Tag Archives: Growth

Teaching

Mentoring...

Ever since I graduated I’ve always wanted to learn new things and for that reason I’ve pretty much always had at least three different types books on the go at any given time.  Typically I have a fiction book to read when my brain is really tired, a technical book linked to engineering, maths, or programming, and some sort of self-improvement book.   I want to be the best I can be, to reach my full potential and not be limited by my lack of understanding.

007:365 - Unlimited...

Over the past few years I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about how mentoring (and what I believe to be the lack of) is affecting the environment for modern graduates in industry.  As margins become tighter and tighter in industry, the experienced engineers have less and less wriggle room to spend mentoring graduates.  Instead the experienced engineers merely push the less-experienced engineers to a quick solution so that deadlines are met and fee structures are not blown – resulting in a shallow learning experience.

I’ve always tried to make time to help less experienced engineers understand new concepts, even if I think they should know them already from University.  This has meant frequently giving up my dinner hour and time after work to help someone understand a new concept.  I’ve not always been successful and that’s a limitation of my skill and something that I’m getting better at with time as I improve as a mentor, but as time goes by I wonder if my approach is mentoring or coaching?

Most of the time I spend on a 1 to 1 basis with students takes the form of conversations and specific questioning to change the way they think about things.  To change or reinforce their perceptions about how something can be improved in the future.  This is the commonest form of mentoring that I’ve taken over the years, but through what I’ve read of Starr (2010) this approach isn’t mentoring at all, it’s more like coaching.  It’s essentially a series of conversations to help change a future outcome.  One of the favourite activities I teach is the supervision of dissertations, this is the module I can see the biggest leap in a student’s abilities, particularly with regards critical thinking and it presents the biggest opportunity that I get to mentor and build a connection with the students.  It’s the one area that probably sucks a disproportionate amount of time out of my week but it’s definitely where my mojo (Goldsmith, 2010, p17) lies when I’m teaching.

It’s this connection with the students and their topics I think that I enjoy the most, especially as I watch them grow and I still get emails and calls from some of the students that I supervised a few years ago simply so they can let me know what they’re up to.  Of course quite a few students only get in touch when they’re chasing a reference or contacting me because they want something from me but when someone drops you a note to say hi or let you know what they’re up to now without wanting anything from you it's personally very rewarding and it’s this type of contact that I treasure as it’s then that you know you’ve made a real impact on someone’s perspective on life.

Dissertations are also one of the key activities that is keeping me in academia, as it’s giving me an opportunity to continually learn and grow on a personal level although the longer I stay in academia the lower my career progression opportunities and the lower my earning potential become…. Perhaps Robert Greene (2012) is right, when looking back on my life nobody will remember the wonderful report I sacrificed weekends and evenings to complete, but perhaps they’ll remember the time I gave them to help improve their critical thinking skills and understanding of structural behaviour and I know my kids will hopefully appreciate the time we have together now I’m no longer being continually shipped out all over the place to design buildings.

068:365 - Behind the Wheel...

After all I’ve changed quite a few skylines around the world when I had a proper job, maybe there’s more satisfaction to be had creating brilliant engineers to create even more radical designs.  Or perhaps there's a compromise to be had by spending some of my time teaching and another chunk of my time working with brilliant engineers and architects to design really radical and life-changing designs... I think this could be where my future lies in all honesty, it's about time I seized the steering wheel again as these things don't happen by themselves.

References.

Goldsmith, M. (2010). Mojo. London: Profile Books.

Greene, R. (2012). Mastery. London: Profile Books.

Starr, J. (2010). The Coaching Manual (Third ed.). London: Pearson Business.

 

 

General Teaching

Inspiration...

Whilst I've been in academia for about 2 and a half years now, I've only just seen off my second batch of first years and attended my first graduation (after much cajoling by a few final years).  Having a significant birthday approaching I've been thinking a great deal about what am I going to do for the next few years until retirement, I enjoy the teaching a lot and working on dissertations gives me tremendous pleasure, but I miss designing buildings is the dilemma that I've been having.  But there's one aspect I'd not really considered when I moved to academia, and that's that I genuinely love learning and essentially I'm getting paid to learn... not as well paid as I would be as a consultant, but I get a lot of time to be very self-indulgent and learn new skills.

056:365 - The Crescent...

I try hard to not be the kind of lecturer that I had to endure when I was doing my degree and typically put anywhere between 5 and 12 hours of preparation behind every hour of lecture that I deliver.  I'm not saying that my lecturers weren't prepared, they certainly knew their stuff, but they were really dry and tedious in their delivery and at times it felt a little like they were padding.  I had hoped to at least inspire a few of the engineers of the future and hopefully I've done that by combining my industry background with my enthusiasm, but what I hadn't counted on was that my students would inspire me and teach me all sorts of things about the world and myself.

Having been fortunate to work with engineers, architects, and clients who have really been brave and pushed the boundaries of my abilities with the result that we've created some truly fantastic buildings together, I foolishly thought that all of this experience meant that as the lecturer the ability to inspire was my sole domain, but I'm frequently humbled and inspired by my students.  I'll comfortably pull 17 hour days when I've a bee in my bonnet and can sustain this pace for several months at a go, but I've students who put my work ethic and self-discipline to shame.

002:365 - My brain hurts...

The beauty of teaching classes far in excess of a hundred students (many of whom are international) is that they come with a multitude and wealth of experience and perspectives.  Each of them are complex individuals with differing opinions and backgrounds and in all honesty I'd never really encountered this level of diversity in industry.  Each week I'm humbled and gain new perspectives from the students, some of whom have faced more adversity than I ever could have imagined and yet still manage to achieve impressive results and retain their ability to be great humans.  Something that perhaps I've lost track of at times during my career, but that hopefully I'm regaining as the days tick by.

When I joined academia, I had a clear exit strategy... 3 years and then exit back to industry.  It's not that clear cut any longer though, I was prepared to be the lecturer... but I don't think I was prepared to become the student and I'm discovering that I've still so much to learn that I may just have to hang around a little while longer than I had planned.