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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

How to identify and handle an abusive adviser, boss, or colleague

Whenever I’m repeatedly asked for advice about a topic it becomes a post on this blog. Around this time of year many undergraduates and graduates working in the HYPER lab are considering offers to advance their careers. The most common, and rightly critical, question is how to find the right mentor and colleagues for that next phase in life while avoiding the abusive adviser/boss/colleague (I’m going to use ‘authority’ from here on) that could stall your career for years. It’s no easy task — you’re typically granted only a 30 minute choreographed interview in your potentially new authority’s carefully orchestrated office before deciding whether to … » More …

Laboratory Space and the Conservation thereof

One of my thermo professor friends has a joke, “The first law of laboratory space is that it must be conserved, at all costs.” It’s only partly a joke — laboratory space is as serious of an issue as it comes to research faculty. We make decisions to come to a university, and stay or go, based on lab space. There is never enough space for everyone. Changes to policy result in changes… and there always seems to be someone who ends up unhappy.

So high up on the list of thankless jobs that people will hate you for is developing a policy for managing … » More …

The puzzle of lab management

The question of how to reliably recruit brilliant students came up in a project management workshop I recently attended. Evidently I budget substantially more money and time for working with undergrads because I’ve got an ‘army’ of ~20 now. It’s working well. But I’m sure many of you are puzzled over how and why I manage this many.

Quickly the question of ‘why’ bother managing ~20 undergrads working in the lab:

There’s no better way of ensuring you have the right person for a job than years of experience working with them.
There’s no better way of preparing someone to work in … » More …

On Onboarding

There comes a time when every community/team/organization must onboard new members to maintain vibrant resiliency while avoiding the pitfalls of isolationism and nepotism. Community is a fickle thing. You’d think we’d be better at this considering America as the cultural melting pot. Somehow though I’ve never received any formal training or discussion on the importance of initial conditions in the team building process. For those of you preparing to enter a new community, understanding what you … » More …

Applying Ethical Standards in Engineering

I’ve sadly had to resort to ethical standards at several points in my (still brief) career. The odds are that you too will be faced with an ethical dilemma during engineering practice. The purpose of this post is to A) establish the ethical standards governing our field, B) present a procedure for applying those ethical standards, C) applying the procedure through several examples I’ve directly encountered, and D) provide a means of last resort.
The ASME Code of Ethics
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) is the society governing the mechanical engineering profession and controls membership and associations. ASME has a site … » More …

Rethinking Reports

I created the image above to look like a quality cover page of a technical report students would typically submit in my ME 406: Experimental Design course. The hand is included to make a point — when is the last time you were submitted a paper report you had to open by hand? Many of us in academia can quickly cite multiple examples. While many of us have remained reticent to digital trends enabled by the internet, times are quickly changing. » More …

A story of presentations

I’m going to let you in on a secret I’ve kept for a long time —

I’ve given talks nearly every day for over a decade but presentations still make me nervous. I used to get so nervous that I’d break out in hives. My hands would get clammy and cold. My knees would stiffen up. I sometimes started stuttering.

A few years back I was so nervous and tired during a presentation that I began hearing an alarm going off in the hallway outside the classroom; only to realize that it was in my head and I’d stopped, mid sentence, on record, for an … » More …

Conflict Communication

The single largest source of waste in all of humanity is conflict. Yet conflict is essential for change. The grand challenge of humanity is having appropriate context for conflict and mechanisms for efficient resolution. So why is it that in all of engineering education we never provide formal training on conflict communication and resolution?

In 5th through 8th grades I was selected by my teachers to participate in an experimental peer-conflict mediation program that had just started in my school district. The premise was simple — teach students how to resolve conflicts among their peers and you’ll have less conflict and less need for administrative … » More …

How to have a meeting

Meetings are the most basic and fundamental form of information exchange in any society, perhaps in all of humanity. Once we developed the ability to talk, having meetings was next, before we could read or write. Yet, thinking back to my education as an engineer, not once do I remember being taught explicit skills for how to have an effective meeting. I’m not aware of a single continuous improvement exercise focusing on effective meetings in my time at WSU. It’s always assumed we have the skills to run a meeting. At the same time it’s commonly assumed that meetings are a waste of time. So … » More …

Initial Conditions

Where do you look when you walk into a space for the very first time?

The majority will look down at the floor to make sure you don’t trip and hurt yourself.

The architect who designed the space looked down too, at the plans and scale models.

But do you ever look up? In the place nobody tends to look? Did they think about this place that nobody tends to look? This place, that nobody tends to look, is it a blind spot?

You might ask yourself several more questions:

Where am I and is this place safe? (Survival)
Who’s here? (Tribal)
» More …