Taleitha (Tia) West
Research and Development Laboratory Manager
I was born/grew up in: Toronto, Ontario, Canada but born in Brampton, Ontario
I now live in: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I completed my training/education at: I completed my BASc (Bachelor of Applied Science) in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Toronto
Describe what you do at work.
As a manager I meet with my team members once per week to talk about what they have been working on. We also use this time to identify any issues that have come up and what is planned for the next week in terms of priorities. I am also in charge of the overall team and project budgets. This means that every year I co-ordinate the summary of the last year's work and plan for the upcoming year.
As a part of the project team members I review the process that we are developing and design or specify the equipment that we need to do the job. This is the Mechanical Engineering specific side of my work. I sometimes need to do custom heat transfer calculations or mass and energy balance calculations for a system. Safety is a big part of the planning process and we conduct an in depth hazard assessment and mitigation plan based on the outcome.
Equipment set up or installation is also a part of my job. If I have specified or purchased a piece of equipment, I likely know the most about it. So I’ll be either installing or at least involve in the setup of the equipment. During operation of the testing I will gather data. This can range from gathering samples by hand, conducting titrations or other analytical tests and putting the data into a spreadsheet for further analysis. For more sophisticated tests that are hooked up to a data logging system, I would record the information on a time sensitive basis (i.e. pressure, temperatures, flow rates ever hour, etc.). Data analysis is also an important part of the job to understand the testing completed and ensure it is valid data that can be used further.
As a team leader I often prepare power point presentations that must clearly describe the results & conclusions without overburdening the management team with too many technical details. Presentation and soft skills are important. I wouldn't call presentations fun, but you get better with practice. I often have to make decisions but as a leader I try to encourage my team members to make their own decisions by helping them through the thought process with pros and cons. Sometimes people will come to me with a problem expecting me to fix it or make a decision. I often send them away to find out more information so that they come to me with a few potential solutions rather than coming to me with just a problem. Then we can have a productive conversation to come to a consensus or group decision.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect peoples lives?
The Chemical Plants that we design and build through our main office (not the lab) are for sulphuric acid and chlorine dioxide. Sulphuric acid is used in the fertilizer industry and chlorine dioxide is a bleaching agent used in pulp and paper. The products or improvements that we develop either make these plants more efficient, reduce environmental impact or improve/change the process. This results in lower resource consumption, power use, and gas or waste emissions thereby improving our industrial and consumer world.
What motivates you in your career?
A new project or challenge and progress in teams make me most excited about my job. The most interesting part of my job comes out when we build and test a new rig and come out with results that are meaningful and useful for our commercial Engineering projects. Seeing something built from scratch, doing a series of tests and then witnessing those test results being useful in a commercial environment is incredibly exciting. I love the team aspect and the hands on aspect of my job. Research and development involves all aspects of Engineering from design to building to testing and that is the best part of my job.
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
I always enjoyed math, science and puzzles so my parents suggested I consider engineering. I didn't know what type of engineering because it is difficult to understand in high school what each discipline does. So I actually selected my field by process of elimination. I worked for 4 months at a Husky injection moulding and learned about 3D modelling and design. I enjoyed it but knew I didn't want to be modelling all day, every day as it is interesting but very solitary work.
My first job out of university was at Canadian Standards Association Certification and Testing Division. I really enjoyed the hands on testing side of the job (e.g., hockey puck & face mask canon, the crash test bicycle helmet rig, or the electrical safety shoe insulation test rig). But over time I found that work can become repetitive and dull. At this point I really knew I would like to have some hands on aspect in my career.
My first experience with research and development was at Dyson, (the vacuum cleaner company). They now have other products on the market such as hand dryers, hair dryers, and fans. This was an amazingly exciting place to work with over 400 other engineers, engineering interns (EITs), and industrial designers. There were several different labs for rig building and testing as well as an on-site machine shop. I learned how to use a lathe, mill and developed more knowledge on what instruments to use to measure flow, current, temperature and pressure.
My third job was at WorleyParsons as a consultant in the Oil & Gas field. I learned about how large multidiscipline projects were run. I also learned about large mechanical equipment design (e.g., tanks, pressure vessels, pumps, etc.). This job was missing the hands on aspect. This led me to Chemetics a Jacobs company. Chemetics historically has always been a technology driven company with roots in research and development (R&D). Jacobs is a global engineering company. I leveraged my knowledge of consulting and R&D to start a job at the laboratory in Vancouver, BC. This is by far the most exciting and satisfying job position for me as it combines hands on R&D with mechanical design and team work.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I love the mountains in British Columbia. I love to trail run or hike, mountain bike and ski in the mountains that BC has to offer. I also enjoy home improvement projects.
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
Do not underestimate the importance of soft skills (e.g., people skills, organizational skills, writing & presenting, team work), as they can help you progress in your career. Try to solve problems yourself first, but don't spend too much time trying to figure it out, ask for help. Go to your boss/manager with a problem AND some potential solutions. This it will gain you respect and help you eventually make your own thought out informed decisions.