Turn Our Hindsight into Your Foresight
This is an expanded version of the Editorial that appeared in the print version of Chemical Engineering Progress, May 2014.
Reflecting on the first year of her chemical engineering career, Samantha Schmidt writes in this month’s YPOV column (p. 22) that “moving into an apartment and starting a full-time job brings with it new challenges and many learning opportunities.” Among the lessons she learned from those opportunities: technical knowledge isn’t everything; network, network, network; be smart with your money; and take time for yourself.
This is timely advice, as nearly 6,000 student members of AIChE are graduating and preparing to enter the workforce. I asked some of my colleagues who recently made the transition from student to young professional what advice they would give new graduates. Here’s what they had to say.
Not having a job offer at graduation is not the end of the world. Taking time off after graduation, free of the responsibilities that a full-time job entails, can give you the opportunity to discover yourself and find out what you really want to do with your life. Emily Frangenberg says, “After I graduated, I took time off to live in New York City. Although I had very little money and was eating PB&J sandwiches for lunch and $1 pizza for dinner, I had the time of my life. I realized that I wanted to stay in New York and start my ChE career here, which is how I landed at CEP. If I hadn’t taken that time off after graduating, I probably never would have considered living in a big city or working for a nonprofit.”
Take risks now. Liz Pavone points out that “momentous events will not always be the reason for changes in your life and career. Rather, small occurrences, like meeting someone new, attending an event, or visiting a website, could start you on a path you had not expected. If this is not what you originally planned or envisioned for yourself, do not immediately reject it. The time to take risks is when you are young, unencumbered, and have the ability to adapt.”
Come all ye explorers and frontiersfolk, and set sail to fail, advises Jason Lewis. Have the courage to be bold and adventurous. You can learn more in failure than success. Don’t let a good blunder go to waste, and be open to those willing to give you advice. It’s been said that a wise man learns from his mistakes and a smart man from those of others. The best approach is probably a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B.
Ask questions. If you are confused, it is probably because something is unclear. Do not gloss over information. Show initiative and try to gain a deeper understanding of what is unclear. The same question may arise again.
Make safety a priority. When you start your job, find out who the safety manager is, and make an appointment to meet with him or her. Ask where important documents (e.g., standard operating procedures, emergency response plans, lock-out/tag-out and management of change procedures, etc.) are kept, and become familiar with them, says Michelle Bryner.
Make the most of AIChE. Michelle Marsnick adds that student memberships are valid until July 31. You can continue to use your student benefits — including access to CareerEngineer, ChemE-on-Demand webinars, and, of course, the online version of CEP. If you have not yet completed all nine of the SAChE modules, try to squeeze that in over the summer while you can still do so for free. As a professional member, each module will cost you $99.
Space limitations kept me from including all of the excellent advice my coworkers shared with me. Here’s some more.
Actively seek jobs. After graduating, it feels like you have finally reached the goal you had been working toward, but this is only the beginning. The real effort needs to be put into actively searching for a job. Do not be complacent. Put equivalent or greater effort into seeking a job as you put into earning your degree. (Liz Pavone)
Do not use graduate school as a last resort. Finding a job post-graduation is not easy, but seeking further education to compensate for a difficult job market should not be the answer. (Liz Pavone)
Take advantage of any professional development available to you — for example, project management and other skills you don’t learn in engineering school. (Lauren Deitch)
Learn how to communicate. You don’t learn this is school, and you need to be good at this to communicate your ideas. Practice, take classes, videotape yourself. (Kristine Chin)
Stay hungry for knowledge, development, and opportunities. Do what you can to keep yourself motivated to always go that extra step. Abandon your fear of hard work or new frontiers. To paraphrase a line from the movie Waking Life, “What are the barriers that keep people from reaching anywhere near their real potential? The answer to that can be found in another question and that’s this: Which is the most universal human characteristic: fear, or laziness?” (Jason Lewis)
Be humble. You can learn a lot from your peers, your boss, plant personnel, coworkers in other areas of your organization. Ask questions. Don’t expect to learn everything in the first few months — it takes a year and a half to two years to fully grasp your job. (Michelle Marsnick)
Speak up for yourself. Be your own biggest champion. Talk about your accomplishments and aspirations. You can’t expect others to read your mind or know what you’ve done if you don’t tell them. Humility is important, but so is getting recognition when you deserve it. (Lauren Deitch)
Networking isn’t a euphemism for schmoozing. Make a real and meaningful connection with the people you network with, and realize it works best when it’s a two-way street. Try to connect on things that matter, and if you are looking for a job, don’t let that dominate the tone of your conversations. Realize that most people you talk to can offer you something more and equally as meaningful. (Jason Lewis)
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