15 October 2015 | Careers Advice | thomas thomas
Chris McDonald CEng FIMMM is Chief Executive Officer of the Materials Processing Institute. We spoke to him to find out about his career and the benefits of membership of IOM3.
How did you start your career?
I had a pretty good idea I wanted to be a chemical engineer, but I didn't really know what they actually did. I took a year out before university and British Steel offered me a job in the research function and I worked there for a year. They sponsored me during my time at Cambridge University too, where I studied Chemical Engineering. I worked for British Steel after university, which opened up a lot of opportunities for me to work in different functions including commercial, technical, manufacturing, research and innovation. Having started in research, I realised I really liked innovation, so went back to that.
How does membership of IOM3 help with your professional career?
My first introduction to IOM3 was as a student when I entered the Young Persons’ Lecture Competition. As part of my prize, I was offered free IOM3 membership. Little did I know the doors that would open up for me! I got really involved in my local society (Cleveland Institution of Engineers) going along to lectures and joined the Younger Members’ Committee organising events. The local society has a broad remit, so it took me outside the industry I was working in. From there, I started getting involved in national events, which took me all over the world. So networking and professional development has been very important and a great benefit of IOM3. I’m a chemical engineer and I work closely with metallurgists and materials scientists, but I see my membership of IOM3 adding more value than others as it really gets to grips with a variety of industries.
What advice would you give people thinking about pursuing an engineering career?
It’s very important early in your career to establish yourself in some area of expertise. You only get one chance to do that at the start of your career. Take the learning you have had and apply it, and get some practical value out of it. That becomes the grounding for your future career. Take the first three–five years really establishing a solid foundation for your future career. It’s easy to want to move on quickly, but don’t move on before you have established a solid technical foundation – you can never recapture that and it will always be of use to you.
Best piece of practical advice you have been given?
I have been really lucky to have great technical and personal advice throughout my career. IOM3 is good for that too, as you meet people outside of your usual environment. Most recently, during taking the MPI to become an independent research company (previously it was part of Tata Steel), the best piece of advice I have been given was being told to put the customer at the heart of the business. It’s obvious, but it means you have to change how you do certain things and we have changed things as a result of that advice.
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