Porter Weeks

The Institute of Materials Science & Engineering
Degree pursuing: PhD in materials science & engineering
Hometown: Corning, New York

Where did you complete your undergraduate degree? 
College of the Holy Cross 
What motivated you to earn a graduate engineering degree? 
After graduating from college, I spent two years working as a research technician at Corning Incorporated, a glass company in upstate New York. At the time, I would see research scientists design experiments to answer specific questions from customers and these experiments would almost always yield answers to the question once completed. When I asked them where I can learn how to convert some nebulous question into an effective experimental plan that will yield meaningful results, they all told me the same thing: Get a PhD. 
Please provide your lab and a description of research. 
I work in the Katharine Flores Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science (MEMS). I work on a small class of materials called metallic glasses that result from the rapid cooling of metallic alloys to form a disordered amorphous structure rather than the repetitive crystalline structure typically found in these materials where this amorphous structure yields a variety of interesting properties such as high-elastic limit and thermoplastic formability. Specifically, I work on understanding why certain metallic alloys are better at forming metallic glasses than others through the analysis of the simulated liquid structure. 
What drew you to this area of research? 
I already had experience working with silicate glasses from my time at Corning Incorporated. Therefore, working on another amorphous material in the form of metallic glasses was a natural progression for me and provided an opportunity to work on a class of materials that is relatively unknown and not very well understood. 
Why did you pick WashU? 
When I was looking for graduate programs in materials science and engineering, my wife, Julia, was also looking to get a master's degree in social work. We decided that we were going to look for programs that were good for both of us, but we quickly discovered that materials science and social work do not often go hand-in-hand as far as areas of expertise at universities. Enter WashU with the Institute of Materials Science & Engineering (IMSE) for me and the highly rated Brown School of Social Work for Julia. The choice to move out to St. Louis together was an easy one given the opportunities that the university provided for both of us. 
Who is your favorite instructor and why? 
I would have to say that my favorite instructor was Prof. Ken Kelton who was my instructor for Kinetics of Materials. While the course remains one of the most challenging that I have ever taken, Prof. Kelton's ability to explain extremely complicated concepts on a level that I could understand was incredible. 
What advice would you give to a new student?   
As far as PhD candidates are concerned, I would say to not be afraid to try new things, be wrong, and make mistakes. I have learned just as much from my failures as a PhD candidate as I have from my successes. I would encourage them to use the inevitable roadblocks as learning experiences whether they be failed experiments, rejected publications, or something else entirely. In my experience, those who are successful in a PhD program are seldom smarter or more intelligent than those who are not. Rather, those who are successful have the grit and determination to keep working on something when it seems like nothing is going right. 
What is your favorite thing about St. Louis? 
My favorite thing about St. Louis is the variety of communities that are present yet distinct within the same city. From Clayton to Central West End to Tower Grove to the Hill to Downtown, there is seemingly something for everyone in St. Louis. 
What campus activities or groups would you recommend to a new student? 
I have always been a part of the Peer Mentoring Committee in IMSE and this is something that I have greatly enjoyed. Being able to help young students prepare for the qualifying exam and just being there when other students in the program need someone to talk to who is not a professor or advisor has been an incredibly rewarding experience. 
What are your plans for the future? 
I plan to go back to Corning Incorporated where I worked for two years before coming to WashU. As a research scientist, I hope to invent new products and make the world a better place.