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Dr. Robert Kelly: Turning a “Temporary” Job into a Lifelong Career

Professor Robert Kelly’s path into studying corrosion started as a sophomore in college. At that time, Kelly was studying biomedical engineering and working for a professor in Electrical Engineering. With his professor leaving on sabbatical, Kelly was in need of a new work-study job. Fortuitously, his professor introduced him to someone in Materials Science and Engineering who was working on corrosion of orthopedic implant alloys. This meeting led to Kelly being hired by Professor Bundy and working with Vimal Desai. Soon thereafter, he started working with Pat Moran, whose enthusiasm for the subject was contagious.

Over 30 years later, Kelly still finds himself studying corrosion. The combination of chemistry, physics, mathematics, mechanics, and engineering thinking that is required keeps him excited about his work. The fact that corrosion has direct impact on everyone's life through its impact on safety and availability means a great deal to him, as it provides him an opportunity to make a lasting difference.

Kelly has worked on many different topics over his career, finding each one more interesting than the one before. To quote Kelly, picking the most interesting one, “is a little like choosing your favorite child,” but ultimately, he says that aging aircraft corrosion tops the list. It is the topic that led him to meet some amazing people, including Dick Kinzie and Bob Piascik. It gave him the chance to stand on the wing of a B-52 (which gives new meaning to the word "big"), crawl around KC-135's and C-130's, and hopefully make an impact on how aircraft damage is managed.

Currently a professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Virginia, Kelly wasn’t always sure that was what he wanted as his career. He originally found the teaching that he did as a graduate student exhausting but fulfilling. Kelly accepted a temporary position from Glenn Stoner at the University of Virginia—"temporary" has been over 30 years so far. He admits that he was sorely tempted to work in a national or corporate laboratory, but after a year, he knew that academia was where he would be most happy.

Working with mentors like Pat Moran, Jerry Kruger, Eliezer Gileadi, Roger Newman, and Glenn Stoner, who have provided Kelly with so much guidance, have been the best part of his job. Colleagues and collaborators like John Scully, Rick Gangloff, Jimmy Burns, Matt Neurock, and countless others have taught him so much, and have become great friends. The honor of being a small part of the professional and personal development of graduate and undergraduate students as well as post-docs is easily the most rewarding part of his career.

Read some of Robert Kelly’s articles here:

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