Friday, February 17, 2012

Things I wish I knew in college

College was probably the best time of my life. I know everyone says it should be, but it isn't until you aren't there anymore that you realize it. There are things I wish I'd been told while I was there that would have been extremely useful to know before I started my career, so I though I'd try to share some wisdom and help out those of you that are still there:

Why staying awake in class is important
We've all been there... long night doing homework, early morning trying to print, then you forget your coffee/energy drink of choice at home on the counter. Class starts and five minutes in you are starting to pass out. Unfortunately, this doesn't end after college. Eventually you will be in meetings and conference calls where the conversations are just as uninteresting, but it's even more important to stay awake since you are being paid to be there. You absolutely must find a method of staying awake in class, and no, not on your cellphone. Find out if you need more sleep or if you need to have some sugar or caffeine in your system. Maybe you just need to read up on the class ahead of time to stay awake. Whatever it is for you, you need to practice it in class. I can't tell you how embarrassing it is to go to a meeting and to see someone starting to doze off. You do not want to be that person.

Taking notes
Now that you have successfully found a way to stay conscious, you need to find a way to take good notes by hand. Yes, by hand. Sorry to all of you laptop users, but in meetings laptops are usually not allowed as the typing is annoying to hear when someone is talking. Think of every office meeting you have seen on any TV show; everyone has a notepad and there is never a laptop. This isn't the only reason though. After important meetings, more often than not as the new person you will be the one to send out the meeting minutes. Which means you need to have been awake and been taking accurate notes. You will need to be able to pick out the important information and be able to use it correctly to tell everyone what you heard. Also, it's easier for you to remember what you need to do and who is important in the office.

Get a planner
In college I never had one and still managed to get all my homework done and turned in. When you get to the point in the office where you have 10-15 things that need to get done and all have deadlines, you need to remember when it all happens. Getting a planner, or at least making a To Do list is the best things you could possibly have. I don't think I'd be able to make it through a day any more without one.

Get good at public speaking - fast
In my first week on the job, I was leading conference calls and was fortunate enough to be decent at speaking in front of a bunch of people I've never met. It's extremely nerve wracking, but you absolutely must be able to voice your opinion and ask questions, which is something most students forget in college or just try to avoid. It is the people that are confident and will speak out that will catch the attention of recruiters, and it is those people that will get the jobs. Don't be shy; being shy won't get you work.

I'm sure I have more advice I would have loved to have been told in college, but this is what I have for the moment. I'll be sure to include more in my second segment of Things I wish I knew in college

Working in the Male Environment

Ladies, I'm sure you are used to spending countless hours in classrooms, computer rooms, labs, and a good portion of doing homework being around guys. Let's face it - engineering is a male dominated major. However, that's what makes us awesome as women for "fighting the system" and showing the guys we are just as good if not better. Unfortunately, it's something you will probably need to get used to, as being an engineer means you will be working in a male environment.

I work as a nuclear licensing engineer at a nuclear power plant, and on a daily basis have interacted with two other female engineers. It is not common to have women around in such complicated environments. Multiple times people have been surprised in meeting me at conference calls and in person, assuming that my name was "Daniel" instead of "Danielle", or mistaking me as a new secretary. These mistakes are small things I let roll off my shoulders, and use them instead to motivate myself to be recognized. In allowing my motivation and strengths show, I've been recognized for my work more so that some others. After being at this job for still under two months, I am now the lead project engineer on a high priority project, and will be defined as the site expert on the subject in a few months. I've realized that the men can look down on me or treat me different for being female all they want, but it hasn't stopped me from furthering myself more in two months than they have.

I've come to realize it is important to build a thick skin against these things if you want to be able to succeed in this type of working environment. Sure, you will be oogled at my men (I mean, it is their nature and sometimes it just happens) but it doesn't mean that they are going to go all creepo and harass you. Sometimes these guys are so used to being around guys all the time they forget to censor some comments they make when women are present. You don't need to be one of the guys, and you definitely shouldn't be a vixen in the workplace. All you need to do is be understanding, look professional, and act in a manner that will have people give you the respect you are working for.

Some things to be cautious of though:

1. Remember that they are your coworkers. This isn't college anymore. Don't flirt with the people you work with, since usually companies have policies against dating and it never ends well. Think about it... how would you feel being stuck in a room with someone that dumped you, every day in your career?

2. Learn how to write professional emails. Every email you send is an important one, regardless of the subject. Do not use slang, curse, be rude, and always use proper punctuation and grammar. Also, don't use a big word when you can use smaller ones instead. Just because you know what fission or thermofluids means doesn't mean they do.

3. Never ever throw your coworkers "under the bus" so to say. You will be in an office with them, and you will need their help over time, so don't burn your own bridges.

And most importantly, as long as you dedicate yourself to your work, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Senior Design Materials

As some of you know, I'm having my Senior Design Project Sponsored by NASA GSFC. Basically, they pay for most of the materials.  So my team's job is to create an "Ultra-Stable Thermal Enclosure"...basically we have to maintain a temperature of +/- 0.1 Celsius.  Never mind the difficulty, look at the toys we got! 

So last week, our mentor sent us a SparkFun Inventor's Kit in order to control the temperature.  "Unlease your Inner Inventor" as it says on the packaging.  Haha. 
So I was reading the website for this product, and it says it's for kids 10+....Let's just say I feel like a little kid again!!!!

Okay, material List. :-)

1. Breadboard. For those who don't know, a breadboard is where you connect your circuit.  Pretty simple, actually.  Look how tiny it is!!! 
2. This thing is pretty cool. You can use it like a touch pad! 
 3. This piece was used in the Nintendo Flex Glove.  Basically, you flex the material, and it changes the resistance, similar to the piece above.  (It works just like a strain gauge, which I used in the Material Performance Lab...I'll have to write about them sometime...)
 4. LEDs! Aren't they cute?
So I totally didn't mean to put these one my just helped there to be no reflection in the photos...But now that I look at them...I think it's a nice touch...(The math in the background is courtesy of Shigley Hauler Design Work)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sexual Harassment

The other day I “rescued” a young girl who was studying at a coffee shop near me from an older man trying to hit on her who was clearly unwelcome. What pissed me off was that it took me half an hour to take action because I wasn’t sure if I should even interfere and that no one else seemed to care. I waited until the man stood up to buy another drink and asked her if the man was bothering her and if she’d like me to interfere; she was really grateful because she didn’t know how to get rid of him. After cutting in twice talking to her indicating to the man than their conversation was over this guy would not lay off. I finally just asked her to walk back to campus with me because I “didn’t want to go by myself” and we ended up leaving for another coffee shop. If I had known then what I know now I would probably have interrupted early and not let it go on so long or notified the coffee shop’s staff.
So this brings me to my point. What qualifies as sexual harassment? What do I do if I am being sexually harassed? What do I do if I see someone else being sexually harassed?

Sexual harassment is any kind of unwelcome sexual advance. This could be someone making sexual innuendoes or jokes that makes one feel uncomfortable or even if an employer places a hand on an employee’s shoulder and the employee feels uncomfortable. The definition is pretty vast.
What do you do if you’re being sexually harassed?

·         Tell the offending person since it may just be a subconscious thing and they will stop.

·         Record the time, date, place the act took place. It may come in handy later.
·         If the conduct continues, it’s best to take it up with you company’s HR Representative (Human Resources) who will advise you on what to do or how to file a lawsuit.

·         In most cases you will simply take it up with your employer (if they are not the offender) whose job it is to avoid lawsuits like these and take action. [Make sure to get everything in writing. It maybe be needed later]. The accused person will also have to be transferred temporarily while an investigation takes place.
·         If this takes place outside the workplace, say in a classroom or elsewhere, take it up with an authority, be it a professor, dean, or police official. The Women’s center (and Campus Violence and Prevention Center) on most campuses also offer (confidential) help with this sort of thing.
How do I know if someone is being sexually harassed? Look for signs of discomfort. For example, signs including the following:

·         saying that they are working on something (trying to stop the conversation)

·         nervous tapping of fingers

·         clenching of fists

·         not really looking at the person (not really paying attention)

·         someone simply, saying no.
If you are in doubt you can always wait for the other person to get up to go to the bathroom or just slip the person a note asking if you need to interfere. Please be cautious and discreet with this, you don’t want to be any more involved than you need to and if the other person could possibly be a threat to you as well, it would be better if they did not read that note.

If this occurs in the workplace, again the HR rep is your best bet. You can always give a heads up to the offending person, they may not realize they are being offensive. But be careful, if this is an employer then you may face retaliation if they find your advice unwelcome. You can also find out from the person being harassed if they would like you to intervene.

Note: should you face retaliation for trying to stop/prevent sexual harassment either as a friend or as the person being harassed, know that discrimination laws prohibit retaliation for doing so as trying to stop it falls under a “protected activity.”
I do not claim to be any kind of expert in this topic but I don’t think most people are aware of what to do in a situation like this and I hated that I myself had to wait so long to act.
If you’re looking for sisterly support in any kind of situation or some friendly advice, your local SWE chapter or Women’s center are great places to go.

I tried to stay pretty general so here are a few helpful sites if you would like more information:

If there are any topics you would like discussed in future blog posts leave a note in the comments or email us with subject: ENGINEERING THE GAP.
Best of luck,

N. Riazi

Shigley Hauler

So I currently have a Mechanical Design class.  Our final project consists of creating a "Shigley Hauler", where Shigley is the author of our textbook. It's gunna be great! (Our team's goal is to haul at least 4 textbooks, each about 4.5 lbs per each).

The first day of class, our professor (who is absolutely crazy and awesome) gave us some materials.  Shall I introduce them? Of course!

I shall first introduce the MOTOR.  This little motor is supposed to be able to output a ton of torque with 2 AA batteries! Now we'll see about that :-/
The next component: gears! We have 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 tooth gears.  These should enable our team to take all the speed from the motor to carry a couple books up a ramp.  It's also great to note that these are made in CANADA :-)
 Okay background: our group is made up of 3 our of the 6 girls in our class (okay, there may be 7...I didn't quite count).  When we got the gears, Leann pointed out "Oh! Look at the Baby Gear!" ...Only the girls would say this, hehehe. However, I would argue that it IS small...

I'll be sure to update when we create our gear box....I'm so excited! Did I mention that we have to also write poems for this project? Talk about being well-rounded :-)