Engineers and Scientists Need It, Too

Today is the Storycorps-sponsored National Day of Listening, wherein Americans are encouraged to take an hour to record an interview with a loved one.  Coincidentally, earlier this week we interviewed our dad Leon for an upcoming episode of “Career Talk Live: And What Do You Do?” the weekly talk show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. We learned so much about both his professional life and the world of work.

As a structural engineer, Leon was dedicated to creating new ways of analyzing structures. One of the crown achievements of his career was a paper he published in the Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics titled “Jacobi Method for Unsymmetric Eigenproblems.” We wish we could say more about what that means! In his own words, it was “a big contribution to the world of mathematics.”

Upon retiring from a multinational aerospace and defense corporation, he strove to continue building upon the paper he wrote. For more than ten years he worked tirelessly at it, and sought a Fortran compiler to help him through the project. As of today, however, he reports all but giving up on his endeavors. Why?

It turns out what helped him write this paper–for which he was credited individually–was the informal feedback and institutional support he received while working as part of a team at the aerospace company. The desk-side conversations, elevator chats and multiple technological resources the organization provided facilitated the completion of his paper. The lack of these elements in retirement have been a real barrier to accomplishing a follow-up.

So what can we learn from this? One: if you’re part of a work group, acknowledge the influence of your colleagues on your projects. Two: while you’re feeling appreciation for their input, go ahead and thank them verbally. And three: if you want to work during your retirement, seek social support to keep you on track.

We’ve had the impression that scientists and engineers can work in silos, that the bulk of their work is a product of their minds alone. According to Leon’s experience, this is not at all accurate.

Watch the complete interview when it airs in December. “Career Talk Live” can be seen Tuesdays at 6:00pm ET (GMT-5) on MNN2 at mnn.org.

How have your teammates subtly influenced your projects?

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Are You Ready To Be Fired? | Whole Wide Work
  2. Tomoko

    Thank you for aonhter essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.

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