«The skills developed during my PhD at IMDEA Materials have a significant impact to successfully carry out tasks and projects in the industry.»
Dr. Nathamar Dudamell Caballero was born in Maracay, Venezuela. She completed a MSc in Metallurgy Engineering at the Central University in Caracas, Venezuela (UCV) in 2006. In 2007 she joined the ALCOA’s Aluminium Research and Development Center in Alicante site. In 2008 Dr. Dudamell Caballero joined the IMDEA Materials Institute, where she carried out her dissertation on the Study of High Strain Rate Behaviour of Magnesium Alloys by Mechanical, Metallography and Texture Analysis. The texture analysis was performed via Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) during a brief stay at Magnesium Innovation Center at Geesthacht, Germany in 2010. In 2012 she got a PhD degree in Materials Science and Technology from UCM and she then joined Airbus’ Materials and Process Department as consultant. During 5 years at Airbus, she was involved in several R&D projects working in collaboration with Universities, Research Institutes, Multinational Companies and Universities. In 2017 she joined Talgo, working in the Organization Quality Department. After this experience in the railway sector, she returned to the aerospace sector, working at Aernnova Group. Additionally, she completed a MSc in Materials Engineering at Complutense University in Madrid (UCM) in 2011 and currently, Dr. Dudamell Caballero is carrying out a Master Degree in Team Management and Leadership at ENEB.
Starting this interview, can you tell us a little bit about you and what you did at IMDEA Materials?
I am from Venezuela, and I moved to Alicante (Spain) by means of a Scholarship received from ADEMAT-Network to perform the Diploma thesis for the MsC Metallurgy Engineering Degree at the Alicante University in the field of Metal Matrix Composites. I came back to UCV in Venezuela for the MsC thesis defense and after graduating in Caracas, I returned to Spain to continue my studies. While I was looking for an opportunity to perform a PhD Thesis, I did a master's degree in English and Spanish for Business and Specific Purposes at Alicante University. During my Master’s Studies, I had an amazing professional opportunity in the Aluminium Research and Development Centre at ALCOA, Aluminium Company of America. There, my supervisor inspired me to orientate my vocation for carrying out a PhD dissertation with a direct impact to the industry. I postulated my candidature for a Research Assistant position at IMDEA Materials. Without any doubt the best decision in professional terms that I have ever made.
My dissertation was entitled "Mechanical behavior at high speed of deformation of magnesium alloys". The work obtained the highest qualification and the mention of "European Doctorate". The research I carried out consisted in the analysis of the deformation and recrystallization mechanisms that take place during high and low strain rate deformations, as well as of the mechanical properties of Mg alloys of with Al, Zn and rare earths in a wide range of temperatures and speeds of impact. This work, led by Dr. Teresa Pérez-Prado (IMDEA Materials) and Prof. Francisco Gálvez (UPM), was carried out within the framework of the CENIT-MAGNO project, led by Grupo Antolín. During my PhD I did a 3 month stay in the Magnesium Innovation Centre in Germany.
The PhD objective was to study the mechanical behaviour as well as the deformation and recrystallization mechanisms that take place during the dynamic deformation of a Mg sheet fabricated with the commercial alloy Mg -3%pAl -1%pZn (AZ31), an extruded bar made with a last generation Mg-rare earth alloy (Mg- 1%pNd - 1%pMn, MN11) and the die casted commercial alloys Mg-6%pAl-0.5%pMn (AM60B) and Mg-9%pAl-1%pZn (AZ91D). With that purpose, tensile and compression tests were performed in a Hopkinson bar at high strain rate –HSR- (~103 s-1) and temperatures between 25°C and 400°C. Results at HSR were compared with additional tests performed at quasi-static conditions (5x10-4 s-1, 5x10-3 s-1 y 5x10-2 s-1) and published in high impact Scientific Journals.
What do you value most about your stage at IMDEA Materials and what do you think was the greatest accomplishment while being here?
From my PhD at the IMDEA Materials Institute, there are so many things that are an asset for me and my professional career. I could summarize some of them: firstly, the very interesting research subject that I carried out with an outstanding leader (Dr. Perez-Prado) and surrounded by high qualified professionals that come from the best Universities and Research Institutes around the world. Most of them are considered as references in their field of knowledge. Great people always willing to help and to share knowledge. It is a real luxury to learn and to develop your first own project in a culture of technical excellence and with an incomparable team spirit.
Secondly, the opportunities and continuous support that the Institute, my workmates, the Director at that time (Prof. Llorca) and my supervisor (Dr. Teresa Pérez-Prado) gave me to achieve my goals and to continuously improve as a professional. I had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with high standing companies and institutions and to attend national and international conferences that had also contributed to develop some of my technical and soft-skills.
Thirdly, the motivation for working hard, for finding the way to do our work better and better, to find solutions beyond the conventional ones, to learn how to “think out of the box”. Also, the international environment: it is an enriching experience to work, learn and share with people from different cultures, countries and languages.
But there is one special thing that I could highlight because it really was for me a professional breaking point. This thing is part of the DNA of the IMDEA Materials Institute: I refer to be aware of the importance of the Technology Transfer from the Research to the Industry. Now, for me, it is a work philosophy that I try to apply or implement in all places where I have been working.
By now, you have already worked at AIRBUS, TALGO and AERNNOVA, all of them reference companies in the transport sector, and now you just started working in the aerospace sector at GMV, can you tell us what do you enjoy the most about it and what are your current research/work lines?
Railway and aerospace are sectors with very high safety?? requirements. Most of them are associated to the selection of the correct material for the correct performance. In terms of materials, both sector continuously require new materials with challenging performances such as lower weight, cheaper manufacturing processes, etc. Undoubtedly, contributing to find this type of new solutions in multidisciplinary teams is what I enjoy the most. This task has additional steps that are also very interesting and that I really enjoy to perform. Those are the prototyping and industrialization of these solutions as well as to assess their inner quality according to the very critical quality requirements of the aerospace and railway standards.
Those are my main work lines: Materials and Processes R&D activities and quality assurance, as well as the continuous enhancement of processes and manufactured parts.
Did those companies provide you with a career development plan? If not, where would you like to focus your career?
Yes, absolutely yes! It is one of my requirements as professional: to join a company that offers me a career development plan and that could support me in my professional necessities and concerns.
During your time at IMDEA Materials you worked in projects related to the automotive industry, then in one of the most important companies of the aeronautic sector, afterwards in one of the top companies in the railway sector in Spain, and now you are back to aeronautics/aerospace, so you must have a very complete vision regarding the requirements that the transport sector has for materials scientists. Which do you think are the main qualities (technical and personal) that companies such as the ones you worked in look for in new materials scientists or specialists?
According to my experience some of the appreciated personal and professional skills are:
- To have scientific and technical knowledge as well as a global vision of the sector and market.
- To get up-to-date to the cutting edge developments and technologies of suppliers and competitors.
- To propose solutions feasible in the short term.
- Capacity to adapt.
- Very high analytical skills.
- Effective organisational skills.
- Commercial awareness and teamworking skills
Did you have the opportunity to apply your knowledge from each sector to the others?
Yes, of course. I think that one of the advantages of working as materials specialist is that the knowledge that we consolidate in one sector can be adapted to another.
Once we understand the behaviour of a specific material, when we know how a determined manufacturing process has an influence in the microstructure, mechanical response and in the different properties of the material, then, it is possible to adapt this knowledge to different sectors.
Each sector is different because the product, requirements and necessities are different. But it is possible to transfer and adapt technical solutions from one sector to another.
How valuable are for your current position the skills you obtained during your PhD at IMDEA Materials and which other ones you feel missing now that you have some perspective about it?
The skills developed during my PhD at IMDEA Materials have a significant impact to successfully carry out tasks and projects in the industry. Not only for the significant background in materials science and technology, but also for the know-how in reviewing a state of the art, planning actions, designing test campaigns, analyzing results, finding solutions and defining the next steps.
Now that I’ve been working in the industry for quite some time, what I feel missing is the possibility of going deeper into solutions and the very short time for deliverables. For some organizations it is preferably to assume some risks than to invest more time and budget in an entirely finished task.
Many people that leave academic careers have second thoughts about returning to this career path. How was for you the transition from academia to industry and what are the advantages and drawbacks of each side from your perspective?
It is true. I think that these “second thoughts about returning” to research is due to the vocational nature of the academic career. I adapted easily to the industry, maybe because I carried out a dissertation for an automotive company, that responded to one technical necessity that they had.
From my point of view, working in the industry has many advantages. For example, it is possible to be involved in different and very dissimilar projects. Usually it allows us to learn subjects that are sometimes out of our expertise field. It is also possible to perform transversal activities (for different departments) which allows to have a more general overview of the process and product. We are more in contact with real processes and products. Additionally, I think that it is easier to develop management skills in a company. However, at the industry there is a lot of pressure to find solutions in a short period of time, which sometimes are not the best ones in terms of product performance (maturity, cost, feasibility of industrialization, capacity of the solution shall be always considered). Sometimes there is not enough time for a deep analysis and technical resources are not always the optimal ones even when exceptional solutions are expected.
From my perspective, working at academia involves many advantages. For example, we could achieve a deeper knowledge in our field of research and we could access to cutting-edge technology facilities around the world to find the best solution to the problem. However, at academia, sometimes we have not the real perspective of working at the industry and some aspects and problems of real manufacturing process are not considered.
How different do you think it is working in the industry with respect to doing academic research? What are your future perspectives?
Doing academic research gives you the possibility of working to find the answer of your own questions. It is a very motivating context because you have the feeling that your work satisfies your personal and professional curiosities. Researchers use to manage their own time in finding the better solutions and no one is continuously telling you what to do and how to perform the tasks. Furthermore, scientists use to be interested in developing networks around the world and sharing knowledge.
On the contrary, generally at industry, professionals use to work for pre-defined projects or products where the know-how is usually standardized and where creativity is not necessarily required. At industry, most of the time free sharing results is not allowed in order to protect the business from competitors. In addition, projects use to be developed with short-term goals which requires very strict time-schedules. Of course, it strongly depends on the company. I feel fortunate because I have always joined companies that pursue Innovation and where “technology transfer” from research to industry is appreciated. I really enjoy working for real applications and I always try to apply the “know-why” from my experience in academic research as well as the “know-how” from industrial application to find an equilibrium between both sectors to have a better impact on results.
What career advice or message would you give to PhD students or early post-docs?
Firstly, I think that PhD and post-docs play a very important role in the deep knowledge transfer from the academy to the industry. If the study is in the frame of materials and processes enhancement it is very important to visit industries and to be in contact with real processes and materials performance. It is one way for covering company necessities and for detecting improvement opportunities that could positively impact the industry activity and technologies.
Additionally, as a personal advice, I say: love what you do. Join only exciting projects; it is the only way to maintain a high motivation at work and to enjoy your work. Be disciplined, persistent, curious, and work very hard for your goals. Join teams that love what they do, it will make easier you day-by-day at work. Use your knowledge to help others. Share your knowledge. Build up your professional network worldwide.