A day in the life of a professor (Day 274)

A day in the life of a professor (Day 274)

25th February 2015

I've been blogging continuously for 270 days now and I'm beginning to notice a few trends amongst my followers. Many readers are extremely interested in what chemical engineers do and where our profession can take us.

I've shared other people's chemical engineering good news stories and talked about their work and their careers.  But I've not talked about myself all that much. Unless your were present at the 2014 annual general meeting that is, where I highlighted some aspects of my career to date in my presidential address, a recording of which is available to watch here.

But it's my birthday today - and given that birthdays are all about the birthday boy or girl -  I trust you'll allow me to offer a brief insight into my own career. So this posting describes a typical day in the life of yours truly and one that happened last week. The exploits of a professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London and IChemE president.


My alarm wakes me at 05:40 most mornings in readiness for my 90 minute commute to work. But as painful as the early get up is, I try to clear my emails on the train into London, and if a scientific article has caught my eye, the commute also gives me a chance to peruse it in more detail - and perhaps make a mental note to feature the research in my blog.

Normally, I arrive at Imperial College at 08:15 and my first task is to deal with any immediate issues that require attention; whether that's preparing for meetings or visits later that day or 'crises' that have emerged overnight.

Once these pressing tasks are out of the way, I can then work on articles, journal papers or presentations for upcoming talks - particularly those with an approaching deadline. For example, writing an article for The Chemical Engineer (tce) magazine.

I then meet with my PhD students for an hour or two to review progress, discuss any problems and identify where I can try and help. As a university professor, helping my students through the ups and downs of the research process is one of my most important roles.

It can be frustrating  when things do not go as well as you'd hoped. But it's also an exciting and rewarding profession, especially when the unexpected happens and you discover something new, or suddenly understand something that was previously puzzling.

Next on the agenda is a weekly seminar given by a researcher from the Qatar Carbonates and Carbon Storage Research Centre (QCCSRC). QCCSRC is a £45 million (US $70 million), 10 year research programme in collaboration with Qatar Petroleum, Shell and Qatar Science Technology Park, of which I was the founding director.

At lunchtime it's a 'Clean Fossil Fuels' buffet lunch with over 50 PhD students, post docs, QCCSRC staff and others who are working on decarbonisation of fossil fuels. This gathering gives me a chance to catch up with people outside of my research group and department; one of the social highlights of my day.

After lunch, there's a QCCSRC management meeting to discuss any health and safety issues, and future planning for review meetings with our sponsors. We highlight our centre's latest research, discuss future projects and identify patentable technologies during these meetings, so preparation is a must.

Then it's back to the office to complete other important tasks, such as: catching up on emails; writing blog posts; reviewing grant proposals; writing references; or reading through drafts of PhD theses prepared by students nearing the end of their studies.

It's nearing the end of the working day, but it's not home time yet. I serve on several committees, most obviously with IChemE, but also with the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). So I leave Imperial College and travel across London to attend one of these meetings.

And finally to my last duty of the day - wearing the IChemE president's hat - which requires me to travel to Guildford to attend an IChemE Member Group meeting and give a talk. This affords me the opportunity to tell members what I do in my day job, learn about local issues and concerns and meet with members face-to-face.

I view these gatherings with members as a key part of my presidential year. I enjoy hearing about the wide diversity of chemical engineering activity around the world.  To date, I've had the chance to meet up with Member Groups in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, the Middle East, as well as in the UK.

I have been greatly impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the IChemE volunteers who plan and organise meetings and outreach events in their regions. In doing so, they create and sustain the powerful network of expertise and experience that makes IChemE tick. Advancing chemical engineering world-wide, supporting their colleagues and peers and promoting the highest standards of professional practice.

At the end of a fruitful and productive meeting, it's time to catch the train home. It's been a long day, but I endeavor to use the journey to finish blogging and clear the inevitable email backlog. I'll let you all in on a secret; once in a while, I fall asleep on the train home, but I've only missed my station once!