Posts Tagged ‘engineering’

Career Advice

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

It all started when I took out a notebook and began taking notes while listening to a career advice talk in a first-year engineer training program with my company. In this living (periodically updated) blog post, I will be collecting career advice I’ve heard people tell me that stuck out to me. It felt selfish to keep all this advice to myself, so I’m sharing them with you. Feel free to offer your own advice in the comments section!

On setting yourself apart from others

  • Either effectively use company resources, or be a resource.
  • Technical curiosity is a great indicator [of potential]. [Seize the] Opportunity to make data-based decisions using principles, data, and calculations.
  • Would you hire a lousy gardener to paint your house?
  • Do more than you are asked without stepping on people’s toes.
  • Competitiveness motivates you to do things for the wrong reasons.
  • People who excel always know what tree to bark up.

On self-development

  • Collect professional articles of interest to you in a folder.
  • Asking good questions is an important skill.
  • The best mentors are people who can identify gaps.

On new opportunities and shaping your career

  • “The best jobs I’ve ever had were the ones that scared me.”
  • Be open to many opportunities early on, then focus.
  • Even if you don’t think you’re qualified for a job you’re interested in, try it out anyway. You will pick it up.
  • If you want to explore something, the sooner the better.

USC, here I come!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I am starting my master’s education in chemical engineering this fall at USC. The catch? I’ll be working full-time at the same time!

The thought about whether or not I was going to pursue higher education had been stressing me out since before I even graduated from MIT. The “advice” I’d heard from most people was that the longer you wait, the less inclined you are to leave your cozy job. I felt myself falling into the same trap. The longer I wait, the more difficult it will be to find the initiative. I like my current job, and it keeps better and better as I am given more responsibility and complicated plants. I’ve already learned so much that I couldn’t have learned in school, and the master’s classes I’ll be taking will help supplement that knowledge, now that I have a better idea of why the heck they taught us all that stuff in undergrad. It will also put me in a better position should I consider obtaining a PhD in the future. For now it’s all up in the air.

The thought of working and going to school scares me a bit. I barely find time outside of work now; how will I do with grad-level classes added on top of it? Do I continue the weekly choir rehearsals and violin lessons? Do I put off hanging out with friends even more than I do now? Whenever I am faced with these questions, I tell myself, “I had one semester where I took seven MIT classes and had a colorful social/romantic life. If I got through that, I could get through anything!” Seriously, my MIT experience is a reminder that I’m capable of a lot more than I think I can handle.

What does this all mean for you, the reader? I will have even less time to blog! I find, though, that the more I have on my plate, the better I am at managing my time (also, procrastinating). It’s not like I blog often now anyway, so this will probably have a minimal impact on your lives. Phew!

The one thing I can’t wait for is the student discounts for concert tickets again! As a frequent concert-goer, that was the most discouraging thing about being out of school.

MIT Energy Conference Nuggets

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I went to the 6th annual MIT Energy Conference this past month, partly because I had missed Boston, and partly because MIT alumni had a registration discount. Similar to my sustainability conference blog post last year, here’s a smattering of takeaway messages I got out of it.

But first, an image. This was the only picture I snapped all weekend, during the Friday Night Showcase of hundreds of new energy technologies. Naturally, I was drawn to the oil and biofuels panels, but I made my rounds through all the exhibits. The big round thing was some sort of floating wind turbine.

The conference had quite a military focus, which brought in a different perspective for the motivation for innovations in energy. The keynote speaker Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’s speech was particularly striking with the main idea, “Energy is fundamentally an issue of national security.” The most staggering factoid: Every time oil prices increase by $1, the Navy spends an extra $31 million due to the steep cost of transporting and guarding fuel to remote areas like Afghanistan. Therefore, the Navy’s goal is to obtain 50% of its energy from alternative sources by 2020. 17% of the energy is already obtained from nuclear power. Since energy diversity leads to energy security, the military is taking leadership in energy innovation.

One panel discussed the impacts of Obama’s goal of having one million electric vehicles in the U.S. fleet by 2010. The speakers mentioned considerations for Seattle’s electric vehicle infrastructure (70% of charging stations will be residential, there will be 1.4 charging stations per electric vehicle, software integration for finding and/or reserving chargers, etc.). The message that stuck with me from this one was that the increase in electric vehicles is not large enough to require a new power plant until 2/3 of the fleet is electric. The greater concern is around upgrading the local circuits (transformers, etc.).

Another panel that caught my attention was one around upcoming renewable fuels technologies. One company, called Joule Unlimited, is developing energy obtained from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water, utilizing alternative metabolic pathways with genetic engineering – the speaker threw out the term “industrial photosynthesis.” Their goal is to derive a closed carbon cycle like how nature intended it to be. Sun Catalytix also sounded confident in displacing fossil fuels with the promise of harnessing energy from water. ARPA-E also funds non-photosynthetic technology for biofuels. All piqued my interest.

The conference itself was very well organized and executed by a team of around a hundred current MIT students. They had even prepared fact sheets for various energy sources and handed them out to each conference attendant, along with a tote bag and a mug. I also ran into two MIT alum friends that work in energy, whom I didn’t know were in Boston, which was a plus!

This blog entry doesn’t really do the conference justice, but the conference did enable me to explore the cutting edge research and development taking place in energy by participating in awesome discussions I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. For instance, I met several people who had worked in oil companies for 20 years before transferring into these interesting start-ups to help develop and scale up the technology. Sounds pretty awesome; I’d be down for that sometime in the future!


Monday, January 10th, 2011

Last Friday, my friend Etha and I went to a MOCA exhibition called Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary. Etha and I hadn’t seen each other since high school, or 7.5 years ago, and would not have reunited so soon had it not been for our common interest in the composer.

Xenakis was a 20th century composer whose original profession was architecture. He is known for constructing his pieces from mathematical calculations, like the sweeping glissandi mimicking paraboloids in Metastaseis (my personal favorite, pictured below). He also plays around with “stochastic,” or probability-based, music, as well as many other ideas derived from math and sciences. His calculations are then notated into a score for the orchestra to perform.

The exhibit was excellent, because we could look at his preliminary sketches for some of his most notable pieces while listening to them on the iPods that they lent us. We both noted his fascination with graph paper and colored pencils, as he used them liberally in the calculations and illustrations of his ideas. We left the exhibit in renewed awe for Xenakis, and the real world seemed duller in comparison when we stepped out of the gallery.

The exhibit inspired me to think about writing music not centered around a pretty melody, but around an effective musical gesture created by a certain process (mathematical, visual, philosophical, etc.). Yes, it seems obvious, and yes, we learned about all that in school, but being separated from the academic musical setting and immersed in the world of popular music may have dulled my intuitions.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, I’d highly recommend any musician, engineer, mathematician, and architect to see the exhibit before it closes on February 4th.

Self-regulatory dreams

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

Earlier this week, I dreamt that I chose to ditch a field trip at work to visit a compressor repair facility (which actually existed in real life) to attend a composition seminar (which my dream world made up for me). I felt a bit guilty about the whole ordeal, because I neglected to notify the organizer of the compressor facility visit, and I didn’t have his cell phone number. The seminar itself was mildly intriguing, but I was yawning and mildly distracted. I felt a pang of guilt and regret that I chose it over the compressor shop, and felt that the compressor shop would have been more educational and satisfying.

This is an interesting dream following a frustrating weekend where I mourned my lack of time to focus more on music. The frustration was so intense that the other part of me said, “You care about engineering, too — ADMIT IT.” The dream was nicely timed, as it was quite a busy week at work this week, and the dream provided an inspirational boost.

Discouragement or challenge?

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

This past weekend, the things that usually inspire me had a somewhat discouraging effect on me. I went to a Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Professional Development conference and heard some amazing and inspiring engineering professionals talk about their careers. The takeaway message I got from the conference was that the professionals who have excelled at their careers have no work-life balance. The panelists stated that they barely had time for their kids (if they even had any), let alone any hobbies outside of work. Is this the ideal role model? Certainly not! I, who had based my whole life on the duality between the arts and the sciences, felt for the first time that it was not possible to be a successful engineer, a modestly accomplished artist, and a good mother in the same lifetime.

The discouragement strangely fueled me to go on to lead quite a productive weekend. In the past three days, I:

  • Went to an all-day SWE Professional Development conference
  • Prepared five Powerpoint presentations for work, for a total of 3.5 hours presentation time
  • Went to two concerts
  • Practiced violin and went to my violin lesson
  • Spent some quality family time
  • Bought a present for and went to a coworker’s daugher’s 13th birthday party
  • Updated Matchingfreak at the usual time, Sunday evening

It was as if I was trying to prove the world wrong; you can have your cake and eat it, too. I like living like this, to push myself to nearly a breaking point. Not one minute is wasted. I know I’m not utilizing my full capacity. I think there is more to be gained from operating closer to that breaking point, to cut down on the slack one allows oneself.

Some worry about burnout. I’m at a point in my life where I can afford to take the risk. If I burn out, all I have to do is simply vegetate for a weekend or two and I will be ready to rock and roll again.

Sustainability nuggets on Earth Day

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Last month, I went to the First Conference of Sustainability for the Pacific Northwest Region in Seattle, sponsored by AIChE’s Institute for Sustainability. The conference had pretty good coverage of progress on various sustainability efforts, and the curriculum was a balanced mix of technical and social topics.

What better day than today to reflect on my learnings? Here is a simple list of “nuggets” or take-away messages I jotted down.

Sustainability General

  • The three pillars of sustainability: Energy Security, Economic Productivity, Environmental Impact.
  • Many speakers mentioned the need for metrics to measure progress in sustainability, especially in the corporate world. Only then will it be possible to compare to benchmarks, set goals, and monitor progress.
  • Water is a raw material, not a utility. ~1 billion people lack access to clean water.
  • Sustainability can be profitable for companies, because minimizing waste and optimizing energy usage save on costs.
  • Optimal sustainability has higher net positive benefit than zero impact.


  • There is much biofuels research, but the constraint to scale-up is insufficient biofuel feedstock needed for an industrial scale.
  • Algae was popular for producing biomass, but it grows too slowly for an industrial production purpose.
  • Gasoline and diesel provide 96% of the United States’ transportation.
  • Even if all cars become electric, liquid transportation fuels are required for heavy truck engines.
  • Ethanol makes gasoline blending difficult; it needs to fit the existing infrastructure (distribution, nozzles, car components).
  • If terrestrial carbon is not valued, it can lead to destruction of unmanaged forests and pastures.
  • Net water intensity of power can be high. Low-carbon energy solutions can be water intensive (i.e. up to 90% more water used in carbon capture and sequestration).
  • Today’s electric grid operates in a “just in time” production process, with uncontrolled demand. Its challenges are a changing supply mix, increased demand, complexity of grid, and the vulnerability of energy infrastructure.
  • A smart grid could turn off idle/unneeded power consumers so that the power distribution is optimized during peak hours. These changes would only last a few minutes and would be unnoticed.
  • Peak shaving can be achieved through incentives. In addition, allowing consumers to monitor the power consumption of their appliances motivates them to minimize their power usage.
  • Closing the nuclear fuel cycle ideally requires 20% of the total nuclear reactors to be fast breeder reactors to manage waste from light water reactors. The key steps for moving forward include improving safeguards technology, lowering cost of reprocessing, identifying disposal path for wastes, and addressing public concerns regarding safety.

Other factoids

  • Biogas generated as a byproduct of digesters in wastewater plants is often treated and used for powering the engines/boilers and for natural gas sales.
  • 3% of the world’s water is fresh water. 0.3% of fresh water is surface water. 87% of surface water comes from lakes.
  • 96% of all consumer goods are petroleum-derived.
  • Mixtures of bacteria can be utilized to produce specialty chemicals (for plastics, artificial flavors and fragrances) from various kinds of biomass.
  • 90% of coal is put into the power system.
  • Reducing end-use by one unit saves at least three units source energy.
  • John Tyndall described the greenhouse effect in the 1860s. Arrhenius wrote about increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 1896.
  • Global warming is unequivocal. The principles are settled, but the effects are unpredictable. Global average temperature will “likely” increase 2-5 degC, but it may increase up to 12 degC. This will likely change the distribution of water thoughout the year (rain vs. snow water).

Those were some of the more interesting points I captured in my notes. Of course, I don’t go into much detail here. You can find more infomation about the topics and speakers on the conference website.

Sunday, March 5th, 2006

This semester is very intensive in music, and I love it so far. I’m taking three music classes, one which focuses on early music (from the years 800-1500), one which focuses on music after 1960, and one in which I’m writing a piano sonata (we’ll be writing string quartets during the second half). I’ve also been going to a lot of concerts.
Sometimes I have difficulty evaluating music that I listen to, but today I realized that the best way to remedy that is to go to concerts with friends. Today I went with a music major senior, and she knows all the professors closely, so we sat with one of them. During the breaks, we exchanged our ideas and opinions and I got a lot out of it.
Tonight is nice. There’s a listening quiz on Monday, so I’m listening to some pieces by Ligeti, Partch (who made his own instruments — click here and here for examples — to his own tuning system, which splits the octave into 43 scale degrees instead of the conventional 12), and others (I haven’t gotten to them yet). I made myself a pot of vanilla tea. Before that, I had a cup of coffee. The instant coffee I bought today is the most vile-tasting thing I’ve ever drunk.

That is not to say that I’m not doing any science. I have a biochemistry test on Monday, and I’ll be doing some programming on Matlab to solve batch reactor problems.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

This week’s been crazy. I’m sure that I’ll have crazier weeks, though. I had told you that I’d talk a little about my classes, so I’ll do it now. I’m taking the following: Chemical Kinetics and Reactor Design (10.37), Biochemistry (7.05), Japanese 4 (21F.504), Early Music (21M.220), Writing in Tonal Forms II (21M.304), Music After 1960 (21M.263), Visualizing Cultures (21F.027), Chamber Chorus (21M.405).
You realize that this is eight classes (well, technically seven and a half because of choir). The average number of classes that people usually take is four or five, but all of the classes I’m taking are because I either need to, or because it’s the only time that particular professor will be teaching it.
The work I have to do is getting intense, but I’m enjoying all of the classes so much that I don’t want to drop any of them. As a result, it seems like I won’t have much time to do anything else this semester, and I’m fine with that… for now.

Saturday, December 17th, 2005

I’m in Hayden Library now, about to study for my thermodynamics final until I get hungry, at which time I will go to the Student Center to grab some food. I’m thinking I’ll either get a chicken cutlet sub, or chicken fingers; both with extra mayo.