GUEST BLOG: Why I support my chemical engineering community in…Aberdeen

Activities to share knowledge and support the professional development of chemical engineers are happening in a whole host of communities across the world every day.

At IChemE, we have various communities that focus on helping individuals enhance their technical knowledge, competence and skills, as well as assist them in becoming professionally qualified engineers.

We have many enthusiastic members who volunteer in our communities, so will be sharing their stories in specialist areas and regions in regular blogs.

In this blog, Jim O’Donnell, Chair of the Aberdeen Members Group, explains more about what the group does to support all levels of chemical engineers in their region and why he feels younger members in particular can play a positive role in shaping a sustainable future for our Institution and the profession.

Name: Jim O’Donnell

Job Title and organisation: Alba Asset Manager, Chevron

IChemE role: Chair of IChemE’s Aberdeen Members Group

Bio: I graduated with a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering at Bradford University and I have worked for a number of oil and gas operators in the UK, Algeria, Thailand and the US over the past 30 years. My career has covered research and development, field development, offshore operations, technical safety and project management and, lastly, asset management, which is my current role.

Tell us about the Aberdeen Members Group, what are your objectives, aims and the geographical area you support?

The aims of our group are to support our members around Aberdeen and to the North of Scotland through technical and social events to enhance knowledge sharing and promote networking.

Jim O’Donnell Chair of the Aberdeen Members Group hosting a talk on hydrates at Heriot-Watt University

One of the challenges we’ve faced in Aberdeen, due to the downturn in the oil and gas industry, is that not all companies have the budget and resources to send chemical engineers on possibly expensive technical training sessions, and ensure their operational duties are covered in their absence.

So, our Members Group committee has tried to get more technical seminars organised so that younger members can get access to the training, learning and networking opportunities at a more affordable price. It is a big driver for me and for many of the committee members to help support young members as their careers progress.

Tell us about two or three events you have held in the last 12 months that have supported students and early career engineers? What were the outcomes and feedback?

One of our most successful events this year was on presentation skills for final year students. A couple of our younger committee members, who are recent graduates, came up with the idea to assist students at the University of Aberdeen. They did a great job in demonstrating the skills needed in industry and the importance of good presentation materials and delivery.

During the past year, we have raised the profile of young members in the committee and they have become more engaged and empowered to come up with ideas that appeal to them. It’s about these events being created by the members, for the members. It’s really important to encourage diversity because we need to have all of our spectrum of members engaged at the appropriate level and their voices heard.

How does the group support continuing professional development (CPD) for mid-career engineers?

We support CPD and mid-career engineers through our ‘Get Chartered’ and ‘Fellowship’ events and our mentoring committee member Maryam Gharebaghi. Our Get Chartered and Fellowship events take place in a Q&A style, where the members of our group explain to prospective Chartered and Fellow members on the requirements of the respective application and guide them through the process. It allows those considering, or in process of applying for, these registrations to find out more from an experienced chemical engineer who has been through it. Our mentors provide a key role in these events and help to set up mentorships.

Getting Chartered recognises that you’ve reached a standard in your profession where you’re able to make decisions and have the technical knowledge and sign-off authority. It’s well-regarded in industry as a standard professional engineers are expected to attain. To me, when you’ve been a practicing engineer for a number of years, it should be an expectation. I think a lot of people feel they need to make some ground-breaking discovery in research or academia to become a Fellow, but when you speak with other IChemE Fellows and learn about how they became Fellows, you realise, actually I’ve also done quite a lot which has helped my fellow engineers and their careers! I’m just going through the Fellow process myself!

What does 2020 look like for the group? What do you have planned to promote STEM career paths in the community?

In 2020, we will continue our active technical talk programme with a number of guest speakers, as well as our annual dinner and awards in March, which will include Steve Phimister, Vice President Shell UK and Ireland.

We will also continue to participate in STEM events. Nick Parker, one of our committee members, is very active in school careers fairs. Also, Caroline Laurenson is a key driver behind our STEM events at the Aberdeen Science Centre, co-organised with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Here our members have one-on-one interaction with 15 to 17-year-olds, explaining the career opportunities in industry, giving personal anecdotes of how they got there, and giving demonstrations of how a separator works as a practical example.

My mantra, which I keep reiterating at the committee meetings and to younger members, is that volunteering at the STEM events is about informing students and allowing young people to have an informed decision on their careers. We focus on the benefits this career can bring to society and what it can bring to them personally. I will say: “We feel it is a rewarding career and it’s worthwhile having a think about it.”

Why do you volunteer with IChemE and what do you gain from volunteering?

I volunteer to give something back to the community; mainly to help provide a leadership role within the group, to ensure that our member group promotes learning and active networking amongst the members and to be a mentor and a role model to the younger members of the profession. Myself and others in our group have a strong interest, and play an active part, in giving career guidance to school students by highlighting the career and academic opportunities that studying chemical engineering can bring.

As members, this is our Institution and we should help input to the direction of it. You can only do that by participating in it. We should do that to sustain and develop the profession. I have a really strong feeling about encouraging the younger generation to get them involved to help their careers and those of others.

Having a network that you can discuss anything with, concerns and opportunities, is important. The networking that the Institution provides is really powerful and I think I should encourage younger engineers to interact with their peers. You learn through interaction.

The Aberdeen Members Group have various events coming up, including Technical Seminar: The Energy Transition and Chemical Engineering’s Role on 9 October 2019.

For more information on the group and to get involved in any of their knowledge-sharing activities, visit:

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