Talk with Burak Ulusoy (Postdoc Researcher)

This week, we introduce you to Burak Ulusoy, a Postdoc Researcher. He is a graduate of MSc and BSc in chemical engineering from the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) from 2016 and 2014 respectively. Followed by a PhD from the Technical University of Denmark in 2019.

Upon finishing his MSc, Burak started his PhD at the Technical University of Denmark and finished it in 2019. Upon completion of his PhD he started working in his current position of Postdoc Researcher at DTU. Even during his BSc and MSc, Burak has held many teaching assistant positions, and hence has undoubtedly a very strong experience in teaching and academia.


His PhD was focused on understanding the mechanism behind the use of fluidised bed combustion in using biomass as a source for power and heat. Which included a combination of experimental and modelling work. Meanwhile, his current postdoc research is focused on the development of novel and sustainable intumescent coatings for the fire protection of structural steel.

Undoubtedly, Burak has a strong foundation within academia and research. Therefore, we were very lucky to have an interview with him to learn more about his research and career. So do read his answers below to learn more about him.

Education

As mentioned, he has done his BSc and MSc in Chemical Engineering from SDU, followed by a PhD from DTU.

What motivated you to study chemical engineering?

I think it boils down to my experiences in high school back in Fredericia. Chemistry, math, and physics were my favourite subjects primarily due to the enthusiasm and commitment of my teachers. I then sought to study in a field combining these aspects.


How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

The BSc and MSc workload was of course tough at times but reasonable and fun, since the education at SDU is primarily project based, i.e. you work together with classmates. The PhD predominantly included research, but also some teaching/supervision and disseminations


Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

Yes, throughout BSc and MSc, we had various courses in organic and inorganic chemistry. During the PhD, my main focus was on combustion chemistry.


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

I’ve enjoyed learning about different aspects of chemical engineering. Quantum mechanics was however a bit tough but extremely interesting.


What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why?

During MSc, I focused mainly on Chemical Technology, since I enjoyed the use of chemistry on large scale and had/still have fondness for mathematical modelling. In the PhD, I worked on fluidized bed combustion of biomass herein particularly on the formation and reduction of NOx during operation. The work here was purposefully primarily experimental to provide me with a broader set of skills.


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?

BSc, MSc, and PhD were obtained in Denmark. During my bachelor, I studied a semester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, while during my master, I studied a semester at Korea University. My PhD was a joined program (Sino-Danish PhD) between Danish Universities and the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Therefore, I spent up to 1 year of my PhD at the Institute of Process Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing China, where I conducted research and acted as a teaching assistant.

Experiencing culture and teaching outside of Denmark is unique and informative. If possible, I would highly recommend pursuing such an experience during 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 mostly worked as a teaching assistant, also during my bachelor and master. It was very interesting to be part of teaching. It provided insight in how to communicate with students and how to pass on knowledge, which ultimately got me very interested in teaching.


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

Biomass has gained quite a lot of popularity in recent years. One promising technique for its utilization in power and heat production is by fluidized bed combustion. However, this comes with several disadvantages such as increased NOX emissions and bed agglomeration, caused by the properties of biomass. The aim of my work was to understand better the mechanism behind these phenomena and further to provide suggestions for their mitigation. To do so, we conducted several experiments and further tried to develop simple models for description.


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

I actually applied for a different PhD position at DTU. While this was already taken by another student, my supervisor Kim Dam-Johansen called me in for an interview. Following this, he offered me one of two positions, of which I chose the project that allowed me to cooperate with research institutions in China. I think I made a pretty good choice. :)


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?

Besides the grade requirements for a PhD, it may be useful to gain experiences in different fields of chemical engineering early on in your studies. If then a particular topic should interest you, you could consider going deeper into the field and write a master thesis. While this suggestion may be helpful to smoothly transition from an MSc into a PhD, it is not strictly necessary to become good researcher. I personally chose to start a PhD in a topic, which I did not have much knowledge in beforehand. The PhD in itself is a learning process to obtain the knowledge necessary to conduct impactful research. Therefore, to become a competent researcher, I think the most important thing when starting a PhD is to have an interest in conducting research – motivation to start up a project anew and explore it is of importance.


We are moving towards automation and a programming oriented world. So what if any programming languages are used within ChemE? What programming languages should students learn to maximise their success?

There are many languages and softwares currently being used at DTU Chemical Engineering. Speaking only for myself, python and MatLab knowledge has proven very useful in my work. These may be good starting points.


Work Experience

Burak is currently working as a Postdoc at the Technical University of Denmark. He has been in the Academia industry for 5 years now.


What role and industry do you work in? How long have you been in this industry?

I am working as a Postdoc at the Technical University of Denmark. I have been in the Academia, including PhD (3 years) now almost 5 years.


For people who might not know. What exactly is a Postdoc? How to become one?

Postdoc is an academic position granted at a university following a PhD. The main purpose is to continue to conduct research in a certain area. What is special about my postdoc is that it is still a joined project (SDC Postdoc), which is why I also act as a teaching assistant when needed.


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

My work these days includes supervision of BSc, MSc, and PhD students, setup of new equipment for fire testing, literature review, and experimental research work. No two days are similar due to the dynamic nature of working at DTU.


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

Often trouble shooting when the research of students does not work as it should. Besides that I focus on my own research, which is predominantly product based, i.e. to develop a product that may be used in the future.


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

I would suggest the following for now, but there are many good skills to learn.

  • Hard skills: experimental design, mathematical modelling/coding ability, knowledge of lab scale experimental setups

  • Soft skills: adaptability, problem-solving, collaboration, teamwork, communication, curiosity


What is the best thing about your job?

Difficult to pinpoint one thing but I am very happy to work in a place with many different projects and people. This makes it possible to learn about all aspects of Chemical Engineering. Moreover, working alongside good and fun people, makes every day quite an experience.


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

Experimental design, thermodynamics, reaction kinetics, organic and inorganic chemistry, heat and mass transfer, and numerical modelling


How easy was it for you to change company and/or jobs if any?

I never actually changed xD, still in academia. I like school too much, it seems.


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

It's a bit uncertain. Two options exist, stay in academia and the university or move onto working in a company. Which of these it will be, I do not know as of now. Luckily, there is still some time left of my contract.


What was your first job after graduation and how did you get it?

Hmm, I would categorize PhD student as a job, else the postdoc. I was recommended by supervisors in my master university and in Haldor Topsøe (company where I did my master project) to pursue a PhD. I applied to vacant PhD positions at DTU and was lucky enough to get offered an interesting alternative position.


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

If possible, I would recommend studying abroad. Going out of your comfort zone may open up many new possibilities and teach you many things that would otherwise not be possible – networking, working across cultures and much more.


Moreover, amid the stress of exams and such, I think it is important to enjoy the moment. It is of course important to work hard and obtain a good foundation to then find a good job, but while the goal may be clear, the process should not be neglected. I was lucky enough to work together with many different colleagues and friends throughout my studies, thereby obtaining memories that would last for a lifetime.


What skills should they focus on during university years?

As things do not always go as intended in the real world, my suggestions would be adaptation. Equipment, experiments, and models will fail, but keeping a cool head under such circumstances would help a lot. Furthermore of course, being a team player and collaborating with different people is always a good asset, as you will most certainly be working in teams later on.


Any Additional Things you wish to add regarding your education or work experience or life. What I can treasure now, which may have been difficult for me to see a few years back, is the support of various people throughout many years of study/work. I consider myself lucky for meeting good people along the way and for having had the opportunity of experiencing a colourful study/work life.
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