I am very interested in in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), the use of lunar/martian/asteroidal resources (generally regolith, atmosphere, and water ice) to produce propellant or construction materials on those bodies. It's a new & growing topic--the first instrument to test production of rocket fuel from the Martian atmosphere is due to launch a month from today (June 20th, 2020) aboard the Perseverance rover--and it's an interdisciplinary one, lying at the intersection of geology, mineral extraction, and aerospace and chemical engineering.

How do I find potential doctorate advisors working in this field? I have been looking through Google Scholar & conference catalogs (eg.: AGU) to find the names of those writing & presenting on ISRU techniques. However, the majority of the papers authored on ISRU implementations are by industry & government authors, and there are no dedicated graduate programs I am aware of aside from Colorado School of Mines' Space Resources program. The majority of academic work in ISRU seems to be by faculty in either the aerospace or mining engineering departments.

This concerns me. I am not an engineering student: I am a geology & math undergraduate, and I am worried about the quantity of deficiencies I may need to take entering into an engineering graduate program (if I can get into ISRU research, it's absolutely worth it though). More importantly, I doubt I am exactly the type of student engineering programs are looking for. My grades are good, I have a lot of undergrad research experience, but like I said, at the end of the day, I have no engineering background. I anticipate rejection, and I anticipate a lot of it. Even if it's not outright rejection, odds are there won't be that many doctorate positions available with funding when I am applying (for next fall).

Therefore, I'm trying to track down almost everybody I can find who is active in both academia and ISRU research, to maximize my chances of making a connection with a potential advisor and finding a place for me in their department. But as I mentioned previously, it's difficult to do so because a) authors on IRSU in academia are few & far between, and b) the departments in which people are doing ISRU research are much broader than my interests.

Do you experienced people have any advisor-finding advice for a lowly undergrad?

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    You could try to identify where those government / industry professionals did their PhD’s or reach out to them. They’ll have significantly more domain knowledge and can guide you better. Jun 20, 2020 at 3:45
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    You could write to the government/industry professionals and ask them, they likely know more.
    – Allure
    Jun 20, 2020 at 4:20
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    If you're particularly interested in a specific topic, I'd guess you've read some scientific research in that field. Who published it?
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 20, 2020 at 21:09
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    Just an fyi, ISRU and ISRF are not new. Many works have been done of these topics since the 80s. You might want to read on the work commissioned by NASA or that done at Rutgers University, University of Alabama or Clemson University. You might want to reach out to some of these schools/researchers if you are interested in a school in the US.
    – The Guy
    Jun 21, 2020 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


From my perspective (as an advisor), you sound like the ideal candidate: someone who is self-driven and motivated to work outside the regular comfort zones.

Assuming you can't find anyone at the exact intersection you're looking for, my advice would be to find a potential advisor who values interdisciplinary science like you do, and works in one or more of the disciplines involved. I would start by asking the most relevant faculty at your current university if they might know of someone who fits the bill that you could email.

For an advisor that values interdisciplinarity, your background shouldn't matter so much - they will be looking for initiative, drive, and decent grades. Argue those three things as concisely as you can when you send those emails.

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