Why did the engineer cross the road? by Maggie L. '12
Maybe there was a cape for sale on the other side
While you guys anxiously await admissions decisions, I have one piece of advice: smile :) I wrote this entry a few weeks ago, but wanted to save it for finals week / early action decisions pandemonium as reminder not to take life too seriously.
As a senior, I’ve been on the prowl for post-graduation opportunities. This means talking to the career office, going to info sessions, and wading through the internet’s many offerings of chemical engineering industry opportunities.
Recently, I came upon this one for a junior polymer engineer at a hydrocarbon recovery plant.
Can I just point out that a sense of humor is “essential” for this career?
A posting for another opportunity said, “Technical applicants must be able to demonstrate proficiency in at least one programming language. Sense of humor required…Seriously.”
All of a sudden, I’m starting to see that humor is valued as much as other “typical” applicant qualities, which leaves me wondering how in the world it makes such a difference. I talked to a couple of the Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) staff about this, and they said some interesting things in defense of humor.
GEL program Co-Director, MIT alum, and course VI professor Joel Schindall reflected, “Leaders who can joke around or take a joke when appropriate are certainly easier to work with.” He described the marketing manager, Gary, of the first company he worked for, as someone who frequently joked around with the engineers.
“[The engineers] liked it, and when Gary had technical questions from a customer, they would always find time to get him an answer even if they were busy with something else. In addition, Gary would always treat them to coffee when they met at the coffee machine. Coffee was only a quarter in those days, and Gary would say ‘where else can you “buy” people’s cooperation for only a quarter?’” Schindall recalled.
GEL Executive Director Leo McGonagle said he feels “very strongly that a good sense of humor is important.”
And it’s not just engineering that can benefit: “I would often also emphasize this with my ROTC students as well (the military is a deadly serious profession, but a good sense of humor is still important).” A healthy sense of humor, he added, “helps keep us humble and not take ourselves too seriously, or to feel too self-important. It also shows that, while work is important, we’re human, and we need to be able to have fun and enjoy what we’re doing—when that’s appropriate.”
In my experience, humor has single-handedly gotten me through the past three-and-a-half years of drinking from the MIT firehose.
During my UROP last year, my supervisor and I were looking for ways to suspend some silicon slides in a round-bottom flask. If we just let them sink to the bottom of our reaction solution, essentially only one side would be exposed to the solution, so our product yield was half of its potential.
It seemed like we tried everything to get the reaction to happen on both sides of the slides: We tied them to the top of the flask, we used an Eppendorf tube as a flotation device, we tried to use wire to hold it in place. Each time I came into lab, my supervisor and I joked that it was time for “arts and crafts.”
With each disappointment, we would start thinking farther and farther outside of the box for the next idea. Laughing made it much more relaxed and interesting for me. Trust me, when you’re drilling miniature holes into a plastic tube and using it for something completely separate from its intended use, it becomes more of a competition (“That idea was crazy! How can we top that?”) than a chore.
I particularly enjoyed a past lecture when a professor used this image to describe how things in engineering are never as simple as they seem:
This is apparently the logo for an indie rock band in England. Oh, if only it was this easy to fly. I’ll admit, I googled “get cape wear cap fly” to find this image.
At MIT, you can either be defeated by a challenge, or laugh it off with your friends as you work into the early morning. Let’s be honest, when you get an email, as I recently did, for a certain class that begins with, “Obviously, the homework set is way much more complicated than expected” and ends, “And again, no stress. You’ll be fine,” you’re going to need a good sense of humor to push through the upcoming challenge. And maybe a large coffee.