1-On-1 With Rachel Levy, Chemical Engineer
Today's guest blog post features my fellow ND chemical engineer and best friend Rachel Levy! Rachel and I met sophomore year at Notre Dame and we gravitated toward one another with our similar interests, commitment to academics, and love of our families. Rachel and I moved to Houston to start our careers together and lived together in our first big girl apartment. We've been through a lot together, and I'm excited to be a bridesmaid in September when Rachel Levy becomes Rachel Baker!
A quick reminder as to how the guest blog interviews are structured:
1. Steel Toes: Guests will share their area of expertise and experience working as an engineer
2. Stilettos: Advice on putting your best foot forward for a job interview, office conduct, and professional development
3. Running Shoes: Tips, tricks, and advice for how to balance work and life
Chemical Engineer, University of Notre Dame 2012
Current Employer: Major Oil and Gas company on the Gulf Coast
Current Title: Hydroprocessing Lead Technical Engineer
Rachel (left) and me at ND Graduation, 2012
Steel Toes- My experience working as an engineer
Tell us about a day in your shoes
A day in my shoes is never the same! As Technical Lead for the hydrotreating area at a major Gulf Coast refinery, I get involved in day-to-day troubleshooting of unit issues as well as development of the long term technical outlook for my area. Hydrotreating is the refining technology that involves removing sulfur, nitrogen, and other impurities from the hydrocarbon so that the resulting product will have the desired physical and chemical properties. My main goal at the start of every day is to ensure my area is running safely, reliably, and optimized. If the day-to-day is not occupying my time, I work on long term projects and maintenance planning. I get to be involved in projects for my area (from $100k all the way to $200 M), safety studies, and turnaround planning. Turnarounds are where we bring units down for maintenance or to install new equipment for a project. Some days involve a lot of meetings, some days I work at my desk all day, and other days I am out in the field troubleshooting equipment issues.
What attracted you to engineering?
I was attracted to engineering because it was the combination of my two favorite subjects in high school, chemistry and math. My high school chemistry teacher had her degree in chemical engineering and she introduced me to the idea of becoming an engineer (Thanks Mrs. Milne!). Engineering involves a lot of problem solving and reasoning, which I really enjoy doing. Coming from a family of business majors, engineering was definitely a step out, and I’m glad I took it!
What other jobs and roles have you had and what did those jobs entail?
Prior to my role as Technical Lead, I had another job at the refinery called a contact engineer. That job entails being the main “contact” for questions about the area you oversee from anyone and everyone, and you get to figure out how to answer them! Before working at the refinery, I worked for the Research & Engineering division of my company. In this role, I got to learn from and work with world experts in hydroprocessing. This job provided me with a strong technical foundation that allowed me to be in my current role today!
What was your biggest engineering struggle from either college or your professional life and how did you overcome it?
My biggest engineering struggle in college was time management. Chemical engineering is NOT an easy major and it involved some social life sacrifice to make sure I had enough time to study for tests, write lab reports and finish all of my homework. It can be hard to turn down some of the fun things college has to offer, but I think it was definitely worth it in the long run having found such a good, stable job now. My biggest recommendation for time management in college is to stay organized and utilize a planner! Most courses provide a syllabus on the first day of class that says when all of the homework, quizzes and tests are going to occur. Planning out your semester schedule in advance will ensure you have time later to attend all of the football games, parties and activities you want to go to! Not to mention, learning how to manage your time in college really helps you in your work life as well!
Stilettos- My advice for putting your best foot forward
What factors did you consider when reviewing a job offer?
When I was job searching, I looked for a company that I could have and would want to have a lifelong career with. I wanted a company that provided opportunities for advancement even at a young age. Also, I wanted a company with a good reputation that wanted their employees to continue to learn outside of college (i.e. supportive of continuous learning). I wanted a company that provided good benefits that would help support my future family and allow me to reach my goal of early retirement.
What is the best piece of advice you have received or what piece of advice would you give to other women in the engineering field?
The best advice I have received at work is to do the best you can in the job you have now. Don’t worry about how fast your career is progressing compared to your peers. If you do the best you can in the job you have, it will be noticed and you will be rewarded.
What resources, tools, and strategies do you use for professional development?
The company that I work for offers good training programs that focus on both soft skills and technical skills. I try to take advantage of these programs as often as possible. I have also found Harvard Business Review articles and training programs to be helpful with professional development. Most Harvard Business Review articles are available online, while my company has a subscription for the training programs that I try to utilize if I have some spare time at one.
Who is the woman you most admire and why?
The woman I most admire is my mom. She has always encouraged me to live life to the fullest and do what interests me the most. Even though she didn’t know a whole lot about engineering when I decided I wanted to head down that path, she (and my dad) gave me their full support in my pursuit of a chemical engineering degree. My mom has dedicated her life to raising two strong women, and she has done a great job!
Running shoes- My advice on balancing work and life
What are some tips you have or strategies you use to achieve work/life balance?
Work/life balance is very important to me. I find that if I don’t get enough “life” time, I get burnt out at work and am not a very effective employee. Work always seems to suck you in so that you don’t have time to enjoy the benefits you can have from having a good job. Time management is, again, one of the most important tools for ensuring a work/life balance can be achieved. I try to spend almost all of my work day focusing on working toward the completion of my work list. You’ll see at work that some people spend a lot of their day walking around, talking to people and will wonder at the end of the day where all of their time went. Networking is an important objective, but it shouldn’t take up your whole day. Since my day is so focused, I do like to step away from my desk at lunch for a breather to allow myself to re-equilibrate.