Dr.-Ing. Erik Temmel
Dr.-Ing. Erik Temmel
Phone: +49 (0) 391 - 6110 - 281
|Studies:||2004-2010||M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Process Engineering
Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg
|Doctorate:||2010-2016||Topic: „Physical-chemical principles of Process Engineering“
Department of Crystallization, research department of the Max-Planck-Institute
for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, Magdeburg
|Occupation:||current||Research Associate (Postdoc) in basic research at the
Why did you choose the degree program in Process Engineering/what was the motivation?
In my case, there wasn’t a concrete, long term plan to study process engineering. After my service in the army, I was just certain that I definitely wanted to pursue a university degree. At the same time, however, the range of study programs being offered was unclear. Despite the wide range of information available, the assessment of the quality, content, and supervision of the countless possibilities at the various universities remained a difficult one. So, I made my selection according to my personal preferences during my schooldays: chemistry, technology, physics, and math. Process engineering contained all of these and at the same time also included various specialization options. Due to the OvGU’s good reputation for this degree program and my difficult financial situation as a student, I registered in my hometown of Magdeburg and hoped to have made the correct decision. In the end I was very lucky since this choice was perfect for me.
Due to this experience, I can understand students who switch their study program multiple times and congratulate anyone who knows exactly what they want right after school. For everyone who doesn’t belong to the second category, my suggestion to them is to search, to switch, and to try things out until they have found the correct area. It is much easier to manage studying something that you have a high amount of enthusiasm for. The choice of study should not be a last resort, but should be taken into consideration right from the start. The mere thought of an extraordinary salary and best career options should not be the decisive point, since otherwise one would struggle through multiple years of a degree program (very challenging one in the case of process engineering) and possibly fail in the end.
What does the degree program in Process Engineering involve?
Unfortunately, I can only report from my own experiences in process engineering as a diploma student. There have been some changes since the Bologna Process, but the basic principles should have remained the same.
The foundation courses, as in all engineering sciences, consist of the corresponding basic knowledge of physics, chemistry, and math. However, the various fundamental courses are specialized in the basic subjects, depending on the study program. For example, in the field of process engineering, thermodynamics and mass transport, fluid mechanics, but also classical engineering subjects such as design, technical mechanics, and material sciences are in the foreground. The foundation courses were, in my experience, the hardest period, since the breadth of courses, the amount of weekly semester hours, and exams, as well as the various lab projects required a lot of time and endurance.
After this strenuous time, the foundation studies were taken up in the main study program and applied to the actual disciplines of process engineering. This showed exactly where the “journey” in this study program was headed. Chemical process engineering, for example, involves the complete design of reactors. Starting with the chemical reaction and any material and heat transport problems, to the mathematical calculation and numerical simulation of the reaction rates, all the way to the equipment design for the stirrers in the tank. It was very motivating to see all the previously still abstract foundations come together in real problems. From this point on my fervor for this study program had been awoken. Aside from the chemical direction, however, biological, thermal, and mechanical process technology was also an obligatory program. Yet how intensively you specialized in the individual areas was at your own discretion. This is a great advantage because you can adapt the education to your own talents.
Perhaps the university’s proximity to the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg should be emphasized. This offers a variety of possibilities, especially for students in process engineering and related subjects. In addition to internships, positions as research assistants, and above all of the completion of thesis work in collaboration with leading scientists and the best equipment should be mentioned.
After graduation: science or industry?
Everyone answers this question for themselves, I believe. A subsequent doctorate requires a certain degree of love for detail, motivation, and a lot of idealism.
The study program in process engineering includes some industrial internships. The foundations internship serves to experience the effects of the decisions, which one later has to make as an engineer (i.e., project planning, technical drawings, work sequences, etc.), on your own as an executive force. The internship in the main study program, however, is intended for you to be able to experience actual engineering work in a company. Logically, the work is oriented towards the company's profit. Working solutions must be found quickly, regardless of whether it is the best solution to the problem. I found another world at the Max Planck Institute in Magdeburg, where I was able to complete my diploma thesis. The work here was more concerned with basic research, i.e., the elucidation of the facts in detail and the most recent scientific topics. This approach, to make theses with the accumulated expertise, to carry out experiments in order to verify or to improve them, to ultimately contribute a scientific piece of the puzzle, fascinated me and led to my decision to strive for a doctorate. However, many of my fellow students wanted to set up a financially secure basis for their future, which I can understand quite well. You do not get rich in science and the usual time-based contracts make long-term life planning difficult.
If you discover the passion for research in your studies, I would recommend pursuing a doctorate. Otherwise, industry is probably the better path. The job opportunities are more than good with a completed degree in process engineering.
What does it mean to be a PhD candidate?
For me it first and foremost means freedom, but also self-reliance in order to further progress, develop talents, and follow one’s own interests in an area of one’s own choosing (within certain limits)
The first six months is mainly spent on studying the literature and the current publications, to find out what topics you could work on and what you personally enjoy. In my case this was, amongst other things, continuous crystallization. My work then involved the development of my own experimental facility, the transfer of the physico-chemical principles into mathematical models, and the experimental as well as the theoretical, simulation-supported investigation of the entire processes. I was able to present my solutions such as strategies for layout and optimization as well as the evaluation of various influential factors, for example operating parameters or material kinetics. When you consider that almost every chemical product that is sold in solid form must have undergone a crystallization process at one point in time, it is an economically but also ecologically worthwhile field of activity. Through the possibilities and equipment at my institution and through cooperation with the university, I have received impressive insights which are probably withheld from many. At the same time, nevertheless, I also remember countless nights spent in the office pondering problems.
The job description, however, also includes presenting and discussing the achieved results at various conferences and meetings all over the world. It is always exciting to be able to become acquainted with new countries and cultures, and that simply due to one’s occupation.
Furthermore, interacting with industrial partners also belongs to the spectrum of work. This usually means that two worlds collide. Nevertheless, the profit-oriented industry’s view and the solution- and detail-oriented view of academic research must be brought together to successfully manage projects. But it is also a nice insight for the doctoral student into the inner workings of potential employers.
Teaching also makes up a special part of the doctoral period. You try to do those things better, that as a students you had identified as mistakes made by instructors. However, you usually makes other ones instead. But it is fun to instruct young academics, especially with bachelor’s and master’s theses, and you learn a lot about your own character ... and above all, patience.
All in all a very intense, sacrificial time, yet with a lot of unique impressions and possibilities and therefore the best time for me so far.