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CMU Portugal Inside Story: Rudolph Santarromana

Rudolph Santarromana is an American CMU Portugal student in Engineering and Public Policy who started his Ph.D. in 2019. He has a Master’s degree in Energy Engineering and Management from IST Portugal and UPC Spain (dual-degree MSc). Under his Ph.D., he is working on Decarbonizing Economic Sectors supervised by Professors Joana Mendonça (IST), Granger Morgan (CMU) and  Ahmed Abdulla (Carleton/CMU). He loves to play sports in his free times including golf, basketball and kickboxing and also likes reading and listening to vinyl records.

First of all, can you let us know about your background before entering your CMU Portugal Ph.D.?

I did my bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Civil and Environmental Engineering. After graduating, I went to work for a Construction Materials company as a Product Manager, where I worked for a few years. I have always been interested in sustainability. I had always wanted to work with renewable energy, so I eventually decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree focused on renewables. I found the InnoEnergy dual degree program which allowed me to do my master’s in energy engineering at UPC in Barcelona and IST in Lisbon. During my master thesis, my supervisor introduced me to the CMU Portugal program as I began to consider a Ph.D. When I finished my master’s degree at IST, I went to work for EDP Renewables in Lisbon and in Boston, MA (USA) before eventually starting the Ph.D. program at CMU with CMU Portugal.

Why did you choose the CMU Portugal program and a Ph.D. with Portugal being from the United States?

My experience in Portugal started during my master’s degree studies. At first, I chose to go to IST in my dual-degree program because I was most interested in IST’s energy engineering and management degree focus among those available to me at other universities in Europe. Through my master’s thesis supervisor from IST, I found the CMU Portugal program. I really enjoyed the work I produced with my supervisor at IST, and I knew there was still more that I wanted to research in the topic area, so it made a lot of sense to continue working with her through the CMU Portugal program.

I am interested in working on global problems, and so the CMU Portugal program offers me
the opportunity to look through a US and EU lens at the same problems.


Briefly, can you tell us about the research work that you are carrying out under your Ph.D.?

Generally, I am interested in strategies to decarbonize global economic sectors. I am focused now on the power sector through expanding the development of offshore wind. I was fortunate to work with EDP Renewables on an offshore wind project.  I think this technology is a critical component to a low-carbon energy system in the future. Nonetheless, for any low-carbon technology, strategies to increase deployment are needed. In my most recent work, I assessed the techno-economic feasibility of a new way of deploying floating offshore wind that can potentially make it easier to do so.

From your experience, what have been the main differences between the two countries in terms of studies?

On average, there is a lot more weekly structure in coursework in the US than Portugal. There may be more meetings (lecture, recitation, office hours) per week, and more weekly assignments than I have experienced in coursework in Portugal. The grading scale is also something to get used to. Someone from the US who is used to getting 90% or more in a course or on any particular assignment will be surprised when they receive a 17 or 18 out of 20, and the fact that it is very rare to receive a 20/20 on any grade.

And in personal terms, how is this experience of studying in two such different contexts?

When I started my Ph.D. I had already stayed for almost two years in Lisbon, both studying and working, so I was already quite used to the experiences that come with living in Lisbon. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and lived for several years in Chicago, so I was also used to living in an urban US city like Pittsburgh. For me, the thing that sets this experience apart is that one may relocate often between Portugal and the US. That has been the most unique aspect of this experience for me. Regular relocating makes you more resilient to change.

Regarding your supervisors, were they supportive throughout your degree?

The support from my advisors has been amazing throughout this experience. I feel very fortunate to work with each of them, as they are all extremely knowledgeable in many fields. Every discussion and meeting has been productive and taught me to look at the (many) problems in different ways. I also feel comfortable approaching them with non-academic issues and questions that are critical. I truly cannot say enough good things about my advisors.

You are in your 3rd year, plans for these last years and after graduation?

First, I want to finish my thesis in a timely matter. After graduation I’ve considered many paths, ranging from remaining in academia, to public sector jobs, to private sector jobs, to working in US institutions, or working in multi-national institutions. In short, it’s hard to say that I have a single plan.

I do feel like there are a lot of paths that are open to me beyond graduation by the nature of my degree, and with the international exposures I have gained, these paths are also not limited geographically.


Being a third-year student, what advice would you give to possible candidates?

Meet people in your program in both locations. It is nice to arrive in Lisbon or Pittsburgh and feel like returning to people you know. A Ph.D. can be grueling, and no one knows what you are going through better than your colleagues going through the same thing, so it’s great to have people to talk to. Also, do not forget to take a day (or two) off. The nature of a Ph.D. is that you often dictate when you do your work, which can mean working on weekends, or late nights. Make sure that you take the time away from your job to do what you want to do.