Category Archives: Communication

A couple days ago, a headline in my IEEE Job Site newsletter caught my attention: How a Personal Blog Can Boost Your Career.  (Being a blogger, things like that do catch my eye.)  The article mentioned several ways in which a blog can help you, a couple of which I believe are more relevant for engineers than others. Let’s start with where I disagree with the post.  I am not sure that I buy into the whole “personal brand” idea, but I also take issue with one of the final comments: that your blog probably isn’t going to replace your resume.  The first is a matter of opinion, and in engineering, I’m going to guess that more manager-types are going to be interested in results and not your marketing je nes sais quoi.  (I could very well be wrong on this, however, which is why I’m an engineer and not…

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As a general rule, I never thought my job responsibilities as an engineer would include HR duties. Admin duties, yes – engineers are not exempt from Excel data entry, scheduling, and organizing forms with pink sticky notes. (I do love my pink sticky notes.) And management duties, yes – many engineers work in teams and need to know how to motivate, collaborate, delegate, and generally navigate in leadership settings. But the thought of hiring folks, paying salaries, crafting policy – that just scares me. What the HR department does deals directly with issues that get to the heart of human emotion – money, titles, benefits, and scope of power. Eesh. No wonder it scares me… Fluxor has recently moved to a job that requires hiring folks, and Cherish and FrauTech have both written about being on the interviewing side of the hiring process. So far I’ve never had to hire…

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In this post, I’ll talk a little bit about what it was like procuring parts at my old job, a mid-sized R&D lab. (Or maybe I should say an R&D lab working on a number of aerospace projects and particularly concerned with part traceability). To my childlike eyes, it was a strange sort of magic. I’ll try to elaborate.  You see, as a mechanical engineer, I like concrete, tangible, physical things. The process of going to a store, giving someone money, and getting something in return makes sense to me. There’s been a fair exchange of goods. The procurement process at work, however, seemed like voodoo in comparison. The way procurement would work at my old job was that I would fill out a piece of paper with a list of the parts I wanted (yes, paper! although at some point we switch to an electronic version of the paper, which…

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UPDATE: The podcast showcased here (sorry to discourage the surprise) is now available at The Engineering Commons Podcast site. Normally, we discourage cross-posting here at Engineer Blogs. We find that it’s best if our writers can write here and at their own sites on different topics (or at least have different articles in both places); hopefully our readers here notice the difference and visit the sites of writers they like. But since I helped start the site, I thought I’d adhere to the Golden Rule: He (or she) who has the gold makes the rules. And since there’s no gold anywhere to be found at Engineer Blogs, there obviously must not be any rules! So anyway, as alluded to above, I have mentioned this news on my own site in the past few days. Normally this means I wouldn’t write about it on EB, but I thought that our engineering…

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If you read my personal blog, you know that I’m on travel for a conference this week.  This conference has been much different than the ones I’ve attended before.  It was a lot smaller and easier to get to talk to people.  I really enjoyed that aspect.  Also, I saw a lot of work on areas closely related to fields where I’m working rather than having everything from here to the moon (and, for some conferences, beyond that). Another area where things were different was the poster session.  I mentioned on my own blog that the posters were very visual without much text.  I typically ‘narrate’ my posters with text, but they’re typically more visual than others I’ve seen at big conferences.  However, this time, I was far more wordy than I should have been.  I could’ve easily stripped most of the text and left the pictures, making the poster…

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This week, several of my lab mates are off to a large conference. In my field, conferences almost universally entail a talk of some sort, usually 10 or 15 minutes with Powerpoint slides. For most young presenters, this time limit is a huge challenge, because they are fixated on showing all of the details to validate their results. Their slides are busy, without too much information for anyone to parse in the 60 seconds they have that slide up. Consequently, they rush through a lot of material, leaving their audience unsure of what they just heard. The advice I was given by my first research advisor was to tell a story, focus on what the moral of the story is, and only give the details needed to lead the audience where you want them to go. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen have slides with a single well-designed graph.…

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An article in the Guardian newspaper today drew my attention to a rather stunning online archive of drawings and sketches from the engineers who designed and built Britain’s railway network in its 19th and early 20th century heydey. I heartily recommend you have a browse here. Whilst that collection is certainly a wonderful resource, I have a rather ambivalent relationship to engineering drawings. Like butterflies pinned into collection books, they are a fixed, dead representation of what once was an idea fluttering merrily through an engineer’s mind. Throughout the initial phases of concept and the first wobbly-lined and crossed-out sketches, to 3D CAD models spinning and rotating on the monitor, through to prototypes, parts take on a life of their own. They grow from chrysalis to caterpillar, evolve before your eyes and then – they are ossified, sectioned, labelled and numbered like any other sample. Their drawings sit there gathering dust on the desk, yellowing…

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I’m on the tail end of a 10 day vacation, the longest I’ve ever taken. If you read my column from last week, you’ll know that it was my delayed honeymoon. I had a blast! I highly recommend Hawaii and as soon as I finish paying off the debts I’ve incurred over the past week, I’m sure I’ll heartily endorse everyone else doing so as well. Anyway, debts aside, I’m interested in talking about something we all experience, whether it be a 10 day excursion on a tropical isle or a 2 day roadtrip to Wisconsin. What do you do when you need to get back to the office? How do you recover from time away from email, project schedules and keeping up with all of those critical updates about your co-workers’ children’s contra-alto clarinet lessons. Either way, how do you catch up? Clear up that inbox, soldier! I think…

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Our very own Cherish has been scheming in the lab lately and came up with something really cool. If you haven’t heard about it, Cherish and two other researchers at North Dakota State University have developed a patent pending, thin RFID tag for metal objects. The main press release (i think) is here. You can read more about it here, here, and here. In a nutshell, RFID tags don’t work too well on metal objects because the metal object causes interference and signal loss. Previous methods to solve this problem required bulky objects to be placed outside of the metal object which could be easily damaged during transportation. Cherish’s RFID tag is only about 3 mm thick, which meets standards for these sorts of tags. First off, let me congratulate Cherish and her team for a job well done. Coming up with a workable, commercially viable solution to a problem…

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Most of us can relate to meeting someone new and having them ask what we do.  If we’re lucky, the person has a technical background and can understand some or maybe all of what we do.  If we’re not lucky, we have to think of ways to explain things that someone without a technical background can understand…and even that doesn’t work well, sometimes. In the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about some of my research.  While I consider this a good thing, I had two realizations.  First, while I am good at explaining things, I realized that, as a teacher, I often have time to develop explanations before I go to class.  It’s much harder when I’m faced with a misunderstanding and only have a short time to figure out how to rectify it.  Second, it’s really surprising how much people’s perceptions…

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