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Engineering Advantage

The Importance of Mentoring

FEA and CFD Mentor and Consultant
February 19, 2016 By: Michael Bak

When I started my first full time engineering job fresh out of graduate school, I felt confident that I could hit the ground running since my brain was filled with tons of engineering knowledge.  In addition, I had taken several courses in finite element theory and application, which in the early 1980’s was still a relatively new technique, so I was confident that I could make a difference right away.

While working on my first few analysis projects, I soon realized that although I knew the theory and background, I needed help not with the operation of the finite element code, but with translating real world conditions into representations that I could use in my model.  How should I model this bolted connection?  What condition should I apply for this boundary condition?  Is it appropriate to use a symmetry simplification here?  Is this mesh density adequate?  How should I interpret these results?  How can I get my nonlinear analysis to converge?

I quickly learned that my boss was a valuable resource in finding answers to all of these questions.  His patient explanations of how and why to model conditions in a particular way, his guidance on assumptions and simplifications that made analyses more efficient without sacrificing significant accuracy, and his suggestions of running test cases to help with understanding of how different features and settings affected the results, became a cornerstone in my engineering development.

I also learned that technical issues are not the only things you need to know to be a successful engineer.  I was mentored on how to communicate effectively with technical and non-technical people, how to improve presentation skills, and how to craft efficient and informative documents using aspects of technical writing.  My boss supported my efforts to continue my education. He demonstrated how to approach work with enthusiasm, even hanging a sign outside his office that read “We Can Do It!”.  Most importantly, his actions conveyed the premise that since we all spend a major portion of our life at work, we should have fun and enjoy it as much as possible.  His rules for a successful career and general life skills have stayed with me (“People like to work with people they like” and “Never buy your spouse an appliance for their birthday present”).

If you are an experienced engineer and have the opportunity to mentor a less-experienced member of your staff, I highly recommend that you do so.  I have tried to pass on my mentor’s philosophy to the younger engineers here at CAE Associates, and I clearly see how it can change their outlook for the positive.  I cannot imagine how different my career would be without my mentor’s guidance and knowledge.

If you are a young engineer and don’t currently have a mentor, there are still a few things you can do to learn those things that aren’t necessarily taught in college or in typical training classes:

Read some engineering blogs.  There is a lot of great information available on the web that is experienced-based and discusses topics not found elsewhere.  I refer often to my colleague’s entries in our CAE Associates’ blog on various topics, such as different ways to model foundations, reviewing the effect of poorly-shaped elements, and verifying my PSD results.

Join engineering user groups.  LinkedIn has various user groups related to engineering that can be a good source of information.  The XANSYS on-line community of ANSYS users is a good place to find ANSYS tips.

Take our Best Practices course. This course tries to close the gaps between textbook finite element theory and application and common usage that is not typically addressed in our normal ANSYS training.

CAE Associates' mentoring.  We offer one-on-one mentoring services on any topic of your choice.  In our mentoring, we try to explain not only how, but why we are doing things a certain way.  And who knows, we might throw in a life lesson along the way!

Do you have any great stories of lessons your mentors have passed along to you?  We would love to hear about them!