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Just One Question: Advice to New Graduates

Aug 01, 2020   |   Dartmouth Engineer

Q: What advice would you offer to new graduates?

Learn statistical analysis and management accounting. Marketing and product service development is a team effort, so analyze the businesses of top suppliers, competitors, and customers. See to your company’s interests first, especially your boss’s, and only then to your own. Make sure that your boss thinks you are being under-paid. Finally, you joined the company because of its growth potential: If you can’t help make it succeed, look elsewhere!
—Tom Harriman ’42 Th’43

Keep in touch with your Thayer contacts, both faculty and fellow students. I did, and it served me well throughout my 55-year working career.
—Warren Daniell ’48 Th’50

Seek employment where you will have access to a mentor. Working for and with someone you admire, trust, and respect can provide the basis for a successful career and a life well-lived
—Howard Jelinek ’60 Th’61

Make and stick to a plan for lifelong learning.
—Neil Drobny ’62 Th’64

Don’t forget to look at federal service. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, FBI, CIA, etc., have engineers who frequently work on top-secret, cutting-edge stuff. As a mere captain in the Air Force I was in charge of a team designing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). I got to do work that directly influenced the deployment of America’s ICBMs and traveled around the country briefing generals and admirals. It was pretty heady and exciting stuff.
—Ward Hindman ’65 Th’68

Ask the question, “What can I do that will help?” At Thayer, we were often told that engineers make the world better. That was a very cool idea at the time. One thing I have learned in my long practice is that I can do different things, and the things that give me most satisfaction are those that help the most. I also learned that I got (or had) to choose among lots of options, some with more potential than others. Engineering is an old profession, and for millennia engineering was in support of the military. The first non-military school of engineering, the school of “génie civil,” or non-military engineering, was in Paris in the time of Napoleon, when there was finally enough societal money to do something for the people. We were told and were proud that Thayer was the second school of civil engineering in the United States, after West Point. Civil engineering creates the fixed physical wealth of society, which is incredibly cool. Today, a number of other fields of engineering create other kinds of wealth.
—John Kunz ’65 Th’66

Really know mathematics cold. Mathematics is the basis for all science and engineering. Read a lot in your field and neighboring fields. You must keep up with the latest developments; Google and Wikipedia are not substitutes for a good technical library. Be able to write a good email, memo, and technical documentation. Be able to give presentations that are informative with no “fluff,” so consider a course in public speaking. Always behave ethically with everyone—whatever the cost—even if those around you do not. Don’t be selfish, greedy, egotistical, or desire power (the Ten Commandments are a good guide). A good reputation takes years to build and can be destroyed in seconds. Be flexible—the world is changing rapidly, and you have to be able to keep up. Don’t be afraid of getting out of your comfort zone and doing something new.
—Sidney Marshall ’65 Th’72

Find a place to grow. This could be a small business, where you confront new problems daily, or it could be a large organization, where you can watch and learn from experienced coworkers. Or you could take on something on your own, such as with design or software development. If you end up somewhere you can’t grow, find something somewhere else.
—Mark Tuttle ’65, Th’66

My advice is the same advice that I was very fortunate to get from my first “boss.” In my case, he was the captain of the first submarine I served on when I reported onboard after completing my nuclear power and submarine training. He said, “It very important that when problems arise—and they always will—that you communicate them promptly and objectively, but also try to make sure you never take a problem to your boss without having thought through the issue and having a recommendation to offer as to how to deal with the problem.”
—Clinton Harris ’69 Th’70

Treasure those aspects of your time at Dartmouth that make your undergraduate engineering experience very different from the experience of engineers educated elsewhere with whom you will interact. It’s a gift I value as we take collectively face some little virus that has managed to turn our world upside down.
—Brian Hyde ’70 Th’71

Find a job you will enjoy doing. When you get out of your car in the parking lot and find it hard to walk into the building, change your job. You spend too many hours at work to do something you do not enjoy and feel is not worthwhile.
—Duncan Wood ’70 Th’71

Take time off between school and your first job and between jobs. It’s often the only time you can get a good block of free time.
—Richard Akerboom ’80 Th’82 Th’85

Be confident in your ability to tackle big challenges. Dartmouth and Thayer prepare you amazingly well with state-of-the-art knowledge, strong problem-solving capabilities, and tremendous work ethic. But be humble in how you go about conquering problems and taking on projects. No one likes a know-it-all. Let your good work speak for itself.

You will also make some mistakes—everyone does—and that’s okay. Learn from them and move forward. Be positive and collaborative. Coworkers will gravitate to your energy and enthusiasm. Look for new opportunities and challenges every few years and pursue them if they don’t come your way in your current position or company. This will keep you learning, stretching, growing, and highly motivated—and allow you to find your true passion. Doing what you love to do every day and achieving your goals in life, not money or fame, is the ultimate success.
—Mark Bunker ’82 Th’83

Make sure to take advantage of the Thayer School-Dartmouth network. No matter where you want to go or what you want to do, there is someone out there you can contact who will most likely be more than willing to offer guidance, advice, and potentially opportunity to pursue your career and dreams.
—Bill Dunham Th’84 Th’87

Always strive to meet the highest ethical standards of your profession. And treat all coworkers, colleagues, and the public with dignity and respect.
—Kurt Egelhofer Th’84

Use your talents to contribute to society in a positive way and keep learning!
—Andy Crowe ’85 Th’86

If possible, find a place to live that’s east of your office, not west. I live almost directly west of my office, and every morning I’m driving to work facing into the rising sun. Then, every evening when I leave work, I’m driving home facing into the setting sun. It makes for a wholly dispiriting daily commute.
—Gabe Farkas Th’01

Your career is made up of a lot of steps—some sideways, some big ones forward, some backward. But they all tell your story. So, have an attitude of gratitude and learning throughout it all. Continue to ask yourself: What can I learn in this chapter or this role? You are in a reality now where everyone wants you to have experience, but you are just starting off. Be eager to learn and be confident and humble at the same time. Remember that careers are marathons, not sprints.
—Brian Mason ’03 Th’04 Th’05

Focus on people, not just the engineering. Any significant accomplishment requires collaboration, communication, humility, and empathy.
—Jeff Hebert ’04 Th’06

Don’t let the traditional engineering path be the only thing you consider. Thayer prepares you to think strategically about problems, so use that to pursue your passions. In my case, that is related more to foreign policy than traditional engineering. Do not underestimate your ability to write and convey complex ideas to wide audiences—most engineering schools do not emphasize that as much as Thayer does.
—Alison Stace-Naughton ’11 Th’13

Work on your communication clarity skills and learn how to write short emails with no ambiguity. Your colleagues will have a word limit—and it’s shorter than you think. That’s why they make you write executive summaries; keep practicing and play the game well.
—Matthew Reynolds ’13 Th’14

Don’t be disheartened by the “do what you love” mantra if it doesn’t apply to you. If you get to do what you love, great! If you’re not quite there yet, figure out a path to where you want to be and start walking in that direction. It may be a long walk and you may have to push yourself on weekends and evenings to reach your goal. It’s important that you don’t compromise your mental health in the process by being disheartened. And remember that not doing what you love for a living is not an excuse for poor work ethics.
—Shadab Khan Th’16

Even in these trying times, remember that the world is your oyster. You can do anything you set your mind to.
—Sreevalli Sreenivasan Th’17

Not everyone will have their dream job or the life they dream of right out of college or grad school. So be patient with yourself and do not let your first experience make you lose sight of your potential. Stay focused and do your best to maximize every opportunity that comes your way. There are no little opportunities if you receive with thanksgiving and make the best out of them. Focus on acquiring and building skills that are valued in every industry: the ability to lead with or without authority, communicate thoughtfully, collaborate effectively with others, provide thought leadership, and, more importantly, work with integrity. These will set you up for a lot of opportunities. Invest in building meaningful professional and personal relationships. They always yield better returns. Wishing you success in life and career.
—Olusegun Amusan Th’18

Be open to working in small companies that may be relatively unknown but that offer a chance to practice what students have learned in class. For me, this meant designing circuits using industry-level software and becoming familiar with professional engineering practices. As a result, I have continued to perfect my major, and this allows me to move up in my career. A larger company may offer limited exposure to new hires and they may be overlooked initially.
—Ebrahim Najam Th’19

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