Graduate school programs offer an extraordinarily valuable experience for students looking to apply their chemical engineering degree towards research and development. For example, Chethan (Chet) Acharya, who earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the Capstone, used his graduate-level education to accelerate his professional development. Through graduate school, Chet elevated his understanding of the research process, attained essential skills centered around collaboration and communication, and expanded his professional network and credibility, all of which played a major role in his ascension to Principal Engineer at Southern Company (Birmingham, AL).
During his master’s degree, Chet was part of Dr. Alan Lane’s team, which conducted research on hydrogen fuel cells as part of a Department of Energy funded initiative to develop more sustainable energy solutions for the transportation sector. This experience gave Chethan the opportunity to conduct innovative experimental work with meaningful impact on a real-world problem. After completing his Masters, Chethan pursued his Ph.D. and was advised by Dr. Heath Turner, whose work was centered around increasing the durability and sustainability of fuel cell electrodes. Chet’s contributions to the Turner group were two-fold. First, he executed key computational analysis to develop projections for the performance of fuel cells based on certain conditions. Then, he carried out experiments to validate the findings from his calculations. Hence, Chethan emerged from graduate school experienced in both experimental and computational research.
One of the biggest takeaways Chethan had from grad school was the importance of collaboration. In his Ph.D. research, Chethan consistently worked with other people to develop new ideas and gain insights for his calculations. For example, even though he was part of Dr. Heath Turner’s group, he worked with Dr. Tonya Klein to analyze the impacts of catalysis on his project. Moreover, he met with various professors from UA’s chemistry department to assess the properties and behaviors of certain compounds. This process illustrated to Chethan that research is an open-ended and interconnected process and taught him that collaboration is the key to success. This lesson has played an important role in his work at Southern Company. He is consistently meeting with new people to work on technologies and show how they can be implemented at powerplants. Thus, the emphasis on collaboration Chet experienced in graduate school served as valuable preparation for the professional world.
Chethan also credits graduate school for boosting his ability to communicate with others. In his master’s and Ph.D. programs, he frequently had to write reports and present on his research in a way that was intricate and complete, yet straightforward. In general, Chethan believes that grad school helped him become more articulate, which has helped him become a versatile asset as an employee. Lastly, Chethan claims that graduate school opened him to a vast array of career opportunities. At conferences, Chethan was able to meet with and share his work with major companies. Moreover, Chet received multiple prestigious awards* for the research that he published, which, in conjunction with his additional degrees, offered an enhanced degree of credibility to his resume. Hence, following the completion of his Ph.D., Chethan was in a great position to start his career.
2008 UA college of engineering outstanding dissertation award
2007 AIChE Computational Molecular Science and Engineering Forum graduate student award
2007 AIChE Catalysis and reaction Engineering Division graduate student award
2008 Chemical and Biological Engineering Graduate Student of the Year chosen by Alabama Society of Professional Engineers
Technology Transfer Award from Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)