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Women In Engineering Profile: Victoria Miller
December 26, 2018
Source: ASM International
This profile series introduces leading materials scientists from around the world who happen to be females. Here we speak with Victoria (Tori) Miller, assistant professor in materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University.
What does your typical workday look like?
Currently, my lab is still in the process of being set up. So that has been my primary focus. It has been a learning experience because I am responsible for both the managerial aspects (coordinating deliveries and managing budgets) as well as tinkering with the equipment and setting up the labs. It has been a lot to juggle, but it is definitely fun!
I also spend more time writing than I ever thought I would—thankfully, I enjoy it. I am writing everything from grant proposals and papers to recommendation letters for students. Organizing my thoughts, getting them down on paper, and sharing them with the scientific community is energizing, even though it can be intimidating or stressful some days.
Every day I carve out time to devote to the students in my research group. Sometimes this involves spending time with them in the lab fixing equipment, other times we are brainstorming and scribbling on the whiteboard, and sometimes I am just joining them for coffee.
What is your engineering background?
I decided I wanted to be a metallurgist after attending an ASM Materials Camp when I was 14 and I never looked back. I was hired as an intern working in metallurgical research and development at Ford Motor Co. in high school and that cemented my decision. It also convinced me that I needed a Ph.D. to work with the really fun stuff! That job also was my introduction to working with magnesium alloys, which turned into a long-term interest.
I earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan, followed by a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara with internships at Toyota and Lockheed Martin along the way. During my Ph.D. program, I had my first experience teaching and realized I did not want to give that up. So I ultimately decided to pursue a career in academia.
What attracted you to engineering?
I know it may be a stereotype for engineers, but I have always enjoyed making and breaking things. I grew up in a rural area and always played in the forest. I was constantly trying to build stuff out of sticks, grass, and mud. I also spent a lot of time attempting to make composite materials with the mechanical properties I wanted. In retrospect, it is no surprise that I studied materials science and engineering (MSE).
But what really kept me interested in MSE were the microscopes. I received my first microscope when I was in elementary school and was immensely disappointed when the resolution wasn’t good enough to see bacteria. I was on a quest to see ever-smaller parts of the world. I initially got to play with a scanning electron microscope in high school, and I finally moved on to looking at atomic-scale crystalline defects with transmission electron microscopes.
Powerlifting and attending live music events (coincidentally, it’s mostly metal).
Last book read?
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
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