Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cross-Functional by Design

Over at Engineer Blogs, the weekly topic is interacting with engineers across disciplines. As GEARS correctly notes, MSE is already pretty interdisciplinary, interacting with ME, ChemE, and physics. However, it doesn't stop there. If you're working in energy materials, you'll spend plenty of time talking to the EEs, and structural materials talk to the civil engineers.

Because there are so many subspecialties, some of the same challenges one runs into talking to other engineering disciplines can come up within a materials science department. There's occasional jargon barriers, and regular confusion over variable assignments (sigma: conductivity or stress?) However, most of us have some sort of common background, as well as a specific cross-discipline background. This means in a group of mixed engineers, I frequently become "translator". This almost invariable involves a lot of strange hand gestures, but I've been told those are my specialty.

My daily life involves a cross-disciplinary relationship, since I'm marrying Mr.ME in a month. I can understand 80-90% of his daily jargon (the rest being company-specific acronyms), but there is a very large portion of my typical work that requires significant translation, not only from materials to mechanical, but from computational to experimental. Given how difficult in can be to explain concepts to other engineers, is it surprising that non-engineers find us almost impossible to follow?

My sister is an architect, making her the only non-engineer in the immediate family. Her strategy is to tell us to explain it in 30 seconds with bunnies. This works surprisingly well, though the results are sometimes unintentionally hilarious. Because, well, bunnies!

1 comment:

  1. I find it the exact opposite going the other way. That is, when non-engineers discuss things in their jargon, I can pick up on pretty quickly because I'm used to dealing with new technical jargon.

    But also, any good engineer should be able to explain their research and be able to describe [read: justify] it to a non-technical person.