An article that I came across this week talks about the benefits of side projects and creative activities. We can get weighed down by day to day work and creative activities replenish us and improve our performance in other areas of our lives. It can be difficult to find time for these creative activities but we benefit when we engage in them.
Recently, I rediscoved that I enjoy writing as a side project – one which is just for leisure. I entered in the Centre for New Writing’s Micopoem competition. This was a competition for a Tweeted poem on the theme of ‘English Summer’. Poems were tweeted between July 7th and 14th with the hashtag #micropoem14.
I was delighted to learn (via Twitter of course) that my micropoem had won joint third prize. The winning poems are published in the excellent online journal the Manchester Review. I enjoyed reading the other entries and the winning entries are really excellent in conjuring up images of Summer. Interesting that two of them feature rain and the other two include pools.
I have really enjoyed reading the other poems and making contact with the poets. Josephine Corcoran put together this hilarious recording of her micropoem – as in ‘how not to record a poem’. It really shows that there is no substitute for hearing the poet reading their own work.
Inspired by this, I have created a video of my micropoem here. Only 17 seconds – Enjoy!
I am fortunate to work in an environment where communication between arts and science is valued. My colleague, Peter Fenn has run a ‘Science Poetry’ competition for the past three years. This is a poetry competition for students in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University. Every year, it attracts more than 160 entries. Peter’s experience with this has led him to question whether the Science / Arts ‘two cultures’ divide actually exists and look for new ways of fostering links between them. Peter is supported in this initiative by three poets: John McAuliffe at the Centre for New Writing Wendy Cope and Lachlan McKinnon.
In 2012, I worked with some of the student poets to record their poems here. The poets are students of Engineering, Maths and Science at the University of Manchester. Although the poems written in English their readings are strongly influenced by the cultures of the poets. The voices remind me of what an international environment we work in. It is inspirational to think these students are writing poetry in what may be their second or third language. The styles are very different and I had some great conversations about the meaning of the poems.
One of the Science Poets, Tom Day-Goodacre identifies ‘wonder’ as a common root of Science and Poetry saying: ‘Science is Wonder understood, while poetry describes it as nothing else could.’ This conversation between engineers, scientists and poets is definitely something wonderful, long may it continue.
This year, students were allowed to view and comment on the other poems – on the custom built website here. Some of the student poets also submitted recordings of their poems. The winning entry was by Holly Jones, who as well as being a scientist and a poet is also a talented cartoonist. Her illustrated poem is a tongue in cheek take on the trials and tribulations of postdoctoral life and can be found here. She’s got a little list…. I would like to hear someone record this poem.
Tony Walsh and Peter Fenn with the sponsor Michael O’Shea and winners of the EPS Poetry Competition 2014
National Women in Engineering Day 2014 Manchester
On June 23rd, I attended a celebration of the first National Women in Engineering Day. About sixty of us gathered together to visit Concorde at Manchester airport. This was a fantastic visit which we all enjoyed. We then had a networking event and a range of talks from inspirational women engineers. One well known senior engineer had a rather unusual career path. Her undergraduate degree was in Physics, she told us but she subsequently went ‘to the dark side’ and now works in Engineering.
This comment made me think about our use of language to describe Science and Engineering and how this affects career choices of young people. Walking on the dark side is only part of the story. If you are a girl choosing engineering you will probably be asked at some stage for reassurance that you ‘don’t mind getting your hands dirty’. Is Dirty and dark appealing as a career choice? Could these misrepresentations of engineering be part of the reason that the representation of women in engineering is still so low? How can we change perceptions and shed some light on the subject, so that young girls get more encouragement to enter the engineering profession?
In teenage years, when young girls are so concerned about how they are perceived, subtle hints and language used is very powerful. This powerful video advert by Verizon emphasises how subtle messages can have a powerful cumulative effect to discourage young girls from their interest in science technology and engineering.
As engineers, we need to step out from the darkness and shed light on our profession by communicating more what we do. How we take the discoveries of ‘pure science’ and maths and implement them to give benefits in the real world. Although we are ‘hands on’ and practically minded, professional engineers rarely have dirty hands. Engineers are ‘do-ers’ and ‘makers’, planners and shapers. So, if you are thinking of a career in engineering, Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty. In fact, don’t be afraid of anything…it’s fun on the dark side 🙂
Last week, we had some visitors to the University – boys and girls from a local school on a Maths experience day. For most of them, it will have been their first time at a University, the first step on a journey. In a few years, they will have choices about subjects to study at school and college and we hope the experience they have with us will inform these choices. It is interesting to think about the starting point of the engineering career journey. When do young people decide to take this path? What inspires and supports them?
Recently, I met Bill Harvey who decided to be an engineer when he was seven years old and was inspired by the magnificent Clifton suspension bridge. After that ‘nothing else would do’. On hearing that he wanted to build bridges, Bill’s grandfather advised ‘you need to become a Civil Engineer and you need to go to University.’ He encouraged Bill’s ambition and guided him in taking the next steps. Almost 60 years later, Bill is still inspired by his work as a structural engineer, expert on masonry arch bridges. In 2010, he became one of the engineers responsible for the care of the Clifton suspension bridge.
I was impressed that at such a young age, Bill made a conscious choice to pursue his interests and that this fascination with bridges remains to this day. On the engineering career journey, encouragement and guidance helps but this is not always available. In recent years, Engineering has something of an image problem. A survey reported by Professional Engineering Magazine reports that although almost a third of young people would consider a career in engineering, many had incorrect assumptions about the industry. These included thinking that it was mostly about physical labour or just about the car industry.
How do young people find out about engineering? Some may have friends or family members or attend an inspiring outreach event. There are many initiatives such as Tomorrow’s Engineers which provide more information and resources to guide young people. Social media also allows engineers to engage and communicate about their work. A really interesting initiative is ‘My Day Engineering’ this is a Facebook group and Twitter account which encourages engineers to share their daily work experience under the hashtag #mydayengineering . By following this, potential students can see the diversity of what engineers do all day and be encouraged to step in and find out more. Twitter is a surprisingly good meeting place for engineers. Perhaps the 140 character limit appeals.
As engineers, we need to think about communicating and encouraging others starting out on the journey. What can we do to encourage those first steps?
The caption suggested itself when I saw the photo of my colleagues working together to resolve an issue with the camera settings on the phone. The capabilities of modern communication devices are truly astounding and seem to be only limited by the imaginations of the developers. Technology and engineering has given us so much. Learning about the functionality of these devices seems to be largely a social process with users explaining to one another what is useful and how to use it. Sometimes we happen upon new feature that we didn’t know was there. As we learn to use it, we adapt our practices to include it. Soon we wonder how we managed without it.
In the photo we see three academic colleagues comfortable with working together and collaborating. What is not obvious from the photo is that two of the colleagues are based in Manchester and the third at the British University in Dubai. We have a close collaboration with BUiD and frequent discussions on postgraduate teaching and research. Such close collaboration relies on great communication enabled by everyday miracles of modern technology. Online library resources, Flights between Manchester and the UAE, satellite communications, video links, Skype, email, internet and mobile phones have all played their part in allowing us to develop a close working relationship.
In the background, a portrait reminds us of the academics who have gone before. The smartphone is a product of collaborations, research and development involving countless academics and industrialists from fields such as electronics, computing, user interface design, communications, materials, manufacturing and supply chain management. Research contibutions leading to the development of the smartphone includes the work of Alexander Graham Bell, Alan Turing and hundreds or thousands of others.
How many academics does it take to work the phone? We need to acknowledge not just the academic colleagues in the photo but the countless researchers and academics who contributed in so many ways to making the phone work. Not only do we stand on the shoulders of giants we carry their work in miniature form with us enabling us to form and sustain international collaborations.
How many academics does it take to work a smartphone?