One More in the Bag – Part 1

I apologize for not giving a lot of updates the past month or so – things at work have gotten ridiculously busy and I just haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and write out a post of any depth or length.  I’ll give a bit of an update now on how my semester turned out and then sometime in the next week or so, I have some other topics that I want to address.  The first is a discussion about the research I’ve gotten involved with and the other is on ethnicity and how I feel that it relates to the medical profession, particularly the application process.  If either of those topics is of interest to any of you, stay tuned – hopefully, I’ll have something in a couple of weeks.

About six weeks ago, I flew out to Florida to prove out a test method that a coworker and I have been developing over the past year.  Without getting too technical, we were basically trying to measure the attenuation of an enclosed structure to electromagnetic radiation.  There are well-established methods for doing this for small structures, but for larger structures like buildings and planes, those methods tend to break down and you usually get nonsensical results.

We were reasonably certain that it was going to work out well, but most of the people we needed approval from were very skeptical.  The aerospace industry does not suffer change all that well and since the two of us are relatively low level engineers, there is a bit of a bias against us.  In theory, this is due to a difference in experience but in practice, it’s more of a personal thing.  Older engineers are terrified that innovation and efficiency gains will translate into layoffs, so the pressure to continue doing things the way we’ve always done them is high.  Anyway, when we showed up in Florida, we had a huge gallery of engineers and managers watching what we were doing.  A few were worried that it wouldn’t work, which would set their schedule back a year, while others were hoping it would fail.  Normally, this type of testing takes a long time – almost a month – and we were claiming we could do it in a morning, so you can probably imagine the general attitude.

I won’t go into any of the details about the testing, but suffice to say that the results were fantastic.  Not only did it work exactly as we had been saying that it would, but we had a chance to show some of these managers and chief engineers how all of this electromagnetic attenuation worked.  The test took the morning and afternoon, primarily because of all the questions that we fielded.  Most of these people had no idea how electromagnetics works, so I wound up giving lectures on basic physics to a bunch of chief engineers most of the morning.  Testing went flawlessly and we made believers out of everyone.  At the time, having 30 people watch and question my every word or movement was a little frustrating, but after the fact I realized that it was a blessing in disguise.  None of them believed us and they had showed up to see us fail, but as it turned out, they saw the evidence that we were right and now they can’t question the results or the method.

The results turned out so well that, when we all went out for post-testing libations, neither of us bought drinks at all.  Finally getting some recognition for a years worth of sweat and toil was a really nice feeling, but I knew it wouldn’t last.  As soon as I got home, the old school engineers in my group started sending out emails about how neither of us knew what we were doing and how our results were crap.  Of course, the reason they did this was because it invalidated the test results that they had gotten a few years ago when they did a similar test.  So, I’ve spent the past four weeks explaining antenna theory and electrodynamics to even more people.  It’s a long complicated story about workplace drama, so I’m not going to bore you all with the details.  At the end of the day, what I’ve basically been doing is introducing a level of rigor into the way that this type of testing is done.  One of the engineering managers that was present at the test told me afterwards that our approach felt much more like science than those tests normally felt.  I sort of laughed and told him that it was because I wasn’t an engineer.

I was pretty certain prior to performing our test that it was going to yield good results and I knew that it was the sort of thing that we should submit to IEEE, so I’ve been working on that on the side.  Getting anything published at my company is a Herculean task and requires a lot of bureaucracy – I published a paper at a conference last year and it took me less time to write the paper than it did to collect all the necessary clearances, approvals, and signatures.  I remember sitting at a desk with the VP for Legal Affairs and having to explain to him that Coulomb’s law was not a trade secret – it took at least a day just to get through him.  I’m hoping to get two papers published this year based on some of the work I’ve done for the company, but I have no idea of how the industry will judge our work.  I don’t have a PhD and I imagine that there are just as many politics involved with getting things published by IEEE as there are in medicine.  Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

I just realize that I’ve gotten rather long-winded, so I’ll wrap it up.  I’ll give a summary of how my classes finished up in another post, so check out Part 2.

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  1. […] One More in the Bag – Part 1 […]

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