My name is Peace Kim, and I am originally from South Korea. My curiosity and passion for metals naturally guided me to choose Materials Science and Engineering in university. Before I was 8, I had already collected various types of metals including iron (steel), copper, aluminum, zinc, tin, silver, gold and amazing titanium. Discovering that there were many types of different metals and alloy besides mundane stainless steel and aluminum soda cans as a small nerdy kid had ignited my “What I want to be” career engine. This engine allowed me to go through the tough jungle of STEM: It was not an easy journey, but I had focused on mathematics, physics and chemistry until I fell in love with them. Yes, it is possible to fall in love with them when you think it’s impossible.
But my true love was metal production. I went to Norway for graduate school (Materials Science and Engineering – focused on Extractive Metallurgy) because it was one of the countries with a renowned history of making metals and alloys. By this time, I was ready to indulge into the wonders of extractive metallurgy: This was the time where I learned to production ferrous and non-ferrous alloys with novel methods, and I was good at it. To be honest, after going through all that time with mathematics, physics and chemistry, I just couldn’t fail with extractive metallurgy but excel at it. Yes, it’s true that the more you hang out with fundamentals, the more you’ll easily fall in love with your area of interest and be good at it.
Now, I’m in pursuit of making the world a better place by applying my passion and skills to critical metals production. As a senior research scientist at a mining and metal production company, I am developing novel ways to produce critical metals without greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous waste. To accomplish this, I’ve set my goals to complete 5 patents pertaining to clean production of critical metals including titanium, zirconium and rare earth metals, which are crucial materials to cutting-edge technologies. I’m half done with this career pursuit and will keep on going: Passion for metals and STEM fundamentals are my fuel and engine which kept me going.
There was a difficult time when searching for jobs was not easy. Even with a doctorate degree and fancy resume, I was invisible to the industry. After experiencing so much failure to secure a job, I had realized that I was speaking the wrong language in a world I did not know much.
I was not aware of the “industrial language” when I was applying for jobs outside of school. As a student, I was familiar with the “academic language”, which was mostly about science and philosophy. The industrial language simply requires more than that: How is your outstanding work going to benefit us?
Looking back then, I remember I kept failing to impress the interviewers because I was busy explaining my work and not how it was going to be useful to them. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way: It’s impressive what you have accomplished in school. But nobody really cares or much understands about the details of your academic endeavors. They want to know how your wonderful work can be a benefit to them.
Only after speaking the right language, which is the “industrial language”, I’ve became more visible to potential hirers. For example, I highlighted some parts of my work which can be potentially beneficial by increasing the efficiency of a current technology. I was pretty sure that the recruiter had less idea of my theory (including my work and methodologies), but they sure loved me. I was instantly hired as a senior researcher (considering my academic background and status) as my first industry job. Now, I’m a senior research scientist at another company, and the same method of using the industrial language to the recruiters also had worked.
Do not underestimate networking. Networking is a great opportunity to make yourself more visible to the industrial world if you are pursuing a career in the industry rather than school.
This is the case especially for graduate students. During your pursuit for a masters for PhD degree, you are naturally exposed to industrial projects (especially if you are in the STEM field). Do not only focus on your academics (such as writing a journal paper and etc.), but also please make sure to make friends from industries which supports your projects. You might already be securing a future job even before finishing school.
Find your passion. Let it naturally help you build the engine to accomplish your goals. For me, the curiosity of learning different metals and how to produce them was my main fuel. To burn that fuel, I built an engine called STEM fundamentals (mathematics, physics and chemistry) even though it had taken a long time. Now, I can go such a distance with it.