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Olin Hall, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Graduate Career Services

Ph.D Alumni Spotlight - Brian Burks

Current Job Title -  National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow
Name of Organization -  National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Undergraduate Degree -  Bachelor of Arts, Physics, Hastings College
Graduate Degree #1 - Master of Science, Mechanical Engineering, University of Denver
Graduate Degree #2 - Doctor of Philosophy, Mechanical Engineering, University of Denver

Brian Burks


What does your current position entail?
My current position is primarily focused on the development of nondestructive evaluation techniques for structural health monitoring, particularly for infrastructure applications.  Specifics are related to guided wave inspection for flaw identification and size determination, as well as the development of models for predicting wave propagation phenomena in complex materials and structures.

How did you get your current position?
My current position arose from a national competition held quarterly (bi-annually in the case of NIST) by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).  In the competition, recent PhD graduates write proposals aimed at addressing the needs of various national laboratories.  The proposals are graded by a panel appointed by the NAS and top candidates receive offers for a postdoctoral fellowship.

In relation to graduation, when did you start the job search and when did you secure your position?
I began my job search approximately 12 months ahead of my anticipated defense date. For my particular situation I anticipated the first proposal I submitted to be rejected, but to receive positive feedback from the review process. With the comments from the first review process, I would have been able to strengthen my proposal and have a better chance at having it accepted the second time. This was advice that I received from my current boss, Dr. Jim Fekete, when we were discussing how to go about being successful in the highly competitive NRC competition. I was fortunate in that my proposal was awarded on the first review process (approximately 9 months ahead of my defense date), but I still believe that Jim's guidance was quite sound.

In regards to the job search process, did anything surprise you?
The amount of time required to put together a well polished CV, proposal, etc.

What recommendations do you have for current students?
Begin the job search process early.  It takes a fair bit of time to identify what is truly important in a prospective job (i.e., location, type of work to be performed, benefits, salary, etc.) and then to find job opportunities that meet one's particular criteria.

Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your current position?
The ability to critically evaluate my own results and the results of others.  In my opinion, the use of critical evaluation is often underutilized in today's society.  By critically evaluating results, data, or techniques we are able to identify weaknesses and make improvements.

If you were in your graduate program again, what would you do differently, if anything?
I am quite happy with the way my graduate experience progressed.  I believe a large reason for my positive experiences were the opportunities afforded to me by the Mechanical Engineering department. The professors in this department were always looking to aid the graduate students in the department who were willing to put in the work to be successful.