YCN - Industry in Spot: Victoria Christensen (University of California, Santa Barbara)

I am a third-year PhD student in Professor Frank Zok’s group at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My funding comes from IHI, a Japanese company working on developing ceramic matrix composite materials for commercial turbine engines.

I work on fundamental problems facing these materials that will benefit IHI in their material development. Specifically, I study oxidation of boron nitride coatings within these ceramic matrix composites when they are exposed to water vapor environments. 

For you, what are the main advantages to do a PhD with industry funding? 

I like that my research has a clear application to the turbine engine industry, and I can see that my research is impactful. We have meetings with IHI employees every few months to update them on our progress. These meetings keep me motivated to generate results in the lab. It is also good practice presenting my work and interacting with colleagues from a different country. In June 2019, I travelled to Japan with my research group to meet with IHI colleagues and tour their facilities. It was an unforgettable experience!! 

And then, what are the main disadvantages to do a PhD with industry funding? 

I depend on IHI to provide specimens for my experiments. Sometimes it takes a while to get the specimens from Japan to the US due to different clearances and custom requirements. When we do get the specimens, they cannot tell us much about the processing of the material because it is protected by intellectual property. Sometimes the microstructures of the specimens can differ from batch to batch and we cannot know why. Luckily, that is normal when working with companies in this field, so it doesn’t stop me from publishing my work. My PI has discussions with our IHI colleagues if we need new or better specimens for our experiments.   

Do you recommend young researchers get industry funding? 

If you like to see a clear application of your research, yes! Also, if you would like to work in industry one day, this is a great path. My research group also has funding from Pratt and Whitney, and we have had many students work there after they graduate. It is a great way to build connections to people in industry and get an inside look at what their work is like compared to research in academia. The research is fun too!  

Victoria Christensen
Materials Department
University of California, Santa Barbara