Q&A with Maruthi Devarakonda
BS in Mechanical Engineering, 2000—Nagarjuna University
MS in Mechanical Engineering, 2003—University of Toledo
PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, 2008—Michigan Tech
Current position: Research Engineer for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington
Q: What was the focus of your graduate research?
A: Emissions from mobile sources, such as passenger cars and trucks, are a huge health concern in the US. My focus was to develop better control strategies in order to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) from heavy-duty vehicles running on diesel engines. I developed model-based control strategies for a catalytic converter that resulted in optimal performance.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect?
A: Because the research area demands an interdisciplinary background, the challenge was to understand and apply the basics of chemical kinetics and reaction engineering. Coming from an ME background all throughout, this was a challenge, initially.
Q: What was the best part about the experience?
A: I loved my entire graduate school experience at Michigan Tech. I was a lead teaching assistant and coordinator for the senior controls lab for five semesters. I had an opportunity to initiate NOx control research in the ME-EM department and successfully co-authored more than half a million dollars of research proposals as a PhD candidate. Almost all of the credit should go to my advisor, Professor Gordon Parker, who has been a fantastic mentor and a great guide to me.
Q: What are you doing now that you’ve graduated?
A: After graduating with a PhD in early 2008, I joined the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) as a postdoctoral research fellow. I was transitioned into a permanent staff position in late 2009, and since then, I have been working as a research engineer, supporting many energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects.
Q: Were there any experiences at Tech that helped with your current success?
A: Many of the lessons I learned at Tech still guide me here at the laboratory. Being positive and persevering is extremely important as a research professional, and understanding the big picture when trying to solve a problem or when writing a research proposal is critical. My journey at Michigan Tech has taught me all of this to a significant extent.
Q: Did your time in graduate school change (or shape) your life, and if so, how?
A: Absolutely. I feel that I gained many additional qualifications, especially in proposal writing, while at Tech, and that surely has given me an edge over many PhD students who have graduated from other institutions—in terms of proposal-writing and project-management experience. Gaining such experience early on, while at Tech, has helped me immensely at PNNL, especially in initiating research with other organizations.
Q: What advice would you give to first-year graduate students?
A: Follow your dreams while at Tech with complete passion, dedication, and perseverance, and I bet you will achieve more than what you initially aspire to do. Make sure you have the target in mind, and keep an eye on it all the time.