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

How to reliably get brilliant teams

… build them!

Talk to any researcher and they’ll go on ad nauseum to explain their philosophy for building brilliant teams. It’s just the next step after how to reliably get brilliant students. So why am I adding to the noise with this post? Because when you’re in the middle of building something great, it’s easy to get side tracked and forget your core values and principles; whatever they be.

Think back about the amazing teams you’ve been fortunate to be a part of over the years. Several key factors were likely involved:

Contrasting and complimentary characters — think the A team, Star Trek, … » More …

“It’s like teaching engineers how to negotiate.”

Congratulations! You got the interview. Just don’t mess it up with these common mistakes. What you might not have thought about yet is the negotiation. Whether you realize it or not, the negotiation process usually starts during the interview. So plan ahead and get an early start.

Negotiating has never felt natural for me. It goes with the territory of being an engineer. Everything we do is about working more efficiently, taking only what we need, delivering something that works consistently within the physical bounds allowed by nature, and building our reputation based on the merit of the products we produce. The engineer’s creed … » More …

Welcome Cougs to becoming professionals

Yesterday I stood in the center of the Round in the Spark as one of four faculty to address 270 of our incoming freshman engineers.

I’ve thought about this moment for years — going way back to my time as an undergrad. What would I tell a freshman on their first day as an engineer? What was I told on my first day?

Flashback – briefly – my first day on campus as an undergrad was the start of football camp. The first night of which drunken seniors rounded up the freshman and shaved all of our heads — some better than others. — I’ve … » More …

Never _____ what a student should

1. Never teach what a student should — stop holding office hours, hold group study instead; stop pontificating, assign them a forum post/essay instead; stop answering, start questioning.

2. Never present what a student should — stop lead authoring, they need to learn to write; stop presenting at conferences, they need to learn to talk; stop pitching to businesses, they need to reel ’em in.

3. Never design what a student should — stop estimating, they need to learn the “back of the envelope”; stop questioning clients, they need to know when to speak up; stop calling suppliers, they need to know who to talk … » More …

Authority, feedback loops, and the setback

One of the characteristics of the HYPER lab community and alumni is authority and ownership over projects. I work very hard to fulfill the role of coach, a.k.a. service leadership, and to not take ownership of experiments away from the people actually doing the work. This is a fine balance and requires lab wide standards to ensure safety and performance. This scaffolding is a key reason great students keep coming to the lab — freedom to own a difficult project with the necessary coaching and resources to succeed. This is very different from authoritarian micro-managing environments typical of business and academia in the US. … » More …

How to write a resume

Want to see my resume?

You’re looking at it.

Here’s why.

This too.


Want to know what I’ve done with, well, anything?

Use the search bar.

When’s the last time you saw a resume with a search bar?



But that’s not why you’re here.

You’re here because they expect you to have one.

They don’t expect you to have a searchable body of work yet.

Wouldn’t that be a fun surprise?


What’s that you say?

They don’t want to see your body of work?

Then what are they hiring you for?


Indicators of performance like GPA, merit badges, … » More …

Scaffolding Growth of Agency in Engineering Design

The NSF currently has open programs for Research in the Formation of Engineers. With the primary emphasis on:

Introductions to the profession at any age;
Acquisition of deep technical and professional skills, knowledge, and abilities in both formal and informal settings/domains;
Development of outlooks, perspectives, ways of thinking, knowing, and doing;
Development of identity as an engineer and its intersection with other identities; and
Acculturation to the profession, its standards, and norms.

Scaffolding Growth of Agency within Engineering Design is, in laymen terms, what and how we teach engineering design in order for students to master the empathetic connections … » More …

Read this before asking me for a reference letter

The best coach I had for reference letters was P.K. Northcutt II, the head of IT at the University of Idaho College of Engineering. I asked P.K. for a reference letter once and almost had an early-life crisis (it was needed). P.K. is not a professor, engineer, or someone in any position of rank or power. Despite that he was able to write — while teaching me how to write — phenomenal reference letters. At the very least, reviewers had to be impressed by my awareness to select exceptionally good letter writers.

So you want me to write you a reference letter? Start here:

I only … » More …

Telling vs. Showing by Theory

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” ~Lao Tze

A traditional engineering homework assignment wants you to tell us the answer. Need proof? Look at a calculator and see how hard it is to plot a function or curve. Calculators are typewriters and should have vanished long ago. Asking someone to tell us an answer is much easier than plotting a trend or curve. Plotting requires spatial awareness of the physical interplay of operators within your mathematical function. Explaining plots shows us that we understand why trends appear.

Showing by theory is essential in complex systems … » More …

Conformance vs. Compliance


The difference is subtle:



and one is used to define the other —



— but from a design standpoint the difference is essential. Where conformance must follow an algorithm, compliance can follow a desire, wish, or even yes, a rule or process. Dr. Chuck has a great piece on how companies tend to follow a design progression from mystery –> heuristic –> algorithm. We emphasize heuristic’s over algorithms in ME 316 because we tend to engineer things that are … » More …