inspire other students to move into that area?

I am currently working a process called flocculation. This process is one of the important steps in downstream bio-manufacturing for purification. The process is about to separate solid phase from the liquid phase by aggregating the particles. Although the it does sound easy, the process is rather complex because you need to know a lot surface chemistry to understand how the particles interact with each other at different conditions. These days since the understanding of this process is very limited, the industry has some problems regarding the control strategies to reach a high quality product. What we are trying to is to develop a systematics approach that enables us to predict our product quality based on the mathematical, chemistry models. In order to do so we want to see the possibility of integrating machine learning algorithms, computational chemistry calculations and so many other interesting stuffs together.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?

Communication skills are very important since you have to be able to first communicate your findings with a group of people that do not know your project very well (people outside of your group) and also a very good group dynamics is required to be able to go through all the barriers in your work. Communication skills to my opinion include verbal and written skills. In doing research projects you also need to have to motivated to tackle the problems ahead of you and you must have critical thinking skills, since it is not straightforward to do research

What is the best thing about your job?

You have a chance to try new and already established ideas, combine them together and understand the reality.

Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?

Process modeling and monitoring

How did you get this PhD? Did you apply for it externally or did your professor suggested your name for the tenure?

I remember by that I was applying for quite a few positions and I also got rejected in multiple cases. For the current position, my current supervisor only suggested me to apply, since he thought that the project is interesting. I also went for evaluations with other candidates and then the committee decided to select me for this project

If someone wishes to pursue a PhD, what should the MS Students be doing special? How do you think they can prepare and brush themselves up to be a competent PhD researcher like yourself?

Well! It very much depends on the project. But in general, I would suggest students who want to do a Ph.D. they should develop the ability of critically thinking. Learn to be patient when you are doing a research. Not everything goes smoothly in the project, it is not a course that you do the assignments and then get a grade. It is more of starting something from the beginning, facing the challenges and learn throughout the process. Last but not the least of course having a strong background in the topics that the students learn during their undergraduate studies are equally important

What are you future plans for your career? What does your current job allow you to do in future?

I am planning to move to industry after my Ph.D. studies. With the current job as Ph.D. student I have a chance to broaden my knowledge about a specific problem and what I am trying to also learn is to how to look into the bigger picture of the problems I face in my research. That will give me a chance to have broader knowledge even in the specific problem I am currently dealing with. In industry I think it is required to have such an understanding to connect multiple dots in your favor and tackle a bigger problem, but of course as you move forward you also realize that there are a lot of things that you do not know and always you need to learn. That is something as Ph.D. student you need to learn and you will learn. It somehow comes automatically for most of people that are not arrogant about the work they are doing.

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

Always have good attitude and be passionate about the job you are doing or in other words, go for something that you are passionate. Take the opportunities and try your best to improve your skills including soft and the so-called hard skills.

What skills should they focus on during university years? It depends on the study and it may vary from course to course, but what I can really to recommend is the soft skills. Maybe it sounds irrelevant at first sight but I would say learn how to work hard and smart with the people around you.
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