IMDEA Materials Institute Alumni Interview – Álvaro Doñoro

Álvaro Doñoro was born in Madrid, Spain. He joined IMDEA Materials in 2017 and became a PhD student in 2019. He completed his PhD thesis entitled “Stable lithium-sulfur batteries through electrode and interface engineering” under the supervision of Vinodkumar Etacheri in 2022. In 2021, he joined the Unit of Materials for Energy in CIDETEC (San Sebastián, Spain) where he is currently working as a junior researcher.

To begin this interview, we would like to know how your scientific vocation was born and in which institutions you have studied.

Well, I have always loved everything related with maths and science, and I was good at those subjects in secondary school. I don’t really know why, but I really liked chemistry more than the other subjects, there was something special about it. So that’s why I decided to begin my studies in chemistry at the Autonomous University in Madrid (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), an institution that I have been connected to for my whole research career, from my Bachelor’s Degree to my Doctoral Thesis. Special thanks to Dr. Ana María González Vadillo, my B.Sc and M.Sc thesis supervisor, a true mentor and still a friend, after all these years.

However, although my research was oriented to organic/inorganic chemistry, I ended up working in electrochemical energy storage at IMDEA Materials Institute, which allowed me to learn about a field that I had no previous knowledge in, and that granted me the opportunity of pursuing and finally achieving a PhD in Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology.

Looking back now, what do you think was your greatest accomplishment during your time at IMDEA Materials?

Besides my scientific contribution, which resulted in obtaining my PhD, I am proud of having created a great group working environment, considering that each member of the electrochemistry division at IMDEA Materials had different backgrounds, both academically and geographically. It was highly enriching.

What do you value most about your time here from a personal point of view?

One of the things that I valued the most during my time at IMDEA Materials was the talented people. Getting to work with them every day was such a privilege. Moreover, our group, in the electrochemistry division, was small and it was very easy to work with my teammates. Being able to bond with people from all over the world, in your group and in your institution, is always a plus and it is one of the most valuable things that you can find when you are part of a research institution like IMDEA Materials.

IMDEA Materials places a focus on developing our researchers’ transversal skills or so-called “soft skills”. How important do you think these skills are for a researcher to develop and which do you think you possess? Also, if given the opportunity to learn some new ones, which ones would you chose?

I think soft skills are essential nowadays. Technical qualifications are always important, but being able to demonstrate your abilities in critical thinking, decision-making, etc. shows the whole picture of your true self as a researcher. That is why it is so important for research institutions to organize seminars or training sessions that allow researchers to explore and improve their soft skills. And, fortunately, IMDEA Materials does it. In my case, although I have always found it difficult to really define my strengths in soft skills, I would say that I am self‑motivated and that I have good communication skills. However, I would like to strengthen my decision-making ability.

Finally, what career advice or message would you give to PhD students or early post-docs?

I would encourage researchers, whether they are in their early careers as PhD students or if they are experienced post-docs, to implement science outreach in their labs and research groups. Science communication oriented to the public, and especially to young students, has been proven essential to promoting a well-informed society and it will be key to convincing future generations of the role they could have if they decide to be part of scientific development. Our own future will depend on that.

Thank you very much Álvaro for speaking to us today!