10 soft skills to define your early career

It is 9 am Monday morning and for many people it is a day just like every other. However, it is late September and in the southern hemisphere (in my case Australia) it is summer internship application period. During the last two weeks of September I will meet with dozens of students looking to secure one of many highly competitive work experience positions. My inbox is flooded with emails related to CV structure, cover letters, interview advice and if there is sufficient mention of projects/technical content in a job application. What I find in 99% of engineering and technology students is that their key sales point to industry tends be along the lines of “I am a good coder”, “I am a great electronics designer”, “I am an outstanding mechanical engineer”, “I am highly proficient in the use of CAD” and the list goes on. I think by now you get the point. Historically students in STEM careers have ignored the “soft skills”, often brushing them aside to hone in more of the tech crunch. The 21st century engineer can no longer expect to find jobs solely on their ability to solve problems.

"Stand out in the crowd with a well defined set of soft skills" says Dr. Eddie Custovic

“Stand out in the crowd with a well defined set of soft skills” says Dr. Eddie Custovic

 

In a recent survey 77 percent of employers surveyed by careerbuilder.com said they were seeking candidates with soft skills — and 16 percent of the respondents considered such qualities more crucial than hard skills. Soft skills relate to the way employees relate to and interact with other people. Another study conducted by Millennial Branding said employers ranked placed the most emphasis on: communication skills, a positive attitude and the ability to work in a team, all of which can be labelled soft skills or emotional intelligence. Hard skills, on the other hand, are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify, such as a proficiency in a computer programming language. In today’s world employers have an expectancy that graduates will come to an organization already in possession of soft skills. When employees lack these basic soft skills, it can hurt the overall success of the organization.

While there are endless articles on which soft skills matter most, I have taken the liberty of creating a summary of 10 that are crucial:

1. Effectively managing your time and being organised Time management is one of those skills that we often feel we are failing at as students. Late assignments? Missing a class? Forgot to do your preliminary reading before a laboratory session? During your studies you will be introduced to the concept of project management which contains an element of time management. Your undergraduate degree should serve as a testing ground to hone in on your time management skills. 8 semesters of studies will allow you to experiment with different ways of keeping track of time. Some of you prefer keeping notes in a diary and others will use a digital diary/calendar to keep track of tasks. It is important that have time management and organizational skills that stand out. There is not much room to missing meetings and project deadlines when out in industry. Missing project deadlines can often have grave consequences for the organization you work for.

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2. Working under pressure. Many of you have pulled an “all-nighter” during your undergraduate studies. Drinking red bull or coffee to give you that extra few hours of concentration need to complete an assignment or project. While learning good time management skills can help you minimize the frequency of these taxing situations, they are likely to occur from time to time in a demanding job. This is particularly true if you are wanting to make an impact early in your career.While “working smarter, not harder” is a term often thrown around, evidence shows that putting in the extra hours from time to time early in your career delivers results. You will not go unnoticed. It might come as a surprise that the ability to focus all your energy on something is a skill you often utilize in the workforce.

3. Being dependable. Employers value workers they can rely on to get the job done. There’s nothing better than an employee who is on time every time and is highly reliable. Your managers will be under enormous pressure to deliver outcomes. Having employees who can take on tasks with confidence can alleviate some of the pressure from management.

4. Being creative and innovative. Whether you are an IT professional or biomedical engineer, creativity is what sparks change in the workplace. Finding a unique solution and thinking outside of the box is what standout graduates do. During interviews you will most likely face questions such as “Please tell us about a time when you were assigned a tasks and how you dealt with it”. This is the time to demonstrate your creative thinking and ability to provide innovative/non conventional problem solving. The challenges we face in industry often require solutions that fall outside of what we normally expect to see. A great example of a large scale creative solution is the construction of the Burj-Khalifa tower in Dubai. To ensure the concrete of the mega structure cured properly, ice blocks were thrown into concrete and poured over night.

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5. Voicing opinions while being open to feedback. Employees who are confident in their ideas but open to feedback can play influential roles in a workplace. During a brainstorming session, for example, such an employee would not only share ideas but also challenge others’ by asking thoughtful questions. This can create a stimulating discussion and even spark innovation. As a graduate you should ask yourself the following questions; Are you open to training and advice? If someone senior in the organization made a comment about your work (feedback), how would you react (defensive or acknowledge it)? Accepting negative feedback in a graceful manner speaks volumes about an individual and their character.

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6. Solving problems. Especially for fast-paced organizations, strong employees can think critically and effectively solve problems. Are you generally a resourceful person? Even if you don’t have all the answers, would you be able to look for them? Know what to do? People who take ownership and are ready to own up their mistakes are highly regarded by the organisation. A typical question you will face during an interview in this area is: “Please provide an example of a time when you had to overcome a challenge in the workplace”. This will help a hiring manager gauge the candidate’s ability to solve problems, be resourceful and face obstacles at work.

7. Coaching and mentoring of co-workers. According to Millennial Branding report, 92 percent of employers value strong teamwork skills. Strong employees are individuals willing to help co-workers and coach them along the way. Let’s say a new employee has been hired and added to a group project. The new employee probably doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on yet. In this scenario, an employee who’s been on the team a while should take the new worker under his wing and coach the person through the new project.

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8. Taking initiative. An employee demonstrates initiative by coming up with an idea and putting it into action. For example, an employee might develop an idea for social-media marketing campaign that will build awareness for the organization. Don’t always wait to be assigned a task, if you can see a problem take initiative to see how you can contribute in solving it.

9. Being flexible and focused. Deadlines and projects can change at a moment’s notice. Employees need to quickly adapt while remaining focused on meeting deadlines. For example, an employee may have just received an assignment and deadlines for the week. But Wednesday arrives and the manager decides everything needs to be shifted to arrive a day earlier. A flexible employee would be able to quickly adapt to these changes and focus on projects with top priority.

10. Developing new work processes. Employees with the ability to analyze work processes and discover new ways to complete them efficiently are valuable to employers. Not only does this save employers time, but it can also add to the bottom line.

Have other soft skills that you believe should be in this list? Let us know.

Article contributed by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, IMPACT by IEEE Young Professionals

 

YP Member Spotlight – Anthony Deese

IEEE PES Young Professionals is an international community of enthusiastic, dynamic, and innovative members and volunteers. A spotlight on selected PES YP members is provided here to provide insight into this great community. These members provide unique insight into their education, career goals and progression, and personal lives.

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Anthony please tell us about yourself 

I am currently an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The College of New Jersey as well as director of the NSF-funded Smart Electric Power System (SEPS) Laboratory.  I teach a number of courses on power system analysis, power electronics, electronics, circuits and systems, as well as differential equations.  My research areas include field-programmable analog array (FPAA) technology, artificial neural networks, measurement-based load modeling, demand response, and state estimation in distribution systems.  Much of my work examines applications to power system planning and operation.  I completed both my undergraduate and graduate work at Drexel University, working on my doctorate as a research assistant within the Center for Electric Power Engineering (CEPE) under advisors Dr. Chika Nwankpa, Ph.D. and Dr. Karen Miu, Ph.D.  I am a member of the IEEE Power and Energy Society as well as IEEE IEEE Young Professionals Committee.  My hobbies include running as well as playing piano and guitar.  Please refer to my website: www.anthonydeese.com for further information.

Dr. Deese with students during a hydroelectric power plant visit

Dr. Deese with students during a hydroelectric power plant visit

What professional achievements are you most proud of?

I am very happy that I have had the opportunity to establish a power engineering laboratory at The College of New Jersey.  Not many undergraduate institutions have a facility like SEPS.  It has been a great asset in both teaching and research.  I look forward to further expanding the capability of the laboratory in coming years.

What were your early career goals (first 10 years in industry)? Which have you accomplished? How did you plan/execute these goals?

My early career goals included acquiring a tenure-track faculty position at a highly-regarded institution of higher learning as well as starting my own laboratory.  I have been able to achieve these goals through hard work and the assistance of many colleagues from Drexel University, The College of New Jersey, and the IEEE.  I cannot overstate the importance of IEEE and PES involvement; the resources it provides are invaluable to young electrical engineers.

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What are you career goals moving forward?

One of my primary career goals moving forward is the acquisition of additional research funds that 1) allow more undergraduate students to participate in research and 2) provide students and faculty at TCNJ with more robust power engineering research and educational facilities.  I am also interested in learning more about the utilization of artificial neural networks and machine learning in power system planning and operation.  I hope to include these topics in both my future teaching and research.

How are you involved in PES?

I serve on the IEEE PES Young Professionals Committee.  Additionally, I have attended the IEEE PES General Meeting every year for the past 5 – 7 years.  It is a great opportunity to present work, learn about emerging topics in the field of power engineering, and connect with others in the power community.

Do you have any advice for Young Professionals getting involved in PES?

First, I would advise YP members to learn about and take advantages of all the opportunities the IEEE provides.  There many sources of scholarship, travel funding, and job placement assistance that go under-used.  Subscribe to IEEE Spectrum as well as IEEE Power and Energy Magazine, and make time to read them monthly.  The IEEE uses these publications to communicate with its membership and inform them of new and exciting opportunities.  Second, I would advise YP members to always maintain a five-year career plan, formal or informal.  It is important for young engineers to ask themselves important questions regarding: 1) technical areas to focus on, 2) interest in graduate education, 3) desire to work in academia vs. industry, as well as 4) expectations for income and lifestyle.  I have always maintained an informal five-year plan.  And, although it’s constantly changing, this vision for the future encourages me to devote some time to career development in spite of more pressing / immediate tasks.

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You have been in the power industry for approximately ten years, what was the biggest challenge you faced in your career? How did you deal with this challenge?

The biggest challenge I have faced in my career is learning how to turn negatives into positives.  Almost everyone faces setbacks in their career.  However, it is important to realize that these setbacks are invaluable learning experiences essential to self-improvement and long-term career success.

In your experiences, how important has/is continuing education to career advancement and personal development?

No one succeeds in their chosen profession without devoting time to continued education and personal development.  This education may take place in the university classroom, research laboratory, or corporate / industrial environment.  However, it is essential that professionals look ahead and obtain the skills that will be needed in the future, especially in a fast-changing technical field like engineering.

What advice do you have for newly graduated power engineers?

I strongly believe that you (aka. the recent graduate) have chosen the right field to enter at the right time.  I suggest that you use the early years of your career to gain as much experience and as many skills as possible.  They will pay high dividends in the future.

Profile was provided by the Young Professionals of Power & Energy Society (PES)

Life on Oil and Gas rigs: An IEEE insider view

Today we bring you an exciting inside view of what it is like to be an engineer on oil and gas rigs. We interview Loai Khalayli an active IEEE member who provides us with detailed information about his life and how he ended up working in this exciting industry.

Woodside Petroleum gas find off Australia's west coast.

Woodside Petroleum gas find off Australia’s west coast. Image courtesy: Couriermail

1.       Loai Please tell us a little about yourself?

 

I was born in a little town called Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates. Having spent the majority of my life (22 years) in the UAE, I completed all my schooling, and my bachelor degree in Electrical & Electronics Engineering at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). After that, I decided to cross the Indian ocean and went to Melbourne University for a master degree in Mechatronics Engineering.

 

2.       What prompted you to move to Australia?

 

Australia is a beautiful country: its nature, people, lifestyle, standard of living, culture (or multi-culture) are unique. When I got my offer to study in Melbourne, at Australia’s top university, I couldn’t reject it, and decided it was time to move to another part of the world.

Loai receives award - HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashed Al Maktoum in Dubai

Loai receives award – HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashed Al Maktoum in Dubai

 

3.       Please tell us about your involvement with the IEEE? 

 

Without exaggeration, the IEEE has shaped my life. It all started when I was a freshman student exploring student clubs at a club fair at AUS. I joined the “sub-committee” as a volunteer for the IEEE student branch. It wasn’t long before I realized that I had joined one of the most important technical organizations in the world. We were organising international conferences, technical workshops with major companies, social events, and lots of other great events. The hard work immediately paid off with the networking opportunities and the lifelong friends I made from companies and universities around the world. It was one thing that brought us altogether – our passion for IEEE.

 

Two semesters after my join date, I was offered the opportunity to join the team for a partially sponsored study tour to France. That was a one-of-a-kind experience: a highlight of that trip was a visit to the Airbus manufacturing facility in Toulouse, at which we saw the A380 being assembled. The most impressive aspect of the study tour was that it was completely organized by students for students.

Loai, the rig and nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see

Loai, the rig and nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see

Over the next years, I held different positions in the committees of IEEE student branches at AUS and University of Melbourne. Over the course of 6 years volunteering for the IEEE, I was exposed to many different projects which developed my professionalism. It provided me with a wide spectrum of skills: technical (from conferences, publications, etc.), and organizational/leadership/social skills (from our committee projects). Most importantly, it exposed me to difficult situations, and taught me how to deal with people, as well manage my time as I juggled volunteering around my studies and part-time work. 

 

Another notable experience I’ve had with the IEEE is when my undergraduate senior project won the second prize in the IEEE Myron Zucker Student Design Competition. As a result, my team and I were flown to Las Vegas, Nevada to present our project at the IEEE Industry Application Society AGM. People from all around the world were present to showcase their work.

 

4.       You were recently employed by Woodside Petroleum. Please tell us about your journey of employment.

 

I started working with Woodside in February 2015 (not long ago!). So far, it has been a very rewarding journey. Working in this sector requires a very strong focus on safety – a requirement for all employees travelling to offshore platforms is the completion of the TBOSIET, which stands for Tropical (water) Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training. This entails fire-fighting, escaping a smoke-filled room (with zero visibility), escaping an upside down submerged helicopter, survival at sea, first-aid and lots of other aspects. It can be a bit daunting at first, but then once the safety culture is built into your mind, you can never think differently – the first thing you would do at arrival to any place (even if it’s a cinema, or a hotel) is identify emergency exits and map your escape routes.

 

Another part of the job that I have enjoyed learning is specialised knowledge in hazardous areas (all our electrical devices must be explosion-proof). Woodside provides its graduates many opportunities to learn on-the-job, while allowing graduates to be creative in solving the toughest problems! It has been very challenging to learn about hazardous areas, while being presented with non-conventional problems. I feel like I’m breaking new boundaries every single day.

 

5.       Woodside is the largest operator of Oil & Gas in Australia. Tell us about some of the major projects you have been involved in?

 

Currently, I’m working on the North West Shelf Project, Australia’s largest resource development project. Specifically, I am working on the offshore gas processing platforms. These platforms are some of the largest in the world in size and gas processing capacity. Visiting the sites is not an ordinary visit – many of our projects have held or hold world records.

Northwest Shelf - Australia

Northwest Shelf – Australia

Being part of the frontline engineering team that keeps the plant up and running is a very interesting experience. The plant runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and if a fault occurs, it needs immediately attention. Being called into the office on a weekend/public holiday/weeknight is not unexpected (of course, employees follow fatigue management plans that allow them to take a day off in certain cases)!

 

6.       You travel a lot as part of your work and spend time in remote sites including oil/gas rigs. What is it like to work on a rig? Can you describe what a typical day will consist of?

 

I do get to travel to sites in the North West of Australia, off the coast of the town of Karratha. It takes about 5 to 6 hours to get there from Perth (Capital of the Western Australian state) between a fixed wing flight, a helicopter ride, and airport waiting times. Once you arrive there, you are briefed with safety instructions, and are allowed to start work afterwards.

 

A working day on-site is about 12 hours, with regular scheduled breaks for re-energizing. The day starts early, with a 6 am start, and goes ahead with the morning meeting: this covers information on the different work on site, the weather conditions, and the plan for the day. All those are talked about with relevance to safety: how can all the work be done such that everyone can return home safely. After that, everyone heads off to their job, which can be very different from one person to another. On some days, I find people calibrating sensors, and on others I see turbines being dismantled.

Loai undertaking his duties on the rig during a typical day

Loai undertaking his duties on the rig during a typical day

I guess the most interesting part about working offshore is the people you meet – great characters, and lots of technical experience. More importantly, the safety culture that people live and breathe is quite impressive. People look after each other all the time. Another very important learning curve is the Permit-to-Work system: this system essentially prevents conflicting works (in terms of safety, or for functionality of the plant) from happening at the same time. There are several other aspects covered by this system, such as electrical isolations, process isolations, etc. depending on the work being undertaken. 

 

7.       What advice can you offer to other Young Professional members looking to get into this sector of work?

 

I strongly recommend any engineer who is considering joining this industry to explore it – it’s a world of its own, and it holds great learning opportunities. The work is never monotonous – one day you’re in the office meeting engineers, the next day you’re testing equipment in a lab. Other days you find yourself on a helicopter on your way to site. One thing I’d like to stress on is joining a company that looks after the safety of its employees. The reality is it’s a hazardous industry, and having many people working on the same plant requires a lot of management, planning, and knowledge of the plant structure for everyone to be safe. One thing that I’m proud to say is that Woodside has great safety accomplishments.

 

8.       Anything else you want to add?

 

Yes. I’d just like to mention one thought that always came to my mind. Every transition stage of one’s life is like hitting a ‘reset’ button, or perhaps, a step applied to one’s system – whether it’s a new city you move to, a new job/industry, a new degree/university, etc. Change is something that one always has to embrace to be successful. People can handle change differently – but it may be a good idea to take changes in small steps – this ensures that you are always stable (excuse my control systems terminology!). Nevertheless, my advice to everyone is to move outside of their comfort zones, reach the unreachable, and work their way smartly to success!

 

Interview and editing – Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, IEEE IMPACT

Finished study? Where to next?

You have your necessary engineering tertiary qualification; check!

You are a member of various engineering related organisations; check!

You are actively partaking in numerous co-curricular activities; check!

……. however you are struggling to ‘land’ that first job, relevant work experience and job ready skills.

This is the problem facing many current graduates from all over the world.  I was not immune to what seems to be a common scenario in the industry today.  I graduated from a leading university in Melbourne, Australia with an engineering degree, majoring in civil engineering. Although the construction and design industry has been vibrant over the last few years, I always found it difficult to obtain the exact skill employers apparently require; that being “experience”.

Every summer during my university vacation throughout my degree, I would try to arrange some form of relevant work experience while away from my studies.  The work ranged from obtaining formal roles with local councils to enrolling in appropriate software CAD classes (for upskilling), in my spare time. Basically, I made it my mission to ensure that no employer at any interview could suggest that I supposedly “did not have enough experience”.  While it is not entirely imperative that the work experience be in your exact field of study, I believe that it is important that all upcoming graduates attempt to immerse themselves in areas and experiences that allow for opportunities to build upon their transferable leadership, teamwork and self-responsibility skills.

University specific job sites and job boards are often a very good resource to use in order to find relevant opportunities for experience.  Generic job sites often are ill-equipped to cater for the requirements often facing newly graduated and current engineering students.  The following list highlights a few engineering specific job sites from around the world that should be visited by engineers, graduates, students and employers alike.

  1. Monster – monster.com

While not exclusive to showcasing engineering jobs, this job site should be visited by job seekers and those looking for experience.  Region dependant, this site provides extra services such as resume guidance and help, together with career resources and insightful interview technique tips.

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  1. Engineering & Technology Jobs – engineering-jobs.theiet.org

Hosted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, this site allows prospective employees to search for available positions based on the engineering and technology disciplines.  The site is based in the United Kingdom, with the jobs primarily focussed toward this region. The site also allows for job seekers to connect with recruiters in the area who have an intimate knowledge of the specific working landscape.

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  1. EngineerJobs – engineerjobs.com

EngineerJobs is one of the leading engineering job sites visited in the world. Attracting nearly 400,000 monthly visitors to the site, its users can filter search results based on a combination of criteria including engineering discipline and home city.  There are approximately 300,000 jobs advertised on this site at any one time. This site is a great place for all prospective seekers from North America to begin their search. EngineerJobs also allows applicants to upload a copy of their resume for easy access from any potential recruiters.

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  1. EngineeringJobs – engineeringjobs.net.au

Hosted by Webjobz, this website performs a search on available engineering specific job availabilities across Australia.  The search function allows a search by job title, location and even company name.  Although this site slightly favours the mechanical engineering discipline, the search results often provide a diverse mix of available jobs, with varying entry requirements.

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  1. EuroEngineeringJobs – euroengineeringjobs.com

EuroEngineeringJobs, as the name suggests, caters to prospective job searchers looking for roles in predominantly Europe.  The built-in search function allows for job advertisements to be filtered by country or job field. In addition, job advertisements can be further sorted by the level of experience required; namely 0-2 years’ experience, 3-4 years’ experience, 5+ years’ experience and at the manager and executive level. An applicant’s CV and resume can also be uploaded into the job website and a job alert is provided when matched with criteria set by the user.

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  1. Engineering – engineering.com

Engineering.com (don’t you love the name?) provides a search portal for various job listings, predominately located in the United States, Canada and even the United Arab Emirates. Focussing mainly on automotive and aerospace engineering, this job site sorts the job advertisements based on discipline. In addition, job seekers can access valuable resources on career tips and industry information.

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  1. IEEE Job Site: – careers.ieee.org

The IEEE Job site provides access to a searchable database of jobs available in the electrical, electronic, engineering, computing and other IEEE related fields. The site also provides updates to the many upcoming career fairs and provides a dedicated job seeker tool to assist in building a proficient resume and CV. Internship and entry level jobs are separated on the site, allowing for more appropriate results to be displayed.

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  1. Tech Careers: – techcareers.com

While not as widely known as some of the other tech industry job sites online, TechCareers.com offers nearly 200,000 tech and engineering jobs, as well as the ability to create your own career portfolio to attract interested businesses and recruiters.

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  1. Electrical Engineer: – electricalengineer.com

Plenty of great job opportunities for those interested in electrical engineering. This site contains electronic and electrical engineering jobs ranging from microcontroller engineering, power distribution engineering to project management.

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  1. Indeed – PhD Jobs: – indeed.com/q-PhD-Engineering-jobs.html

To finish off our list, a PhD related job site called Indeed. It can be very frustrating for graduate school students to find that ideal job so rest assured we did not forget you.

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Article contributed by Michael Gough, Assistant Editor, IEEE IMPACT

Article edited by Tim Wong, Senior Assistant Editor, IEEE IMPACT and Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief, IEEE IMPACT

IEEE President Elect Candidates speak to Young Professionals

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Today we bring you an IEEE IMPACT exclusive interview with the 2016 IEEE President Elect candidates.

The IEEE Board of Directors has nominated Senior Member Karen Bartleson and Life Fellow Frederick “Fred” Mintzer as candidates for 2016 IEEE president-elect. They are set to face off in the annual election later this year. The winner will serve as IEEE president in 2017.

Karen Bartleson (www.KarenBartleson.net)

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Karen Bartleson is a Senior Director at Synopsys, an electronic design automation company.

“Karen Bartleson is a Senior Director at Synopsys, an electronic design automation company. Her responsibilities include technical standards development, software tool interoperability, relationships with universities and research institutions worldwide, and customer engagement through social media. Karen was 2013-2014 President of the IEEE Standards Association. As President, she led their new strategic plan, furthered the OpenStand™ market-driven standardization paradigm, and finalized IEEE’s membership in the Global Standards Collaboration. She chaired the IEEE Internet Initiative, whose charter is to raise IEEE’s influence in Internet governance, cyber-security, and cyber-privacy policy. She was also a member of IEEE’s strategy committee, overseeing the role of IEEE in global public policy. She received the 2003 Marie R. Pistilli Women in Electronic Design Automation Achievement Award and authored The Ten Commandments for Effective Standards: Practical Insights for Creating Technical Standards. She holds a BS in engineering science with an electronic engineering concentration from California Polytechnic State University.”

 

  1. What prompted you to become an IEEE member and volunteer?

I became an IEEE member the same way many of you did. While I was in engineering school, one of my professors encouraged me to join. He told me that it was important to be part of a professional organization, and it could help my career. Like you, I remained a member after I went to work. My in-depth volunteering began when I became involved in technical standards development. It was a perfect blend of volunteering for the IEEE Standards Association and doing my job for my employers. I have been asked how members can balance volunteering and their “day job”. I suggest finding activities in the IEEE that complement your work. That is a secret to success.

  1. If elected, how do you see yourself positively affecting IEEE Young Professionals?

I see positive effects in both directions. You should know that you, as IEEE’s Young Professionals, truly inspire me. Your enthusiasm for technology and your passion to make the world a better place give me much optimism for the future. The way you connect with and support each other is something I want to do on a daily basis, and I can learn a lot from you. In return, I would like to offer you my experience of three decades as an engineer. I would like to be a role model for what you can achieve in your careers and your lives. I want to get you more involved in the leadership and governance of the IEEE. And I want to make IEEE so valuable to you that someday you call yourselves Life Members.

  1. Outside of your professional work, what are your hobbies and interests?

My favorite thing to do at the end of the day is to cook a fancy dinner. I enjoy international cuisines and make dishes from recipes in my cookbooks and ones I find online. Once I made an Ethiopian feast, complete with injera. I prepared “safari steak for the hunter” from my African cookbook. I like to make Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, and other kinds of food from all over the world. I have yet to produce a Brazilian barbeque, but that is on my list. Before I became so busy with work and the IEEE, I loved to go camping and fly fishing. Maybe in a few years, I will have time to do these again. Having a garden and backyard chickens, like I had when I was in college, is a future goal of mine.

  1. What advice can you offer to IEEE Young Professionals?

Please, Young Professionals, never lose your bright spirit or your sense of confidence. You will likely face challenges both at work and at home. During those times, remember that you are not alone. Connect with your colleagues, your friends, your family, and your mentors for the support that will help you overcome difficulties. Be sure to take time to celebrate your successes. If you look back at the end of each year and recall all your great accomplishments, you will be enthusiastic about the year to come. Do not be afraid to try new things. Ask yourself this question that my mother taught me to ask when you face a tough decision, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Often, the worst thing is something not so terrible, and it is well worth the risk to take on a new, exciting adventure. Finally, keep learning – not only technically, but also socially. The world will continue to change, and if you embrace it, you will be amazed.

Frederick “Fred” Mintzer (www.FredMintzer.net)

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Fred Mintzer was the program director for IBM’s Blue Gene Watson supercomputer facility and associate director of its Deep Computing Institute, both at the company’s T.J. Watson Research Center, in Yorktown Heights, N.Y from 2005 to 2013. He retired on 1 January 2014.

“Fred Mintzer received a BSEE from Rutgers University and a PhD in EECS from Princeton University. He joined IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in 1978. Beginning in the middle 1980s, he managed a team that developed new technologies for image database applications and validated them in projects with cultural institutions that included the Vatican Library, Russia’s Hermitage Museum, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. From 2001 until 2005, he managed the Visual Technologies Department which developed new technologies for digital imaging, computer graphics and data visualization. From 2005 until retirement in 2013, he was the Program Director for IBM’s Blue Gene Watson facility, which once included the world’s second fastest supercomputer. He produced over fifty publications, twenty-five patents, and key features of several IBM offerings. His honors include recognition as an IEEE Fellow, membership in the IBM Academy of Technology and twice being named an IBM Research Master Inventor.”

 

  1. What prompted you to become an IEEE member and volunteer?

My first professional job was with a small operating telephone company in northeastern Pennsylvania.  While it generously provided me with continuing education in telephony, there were only a few professional colleagues in the workplace – and no real technical community. Near that work location, there were few electrical engineers – and no IEEE activities.  After a few years there, I felt something was lacking. I decided to move on and advance technically. I resigned that position and entered graduate school at Princeton.

At Princeton, there was a lively community of graduate students who read papers, mostly IEEE papers, and talked tech. It was a great experience. As I advanced through graduate school, I had the opportunity to attend IEEE conferences and network with some of the pioneers of my field – signal processing.  Another great experience.

Interacting with Princeton professors and IEEE conference attendees taught me much about being a professional. It includes being part of a professional community; learning from the community; observing standards of the community; and contributing to the community. This is something I desired to be. I recognized that becoming an IEEE member could greatly help me to become a professional. That is why I became an IEEE member.

After graduate school, I joined IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY.   There, I found an active signal processing community that was in many ways connected to the IEEE. One of my IBM colleagues, Harvey Silverman, told me there was an opening on an IEEE technical committee (Digital Signal Processing) – and asked whether I would I like to join.  I did – and I was soon able to network more broadly, discuss the state of the art of my field, and contribute to the IEEE signal processing community. This was very satisfying. So … you might say I became an IEEE volunteer because of a fortuitous invitation, found it very satisfying, and have continued to be one. Like many other IEEE volunteers, I am indebted to the colleague who gave me that first opportunity to volunteer.

  1. If elected, how do you see yourself positively affecting IEEE Young Professionals?

I believe today’s young professionals differ from more senior IEEE members in some significant ways.  They communicate differently – having grown up with the Internet, smart phones and social media. They live in a more dynamic work environment – where they will change jobs more frequently. And they have a stronger interest in social responsibility.

The IEEE needs to recognize these differences and embrace them, if the IEEE is to be vital in the future.  To do so, we need to integrate more Young Professionals into IEEE leadership so they can represent their needs and interests. Furthermore, it is not adequate to just give Young Professionals seats at the table. When surrounded and outnumbered by more senior members, they can be reluctant to speak. We must also solicit their opinions – and listen to them. When I was the Vice President of Technical Activities, I recruited Young Professionals to join important Ad Hocs – and I solicited their opinions.  I found this very beneficial – and would continue doing it.

The old means of e-communication – e-mail and web sites – are slow, cumbersome, and lacking in interactivity. (Forgive me for stating the obvious.) We must broadly adopt, exploit, and evolve social media to support members with more interactive communication.  It is for that reason that I joined with other leaders to advocate the IEEE’s new networking and collaboration platform – Collabratec ™.  I believe Collabratec, as it evolves, will become fundament to IEEE operation.

But, beyond just providing collaboration technology, the IEEE needs to learn how to effectively use it. We need to learn how to share interesting and appropriate information – at an appropriate flow rate. We need to learn how to effectively lead on-line discussions. Our Young Professionals are often much more adept at this, given their lifelong immersion in social media – so they are natural leaders in this area.  This provides the IEEE with new opportunities to create new communication positions and recruit Young Professionals – who are very well qualified – to fill them.  By working together as peers, Young Professionals and our senior leaders can learn much from each other.

To address the changes in the more dynamic work environment, there are many things we must do.  One is to quickly and effectively identify and embrace emerging technologies, which are the homes of tomorrow’s jobs. When I was the Vice President of Technical Activities (TA), we defined a lifecycle for the emerging technology activities managed in TA’s Future Directions Committee – so more mature technologies would cycle out and create openings for newly emerging technologies.

Broadly sharing information about emerging technologies is especially important to members in the private sector so they can prepare for tomorrow’s jobs.  When I was VP of TA, we also created on-line communities centered on Future Directions’ emerging technology activities; we created an e-zine, IEEE Technical Community Spotlight that republished articles on emerging technologies; and we offered them free to all members.  In additional, the IEEE needs to ensure that funding for IEEE emerging technologies is consistent – so it does not decline when other interests emerge.

To address the changes in the work environment, we also need more effective continuing education for our members who work in the private sector.  I favor reinvigorating our Bodies of Knowledge (BOKs) by forming communities that interact around their content; Collabratec could be a piece of their infrastructure. Lastly, I believe we need to step up our support for consultants and entrepreneurs.  With shorter job durations come more frequent job transitions. Between jobs, members often consider starting their own businesses. We should support them in this by stepping up our support of consultant and entrepreneur networks

To better support IEEE social responsibility, our humanitarian activities should be revitalized – and more consistently supported. There is an IEEE Ad Hoc Committee now working on this. I personally think we need more high-visibility projects – especially humanitarian, Smart Cities, and Smart Villages, and in more Regions, as they visibly demonstrate our commitment to our mission.  As we do so, we need to ensure that these efforts are sustainable – so that we do not create any broken dreams.

In my IBM career, I managed some projects that had deliverables in places that lacked consistent power, repair parts, and readily available communication.  These problems often appear – and with greater magnitude – in IEEE humanitarian projects. The IEEE is fortunate to have the technical expertise – especially local technical expertise – to address them. However, we need to develop the organizational infrastructure to provide the sustainable support these projects need.

  1. Outside of your professional work, what are your hobbies and interests?

I enjoy outdoor activities, visiting museums, and interesting food – to name just a few. It’s a great joy for me to lace up my hiking boots and take to a nearby wooded trail on a sunny day.  Although I live in Westchester County NY, not far from New York City, there are many excellent trails in this area. Both the Clarence Fahnstock and Harriman State parks contain extensive pieces of the Appalachian Trail. There are also many shorter, but closer, trails that feature excellent scenic views. My wife Suzanne and I own a small cottage on a small lake in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania – which also have some pleasant places to hike. The scenic views there are often fewer, but there is more wildlife to see. Sometimes, I see wild turkeys, herons, osprey, and occasionally even eagles.  I love to see them.

I worked on a number of projects with museums and libraries during my professional career – and learned to appreciate their charms. The Metropolitan in New York City is spectacular – but it can be somewhat overwhelming. Smaller museums also have their charms. In the Poconos, we found museums with a full-size replica of the first steam engine in the US, John Roebling’s oldest suspension bridge, a museum of the local coal industry, paintings from the Hudson River school, and 19th century glassware made for US Presidents. They provide interesting down-to-earth views of art and history.

My visits to Region 9 meetings, these past two years, have enabled me to see the gold museum in Bogota Colombia and a “living museum” steel mill in Monterrey Mexico. At the Region 10 meeting in Kuching, I was able to visit a Malaysian native village. Near meetings in Region 8, I was able to see the

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Greek ruins in Limassol Cyprus. These provide a view of art and history that is beyond interesting.

Suzanne and I are foodies; we enjoy interesting foods. We eat at a restaurant, perhaps once a week. Beyond just enjoying our meals, Suzanne picks up cooking tips that she uses in her own cooking. There are a variety of interesting restaurants near our home in New York. We have a favorite Indian restaurant, two favorite Italian restaurants, a favorite Mexican restaurant, a favorite Latin restaurant, a favorite Asian restaurant and a favorite fusion restaurant that combines elements of different kinds of cuisine to form interesting dishes such as Peking duck quesadillas. When in the Poconos, I like to grill on a charcoal grill. Barbequed Buffalo wings, “Fred burgers,” veggie kabobs, grilled corn, and grilled Kielbasa are among my specialties.

  1. What advice can you offer to IEEE Young Professionals?
  1. Be proud of your chosen profession. Tech professionals create the innovations that make life better for everyone – and create jobs. We have a significant positive impact on daily life.
  1. Recognize that your career is your responsibility. It is up to you to maintain marketable skills – and you should use your IEEE membership to do this. I have had colleagues tell me “I need this job. I have nowhere else to go.” This is tragic. I never want to hear you say this.
  1. Your network will help you remain technically current and will ground you in the reality of your technical environment. And it may someday help you find a job.
  1. Keep abreast of emerging technologies. The tech world is changing rapidly. Some jobs disappear because commercial interest disappears. If you need to change fields someday, emerging technologies will be good candidates to have job openings.
  1. Be venturesome. Go for the gold ring. Sometimes “crazy” projects provide the greatest opportunities. At IBM I once built a “small computer system” to store images of paintings of a famous artist (Andrew Wyeth). This project seemed to have limited follow-on potential – until the Internet arrived and museums all over the world wanted the kinds of technologies we had developed. Hundreds of thousands of people have since seen images of artwork that I helped put on museum web sites. I remember these contributions very fondly.
  1. Look for opportunities to make the world a better place. Volunteer. You will receive more than you give. And you may find that you have skills and abilities of which you are unaware.
  1. Vote for me in the IEEE Presidential election. It may not make you feel better, but it will make me feel better

Interview with president elect candidates was conducted by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief IEEE IMPACT

Young Professionals, Microwaves and a Regional Gathering

The third edition of the prestigious IEEE Region 10 Student/ Young Professionals/ Women in Engineering Congress 2015 was held Colombo, Sri Lanka from 9th July to 12th July, 2015. The congress began on a high note with the first ever IEEE Cricket league played between different sections. This fostered a sense of healthy competitive spirit among all the delegates of the Asia Pacific region. This was followed by an ice breaking session where people from different sections mingled and got a chance to know each other. On the night of Day 1, the congress was officially declared open by Dr. Ramakrishna Kappagantu, Director, IEEE Region 10 who warmly welcomed all the guests and delegates.

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The Microwave Theory and Techniques society hosted a special session on students and young professionals engagement in the society. Tushar Sharma, Member, image and Visibility committee spoke at length about the initiatives of the MTT society and how beneficial it is. He shared the core vision of the society which is to foster the advancement and application of RF and microwave theory and techniques. MTTS involves all the three type of member’s i.e. student members by encouraging them to set up student branch chapters, young professional’s engagement through conferences and workshops, and women in microwave by taking initiatives to involve them in the fields of RF and microwave.

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The society plans launching Young Professionals in Microwave plan with focus of recruiting volunteers and industry professionals from different parts of the world. This point struck a personal chord with the audience as each one of them could find some benefit in joining MTTS. He talked about the student activities conducted by MTTS, some of them being: Summer grants program, Undergraduate and graduate scholarships, Distinguish Microwave Lecture Program, Education Activities and Conferences and workshop. He also spoke about the various volunteering opportunities through which one can create an impact on the society. He shared success stories how locally some chapters were able to have an phenomenal impact through  IEEE MTTS-NASA and Stanford collaboration for research programmes as well as the IEEE- MTTS STAR(Students Teachers and Researchers) program. He also talked about the numerous funding opportunities available in MTTS be it in the form of Undergraduate/PHD scholarships or 1000$ that MTTS gives every year for Chapter activity support. Tushar Sharma explained the audience as to how to use MTTS efficiently for technical projects, industrial visits, microwave symposiums, and forming Special Interest Groups. The deadline for undergraduate and graduate scholarships for upcoming year is October 15, 2015 and can be found at http://www.mtt.org/students.html.

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This was followed by a small talk on IEEE MTTS SIGHT and its initiatives. Tushar spoke about the upcoming SIGHT panel sessions, design competitions, and amateur radio classes to be hosted in International Microwave and RF conference (IMARC 2015) in Hyderabad which will be held on 10th December, 2015.  The objective of this event is to motivate high school students, young engineers, professionals to apply low cost innovative microwave technology for disaster readiness and humanitarian needs. IEEE MTT-S SIGHT has also started the concept of Makaton’s:- The technical Marathon where the teams have to identify problems faced at the local level and to “make something” to solve that problem.

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The IEEE MTT society stall also saw a lot of crowd with many interested students coming forth and talking about their problems with Mr. Tushar Sharma. This Congress proved to be the perfect platform for MTTS to increase their visibility and enlighten the delegates about its resourcefulness. On the last night of the congress, a cultural night was organized so that delegates could have a better understanding of each other’s culture and admire how big and diverse our world is. Each section put up a cultural performance as well as a stall with various souvenirs from their sections. The prize distribution ceremony took place on the last day of the congress. Feedback was also taken by the organizers so that the organizing committee of the next Congress could take note of these points and organize the Congress on an even better and bigger scale. The congress ended with one last group photograph and a lifetime of memories, collaborations and friendship.

PES YP Member Spotlight – Rafael Segundo

IEEE PES Young Professionals is an international community of enthusiastic, dynamic, and innovative members and volunteers. A spotlight on selected PES YP members is provided here to provide insight into this great community. These members provide unique insight into their education, career goals and progression, and personal lives.

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Tell us about yourself Rafael

My name is Rafael Segundo, I am a 31 years old average guy born and raised proudly in Mexico. I have been recently hired as Senior Researcher at Zurich University of Applied Science (ZHAW) in Winterthur, Switzerland after spending a wonderful one and a half year working as a postdoctoral researcher in the power system department of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. I have been part of the IEEE community since 2008 first as student and now as graduated member. In 2013 I obtained my PhD from Imperial College London in UK in a project funded by ABB. I have wide experience working with power system dynamics and control and my favorite field of study is small signal stability. Although I am not an expert in software and programming, I love to develop functions in Matlab that suit my needs. I am married with a beautiful Mexican lady who supports my career and encourage me to reach my goals. I love food and I will go crazy if I can experience new dishes and flavors. I love swimming and I like to collect flags from countries that I have visited. I hate hypocrisy and people untrustworthy.

ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences is where Rafael currently works

ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences is where Rafael currently works

What professional achievements are you most proud of?

Graduating from PhD has been the professional achievement that I am most proud of. Considering my social-economical background and language limitations at the beginning of my studies, I managed to overcome barriers that now make me feel proud. For my PhD I designed fault tolerant structures using wide area signals to damp inter area oscillations in power systems. The overall project objective was to design a control structure to facilitate deployment of wide area control.

What were your early career goals (first 10 years in industry)? Which have you accomplished? How did you plan/execute these goals?

Some of my career goals included: to be an engineer, to have a master and PhD degree, to work for a company doing research, to get an academic position in an international university, to present my work in conferences around the world, to be known in the scientific community and to help other young an enthusiastic individuals to accomplish their dreams. I have accomplished several goals but not all of them and my plan is to continuing working so my research can be used as reference by others and use my talent and networking as platform to scale up in my job.

What are you career goals moving forward?

Moving forward, my career goals are to cover more areas of research in power systems and to lead PhDs and Master’s thesis.

How are you involved in PES?

I have presented my work in the IEEE PES GM since 2009 in Minneapolis. It is a compromise for me to attend each year so I can be active and interact with the talents that are always present. Also, I am an active member in the local IEEE PES group and IEEE chapters, mostly attending events organized by them.

Do you have any advice for Young Professionals getting involved in PES?

The biggest benefit is the satisfaction to belong to the largest community of power system engineers around the world. International networking and confidence to present you work in international platforms are also clear examples of how you can exploit your participation into the PES community. My advice is to find your local chapter and start getting involved.

In your experiences, how important has/is continuing education to career advancement and personal development?

In my experience it has been the main key to open borders around the world. Having higher education degree is like having a special passport who is valid to enter and work anywhere in the world regardless your nationality, mother language and culture. Continuing education not only enriches your scientific knowledge but provide you living experiences that will impact in a positive way your personal life

What advice do you have for newly graduated power engineers?

To keep dreaming ambitious things, to continuing preparing yourself and to give your best every day.

Profile was provided by the Young Professionals of Power & Energy Society (PES)

Posted in PES

How to Organise a Student and Young Professional Congress

Today’s article comes to us from Region 8 and focuses on the organisation of student/young professional congresses. This thorough manual was put together by the wonderful volunteers of this region.

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The Student and Young Professional Congress (SYP Congress) is an event that takes place every two years in Region 8. It gathers both student and young professional members from all Sections in the Region and it provides an opportunity to network and get to know over four hundred people from all over the world. During the Congress, a wide variety of workshops and lectures are organized, dealing with interesting topics in diverse technical fields and also related to soft skills. Organizing such an event provides the opportunity to gain many different skills, from teamwork to fundraising, as well as it increases the profile of the student branch at region level. In general terms, it will improve the organizers’ CV. One very important fact to be taken into account is that this congress is not a regular conference or business oriented event. It must be volunteering, where organizers are motivated by enjoying the experience of engaging with the larger IEEE community and providing IEEE members an exceptional event. Since it is volunteer based, things like subcontracting more services than the minimum needed or having a surplus in the final budget must be strongly avoided. This event takes place in only one student branch at a time, and it involves a lot of work for more than a year… but in the end the congress is an excellent experience that is completely worth it in terms of new friends and many awesome experiences, in both professional and personal scopes. Also, it gives the chance to strengthen the collaboration with the Young Professional Affinity Group. This document intends to be a guide for those who are thinking to apply to organize this Congress, and it will try to help in the organization process, from the very beginning to the very end. There are also many Cross-sectional Congresses that usually take place the year in between two Region congresses, and most of this document is also valid in the organization of those.

  1. Motivation to organize a SYP Congress
  2. Preparing the application
  3. Organizing the congress
  4. During the congress
  5. After the congress

The full manual can be downloaded using the download image below

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Tech Update: Bacteria eating and breathing electricity

How do we use bacteria that can eat and breathe electricity using renewable resources to produce something we can use? This could potentially be very powerful here in Australia as we have abundance of land, sun and wind but in areas that aren’t populated” says Dr Ashley Franks.

microDr. Ashley Franks is a researcher at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) use bacteria to convert organic waste material into electrical energy. This environmentally-friendly process produces electricity without the combustion of fossil fuels. MFCs have various practical applications such as in breweries, domestic wastewater treatment, desalination plants, hydrogen production, remote sensing, and pollution remediation, and they can be used as a remote power source. Widespread use of MFCs in these areas can take our waste products and transform them into energy.

Today I am going to tell you about my big fat idea and I’ll be talking to you about bacteria that can eat and breathe electricity. When we talk about electricity with bacteria what we’re actually talking about is the way they can gain energy. And while the idea might seem sort of quite interesting and unusual it all goes back to the way that all living organisms can gain energy. When we gain energy, we have a nice meat pie, have some tomato sauce, we actually eat this, it’s organic food, but what we do is we breathe oxygen so we take in our organics, it has energy, we transfer energy to oxygen and form carbon dioxide. Without the oxygen we don’t really do very well, we end up dying and we call this respiration. But there’s lots of bacteria all around our world that can actually keep on surviving and respiring without oxygen. So what these bacteria are able to do is use what we call alternate electronic acceptors. Oxygen for us accepts our electrons, these bacteria can use different things.

One of the interesting bacterias that my lab is interested in is ones … is bacteria that can actually breathe metals. So this is a lump of iron oxide, solid bit of rust. It is metal but the bacteria you see sitting on the surface in green are actually breathing the metal. So they’re eating the organics, eating their pie but they’re able to breathe the metal. The difference here is that the metal is a big lump of something outside itself. So to breathe you’d have to go up and touch it, it can’t breathe in oxygen like we do, it has to go and touch the actual lump of metal and give up electricity this way. So the reason why this is interesting to us is because you can actually gather that electricity the bacteria is breathing if you give it an electrode. If you put an electrode into this system this bacteria then will breathe the electrons onto the electrode and you can gather this as an electrical current.

Ashley Franks' eyes light up – a current flows from pond muck

Ashley Franks’ eyes light up – a current flows from pond muck

So the interesting thing here is not only meat pies but all different types of organics from around the world these bacteria can actually use. And it’s actually very beneficial because once you put it into a system like a system what we call here is a microbial fuel cell, this can actually operate like a battery. So bacteria, eating, breathing, they’re electricity, we can actually put into a system and it works together to actually form a small amount of electricity. And these bacteria you can find anywhere in the world. Usually they’re under the ground where there’s no oxygen, there’s lots of them and they use lots of different organics which they can break down and provide us with electricity. People quite often think that this is really exciting ‘cause now we can actually save our electricity problems around the world ‘cause we can just get bacteria to eat our garbage and produce it. But our problem is is that bacteria are only small and they only make a small amount of electricity. So the current and voltage output that they do is quite small but it can still have some very, very beneficial processes.

The US Navy uses these under … in the soil in the actual ocean bottom and having one that’s about 1m3 of these sort of electrodes, these have a big one, is they’re about the same as 30 diesel batteries per year. While it’s not very much electricity in power what this allows you to do is actually leave a device somewhere while the bacteria are happily eating and they keep on eating for a long, long, long time, you never have to go back and change batteries. So if you wanted to actually put sensors in a rainforest, if you wanted to put sensors in a river, if you wanted to power a small device somewhere you could put this into the actual mud and the bacteria will quite happily breathe their electricity onto your electrode and power your small device. And for us in our research lab one of our most interesting points that we like to look at is these bacteria that are breathing the electrode. So these bacteria get a wide different mix, these are just some pictures of some different types but what the bacteria do is they actually go up to this electrode, they touch the electrode and able to breathe it. So this would be like if you and me were able to hold hands across a room with no oxygen and someone can touch a wall and we all can breathe together. And the bacteria are able to do this because they produce this specialised pillon and cytochromes.

chambered BMFC being deployed in Yaquina Bay Oregon in August 2011.  The chamber is pushed into the sediment and in this semi-enclosed state, the inside volume goes anaerobic. Carbon brushes positioned inside the chamber serve as the BMFC anode. Another circular carbon brush, tied to the rope harness above the chamber, serves as the cathode.  The BMFC is wired to a power management system inside the black acoustic modem that floats above the BMFC. Power from the BMFC maintains the modem and a chemical sensor (optode) interfaced with the modem. BMFCs of this design typically produce ~10 mW continuously.  This can sustain longterm sensor measurements in the ocean and can power periodic data transmissions from the acoustic modem.  We think this technology is ideal for extending sensor networks throughout the deep ocean becuase it eliminates the need for replacing instrument batteries.  Image: Oregon State University

Chambered BMFC being deployed in Yaquina Bay Oregon in August 2011. The chamber is pushed into the sediment and in this semi-enclosed state, the inside volume goes anaerobic. Carbon brushes positioned inside the chamber serve as the BMFC anode. Another circular carbon brush, tied to the rope harness above the chamber, serves as the cathode. The BMFC is wired to a power management system inside the black acoustic modem that floats above the BMFC. Power from the BMFC maintains the modem and a chemical sensor (optode) interfaced with the modem.
BMFCs of this design typically produce ~10 mW continuously. This can sustain longterm sensor measurements in the ocean and can power periodic data transmissions from the acoustic modem. We think this technology is ideal for extending sensor networks throughout the deep ocean becuase it eliminates the need for replacing instrument batteries. Image: Oregon State University

So these are like little appendages that come out from the bacteria. They have these proteins called cytochromes that can transfer electrons and they’re able to pass electrons from inside themselves to outside themselves. So these bacteria are now becoming like a material, a biological material that can actually transfer electrons over a long distance, a relative long distance. It’s only 60 micrometres which is very small but for bacteria that’s 60 bacteria. So if 60 of us could actually stand together and hold hands it would be actually like that, transferring the electrons all that way. And this is interesting especially when you’re moving into the field of bioelectronics ‘cause these bacteria can grow an electrical biofilm that can transfer electrons better than biopolymers that people are trying to produce artificially now.

But the other aspects where this is actually quite interesting is that the bacteria themselves can be used in areas such as oil spills where the problem is is you run out of oxygen. An example that people have quite often heard of is the Deep Well Horizon spill. It was in the ocean, it was underwater but oil is organics, bacteria can eat organics but the bacteria themselves out all the oxygen in that environment and they ran out of things to breathe. But knowing about these bacteria that can breathe an electrode, if we put an electrode into that actual environment we give them something more that they can breathe, they can keep on eating this oil and they can keep on breathing and we can get rid of this a lot faster. And these electrodes are just carbon, are just like a HB pencil, that’s all they are. So you put that in, the bacteria can breathe the electricity. You might have a red flashing light but you might not care about the electricity anymore ‘cause you can get rid of the oil spill.

Operational on the ocean floor

Operational on the ocean floor

And another area that people are quite … don’t think about very often ‘cause when you flush your toilet you don’t want to, is wastewater treatment. So wastewater treatment when we do this now we use a lot of oxygen so this requires big tanks, you need to stir that tank, you need to pump oxygen through so the bacteria can eat all that organic waste, get rid of it so we don’t contaminate our rivers. But with these electric bacteria we don’t need that stirring, we don’t need that pumping and that’s just a huge saving in electrical power. So in some places like the US alone 7% of their electricity goes to treating wastewater so if you used electric bacteria instead you don’t really care about making energy but you’re saving a lot of energy.

But what I’d mentioned earlier on before is that we at the moment, this is bacteria eating … oh sorry, this is bacteria breathing electricity but now what I’ll mention is that bacteria can also eat electricity. Because what I was saying is that from the meat pie which is energy that went out to the electrode, this is a transfer of electricity or transfer of energy. But there are some bacteria we have found in the environment as well that can actually take that energy from the electrode in the form of electrons and what they can do is use that as their food source and their power source to do a whole bunch of processes. A lot of people think this sounds really quite strange, a bit like The Matrix but what you probably most commonly know this as is photosynthesis. So a plant gets sunlight in its chlorophyll and produces electrons that power fixing carbon dioxide and make us our organics. But we have found is that these bacteria, they don’t have photosynthesis but they can take electrons from an electrode so rather than needing sunlight now what we can do is actually feed them electricity and get them to produce some type of biological or organic material. And as I mentioned before something like petroleum is an organic material.

Treating sewage

Treating sewage

So these bacteria, we can feed electricity which we can produce from renewable resources and get them to produce something that we can use. And this is very important in somewhere like Australia because we have lots of places where we can have a lot of wind or we have wonderful amounts of sun but our problem is is that these areas are too far from our population, from Melbourne or Sydney or anywhere where people live to get high power electricity lines. So we can’t transfer electricity over long distances. But what we could do is we could make electricity here with solar panels, feed that to bacteria who could convert it into something like butanol  and have that transferred to Melbourne where we can use it as we need. And the big advantage here as well is that we’re not taking away from somebody’s food supply so the land is not being used for food but it’s got a lot of sunlight, we can catch that and we can feed it to bacteria and have something useful. So this is a new type of biofuel and the organics in that biofuel all come from carbon dioxide, so for greenhouse gases that becomes neutral and all we need to do is feed these bacteria electricity.

But one of the things that perplexed us to begin with was that you have bacteria that can breathe electricity and bacteria that can eat electricity and if you think about in the environment there’s not many places where you’re actually having electricity being produced all the time. But the cue there that we found that was interesting is that well you’ve got one that breathes and then one that eats and if you look at these bacteria together that’s quite often you’ll find them together. So they form what we call these syntrophic relationships where they’ll work together to actually carry out some type of process and normally it is somewhere where there’s no other electronic acceptor so there’s no iron, there’s no oxygen, you’ll have two bacteria that will work together and one will breathe electricity and the other one will eat the electricity that’s coming out of it so they get this little syntrophic relationship. What the problem that is quite with this is that the by-product at the very end is methane. So this methane is a great house gas, it’s not very good for the environment but there’s a lot of bacteria in the environment which are actually able to operate together, feed each other electricity to get their food and produce methane.

So it’s interesting ‘cause our research, we’re able to show that in these environments this is actually was what happening. So this is where these bacteria that we actually found to do these amazing things have evolved over millions of years and they’ve already set up their own electrical networks, they’ve already been working together through electricity to interact. And you might be thinking well this is quite interesting but what does it mean to us in the big run? And the thing is if we understand this process then we know how to sort of try and drive these microbes to do things differently because in Victoria one of our big methane producers is dairy cattle. Everybody likes milk, everybody likes cheese but these cattle have bacteria in their stomach that produce most of the methane that they’re able to burp out and gives us a lot of methane problems. But looking at the bacterial communities in the cow what we find is that some of them are these bacteria that are feeding each other electricity. And because they’re actually feeding each other electricity they produce a lot of the methane. So if we know how to give the cow the right type of food so you select not the electric bacteria but if you give them some vitamin supplements to select other bacteria you won’t get this interaction through electricity, you won’t get your methane and we won’t get our greenhouse gases.

And further to that if you actually want more methane then what you can do is actually promote the bacteria because there’s a lot of industrial processes to get rid of waste that convert it in these big vats using bacteria to produce methane. So if you have a lot of organics, if you have some type of food processing plant, if you have something that has a lot of waste, that waste you don’t want to put into our riverstream ‘cause you’re going to harm the environment, what you can do is actually promote these bacteria, get their electrical connections better and they’ll actually improve at getting rid of your waste, giving you methane which you can use as an energy source.

So in summary what we’re able to do with our lab is … in my lab … is able to take bacteria that can breathe metals and end up with ways to stop cows from actually giving out methane.

This interview has transcribed directly from a podcast thanks to La Trobe University and the IEEE Student Branch. The article has been edited by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief.

5 ways to improve your Linkedin Profile – An IEEE volunteer perspective

Today’s article is brought to us by Nivas Ravichandran. Nivas is a recent graduate of B.E Electronics and Communication Engineering and is associated with Frilp as the Growth Specialist. He has proved to be an active IEEE Volunteer from 2010 and has organised more than a 100+ events under IEEE. He also holds responsibilities like Electronics Coordination Committee Member for IEEE Region 10 and the IEEE India Internships / Entrepreneurship Adhoc Sub Committee Member.

Mr. Nivas Ravichandran

Mr. Nivas Ravichandran

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For quiet some time, I have been emphasizing the usage of a LinkedIn Profile to students and friends. LinkedIn is a social networking website used for professional networking. It is equally important to know ways to improve your LinkedIn profile.

1. Update your LinkedIn profile regularly

Having an updated LinkedIn profile is equal to having an updated Resume. Keep reminders to update your profile on a weekly basis or plan to update after every significant event to add content to your profile. The amount of importance you emphasize on your profile is equivalent to the importance you place on your professional life.

2. Add all work and volunteer experience details

Add all work and volunteer experience details. Do not be bothered if it was a small role or a big role, ensure that you mention it with appropriate details. How long have you been working, what was the title of your position, and the responsibilities of your position. These details will add value to your future employers who wish to know what areas you have worked under.

3. Add Photos or Links to support your Experience 

Text is not enough to to describe your experience. You must support the experience with photos or links which exhibit the key achievements in your role. It could be a photo of you working on a project or presenting in front of an audience. While describing it, write it from the 3rd person’s view rather than describing it as “I presented on the topic”. The photo or link could add credibility to your experience.

4. Obtain meaningful recommendations

When you add experiences, do get recommendations from your employers or colleagues that worked alongside you. The recommendations add credibility and value to how effective were you in the role you were in. You could also ask the recommender to mention certain key achievements which you wish your future employers to see.

 5. Upload presentations to Slideshare and connect

This may be applicable to those of you who make a lot of presentations. Upload your presentations to Slideshare and connect your profile with the LinkedIn profile. Slideshare is a presentation hosting service which will allow your upload your presentations and provide it for public viewing. The presentations will help you to attract professionals with similar ideas and thoughts. You could be judged by the quality of presentations you upload.