This week we introduce you to Breno Mumic Sequeira, a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at McGill University. Previously, he has recently finished his Master’s in Chemical Engineering at McGill University (August 2021), and his bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from University of Franca in 2017.
During his M.Eng, he has focused on his research in the area of Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, in which he will be continuing now in his PhD in Chemical Engineering at McGill University. After his BSc, Breno has had different positions in the industry. He has worked as a Laboratory Analyst and then as a Planning/Production Control Analyst at Cevasa. There, he took a major decision of changing his country and pursuing a M.Eng at McGill university.
Undoubtedly, Breno has a very strong background within ChemE topics and is well-prepared for the future industry. With him starting a PhD tenure this month, we are certain that his expertise will not only strengthen but become broader as well. We were lucky to have an interview with him to learn more about his experience and education, so read his answers to learn more about him.
As mentioned, Breno has done his M.Eng in Chemical Engineering from McGill University (Canada) and BSc in Chemical Engineering from University of Franca (Brazil). Currently, he has just started studying his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from McGill University (Canada).
What motivated you to study chemical engineering?
In high school, I was amazed to see chemical reactions happen during chemistry classes, and their applications in real life in the big scale. That, along with my passion with physics and mathematics, inspired me to choose the Chemical Engineering field.
How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?
For my M.Eng since I was Thesis option, I only had to take 3 Chemical Engineering courses. Most of my time was dedicated to my research in the area of Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.
Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?
In my BSc in Brazil yes, but during my M.Eng in Canada no.
What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?
For my bachelors I would say thermodynamics was the most challenging topic, since it involves a lot of abstract concepts which for me were hard to picture in real life, such as enthalpy, entropy, etc. For my master's, among the three courses that I mentioned, the most challenging was Computational Methods, since it required a very strong previous knowledge of MATLAB, which I only knew the basics. So, I had to basically study a lot of MATLAB to be able to keep up with the topic.
What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why?
During my master's I chose to focus on Modelling, since this is not only a hot topic nowadays, but it will definitely remain a hot topic in the future with industries migrating to 4.0. I believe all engineers will have to know how to program and model for their future jobs.
Was there a lot of mathematics and programming within your degree? What programming languages if any are crucial and for what applications?
Yes. It’s important to understand that once you are studying your master’s or PhD degree, you can choose the courses that you will take based on your preferences, suggestions from your research supervisor, as long as they fulfil the requirements of the degree based on the University’s Handbook. Having that in mind, I personally chose to have courses related to programming, since that would be much more relevant to my research than the other courses. The programming languages that I use are basically MATLAB and Python. Applications in engineering include modelling, optimization, and the solve of complex computational and analytical problems.
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 studied for 5 years for my BSc Eng in Brazil. After that I was already working. But then, I decided to try to get a master's opportunity in either U.S. or Canada. I have studied for TOEFL iBT and GRE, prepared all my documentation, and then I started sending email to professors that I would like to work with in their research fields. Some of them replied to me, I had a couple of interviews through Skype, and then I decided to go to McGill University, since it is one of the best universities in the world, in a developed country full of great opportunities. I had a nice job in Brazil, with fairly decent salary, however I was not feeling challenged and motivated anymore. Working in research has always drawn my attention, and that's why I decided to quit my job to go for a master's degree (and now Ph.D. degree).
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?
Yes. First, I started in my second year of bachelor's as a Scientific Initiation Fellow, which is a position for undergraduate students to be part of the research. I was interested to be part of a great extracurricular activity since the beginning of my studies, and then I talked with one of my professors and he got interested in me to be part of his research group in the area of Natural Products Chemistry. I worked for almost three years as an undergraduate researcher. In my fourth year of bachelor's, I got a new internship in a laboratory of chemical analysis of SENAI, in which I was responsible for analysis on environmental effluents and leathers. For almost a year, I worked as an intern in the morning, researcher in the afternoon and having classes at night. Then, at the beginning of my last year of bachelor's, I got a job as a Laboratory Analyst in a sugar and alcohol plant named "Cevasa" which was owned by Cargill. I had been working in that company for almost three years, in which I got promoted as a Planning and Production Control Analyst after 2 years of work. Then I received the letter of approval from McGill and then I quitted the job. I believe seeking extracurricular activities and internships since the beginning of my bachelor's was the best thing I could ever done. Since I could see everything I was learning in the university in the real world, also challenging myself to learn new things all the time, being part of great projects, also creating a strong network, which was crucial for me to get my last job.
What is your official title and in what company?
I am a Ph.D. student in the Chemical Engineering department at McGill University.
What is your daily work routine like? What do you do at your job?
I am currently a researcher, so I don't really have an established routine. However, I usually go to my office, do literature review on my field to be up to date with it, do experiments in the lab, participate in conferences, write abstracts, articles, etc.
What are the typical tasks which you have to deal with?
I need to be able to operate different equipment in the laboratories, also being able to come up with solutions for my problems, seek for information in the literature, always being proactive and self-driven.
What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?
Time-management, presentation, communication, programming/coding, proactivity, problem solving, and leadership are the most important skills for my job.
What is the best thing about your job?
That I am part of a huge research project that has potential to impact the life of everyone, also contributing to the sustainability. I also have autonomy to work the way I want with guidance of my supervisor.
Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?
Modelling, Thermodynamics and Calculus.
How easy was it for you to change company and/or jobs if any?
Not easy at all. When I had to decide to quit my job that I had recently gotten promoted to pursue my master's in Canada, I had to rethink about what I really wanted of my life. I ended up choosing to purse my master's in Canada since I have always wanted to study abroad in a top university, being part of a big project that could impact people's life, also with personal benefits in the long-term such as higher salaries, more acknowledgment, etc.
What are your future plans for your career? What does your current job allow you to do in future?
My plan is to finish my Ph.D. in maximum 4 years. In that period, I want to learn as much as I can, become a complete independent researcher, publish some high impact articles and being able to achieve the goals planned. Along with that, I expect to be able to communicate fluently in French, that I am currently learning.
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?
I believe there is one main ingredient for a researcher or master’s/PhD student to be successful in his/her research project. That is to find a project that gives you PURPOSE. We need to seek our purpose and not only our passion. To differentiate, passion is about you. You can be passionate about anything. However, the purpose is besides you. The purpose is when you pursue something outside yourself. In other words, your primary goal shouldn't be earning money or doing something that will only benefit you, but the sense of fulfillment that you are contributing to a better world! If you find your purpose on your project, you will feel joy about working with it, communicating about it, reading about it, and that will also give you strength and more resilience during a challenging period. So, that in the end is crucial for the success of any researcher. Money and acknowledgment are consequences of your hard work! They shouldn’t be sought as primary goals.
ChemE is such a broad degree and PhD is a very narrow road. How can student recognise what topics they should do the research in?
The best time to experience a research topic is during the undergraduate degree. Because the student usually knows most of the professors, and he/she can talk to all of them, get a good overview of their research topics and actually experience the one that attracts them most during summer time. Students can also ask master’s and PhD students about their own experiences. Another tip is to research online papers about the field you are interested in or even ask for suggestions for nice papers for the professor responsible for that field.
Why and how did you decide of going from industry to PhD?
Because in my industry job in Brazil, I wasn’t feeling enough challenged and motivated. I wanted to be part of a great project, in which I could find my purpose, and not only earn money. Studying abroad in one of the best universities in the world, in a developed country also played a role in my decision.
Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.
I suggest the future graduates to seek for extracurricular activities or internships. This is the best way to make a strong network, learn new skills, challenge yourself and get experience.
What skills should they focus on during university years? Coding/programming, proactivity, leadership, problem solving and finally, communication!