If you ask me… Career advice from an engineer at GRC

“I had an amazing mentor who once said to me, ‘Don’t act like you’re hoping they listen to you; act like you hope they’ve got a pen because you’re only going to say this once,’”.  Kathleen, technology leader for electric power at GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, NY, reveals.

“Confidence is in many ways as important as what you know about a topic. You can be the most informed and intelligent person in the room, but if you don’t appear confident in what you’re saying, people are fast to judge that and move on. People – especially senior leaders in a company – are busy and they’re looking at you to tell them what they need to know so you need to speak up and convey your ideas and results with confidence.”

Kathleen currently leads a team of engineers working in areas including electric power systems, power electronics, electric machines, and monitoring and diagnostics technologies. Passionate about encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM, and students to major in technical fields, Kathleen shares more advice. “There are two things I can’t stress enough. First, make sure you master the fundamentals in your field and keep those skills sharp by using them regularly. This will serve you well throughout all stages of your career. Second, make sure you get a chance to work on something from start to finish, contributing to as many aspects of that process as possible. For example, if you’re designing a motor, work from design to product and focus on the electromagnetic design, thermal design, mechanical design, controls, rotor dynamics and manufacturing. This experience will make you a well-rounded engineer and will help you to ask the right questions when you’re leading a team with multiple skill sets.”

Kathleen had to apply her advice the first time she presented to a CEO. “The first time I was asked to present the results of a project I led to the CEO of a GE business, I was terrified. To overcome my fear I reviewed the material with my manager, and practiced a lot,” she shares.

“On the day before the presentation, I got the deepest technical minds on the topic together and gave them my presentation. I asked them to be really tough on me. When I got through that, I knew I’d be okay. I then invited the chief engineer who had grilled me the hardest to sit in on the presentation. I knew that he would be supportive if a tough question arose. The talk went wonderfully.”

GE rewards engineers who are prepared, notes Kathleen. “GE believes that people -and companies- grow through stretch assignments and challenges. When I was first approached about taking on management positions, I was surprised about how open GE is to having engineers take on roles that go beyond their technical expertise. In other words, I was able to use success in one area and earn the support of leaders who were willing to let me try something new and develop myself in other areas.”

Today, Kathleen and team are working together to deliver more power to people more efficiently while drastically lowering the carbon emissions required to do so. They constantly push the boundaries of what’s possible technically, and are developing the next-generation technology for electric power. “What I love the most about my job is being able to work with amazing people from diverse backgrounds to make the world work better,” she explains.

 

Kathleen’s profile was featured in the Winter Edition of Woman Engineer Magazine.