UCSB AIChE Interview Series: Jackie Nguyen

Jackie is a UCSB AIChE alumni and past president of the club. After graduation in 2010, Jackie worked for Schlumberger as a Cement Field Engineer. In 2011, she moved to NuSil Silicone Technology to pursue R&D and now works as a Technical Sales & Marketing manager at NuSil. In the video interview, Jackie Nguyen briefly discusses her decision to become a chemical engineer, the time she spent at UCSB and her career after graduation.

UCSB AIChE Interview Series: Mike Marchut

Mike Marchut is a chemical engineer from Penn State University and Operations Manager at the Eco-services sulfuric acid manufacturing plant in Long Beach, CA. He has over 10+ years of experience in the chemical industry starting as a Production Engineer as part of Rhodia's rotational development program in 2006 and working as a Project and Process Engineer, as well as, a Production Superintendent before becoming Operations Manager in 2013. Additionally, as an undergraduate, Mike worked at Honeywell as part of a Co-Op followed by an internship at Owens Corning. In the video and Q & A below, Mike Marchut discusses his time as an undergraduate and how the lessons he has learned in industry have shaped his career.

Q&A’s:  A look into the Daily Life of a Chemical Engineer:

  1. Could you tell us about your favorite or the most interesting project you have encountered in your current position?

Developing next generation technology for defense. 

  1. What would you consider the most important lessons you learned before and after entering your current job?

Learning how to respect others – learning from the bottom up is really important in the first 4-5 years of your career. Be humble.

  1. What would you consider to be the most challenging part of being a Chemical Engineer? Could you tell us a story from your industry experience that embodies this challenge?

If you don’t know how to approach a problem, ASK. Most people are afraid to ask questions.

When I was at Schlumberger, every job was a potential risk and I double checked all of my volume, density and work time calculations with the supervisor before moving forward. 

  1. Would you mind telling us something about a problem that you and your team are trying to solve right now?

Communication – your team may be composed of wonderful bright engineers, technicians and leaders but if your team lacks the basic concept of communication, there won’t be success from projects moving forward. 

  1. What kind of problems are you dealing with daily as a Chemical Engineer? Would you mind giving us one or two specific examples?
  • Scaling up anything (polymers, silicone bases…) 

  • Repeatability 

  1. Would you talk about the reason why you chose to work in industry rather than go to graduate school after graduation?

Oil & Gas: Classic Chemical Engineering position

Silicone Materials: greater understanding of material properties in general, beyond the scope of silicone. 

  1. As a Chemical Engineering major, what do you think are the pros and cons of going to graduate school?

Depends on your passion – grad school must be a subject you are most passionate about. Don’t go just to go. Don’t go because you don’t want a real job. Go to grad school because you are passionate about […] solving battery cell efficiencies, finding the next generation materials for alternative energy, catalysis, etc… 

  1. What kind of jobs and career opportunities can one expect with a B.S. in chemical engineering?

Engineering is so broad, a chemical engineer can go into any industry into various specialty:

  • Process Development

  • Process Improvement

  • Manufacturing/Production

  • Research & Development

  • Quality

  • Design

  • Health & Safety

  • Environment

  • Testing

  • Reproducibility

  • Or beyond these as well 

  1. What kind of jobs and career opportunities can one expect with a PhD in chemical engineering?

Mostly research, process development, some product development, analysis, testing specialty (ex: rheology expert, catalysis expert, etc…) 

  1. What would you consider your most important experience during your time at UCSB?

Learning the most with your best friends. Network with friends, new friends, classmates & professors. Enjoy every minute. 

  1. Was there a particular professor or individual who influenced you as an undergraduate chemical engineer?

Loved all the professors at ChE – Chmelka, Gordon, Squires were most influential to me. The TAs as well, easy to connect, easy to talk to and help trouble shoot problems. It’s what you make of it. 

  1. Can you tell us about an influential individual you encountered as a young engineer, who helped shape your career?

A family member & family friend from Harvard, many people along your career journey will help give advice to you. Be sure to keep an open mind & be flexible. 

  1. What is a day in your job like?

Meetings, meetings, meetings! I am Project Champion and have a high level overview of certain assigned project(s) – I interact with various departments from R&D, manufacturing, PE, Quality, etc. every day to check the status of the project. I relay the information to the customer ultimately try to solve their problem. 

  1. What is the best approach to job hunting after graduation?

Network! You can certainly try head hunters in the specific industry but network is the most important. Someone will likely hire you if someone [credible] can vouch for you. When you follow up, DON’T ANNOY HR/Engineering Director, be SHORT and straight forward. 

  1. What was your career in oil and gas like and why did you make a change to silicone? Is this change of industry common among Chemical Engineers?
  • Oil & Gas was field operations in 24/7 environment. Objective to pump down job sites with quality.

  • Silicone started with R&D, standard 8-9 hour job in the lab & manufacturing floor. Objective to meet outlined material requirements.

  • Now, S&M more dynamic, some travel to customer sites with different stresses. Object to meet customer expectation while driving revenue! 

Advice from the open interview 

Talking with recruiters: 

-- Prepare yourself for possible technical questions by studying the company ahead of time. Be ready to convince the recruiter you have the skills and desire to excel at their company. 

-- If you don’t know the answer to a technical question, say “I don’t know, but this is how I would solve it.” It’s really about how you approach the problem, and why you want to solve it. 

-- Talking points: Focus on technology the company is most proud of. Recruiters enjoy talking about the products and services they work with and represent every day. 

-- Convince the recruiter that they need to hire you because of a specific trait or skill that sets you apart from others. 

-- Learn about your audience (the recruiters):

  1. To engage with your audience, research the person who is going to interview you. Use Google search, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.
  2. Be mindful what is on your Facebook! They will search you!
  3. Understand their vision. 

Working with People:

--Do not boss people. Let operators, technicians and other engineers know that you are willing to learn. 

-- There is something to learn from everyone you meet. Don’t look down on anyone no matter their level of education. 

--Operators and technicians won’t want to help you if you are not nice to them. 

--Find individuals with different expertise to help you with projects. 

--If you don’t know an expert in your field of interest then contact people you find on LinkedIn. They love talking about their work. 

--When messaging people be short and to the point! Say something that relates to them. 

--Teamwork:

Academia: You choose your friends—choose strengths that balances up.

Industry: You don’t get to choose—learn to work with partners and respect them. One shared vision.

-- Stay open to all ideas

-- Focus on the positives

-- Admit your fault, take the blame, and move on

-- Ethical issues:

E.g. “Should we be doing this?” These must be addressed at once or they will only get worse.

-- Communicate:

Talk to people, let them know what you are feeling, and what you want to do. This saves a lot of low-efficiency work and misunderstanding. 

Career Experience: 

--People’s perceptions about you can be a double-edged sword. If you have the right mindset, you can take advantage of these perceptions .

--The oil & gas industry is a 24x7 working pace. If you get a call at 12a.m. on a Saturday night, be prepared to show up in 20 minutes. 

-- There are still many long nights solving problems and trying to figuring out the best solution. 

Position Changes in an Engineering Environment 

-- Attitude makes a big difference when changing positions. Ask for as much help as possible, be a go getter, but don’t be too aggressive to avoid being labeled. Move forward. 

  • The Big Picture: 

--Working just for money is kind of miserable 

--Find a balance between work and other aspects 

--When transferring from technology to sales, a solid technical background is important for credibility. 

--Choose a company that invests in you to continue improving your professional acumen. 

What is most valuable as an undergraduate:

--You are taught how to think, attack problems and keep an open mind.

--There are many opportunities to approach professors and obtain references, which are necessary for graduate school applications.

--Professors want to see you succeed.

--Office hours—approach professors

Lab experience and internships:

--Lab and internship experience helps to determine your interests—find something, stick to it and discover if it really suits you.

--Utilize your experience, be creative and let recruiters know how your experience relates to the job. Let them know you are passionate.

Final Advice:

 --Have fun no matter where and when and don’t lose yourself.

 -- Keep your eyes open to opportunities.

 

Jackie Nguyen

Technical Sales & Marketing

Aerospace & Defense

NuSil Technology LLC

1050 Cindy Lane | Carpinteria, CA 93013

Mike Marchut Q&A:

  1. How did you get your first internship?

My first internship was with William Blanchard, a construction firm.  A family member of mine knew the president of the company.   I instantly learned the power of networking.

My second was a co-op (multiple semesters) with Honeywell in Virginia.   My third internship was with Owens Corning in Ohio.   Obtaining each required preparation, initiative, and flexibility.   Regarding preparation, I made sure I got decent grades, was involved with extra-curricular activities, and most important was prepared to interview.  Interviewing doesn’t come natural to everyone and takes practice.    Regarding initiative, I applied to many jobs through Penn State’s career office.    Regarding flexibility, if you limit yourself geographically you limit your potential jobs.

 

  1. How does your wide range of experience, both at your internships during undergraduate and the rotation program at Rhodia play a part in your current role as operations manager?

A big role.   As Operations Manager you don’t need to be an expert in every subject matter, but you need to know enough about many subject matters to make sound decisions and ask the right questions.   More experience always helps.     It also gives me an appreciation for what others do.  I encourage you to try many things early in your career.

 

  1. How do you improve and maintain your knowledge of chemical engineering in order to keep up with new technology?

Personally, I subscribe to many publications and watch an occasional webinar.  Plant Services, Chemical Engineering, Controls Engineering are all good sources of information.

 

  1. What is a day in your job like?

It is common for maintenance and operations personnel to start early.  I arrive at 7:30am, and I’m one of the last to arrive.   I typically go home 9 hours later and have every other Friday off (9-80).   If however the plant has problems, I might be there late or on a weekend; but fortunately my site runs well.

One of the nice things about working in a chemical plant is that you aren’t dressing up each day and married to your desk.  You get to put on a hard hat and get out in the field, and sometimes get your hands dirty.   As an engineer I spent 25% to 50% of my time in the field.   Now, as a manager, I spend less time in the field.  Probably only 10% to 20% of my time.

More of my time now is spent on longer term strategies, face to face interactions, and emails/meetings.   My role is to make sure the team is performing at a high level, and thus I achieve my results through others. 

 

  1. What are hiring managers looking for in a newly graduated chemical engineer?

Hiring managers want to make the individual will fit in well with the team, stay motivated their role, and will generate results.   GPA is one way hiring managers screen candidates.    The more important thing though is relevant work experience.   Having an internship or two will give you a huge advantage over your competition. 

 

  1. What is the best approach to job hunting after graduation?

“Networking” is always your best bet at any stage of your career.   Your school’s career/placement is a great place to start.  Your classmates or previous internship colleagues are also a great source of job postings.    The next best thing is to find a Chemical Engineering Recruiter on Linked In.  If all else fails apply online.

Second, be flexible.   Don’t be afraid to move out of state.  If you don’t like it, you can always gain some experience, then move back.

I grew up in NJ.   During school I lived in PA, VA, & OH.  After graduation I lived in TX, CA, SC, and then CA again.   All were great except OH.   All were personally and professionally educational, including OH.

 

  1. What kind of jobs and career opportunities can one expect with a B.S. in chemical engineering?

Think industries and functions.  Applicable industries include Food/Beverage (AB or Frito-Lay), Chemicals (DuPont, Eco Services), Oil/Gas (Chevron, Schlumberge), Pharmaceuticals (J&J, Merck), Engineering firms, Automation (ABB, Rockwell), etc.

Applicable functions include Operations, Maintenance, R&D, Engineering, Controls, HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, IT, Shipping/Logistics, Purchasing, etc.

I suggest starting in Operations, Maintenance, or Engineering.  It is most traditional.  And you’ll learn the most.

 

  1. What would you consider the most important lessons you learned before and after entering your current job?
  2. Do the most important items of your day first when there are no distractions.   Later in the day is complicated with emails, phone calls, meetings, etc.
  3. Never stop learning.  Every day is an opportunity to get smarter, improve your skills/value, and keep the job interesting, and make the organization better.
  4. Listen to your operators/mechanics.  They are an incredible source of information, and your working relationship with them will make or break your success.
  5. Safety really does matter.  Take safety issues seriously.  Lead by example.  You are always on “stage” (people are always watching) 

 

  1. What would you consider to be the most challenging part of being a Chemical Engineer? Could you tell us a story from your industry experience that embodies this challenge?

School.   The curriculum is fast paced, the workload is higher than most other majors, and problem/tests and often very challenging.  To succeed you need to be a good problem solver and good at math.   But school prepares you well for the real world.  On the job you are regularly faced with a problem you don’t know how to solve.  School teaches you to be resourceful and resilient.

One example is my compressed air system.  People said we didn’t have enough air.  They said we needed another compressor.  I launched a system audit and brought in industry experts.  I learned we have more than enough air and we do not need another compressor.  All we need to do is better manage pressure drop in our system.

 

  1. Could you tell us about your favorite or the most interesting project you have encountered in your career?

Early in my career I had a chance to manage a project worth $2M in capital and $1M in expense funds.   I rebuilt a combustion furnace and natural gas burner.   Construction was interesting:  we brought in a robot to jackhammer old bricks out.    Scheduling was critical:  my job determined the duration of the entire plant shutdown and any scheduling delays would cause start up delays.   This experience got me exposure to upper management, and because of my performance, it helped me get my next promotion.   The moral of the story is when you step up and out of your comfort zone, you’ll learn new skills and get noticed.