PhD in Chemical Engineering
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice I've ever been given is to always carry around a notebook. Though I suppose the true advice is what that implies: to write everything down. Writing out my thoughts and reasons why I want to try things (in terms of research) has been so helpful! Not only do I have a handful of notebooks (I'm really organized so each one serves a different purpose) but I've also found that typing up notes to myself when I need to get an idea out quickly is so helpful as well.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Since I'm still working toward earning my PhD, I'd have to say my greatest accomplishment was running TSP DIY last year (TPS = The Speed Project). It's normally a relay-style race from the Santa Monica Pier to the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, but because of COVID we did it around Santa Monica and Beverley Hills. I ran 31 miles at 6:27 average mile pace over the course of the 31-hour 45-minute race with 8 other women. It was incredible and I can't wait to run the real TSP relay next year!
What's your favorite impulse purchase from the past 12 months?
I don't impulse buy! I have to stick to my budget and I usually plan out my bigger purchases a few months in advance to spread them out. Once in a while I'll be tempted by the Madewell sales or buying a few more books than the one that I'm looking for, but if I can't fit it in my budget I don't buy it.
Please describe a little about your research and what excites you about it.
My research is a very interesting mix of materials science, electrical engineering, microscopy, and cancer biology! I'm currently working on creating both a magnetic hydrogel system and electromagnetic microscope mount to be able to use and applied magnetic field to change the mechanical properties of the hydrogel. I'm using this as a tumor microenvironment model to study howincreased material stiffness (modulus) changes the biological properties of cancer organoids grown in the hydrogel matrix. Eventually, I'll use this to study the cellular secretion profile and pair the system with a mechanotransductor to get both biological-only and material/organoid interface read-outs. I'm excited to work on engineering solutions to study biological effects and I've found myself working in the biophysics field - an industry I never knew existed until I began designing my project - and it truly forces us to push the boundaries between engineering, physical sciences, and biology to unlock the fundamental properties of fibrotic diseases.
If you could choose any other profession outside of engineering or computer science, what would it be?
I would hands down be a professional athlete. I was a student-athlete in undergrad and I'm really involved in the running community here in Los Angeles and if I was ever given the opportunity, I would jump into full-time training.
What are some factors that helped you decide to pursue your PhD at USC?
Beyond USC's location, I saw within USC the opportunity to truly forge my own path. Part of this is because I recognized my PI's encouragement for collaborations (both within and outside of USC) and actively pursued an institution that would support me but also give me the freedom to create at the same time as investigating biologically-inspired questions.
If you were to recommend to an incoming student 3 places to go in California/Los Angeles, what would they be?
There's too much to pick for all of California, so I'll limit it to a ~4 hour drive from LA. I absolutely love Death Valley National Park! In LA, the Santa Monica Mountains are probably where I spend most of my weekends (cycling through, but hiking and running are incredible there too) and while I'm talking of mountains, the access to various national forests is great here too (Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino and a few of those mountains are often my cycling destinations for Saturdays as well). My third place would be Ginger's Divine Ice Cream on Washington in Culver City; it's probably the best ice cream I've ever had!
What is a memory you'll cherish about your time at USC?
A memory I'll always cherish from USC actually happened during my visit weekend. It rained the whole day we toured campus and spoke with professors. Once I got out of my final meeting (with my current PI) and went to head back to the hotel, a rainbow popped up across campus I ended up walking back through campus under it. I think it was a sign haha!
What's one thing about you that might surprise me?
I was on Good Morning America when I was in middle school on accident. I went to watch the Fray perform, but during the interview with Steve Martin (he was promoting the Pink Panther movie) they decided to ask the crowd to try and repeat things in his character's accent. They came up to me! After I did it, the hostess turned to Steve and said, "I guess the accent isn't so hard!" which I took to mean I did pretty well.
What are your plans after graduation?
I'm really not sure what I want to do after graduation! I have a couple more years and right now I'm not sure if I want to continue my career doing benchwork or transition to a more consulting-type position. I love problem solving and building but I also really love science communication and public speaking, so I know I'll have to find the right position that will give me a good balance of both.
Hometown (city, country):
Wading River, NY, USA
Personal Website (if any):
Prof. Andrea Armani
PhD in Chemical Engineering
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I am originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador. My bachelor’s degree is in chemical engineering, and after graduating, I worked for a few years as a Production Supervisor at a company called Holcim in Ecuador. I have always wanted to study abroad, so I took my chance and I came to USC.
What attracted you to choose USC for your graduate studies?
It’s a world class university and the research I’m doing here is related to my interests, which is a mixture of chemical engineering and computational research.
Tell us about your interests outside the classroom.
Currently, I serve as the Graduate Student Representative for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Chapter at USC. I plan activities tailored to our Hispanic graduate students. Our most popular event is Painting Night! We gather together to paint on small canvases, it is very relaxing.
Last year, I served as part of the Center of Engineering Diversity Advisory Board at USC. We held meetings were we gave feedback and shared our concerns about the needs of our communities.
During my free time, I play the guitar. I also love watching soccer and movies.
How has SHPE helped you grow?
In so many ways. Professionally, thanks to SHPE I have learned networking techniques, how to follow up after meeting someone either by email or by Linkedin, how to approach people in networking events; in general some social conventions that we should apply when we attempt to grow our network. Socially, there are always opportunities to connect with other Hispanic graduate students during the SHPE events. That helped to make more friends!
Tell us about some exciting and unforgettable incidents from your two years at USC.
Related to my research, the publication of my first paper was incredibly important to me. I worked for a year and a half on it before I was able to finally publish it.
I would also say that my networking skills have strengthened thanks to many workshops I have attended. I’ve been able to expand my network considerably and meet many new people.
Is there something that may surprise people about you?
I also have a master’s in business administration!
Overall, how has the PhD journey been at USC?
I would say that it has been probably one of the most fruitful experiences in my life. I have grown a lot, both personally and professionally. Studying abroad in Los Angeles and at USC has been a great time learning about other cultures and about myself and learning how to conduct world class research.
What are your future plans after completing your Phd?
My aim is to do research either in the semiconductor or chemical industries.
What innovations/discoveries do you hope to see (or be a part of!) in the next ten years?
The computational techniques that I use are currently moving towards a combination that involves machine learning to either predict material properties or to accelerate molecular simulation. I think exciting times about this are coming.