Retired Chemical Engineering lecturer from Sydney, Australia, 6 years in industry in Australia and UK, 26 years in academia, UK. Also King James Only bible believer, author of 1 book in support of the 1611 Authorised Holy Bible, 2 fact-based novels on WW2 and 3 books on a bible-believing defence of Britain as a sovereign, independent nation free from the destructive forces of the EU and multi-culti-ism.

Friday, October 05, 2007

An Engineer Who Made Good

I was reminded today of a statement by the late President Herbert Hoover that I first heard quoted in 1966 as a Chemical Engineering undergarduate.

I believe that it is valid today, especially in view of the denigration of science and engineering in this country, which is common knowledge.

by Herbert Hoover


Long before Herbert Hoover became involved in politics he was an engineer. He was trained as a mining engineer and had a full and very sucessful career in a variety of international engineering projects. At the time Mr. Hoover practised engineering, most areas of engineering were Civil Engineering. Mr. Hoover's own field of mining engineering is certainly very closely aligned with Civil Engineering even today. Here is what Mr. Hoover said about the profession of engineering.

"Engineering ... it is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer's high privilege.

"The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned....

"On the other hand, unlike the doctor his is not a life among the weak. Unlike the soldier, destruction is not his purpose. Unlike the lawyer, quarrels are not his daily bread. To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort, and hope. No doubt as years go by the people forget which engineer did it, even if they ever knew. Or some politician puts his name on it. Or they credit it to some promoter who used other people's money ... but the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness which flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professionals may know. And the verdict of his fellow professionals is all the accolade he wants."

For more information on the career of Herbert Hoover see his biographical sketch at the Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.

This site gives a useful summary overview of Chemical Engineering in the UK at the present time.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Graduate Career Prospects

These are becoming increasingly difficult for British HE (Higher Education) graduates as traditional university courses are 'dumbed down' and heavily augmented (swamped) by so-called 'Mickey Mouse' courses intended to have wide appeal with minimal academic demands, i.e. to pull in the punters.

As a retired Chemical Engineering lecturer of 26 years in post, I offer the following words of encouragement, with some caveats, to any and all secondary school students who have a studies preference for the basic sciences and are wondering where this preference should take them in HE.

Chemical Engineering is still a sound choice, as will be evident by the comments below.

But prospective undergraduates should check out how the HE institution they intend applying to caters for industrial training.

The one to which I belonged offered a year's placement in industry as part of the degree course. (I believe that it still does.)

This placement was usually undertaken between the 2nd and Final academic years of the course. It greatly benefitted many of our graduates when it came to job hunting by providing invaluable prior work experience.

For example, I analysed our first destination returns during the late 1990s.

Typically, 55% of graduates were employed in the chemical process industries, 25% had gone on to do higher degrees, including PhDs at more prestigious universities, 10% who were mideast sponsored students had returned as graduate engineers to their parent companies (they are still enrolling, so we must have done something right) and the remainder were unknown. I believe that these outcomes compare favourably with other Chem Eng departments in the country - they certainly did at the time.

Anecdotal evidence is always variable but one of our female graduates who came in via the HND route, requiring one A Level in one of the basic sciences, secured employment at BNFL, Sellafield on graduation and was then seconded to Westinghouse in the US.

Two of our lads who graduated at about the same time (late 1990s) went on to become plant managers for the two Terephthalic Acid plants on a local industrial site.

One of our 1st Class Honours 2006 graduates (from the last cohort I was involved with) was hired by a local leading-edge consultant Chem Eng design company, working on environmental projects* (making sure the industry stays 'clean and green').

*"Environmentalists measure and moan, engineers do something about it" - an environmental colleague of ours at Cranfield University.

It's easy to 'cherry pick' but I think that, on the whole, our graduates were successful in their chosen vocation.

On the downside, some of us banged away for years to get a three-way liaison going between industry, 6th Form/Year 12-13 staff and ourselves for mutual guidance and benefit.

Unfortunately, it never got off the ground because it would have to have been management-led at our institution and the leadership required never materialised*.

*With one notable exception. The member of management concerned was unfortunately moved on by 'the system' and unable therefore to progress the strategy agreed with Chem Eng staff. This particular individual's role was never satisfactorily sustained.

Though I still believe that colleagues in industry and such 6th Form/Year 12-13 staff contacts as we had would have been up for it, time and opportunity permitting, in addition to our Careers Officers, who gave unstinting support over the years.

However, for any prospective HE students who are contemplating a career in the process/utilities industries (as distinct from manufacturing, which has taken a savage battering in recent decades, e.g. Rover Longbridge), even if 100% certainty is not possible, good possibilities still exist, nevertheless, for graduate Chemical Engineers.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Spider and the Bill

Our younger son has just started his university course down in London. Earlier this week, he and his friends captured a large black spider at their house. It had brown and white stripes as well and had arrived hidden in a bunch of bananas. It was fully alive and active.

They took it to the Natural History Museum and asked a staff member if it was a Black Widow spider. It was.

This evening, our lad was skate-boarding when he saw a drunk approaching and so moved on.

By chance, he looked back to see the drunk eyeing up a very expensive-looking late model car. Our lad decided to inform the police and just happened to come upon a police van and two individuals in police uniform.

When he told them what he'd seen, they explained that they were actors doing a scene for The Bill but they thought that a police station was located around the corner. (The suspicious-looking drunk wasn't part of the scene, evidently.)

Our lad tried to find it but couldn't. However, a passer-by lent him her phone, by which he called 999 and two police cars arrived on the scene in about five minutes.

He actually starts lectures next week. We hope things will quieten down a bit for him, so he can focus on his studies.

Reasonable (?) Force

My late dad used to recount the occasion when, in his late teens or early twenties, living in Perth, Western Australia, he and his brother - a couple of years older than him - apprehended a would-be burglar. This was in about the early 1930s.

It was a frosty winter's morning - still dark - though being Perth, it was not too cold for Dad and his brother to sleep out on the verandah of their parents' home. They also had five sisters, asleep in the house besides their parents.

Both Dad and his brother were very fit. They played Australian Rules Football in a premier league. As it happened, Dad was temporarily lame, having recently suffered a corked thigh - seriously painful and somewhat debilitating. His brother, however, slightly shorter and lighter than Dad, was completely sound of limb, extremely lithe and agile.

Both young men were experienced pugilists - one-to-one fist fights were a common form of recreation amongst lads of their generation in WA.

When the incident happened, just before dawn, they awoke to the sound of someone slipping surreptitiously out the back door. The individual sped across the backyard - it was obviously not one of the household heading for the outside loo and it was sufficiently light to discern that the figure was a male stranger.

The intruder began to climb over the wrought iron fence at the border of the yard.

By now, both Dad and his brother were fully awake and understandably enraged by the intrusion, especially in view of the potential danger to their mother and sisters.

Dad could do little except hobble across the lawn in his pyjamas, shouting indignation, "roaring like a bull," he called it.

His uninjured brother, however, closed very quickly on the quarry.

"Theo took a running jump at this bloke," said Dad, "and landed square on the centre of his back with both feet and spread him all over the wrought iron fence. Imagine colliding with a wrought iron fence on a frosty morning!"

The melee didn't end there.

"Theo pinioned this chap's arms behind his back," Dad continued, "and shouted at me, "I'll hold him, you belt him!"

"But I was too kind," said Dad. Being an amateur boxer, he decided to observe the Marquis of Queensbury Rules and regard the caught felon as 'down for the count' - which he was, effectively, being still groggy from his violent impact with the aforesaid wrought iron fence.

The commotion was such that it had aroused the entire family household, along with those of the neighbours. The local police were duly summoned and the intruder marched off to the cells.

No mention was ever made of any 'criminals' rights' having been violated. Such did not exist in those days.

To the best of my knowledge, no-one ever attempted to burgle my dad's family home again. I guess word got around that it was not a viable project.

I think my dad's family's only other encounter with the law was when his dad, my grandfather, spent a night in gaol after his arrest for beating up two Perth detectives. The crime was probably alcohol related. My grandfather was a WW1 veteran who took to drink after his return from the Western Front. According to my dad, he consumed "a bottle of whisky a day."

As Solomon said, Proverbs 20:1, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."