Michael Boehm is a Senior Scientist at Mondelēz, and he has worked a range of jobs since graduate school: Senior Physical Scientist at Motif FoodWorks
and Assoc. Principal Scientist at PepsiCo. (with Dr. Stefan Baier), postdocs in Okinawa (with Prof. Amy Shen) and Australia (with Prof. Jason Stokes), Ph.D. at The Ohio State
University (with Prof. Kurt Koelling). Michael has predominantly worked to apply rheological, tribological and chemical engineering principles to the tasks of rational food
design and linking sensory percepts with physicochemical properties. He has also worked with a range of materials, including pastes for automotive applications, gel scaffolds
and human brain tissue.
Please give a brief summation of your day-to-day work?
As a SME (subject matter expert) in food physics and food rheology I predominantly measure—and design novel techniques to measure—the rheological behavior of myriad
materials (liquids, pastes, gels, doughs). But more importantly I help my colleagues in PD (product design) rationally formulate new foods and identify new ingredients
by linking inherent physical properties with macroscale behaviors (during manufacturing, while on the shelf and during consumption). I may measure a viscosity one day,
measure the thermo-rheology of a soft solid the next day, meet with sensory experts to discuss which mouthfeel attributes to study with a tasting panel a third day.
How do you use rheology in your day-to day work?
Everything flows, and this is exemplified by the intricate workings of a manufacturing plant. I use rheological measurements to guide the processing of raw materials,
to study final product shelf stability and to find relationships between sensory percepts and rheology.
What inspired you to become a scientist and/or pursue a career in your specific field?
The pursuit of knowledge and the unknown. I’m also fascinated by how things flow and deform.
When did you decide to pursue a career in industry/government?
After a couple postdocs—I was still unsure if I preferred Academia or Industry.
What has been the most rewarding part of your career thus far?
Collaborating with some great academics on projects that spanned fundamental studies and practical applications.
How has involvement with The Society of Rheology helped to shape/influence your career?
I have had partnerships with several academics who are active within the SoR. Networking at conferences started it all.
After completing formal education, what is one new skill set that you developed/acquired that has been critical for your career?
Learning to work within a team comprising many people with varied skill sets (some not at all close to my own) and learning how to collaborate with others who have
their own deliverables, their own managers, their own corporate functions. And this is a key lesson for any student considering industry work—people on a team share
a goal but not all goals, and they share one project timeline but not all project timelines.
What are the two most important non-technical skills for a career in science?
Time management. Patience.
What was the biggest challenge moving from academia into your current career?
Accepting that my goal to publish fundamental science is nearly irrelevant to corporate managers, but also learning that with a slight tweak to my perspective
I could contribute to company goals and publish.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had received earlier in your career?
Be a strong collaborator who also self-promotes.
What advice would you give to students making the transition to their first job?
Learn how to be indispensable.
What advice would you give to students considering graduate school?
Go for it. Take the time to explore some small piece of Science thoroughly and purposefully.
Looking towards the future, what are you most excited about in your career and/or science?
Finding that perfect balance between fundamental science and practical engineering.
If you could meet and have lunch with one scientist (past or present), who would it be and why?
Richard Feynman, because I want to learn how to play the bongo drums.
What challenges and benefits have you seen from collaborations between academia and industry?
The time scale for results typically conflicts. But a well-structured collaboration can lead to publishable fundamental science and practical product outcomes.
For hiring managers
What pointers would you give to first time job seeking students?
Be patient. Don’t get discouraged. Practice interviewing. Take extra time to write a good cover letter.
When is the optimum time to start looking for jobs during graduate school?
Whenever an internship opportunity presents itself, take it. For your career, hiring usually takes 1-2 months so plan accordingly during your thesis writing period.
Does flexibility in job search play a role in current times, especially when the job market seems to be highly competitive?
I wish I could say yes, but my experience is that companies tend to be myopic in hiring. I suggest applying widely (because it is a numbers game!) and making certain
that you position your skill set within the context of the job. This might include doing some pre-interview review of the types of materials or processes in place at
the company then finding connections to your own experiences in grad school.