Samuel Rodrigues, Associate Professor

Samuel Filgueiras Rodrigues completed his PhD in Mining and Materials Engineering in 2018 with a thesis focused on phase transformations of metal alloys under thermomechanical processing. He continues this research today in his research group at the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Maranhão, Brazil, where he also teaches various courses in material science and engineering. 

Q: I’ll start with a huge question: why did you decide to pursue a PhD in Mining and Materials Engineering? 

I started my work as a researcher when I was doing my undergrad in physics and I started to read a lot of papers from Professor John Jonas from McGill University. Since then, I decided not to go study astronomy or astrophysics and instead to go to materials engineering.

I did my Master’s degree here in Brazil, and I continued to read a lot of papers from Professor Jonas’s group at McGill. When I was almost finished with my Master’s degree, I wrote to Professor Jonas and I asked him if he was willing to supervise me during a PhD. In less than an hour, I received his answer saying “yes, I agree to be your supervisor. If you get some scholarships to come, I’m here to receive you.” So I actually decided to go to McGill because I think Professor Jonas is the most outstanding researcher in physical metallurgy. 

Q: You mentioned scholarships. Did you get any kind of support to study at McGill?

Actually, yes I did, the support came from my country and also from McGill. When I applied for the PhD position at McGill, I also received a lot of support from McGill’s administration about the documentation that I needed to send to them. It was really nice, the support that I received from them and also from Professor Jonas–even though I didn’t know him personally yet. Two years before I got to McGill, he started to send me papers and things to study. I even had the opportunity to meet him one year before I went to McGill when he came to Brazil for a conference in São Paulo.

Q: What do you value most about your experience as a PhD student?

My PhD was an amazing time because I really tried to balance the pressure of studying and research with enjoying the city and enjoying my family. 

I brought my wife and my son with me from Brazil and my daughter was born in Canada, so she’s like my other diploma that I got from McGill [laughing]. I balanced this kind of thing, so I had an amazing experience. When I was under pressure to do my research, I tried to release a little bit more to enjoy myself. I made a lot of friendships at McGill with the people from the department, with professors, and it was really gratifying. Meanwhile, I actually finished my research in three years and two months, instead of four years. 

After that, I continued doing other extra research and actually brought some results from McGill to use with my Master’s students here in my current institution. I’m going further and further with this research, and I’m still publishing papers from my PhD thesis results. 

Q: What kind of advice would you give to students about doing a PhD, now that you’re on the other side of it?

My advice is to never give up. Work hard. Be concentrated. Separate time for research. Separate time to enjoy your life. Create a good relationship with your supervisor. Help each other all the time. 

I think working in groups is the key to success. I had great success from working in groups so, now as a professor, I really advise my students to do the same. If you have doubts, go to your supervisor, have a conversation with him.

Also, try to avoid procrastinating—try to do everything on time. If you do everything on time, you’ll have a lot of time to enjoy the city and enjoy your personal life. The results will come naturally when you get engaged in the research and try to balance your personal life and professional life. 

Q: You seem very enthusiastic about your time at McGill. It seems like you really enjoyed your PhD experience. Were there any challenges that stand out to you?

My experience as a student was amazing, fortunately, because I had my family to support me since I brought them with me to Canada. I think when you have family relatives close by, you can manage things a little bit better. 

The most challenging thing that I faced during my PhD was my very first semester. I had never faced winter before because I come from a relatively poor city in Brazil, so it was a challenge when I got to McGill in January 2015. It was the first day of the year. When I left my city, it was 35 degrees. When I got to Montreal, it was about minus 35 degrees [laughing]. I wasn’t used to living in a situation where the sun rises about nine o’clock in the morning and the sun sets about three in the afternoon…it’s a lot of darkness. At the same time, I was attending two very hard courses while focusing a lot of time on my family. That was probably the hardest part of my time at McGill, but when the summer came, totally different! I started to enjoy the city and I was ready for the next winter at the end of 2015. 

Q: Looking back at your time as a PhD student, is there something that you wish you knew then that you know now, as a professor?  

If I could go back in time and do my PhD again, I really would repeat exactly what I did. It was one of the most wonderful times of my life. I did my PhD with a lot of joy—all the challenges, all the difficulties that I had, they all contributed to building my career. Now, I know how to deal with students. I know to treat them the same way my professor used to treat me when I was a PhD student. He was so understanding of my difficulties and helped me so much and now, I know how I can help my students. It was a really amazing.

Many thanks to Samuel for sharing his narrative! You can find out more about him on Linkedin or ResearchGate.

This interview took place in July 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.