Interview with Dr. Jinwoo Kim

“I see LMS as a very diverse group with many talented people from different backgrounds. I think this brings a lot of creativity to the research. “

Jinwoo Kim is about to complete his PhD with us at LMS. We started by asking him to tell us a little bit about himself.

My name is Jinwoo Kim. I am just completing my PhD. at LMS. I was born and grew up in South Korea, where I did my bachelor’s study in civil engineering in Soul. I started my graduate studies in the United States, where I did my Master’s degree in Geo-technical Engineering. Then I got interested in historical structures, so I did a second Master’s, a joint degree program between universities in Portugal and Italy. Then I came to LMS to pursue a PhD. in Geo-mechanics.

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

Well, there’s no such thing as a typical day, but I would have to say I come to the office in the morning, and I go straight to the lab to check if everything is okay with my experiment. Usually, there is a minor issue that can be tricky to fix and often takes most of the morning. Then there comes a lunch break. Usually, I go together with my lab mates, and we share our ups and downs throughout our PhD journeys. In the afternoon, I either continue in the lab or do more office work such as reading papers, generating figures, preparing for a conference talk, or sometimes it includes teaching activities like reading papers, going to an exercise session, or even supervising master students. But really, there is no typical day. Sometimes I’d spend the entire day or even a week in the lab to do a complex experiment, or sometimes I wouldn’t leave my desk to derive an equation for days.

Could you tell us a little bit about the sort of experiments that you would do in the lab and what your research applications are?

So my thesis was focused on the swelling and shrinkage of shale. Here is a laboratory sample extracted from an unconventional reservoir in North America. So what I was studying in the lab was how changing the saturation state by changing the relative humidity impacted the sample swelling and shrinkage.

My research project was in close collaboration with an industry partner, Chevron. We were interested in predicting the swelling in unconventional reservoirs because it can cause wellbore instability, for example, reducing the efficiency in natural gas production. So I anticipate my research outcome will help optimize the hydraulic stimulation process, therefore increasing the efficiency in the field.


What’s the one thing you enjoyed the most during your Ph.D.?

I have to say I really liked the discussions with my peers, senior postdocs, of course my supervisors. It gave me a lot of new ideas. Of course, sometimes it rejected my ideas, but still, I really loved every bit.

And what would be, what would you think would be the most challenging thing you’ve had to face during your Ph.D.?

Well, I did experiments that took a long time. It usually took months or sometimes even more than a year. So the time-consuming nature of experiments was the big challenge because when I do one experiment, I have to do it right. And also, while the experiment was going on, I had to hang in there until I got the results. So I had to be very patient.

So you’ve been in academia for quite some time now, so obviously, you enjoy research. What’s the thing that excites you most about being a researcher?

Regarding my research project, I’m excited that my project’s research outcome can help solve engineering problems in the field. On a more general level, I’m excited that it can also benefit other seemingly unrelated fields, generally on the mechanical process in subsurfaces.

Why did you choose to pursue a doctorate in civil engineering? Compared to many other subjects, there are not so many students choosing a civil engineering path these days.

That’s true, and it’s surprising to me because I personally love the topic. Growing up in a city, I always admired the infrastructure and buildings in urban areas. But on the other hand, I liked physics the most in high school, especially the mechanics part, so I knew I wanted to study civil engineering because it combines the two. I could use these tools to explore how we design and improve our infrastructure.

So you’ve all but finished your PhD. Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am also very curious to know, but I enjoyed my research and love what I’m doing. So I think I’m going to continue research in whatever form. And I also know that I’d like to use my skills to contribute to tackling energy-related problems, which are one of the grand challenges in our society. For example, it can be related to nuclear waste storage, CO2 sequestration or oil and gas.

What makes a LMS and EPFL a good place to study?

I see LMS as a very diverse group with many talented people from different backgrounds. I think this brings a lot of creativity to the research. I think you can benefit from this by just interacting with these people who are also serious and passionate about what they’re doing.

As you said earlier, you grew up in South Korea. Did you have any concerns about living in Switzerland? And what would you tell graduate students from South Korea or other Asian countries what they should expect if they are considering moving to Switzerland?

Absolutely no concerns. I was very excited to move to Switzerland. By the time I decided to come to Switzerland to do a PhD. I already had visited a few times for holidays. I really loved it. I loved the nature, I love how the cities were clean and organized, and if you’re coming to coming straight from Asia, I think in general things may feel slow, quiet, and sometimes strict. But you’ll get used to it and you will love it.

So now that you’ve finished, what would one piece of advice be that you offer the students who are thinking about doing a PhD?

Well, that’s a very tough question. If you’re considering doing a PhD and if you like solving hard problems, if you like hands-on experience with a lot of bricolage and collaboration with others, there’s nothing like it. But then, when you’re considering doing a PhD, I think it’s worth considering what kind of PhD you want to do and if the lab you’re interested in joining can provide the environment and support you seek.

Lastly, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I spend time with my family, hanging out with my wife, and going to nature. We’ll go to the mountains or do a low-key hike near the lake on the weekend. I like it because it helps me refresh my mind and come back with more motivation.

Jinwoo, thank you very much.

Thank you.