This is third in a series of posts reflecting on my path to becoming an engineer. In the previous one, I described how I left the Royal Navy and became a research assistant at the University of Sheffield in the Department of Mechanical Engineering [see ‘Reasons I became an engineer: #2’ on May 3rd, 2023]. My choice of research topic was dictated by the need for a job because I had to buy myself out of the Royal Navy after they had sponsored my undergraduate degree and I needed a salary to allow me to make the monthly payments. So, I accepted the first job that was offered when I went back to the University to talk about my options. I worked on investigating the load and stress distributions in threaded connections with a view to designing bolted joints that would be lighter, stronger and with a longer life. We used a combination of finite element modelling [see ‘Did cubism inspire engineering analysis?’ on January 25th 2017] and three-dimensional photoelasticity, which is an experimental technique that has fallen out of fashion [see ‘Art and Experimental Mechanics’ on July 17th, 2012]. I was fortunate because all of my work as a research assistant went into my PhD thesis which although not ground-breaking resulted in several journal papers [see ’35 years later and still working on a PhD thesis’ on September 16th 2020] and, with the help of personal contacts, a post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical School at the University of Calgary, Canada. In Calgary, I worked on the design of experiments to measure the stress in the pericardium, which is a sac that surrounds the heart – still engineering but a major shift in focus from industrially-focussed mechanical engineering toward biomedical engineering.
Image: Fringe pattern in section of photoelastic model of jet engine showing distribution of stress from Patterson EA, Brailly P & Taroni M, High frequency quantitative photoelasticity applied to jet engine components, Experimental Mechanics, 46(6):661-668, 2006.
This is the first in a series of posts in which I am going to reflect on my route to becoming an engineer. These events happened around forty years ago so inevitably my recollections probably have more in common with folklore than reliable history. Nevertheless, I hope they might be of interest.
I was good at mathematics at school but also geography and when required to specialise at the age of sixteen would have preferred to study mathematics, geography and perhaps economics. However, my parents and my school, had other ideas and decided that partnering chemistry and physics with mathematics would give me more opportunities in terms of university courses and careers. Physics was manageable but Chemistry was a complete mystery to me. I left school shortly before my eighteenth birthday and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman. I went to Dartmouth Naval College where, as part of my training to become a seaman officer, I was taught to march, navigate, fight fires, sail yachts, drive motor launches and fly helicopters as well as spending time with the Royal Marines. After my basic naval training, which included time at sea on HMS Hermes, I went to University sponsored by the Royal Navy with a free choice of subject to study. So, I chose Mechanical Engineering because I thought as an officer on the bridge of a ship, perhaps eventually in command of a ship, it would be useful to understand what the engineers were talking about when they asked for a change in operations due to technical difficulties. At that stage in my life, I had no intention of becoming an engineer, but with hindsight it was my first step in that direction.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how we all arrive in the classroom with different experiences that are strongly influenced by the conditions in our formative years. When I talk about this process in workshops on teaching, I invite attendees to tell us about something that has influenced their approach to learning. However, I kick-off by sharing one of mine: I joined the Royal Navy straight from school and so I arrived at University having painted the white line down the centre of the flight deck of an aircraft carrier but also having flown a jet. This meant that my experience of dynamics was somewhat different to most of my peers. It’s amazing the life experiences that are revealed when we go around the room at these workshops. Feel free to share your experiences and how they influence your learning using the comments section below.
CALE #2 [Creating A Learning Environment: a series of posts based on a workshop given periodically by Pat Campbell and Eann Patterson in the USA supported by NSF and the UK supported by HEA]
Photo by Pedro Aragao [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported]