Samantha Morelly

Knowledge Flows: Industrial Rheology Perspectives

December 2023

Samantha L. Morelly, Ph.D.

Lead Scientist

DuPont Specialty Products

  • Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Drexel University, 2019. Advised by Dr. Nicolas J. Alvarez and Dr. Maureen Tang.
  • B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Florida, 2014.
Industrial Experience
  • DuPont Specialty Products, 2019.
Please give a brief summation of your day-to-day work.

I work as a rheology subject matter expert within our Core Analytical Sciences group, a centralized group that supports all of DuPont’s businesses through differentiated science. My day-to-day work is a mixture of project planning meetings with business partners, experimentation and data analysis, report writing and findings discussions.

How do you use rheology in your day-to day work?

Rheology is the center of my day-to-day work. I join teams within DuPont to give rheological perspective on products and manufacturing, provide experimental data and analyses to improve understanding, inform design development and changes, understand manufacturing issues, raw material qualification and more. We are focused on five main areas: Electronics, Water, Protection, Industrial Technologies and Next Generation Automotive. Within these growth sectors there is a wide breadth of products, and each year, I work with a different variety of products than the previous years. This year most of my work has concentrated on polymers (melt and solution), thermal interface materials, greases, and some curing particle dispersions.

What inspired you to become a scientist and/or pursue a career in your specific field?

My desire for a science-based career developed in college. While pursuing a chemical engineering degree I found myself drawn towards my science classes over my traditional engineering classes and decided to pursue a graduate degree to gain experience in research and the rest developed from there.

When did you decide to pursue a career in industry/government?

My graduate work concentrated on manufacturing fundamentals and the transition to industry felt natural.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career thus far?

I recently led the launch of a “Rheology Network” within DuPont and the reception so far has been very encouraging. DuPont encourages the development of employee driven resources groups focused on a variety of areas, from soft skills to technical groups that concentration on a field or product type. Our group is designed to target those using rheology and those that want to learn more about it. Currently, we are sending out periodic newsletters that feature “Rheology Success Stories”, interesting journal articles and other additional resources. In addition to the newsletter, we are compiling resources on an internal SharePoint site that members can access. In 2024, we plan to launch a seminar series with internal and external speakers that will target topics that our community is interested in. Some topics of interesting we’ve gathered so far having been “curing rheology”, “how to use rheological data to inform manufacturing” and “polymer rheology”.

How has involvement with The Society of Rheology helped to shape/influence your career?

Reading the JoR and attending an annual SoR meeting in graduate school really showed me the breadth of science that rheology covers. During my career it has been a constant resource for understanding complex material behavior and staying up to date on advancements in the field.

After completing formal education, what is one new skill set that you developed/acquired that has been critical for your career?

An important skill that I learned after my formal education was value communication. Being able to effectively communicate your value to a business or project is critical for maintaining and developing relationships.

What are the two most important non-technical skills for a career in science?

Personal task tracking is an important non-technical skill that helps with value communication and time management. You will be hard pressed to find anyone working on one project at a time in industry and task tracking helps you to keep track of everything you’re working on and your contributions to team projects.

Another non-technical skill that is important is professional communication. There are many forms of professional communication but learning to be effective, concise, and positive will improve your relationships with colleagues.

What was the biggest challenge moving from academia into your current career?

The biggest challenge is learning to walk away from interesting work because business goals or product designs have changed.

An example of this was a raw material characterization request for a chemistry change project. One of the many validation tests that were requested by the business was the linear viscoelastic and extensional rheology properties. After the business reached out, I added it to my project list and gave them an estimated turnaround time. As the deadline approached and I was nearly done with the project, the business contacted me to let me know that the raw material failed a different validation test unrelated to my work. As a result, they would be moving on and needed me to pivot to a new chemistry. I personally find it difficult to leave work unfinished and this was my first experience with pivoting when there was “still work to be done”. This helped me learn that industrial work is constantly changing. Product designs evolve quickly, and an important aspect of the job is being able to pivot.

What is one piece of advice you wish you had received earlier in your career?

Find the employee driven group or groups within your company and local community that focus on topics important to you. This could be a women’s network, a related minority group or volunteering with local school students. These things help you network with colleagues and build “soft skills”.

What advice would you give to students making the transition to their first job?

A common sentiment that I have heard from new employees is a feeling that they aren’t “contributing” when they first start. My advice would be to give yourself some grace in those first months after starting your first job. Get to know the products, meet with people inside and outside of your work group and remind yourself that before you know it, you’ll be contributing.

What advice would you give to students considering graduate school?

Prioritize work-life balance – while it is still school, graduate school is really a full-time job and it’s best treated that way. I have seen many first- and second-year graduate students get burnt out through a combination of poor time management and high personal expectations. Set reasonable daily goals and a schedule that works for you and get rest! You can do it!

Looking towards the future, what are you most excited about in your career and/or science?

Right now, I’m most excited about the Rheology Network. I’m looking forward to connecting with all the practitioners, experts, and students of rheology within our company and helping everyone learn from each other!

If you could meet and have lunch with one scientist (past or present), who would it be and why?

I would want to meet and have lunch with John B. Goodenough. I would thoroughly enjoy discussing how far the rechargeable battery industry has come during his time in the field.

How has mentorship impacted your career?

Having a trusted mentor that I could talk to about my career path, priorities and decisions has been very helpful for processing how to move through the early years of my career.

From the mentor perspective, what advice would you give to others serving as mentors?

I think that listening and being a safe sounding board for a mentee is the centerpiece of being a good mentor. I will also suggest figuring out if your mentee needs an accountability partner, sometimes people just need those gentle reminders that they can do the “thing”.

From the mentee perspective, what advice would you give to mentees?

My main piece of advice for mentees would be to just put yourself out there. Ask that colleague for coffee, approach that professor, just put yourself out there. Depending on your personality, this can be the hardest thing to do but people want to support you and want you to be successful.

For hiring managers
What pointers would you give to first time job seeking students?

Take advantage of your school’s alumni network. They can be a great resource for job openings and making connections within industry. I would also suggest having your application package ready when you reach out to alumni for when they ask for it.

When is the optimum time to start looking for jobs during graduate school?

When you and your advisor(s) have agreed that there’s about a year before you graduate, I would start looking for jobs. If you land a job before you defend your thesis, it’s one fewer thing to worry about. If you don’t then you will have your application package ready and some interview experience under your belt after you defend.

Does flexibility in job search play a role in current times, especially when the job market seems to be highly competitive?

I would suggest casting a wide net and be honest with yourself. Be flexible where you can and know what you can’t compromise on. You might find opportunities in unexpected places. The job market is competitive but there is also so much interesting work happening out there.