Friday, September 14, 2012

Creative Writing in Engineering

I'm a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering. My youngest sister is a creative writing major in college. To most, these fields seem very disparate. However, I've been reflecting a lot on my writing, and it has occurred to me that for success in my career I need to have similar levels of being intentional, focused, efficient, and prolific in my writing as my sister should for a successful career in her field. My content is simply different--chemical engineering instead of vampire fiction. Over the course of my career, I may produce more words than she does through communicating my science and mathematics via presentations, articles, theses, reports, essays, research statements, and proposals. Including smaller items such as emails, blog posts, and writing related to teaching or outreach only increases the total. My research productivity is measured by publications and awards/funding based on my ability to convince people that my ideas are interesting or that I know what I'm talking about. I get paid to write and translate complex ideas and topics into content that others can interpret. My writing has to be well-written and original, and unlike my sister's chosen genres of science-fiction and fantasy, it must be scientifically sound.

My training through three engineering degrees and two minors at two universities has prepared me technically. Now I'm focusing on honing my writing skills, efficiency, and disciplined habits.  I've always been a decent writer with a nice grasp on English grammar (I'm by no means perfect, so don't judge if there are typos in this post!); currently, I'm focused on becoming a more efficient, productive writer (I should take lessons from myself from my non-academic blogging that has been prolific in the past). Towards this aim, I've joined a writing group with other individuals who have committed to writing productively. I've prioritized writing tasks over research tasks that can crowd out writing. I've also been reading books such as Scientific Writing and Communication: Papers, Proposals, and Presentations; Writing Science: How to Write Papers that Get Cited and Proposals that Get Funded; How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing; and How to Write Fast Under Pressure. I'm putting all this great written advice into practice by scheduling writing time, setting goals, rewarding progress, fostering a positive attitude, and just doing it! 

My immediate goal is to get a full review paper to my advisor tomorrow for submission to a journal. According to my outline, I have 8-10 more paragraphs remaining. I will celebrate completing this goal by running a 10k on Sunday at Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott--one of my favorite authors as a child. I'm also reading Little Men by Alcott and am looking forward to seeing her home that was the inspiration for the setting of her novels.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Settled In and Loving It

I’ve been a postdoc at MIT for just over 2 months now. This past week I got settled into my cubicle after squatting in another labmate’s cubicle while he is away for the summer and the others were all full. A labmate moved back to Illinois finish his PhD there. So we’ve basically traded places. I got his cubicle and one large flat screen monitor, and he gets to take over my GIGATRON computer in RAL. My work laptop finally arrived on July 31, almost 4 weeks after ordering it instead of the promised 4-5 business days. A second large flat screen monitor and a docking station were included in the order. I’ve had fun getting everything installed and playing with new versions of my favorite software packages. I love having the docking station. I plug the laptop into a base with a box that sits behind the computer. That box has connections for USB cables and monitors. I close the laptop and use the monitors and external keyboard and mouse. It’s like having a desktop, except that I can unlock it and take it with me without having to transfer my files over before a trip or just to do some work outside my office. I am also feeling very nice in my new space. I’m no longer surrounded by two columns of my textbooks (no room on the shelves in shared cubicle). Things are neatly organized on the shelves on my desk. I have organized the layout to my tastes and have decorated a little bit (frames of my family and of Joel and I at graduation, sticky note quotes, my Dr. Ashlee N. Ford Versypt, Ph.D. name plate, my OU business card holder with MIT business cards, DOE CSGF conference name badge, my Nemo toys to remind me to just keep swimming). I’m very comfortable in the cubicle now. Also with a new laptop dedicated to work, I’m quite focused and exert more self-discipline than with my personal laptop. Having the new large dual monitor setup instead of laptop + slightly smaller monitor has been great for working on a poster for the conference I’m going to this week. I worked 65 hours this past week—a new high for me at MIT. Between the computer setup, poster preparation, contributing to a talk for our industry project update meeting (that I will miss this week), and having a very productive meeting with my advisor just before my conference the week before, I had a lot to do, but I also have an exciting plan forward and the tools and environment to do well. My confidence has soared, and I found myself really enjoying my work. 

A work in progress

The new setup

My cubicle

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ashlee N. Ford Versypt, Ph.D.

I am a postdoctoral research associate with Richard D. Braatz in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT working on computational models for physical and chemical processes in pharmaceutical applications. Rising health care costs and energy prices demand smarter manufacturing practices to reduce the costs of pharmaceutical products. Computational models coupled with sophisticated process control strategies allow for careful system monitoring for reduction of waste and adherence to quality standards. My research aims to capture the complex dynamic interactions between simultaneous continuum-scale chemical and physical phenomena including chemical reactions, heat transfer, and mass transfer. I am an alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the DoE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF). I earned my PhD and MS in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering with the Computational Science & Engineering Option.