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Mon, Jun 17, 2019 03:24
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Catching up with Georgia Tech Paper Science and Engineering grad student Thomas Kwok

Thomas Kwok

ATLANTA, Georgia - At Georgia Tech's Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI), a significant endowment currently supports more than 50 paper science and engineering students who advance the research mission of RBI through their faculty directed research.

RBI boasts some of the top minds in the fields of chemical and biomolecular engineering, mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering covering a wide range of research areas in both bioproducts and bioprocessing.

As industry professionals know, the Institute of Paper Science and Technology (IPST) was founded in 1929 as the Institute of Paper Chemistry in the state of Wisconsin. IPST was created to provide science, technology and education in support of the pulp and paper industry, a rapidly growing sector of the economy whose executives recognized the need for employees specifically trained in the scientific processes of papermaking.

It was out of that need that an undergraduate program was initially developed to provide technical training to local mill personnel. The curriculum applied a liberal arts philosophy to the teaching of science and technology. Faculty would encourage imagination and creative thinking, grounded in thorough knowledge of fundamental research procedures. This educational philosophy continues today.

With the boom of Information Technology in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Board of Trustees approved a plan to relocate to the Georgia Institute of Technology campus.

Paperitalo Publications was able to catch up with Thomas Kwok, a graduate student in the program. Mr. Kwok is from San Francisco, California, and we asked him a few questions about his experiences at Georgia Tech.

Paperitalo: What attracted you to the Paper Science and Engineering program?

Kwok: I was attracted to the Paper Science & Engineering program for the professors and projects. When I arrived at Georgia Tech, the chemical engineering department provided a list of projects that were available for graduate students. After talking to the professors and current graduate students, my three favorite projects were all funded by the Paper Science and Engineering program. Each of the professors sponsoring these projects were high quality, top-tier professors. With good funding, interesting projects, and strong advisors, it was easy to be excited about the program.

Paperitalo: Were you looking into pulp and paper when you were in high school?

Kwok: I was not looking into pulp and paper when I was in high school. I grew up in San Francisco, and the pulp and paper industry is not huge in the city (or Bay Area). I have a relative that runs a paper mill, and so I had some exposure to the industry, but I was not interested in pursuing a career in pulp and paper during high school.

Paperitalo: Tell us about the internships and co-ops you have had.

Kwok: I've had a variety of internships in high school, college, and graduate school. The majority of the internships have been pharmaceutical or biology focused. In high school, I worked three summers in a virology lab. In college, I worked in Singapore for a summer at a breast cancer lab. I worked a different summer at a thermoelectric start-up company helping to model their device, and I worked with my own start-up pharmaceutical company. In graduate school, I did an internship at Merck & Co. in between my third and fourth years.

In graduate school, I applied to several pulp and paper internships, but I was not able to obtain one. However, I have several friends that participated in graduate internships with International Paper, Buckman, and Kimberly-Clark. They all enjoyed their experiences and give highly positive reviews.

Paperitalo: What does this program mean to you?

Kwok: This program has provided a lot of growth opportunities to me. In conjunction with the TAPPI student chapter, I have received numerous opportunities to network with pulp and paper executives and research leaders. I have developed new leadership skills and been able to network with some of the brightest minds at a variety of different conferences. The Renewable Bioproducts Institute provides research opportunities and research stability. My project has been well funded, and I am able to do all the necessary and exploratory experiments. In summary, the program has helped my personal and research growth.

Paperitalo: Where do you see yourself in five and ten years, and what are your career aspirations?

Kwok: In 5 years, I see myself working as a research scientist at a large company. I hope to join a company that has the resources and programs in place to develop new researchers. I also want to see and learn how a successful company operates. I see myself at a company that focuses on helping the world. Preferably at a company that is focused on sustainability or human health.

In 10 years, I see myself working in a start-up company or smaller company. My experience with smaller companies is that more novel research and exploration can be accomplished. I am excited and passionate about improving the world (whether in pharma or in renewable energy). I imagine that I will pursue some of my ideas or latch on to projects that pique my interest.

Paperitalo: What would you recommend to anyone who might be interested in getting into pulp and paper?

Kwok: I would recommend that people sincerely look into the sustainability of pulp and paper. It gets a bad reputation due to anti-logging and old practices. However, the modern pulp and paper industry is focused on sustainability, and it is a great industry to better the world. I would also recommend that they focus on the fundamentals. As research moves forward in pulp and paper, there will be a strong need for people to understand the fundamentals of wood structure and the fundamentals of pulping and papermaking.

Paperitalo: Please let us know of anything else of interest about your experiences in the program.

Kwok: The program provides each student direct access to pulp mills and industrial researchers. I've had the opportunity to visit two pulp mills and present my work annually to a consortium of industry leaders.

Paperitalo: Finally, tell us about your interests.

Kwok: I am finishing my 4th year of graduate school. I love going to sporting events (Braves games, Atlanta United games, Hawks games, etc.). I also play a variety of sports. I play soccer, frisbee, and football at Georgia Tech intramurals. I have played Gaelic Football and Irish Hurling for the last four years, and I am on the Atlanta team (Clan Na nGael) and will be playing at the Gaelic Athletic Association of America's national tournament in September. I enjoy traveling the world. I have spent the last couple years flying at least once a month. Whether it is going to conferences, doing quick weekend vacations, or visiting family, I love traveling and seeing the world. Finally, I am highly involved with my church congregation. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I go to a lot of activities and service projects every month.


Jim Thompson is back again...with a book on a taboo subject: the personalities in the pulp & paper industry. Jim has written in the past on many subjects based on his four plus decades in the worldwide pulp and paper industry. This new book is packed full of information valuable to the senior member of the industry as well as the recent entrant. A must for every pulp and paper library.


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