One of the most used expressions in projects and engineering is “don’t reinvent the wheel.” The expression is used to encourage us to learn from the past and to save time designing things which have already been designed.
For me, my past has always included my grandfather, Harry Thirkell (FIChemE). When I was a young girl, he would always take the extra time to explain things I did not understand, encourage me to try again when I did not succeed the first, or the second time. A green smiley sticker on my homework was just as exciting for him as it was for me.
What did I learn? Mentorship is a key part of progress. As new waves of engineers enter the world of work, being able to lean on and learn from the experience of those who came before them is essential for individuals to progress and mature into innovating minds.
As I progressed through higher education and an additional MSc (Eng), my grandfather bought all my textbooks and learnt all of the content, far beyond what they taught us at university. He wanted to know the content just in case I needed some help, but also because there were parts he hadn’t learnt yet, equations he hadn’t yet conquered at 80 years of age. He used to sit and read a calculus book in the evenings; it was his way of winding down.
What did I learn? Self-Improvement is a life-long commitment, passing the exams and finishing your work doth not make an engineer. Learning from mistakes, learning from colleagues, learning from what has already been and using it to innovate for the future doth make an engineer.
The Career Bit
Now, as a Process Safety Consultant, without her first mentor, I have had to seek advice and learn from new influences. The new influences come from a variety of places, project teams, clients, managers, university lecturers, industry leaders, conferences and my IChemE mentor. Each influence brings new and different experiences which add to those I have already gained myself.
What did I learn? Another common expression is “You learn something new every day”. Although the opportunity to learn might not present itself every day, we always have the choice to learn something every day.
My grandfather taught me many things, inspired me to become an engineer and shared all the experience he had to share. His final gift, from one engineer to another, was his J W Hinchley Medal. John William Hinchley was the first Honorary Secretary of the IChemE and medals were awarded to the best final year student of Chemical Engineering at the London University (now known as Imperial College London). An achievement that made it into his hometown's local newspaper in Shildon, County Durham.