NC State graduate Emily McGuinness (‘16) hopes to be a professor one day, and she is well on her way. The Wilson College of Textiles alumna, who double majored in chemical engineering and textile engineering with a concentration in chemical processing, is pursuing her Ph.D. at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a graduate research assistant with the university’s Losego Group under the tutelage of Dr. Mark Losego, studying vapor phase infiltration for the creation of advanced polymer and textile materials. She is a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow (NDSEG) and was also offered a fellowship with the National Science Foundation (NSF).  

While at NC State, McGuinness was part of the Senior Design student team that won Best in Show at the 2016 Senior Design Day for the Porticool Cooling Vest v2.0, which helped improve upon the existing Porticos cooling vest, an active cooling garment designed for emergency responders. She worked as an undergraduate research assistant with the college’s Textile Protection and Comfort Center (T-PACC), a manager with the NC State Engineering Career Fair and an Engineering Ambassador, served as the financial director with the NC State chapter of Engineers without Borders, and spent several months in the Czech Republic as a summer research assistant with the Technical University of Liberec.

What are your significant job responsibilities? What is a typical day like?  

My job responsibilities vary widely from day to day! As a graduate student, I spend my time in classes, in the lab, serving as a teaching assistant, managing lab inventories, conducting safety training, and more. My primary responsibilities are those of a researcher and in that capacity I am studying the creation of hybrid polymers for the absorption of odor molecules. On any given day my work varies from wiring control boxes together to create feedback systems for the heaters on our reactors to mentoring undergraduate students in their work as well as data analysis and generally following the engineering design process.

How did you find out about this position and what was the interview process like?

Early on in my undergraduate degrees I became interested in both teaching and conducting research. Due to this, I aspire to combine these passions as a professor (someday). This aspiration drove me to pursue graduate school, and my background in textile and chemical engineering made me well suited for a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. I applied to a number of schools (similar to the college application process) and then went on visit weekends where I was accepted. On these visits, graduate students speak with potential research advisors. Ultimately, I chose Georgia Tech and Dr. Losego based on many Skype conversations and speaking with students already in the lab. Graduate school is a bit different from industry in that the selection of advisor is dependent upon a match between both the advisor and the student.

With regard to NDSEG and NSF graduate fellowship applications, the process was entirely application based and I was fortunate enough to be awarded both! The amazing thing about earning a graduate fellowship is that my research is now entirely my own and I have the intellectual freedom to pursue the research directions my advisor and I feel are most interesting.

What is the biggest difference between being in college and working in industry?

Graduate school is very different than both college and industry. I still take classes (especially in the first few years), but the focus is primarily on research and creating science! In graduate school, I feel you have more freedom than most industry jobs as you and your advisor craft your project as you move forward.

What experiences did you take from COT that you can say have helped in your new career?

My research experience at T-PACC and with the senior design project have definitely helped in graduate school! Learning the intangible skills of project management, pivoting when necessary, and managing ambiguity in these experiences has been integral to my current role as a researcher. The senior design program at COT is a phenomenal program and truly helped me understand how to connect the book knowledge of the classroom to problem solving in real applications.

Was there a professor at COT who made an impact on you?

Dr. Pasquinelli was an incredible mentor to me during my time at COT. She went above and beyond in her role as an academic advisor and really guided my time at NC State. Having such a strong role model in place at NC State helped me have the confidence to pursue graduate school. I deeply appreciate everything she did for me.

Dr. Barker at T-PACC also had an enormous impact on my career. By taking me on to conduct research and mentoring me as a young scientist and engineer, he taught me the skills to be successful in a research environment. I cannot speak highly enough of him and all of the people working at T-PACC.

What is the best thing about the city you now live in?

THE FOOD! Atlanta has amazing restaurants from all cuisines. I am really enjoying trying them all as well as attending the many free events throughout the city.

Do you have any advice about job searching or are there things that you know now that you wished you had known as a student and that we can share with our current and future students?  

I would advise students to have confidence in their abilities and apply for positions even if they are a long shot. The worst-case scenario is you are told no, but there is always a chance you will be told yes! I didn’t think I was qualified for many of the schools or fellowship programs I was accepted into, but applied anyways and am happy that I did.

Also, if you are accepted at an incredible position at a company, at a prestigious graduate school, or into a fellowship program know that you didn’t trick anyone in getting there. You are capable and do belong even though at times it may not feel that way. Everyone struggles in adjusting to a new role, so just because a new position is challenging for you it does not mean you are not capable.

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