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Top Professors Offer Career Advice Gold

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

If manufacturing is your passion but a lecture hall is more your style than a shop floor, SME Media’s “20 Most Influential Professors” (see June issue of Smart Manufacturing) want to talk.

Lead Photo Image 1 Laine Mears ProfessorsAdvice 768x432.jpg
Laine Mears (left) of Clemson said “boots on the ground experience” enhanced his teaching and research vision.

As part of their profile, these top 20 professors answered a questionnaire that asked, in part, what advice they would offer to someone wanting to follow in their footsteps. The professors’ advice was crowded out of the profiles by their achievements, aspirations and vision, so we offer it here. The most common advice? Modern manufacturing has become so complex that mastering engineering fundamentals isn’t enough anymore.

“Yesteryear’s manufacturing has been replaced by a much more multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary industry,” said Dr. Xun W. Xu, of the University of Auckland. “As the concepts of mechatronics, automation, IoT, data analytics and service-oriented business models continue to change the face of manufacturing, educators (and students) need to embrace these technologies.”

Dr. Satyandra K. Gupta, University of Southern California, agreed and added computing, sensors and systems thinking to Xu’s list. He said manufacturing academics also have to look beyond their own institutions to stay effective. “Close interaction with industry is a must,” said Gupta. “I find it useful to attend industry trade shows to learn about recent trends and challenges. I also try to visit manufacturing companies.”

Dr. Binil Starly, of North Carolina State University, suggested that undergraduate school isn’t too early to start acting on career strategies. “Since smart manufacturing is an emerging area, undergraduates and graduates can find many opportunities to build their own smart manufacturing project as part of their class project or research work,” Starly said. “Once done, they can contribute code to GitHub, teach others to replicate their project through online video channels, and write short, focused technical articles or tutorials using online platforms to market their expertise and broaden their own learning.”

Starly recommends students review help wanted ads for needed skills and then learn them via courses, and encourages students to network by joining professional groups and volunteering to help organize events. Networking outside of academia may lead to a job offer.

Dr. Steven Y. Liang, Georgia Institute of Technology has been teaching since the 1980s, but led a manufacturing company from 2008-11. Dr. Laine Mears, of Clemson University worked more than 10 years in industry before attending graduate school, first online then full-time.

“It has been a nonlinear path for me, but I’ve gotten to see both sides of the fence—which I characterize as understanding the problems in the first half of my career, then correcting the problems in the second half,” he said.

The most important factor? Know your priorities. “When I got my Ph.D., I received a job offer from a large multi-national company with a salary double that of the highest academic offer I received,” said Dr. Denis Cormier, Rochester Institute of Technology. “I chose the path to academia because enjoying what I did was more important than how much money I made … [and] having complete freedom to choose my teaching and research areas greatly outweighed salary.”

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