Carly Jackson

Carly Jackson

Project Engineer
Columbia, SC, United States
Carly Jackson
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April 5, 2011 Her job: Project Engineer, EnergySolutions

Describe what you do in your current work situation?
I design liquid radwaste processing systems and ancillary equipment that is used for packaging, processing and remote handling of spent media used in processing of liquids.
Why did you choose engineering?
A couple engineers came and talked to my class in the 4th grade about specialty ceramics used to encapsulate nuclear waste. From then on, I was set in what I'd do.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
University of South Carolina, class of 2006, Bachelors of Science (cum laude) Chemical Engineering
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
Design, fabrication, testing, installation, commissioning, operation and decommissioning.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
Each project presents unique challenges and obstacles to overcome. I also get to travel the world.
Which of your career accomplishments are you proudest of?
Designing a system that will be installed and used in the UK.
What challenges have you met and conquered in your pursuit of an engineering career?
You have to work for each contract that you win, proving that your design and your equipment are not only worth the price but also superior to the other options.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I have two dogs, Viva, a little chihuahua, and Grizzly, a hound dog that goes running with me. My parents and an older sister live in Augusta, where I grew up.
What are your short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (10+ years) goals?
Short-term I'd like to continue to provide capable, quality systems to the nuclear power industry. Eventually, I would like to take a 3-5 yr post with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) with a focus on commercial power and low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.
What (or who) had/has the greatest influence on your life choices?
My dad
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in engineering?
Keep working. It isn't easy for anyone and don't expect that it should be easy for you. If something is worth doing, do it well and excel.
Describe something about your life outside of work: your hobbies, or perhaps a favorite book.
I have run three full marathons, six half marathons and a handful of sprint triathlons. I enjoy being outside and enjoying the weather.
Answers by Ms Carly Jackson

1) According to US News and World Report, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is best. A large number of major schools have bachelors and/or masters programs so your options are great. If you want to narrow it down to a geographic area or a handful of schools, you can then go to US News to see how they stack up academically.

2) It’s not easy and you might find it’s not what you want to do and that is okay! You should do something you enjoy because you’ve got a lot of years to go after college. If you really enjoy it and are struggling, just keep going and work hard. You will struggle at times and there are definitely learning curves that you have to climb but eventually it’ll click and get easier.

3) They might not be. A lot of countries are going in to decommissioning and nuclear engineers are used primarily in reactor design so aren’t needed in decommissioning. You can still be in the nuclear industry with a chemical or mechanical (or any) engineering degree. I suggest chemical because you can do a focus in reactor/nuclear science and criticality, while having a broader range of prospects in a nuclear or non-nuclear future.

4) Countries with growing nuclear programs like China, India and the United Kingdom.

5) No, but you may find that the school you want to attend only offers a masters program and requires a chemical or mechanical bachelors.

My advice would be to go for chemical engineering (although to be up front and honest, I am a chemical engineer). Nuclear engineering is a very specialized field and does not cover the whole spectrum of a nuclear site; it focuses on the reactor. A chemical engineering bachelor’s degree opens doors to almost all areas within a nuclear site, both the reactor and the secondary side that includes radioactive waste, environmental, etc. In addition, a chemical engineering bachelor’s still leaves the option for courses or a master’s degree in nuclear engineering.

Don’t be scared off by having difficulty with dual credit chemistry! Chemistry takes time to understand. If you struggled in dual credit chemistry, sign up for general chemistry in your first year at university. You will probably have an easier time of it and will get a better understanding that will make all your future classes easier to understand.

For job opportunities, chemical engineering is always a highly sought after degree for employers. Industrial engineers face a lot of competition from mechanical engineers, who are arguably better qualified depending on the particular position. Nuclear engineering, because it is so specialized, has limited job opportunities but would likely pay more than chemical, mechanical or industrial. There are a number of unknowns for the future of the nuclear industry, especially in the US where several sites (SONGS and Kewaunee) have announced permanent shutdowns. When you combine those unknowns with the versatility of a chemical engineering degree and the different opportunities I have been offered, I think that chemical engineering is the best choice.

You can definitely have a great family life while being an engineer. You're young now and there is plenty of time to change your mind about which specific field to go in to; for now focus on taking math and science courses that you enjoy. I took calculus, physics and two years of chemistry when I was in high school. When you apply to college, be sure to identify which major you want; there may be opportunities for extra scholarships for being a female in engineering. College will take about 4 years, maybe a little longer if you do a job experience (I worked in a paper mill!). As you get close to finishing your bachelor's degree, you might decide to go get a master's degree or even a PhD. When you get into the engineering world, you should have a few options of which company to go to. Try to find a company that matches your ideals and respects their employees' dedication to a work-life balance. Work to live, don't live to work! Good luck!!!

I love that this question is from a Southern girl, like me! Every engineer encounters diversity in the workplace and its a good thing if you can embrace it. Engineers come from all over the world and each one has been trained managed a little bit differently. I was an engineer in the US for 5 years before coming to England and Ive since had to learn the different ways people interact and how tasks are managed. The most important things Ive learned are to tread lightly and be confident. Tread lightly Whenever meeting someone new, whether one co-worker or a new group, remember that they havent been trained and managed the same way you have. The way you are trained and managed has shaped how you behave and who you are. The same goes for others. People will get defensive if you are overbearing and behave as though its my way or the highway. Take time to listen to others and work with them to achieve the goal youve been assigned. Learn something new every day, sometimes you will learn something just by watching how others interact. Be confident When you are done with engineering school you get a lovely degree from your university that is tangible evidence that you know a lot. Always always always remember that there is even more that you dont know! You cant know everything, and if you could youd have to spend a lot of time learning it and thered be no time left for having fun! Be comfortable answering questions about things you know, it builds credibility and lets others know that you are a resource to be utilized. I have found it is even more important to be comfortable acknowledging what you dont know. Any credibility you have gets washed away if you get caught pretending to know about something you dont. Example: Yesterday I was being asked about a piece of equipment I have worked with for several years. I answered questions all day about its operations, what would happen if certain scenarios arose, etc and I answered each one that came up. Then they asked me if a certain item was hard-wired or software. I always get nervous when asked about electrical stuff, Ive never really understood it or even been very interested in it and Im afraid people will think Im not as good an engineer. I smiled, put my hands up and told them I was guilty of not being good with electronics and having limited knowledge of the details of control systems. But what has happened almost every time before happened again: They said, Thats fine. Would you find out for us? I happily obliged. The important part is that you provide a correct answer, not an immediate answer. I hope this helps! Carly L. Jackson