by Egidio Leo
I would like to spend some words on the secondments and placements, a unique feature of a Marie Curie Training network like PRONTO. In fact, PRONTO gives to the ESRs the opportunity to spend a short amount of time (secondment) and/or a long amount of time (placement) at a (academic and industrial) partner institution. I consider these features as an additional unique “training” for the ESRs.
I had the possibility to have a secondment at CMU (Pittsburgh, PA, USA) and a placement at our industrial partner INEOS. While I was in CMU I worked with the CAPD group of prof. Grossmann on advanced decomposition methods to solve large-scale stochastic mixed-integer optimization problems. In fact my research project focuses on solving optimization problems with integer variables under uncertainty. This class of problems applies to demand-side management, scheduling and planning in the process industry. It was very interesting and fruitful for my research to share ideas and discuss technical topics with this research group. I was particularly lucky since while I was in CMU I also had the possibility to attend a special course on “Disjunctive Programming” by prof. Balas.
Doing a PhD within an ITN-EID means also demonstrating results in an industrial context. For this reason I exploited the opportunity to have a placement of 18 months at the petrochemical site of INEOS (Cologne, Germany). I had the possibility to visit the plants I was working on- a steam cracker and a power plant- and to include in the optimization formulations technical details coming from the expertise of the operators.
These experiences surely improved my research results and at the same time provided me additional skills useful for my future career. In fact, doing a secondment/placement helped me to increase my flexibility, quickly adapting myself to new environments and locations, my adaptability, finding alternate solutions when things did not go as planned instead of giving up, and my capability to collaborate with employees from different institutions.
I truly believe that the ITN-EID Marie Curie Program is more than a PhD but a training for ESRs to identify, analyse and solve operational challenges and launch the ESRs into academic and industrial careers.