Meet Katie, a Project Engineer at 3M Pt. 2
Meet Katie, a project engineer from 3M and a recent graduate of the industrial and systems engineering program at the University of Minnesota. Recently, I sat down to interview Katie about what her role is as a project engineer at 3M. Now, read on to learn more about why Katie choose to work at 3M and how her job has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Grace: Have you noticed that certain majors perform better as project engineers?
Katie: But the cool thing about project engineering specifically, is that really any type of engineer could do this job! No matter what type of engineering degree you graduated with, you have an engineering background which is what this job requires. Doesn't matter if you're a chemical engineer, mechanical engineer, industrial & systems, etc.
Grace: Why did you choose to work at 3M?
Katie: One thing I knew that I wanted in college was a role that had both the business side of things and engineering. I would say the project engineering role attracted me first. I really wanted to work at 3M because it is such a large company. They are involved in almost every industry that there is. I thought this was a really great thing for someone who was starting their career. Because let's say I decide in a couple years that I don’t like working with filters anymore, I have the option of not changing my company and doing something totally different. The other thing that a large company such as 3M can offer is some job security. 3M has been around for over 100 years. Being involved in a company that touches most industries can mean that in the most extreme economic circumstances (like COVID-19 for example), I still have a job and am still going strong!
Katie: Also, something I noticed from day one at 3M is that there are a lot of great opportunities for mentorship, both structured and casual. They say a lot of times in recruiting events that the maximum number of phone calls you’ll need to make to get your question answered or find an expert is three. I've tested it a couple of times and it's true! It works! I’ve had engineers that have been there 30-50 years that become interested in my projects and they offer to answer any of my questions. I think that alone has been a huge personal development opportunity.
Grace: You’ve told me that you love working at 3M, but if you had to choose, what is the best part of your job?
Katie: I really like the fast pace that goes along with being a project engineer. My to do list is always growing. That keeps me motivated though. My job would also not be nearly as enjoyable without the people that support me. It's been awesome having that and it's made everything so much smoother.
Grace: In light of the COVID-19 outbreak how has your position, if at all, changed? Are you working on more pandemic specific response projects?
Katie: There have been changes. I wouldn’t say that I have a different job description but there has been a lot of reprioritization in response to changing markets. I'm sure you’ve seen in the news that 3M has upped production of N-95 masks and has been working with companies like ford to produce respirators. There isn’t endless money so there’s been a lot of adjustment to start producing things that are needed right now. Within SPSD, we produce biopharmaceutical purification products so there has been a big push to do what we can to respond to that market. Working on projects related to this is so cool and it's made me feel that I’ve had some sort of impact. In the grand scheme of things we are still managing projects like before, but I'd say we’re busier than ever.
Grace: How does your job affect your lifestyle?
Katie: Travel is advertised as being 10-30% of the time, but some of my friends haven’t had any travel yet besides day trips to visit plants nearby. For me it's been every couple months for a couple of days at a time. That's mainly because I am working on many projects in a similar area so it justifies a trip out to work on all of them.
Katie: Hours have been very reasonable. Work life balance was very important to me in my job search and 3M is great in this respect. 3M offers a lot of flexibility for their employees to create the right work life balance for themselves. They don’t care how or where you’re getting your hours in as long you're committing your time and upholding the amount of hours in your employment agreement. I know people that travel and work long hours at the plant come home and flex their time by leaving a little early on Friday. Work from home is another thing that is available to us.
Grace: What is the most challenging part of your job at 3M?
Katie: I would say there’s two things. I think no matter how good you get at the people management side of things, that’s always a bit of a challenge. You want to enjoy every project you’re assigned, but in reality you can’t make everybody happy all the time.
Katie: Another thing I would say as a brand new engineer, it's really tough to figure out what you don’t know. I would suggest that you constantly make connections. By talking to people and finding mentors that are willing to teach you random things, you may learn something that you would’ve never thought to ask about. Asking questions and seeking mentorship will give you the confidence and the experience you need to lead your own projects.
Grace: Do you have any advice for college students looking to follow a similar career path to yours?
Katie: I would say my favorite class of all time at the University of Minnesota was Project Management (IE5541). It's an IE class as well as an ME elective and it's taught by Mimi Wong. Mimi is just incredible. She is someone with a lot of industry background so she has had experience running lots of different projects over the course of her career. I really learned how to do documentation and project management communication in this class. Documenting is helpful for any engineer because it helps you and the rest of your team understand the details as well as the bigger picture, and come to a common understanding of what needs to be accomplished and why. It helps to align each of your team members towards a common goal when it can be easy to stray and allow project scope to creep. Also, thorough documentation of scope and team operating norms in the beginning of projects can help to reduce or mitigate risk within the projects, keep the team on track, and even keep everyone feeling like they are participating fully and valued within the team. Documentation and communication can be used both for people and risk management. And I could go on and on - I use information from that class daily and I’ve actually pulled out my notes from the class while working at 3M a couple of times. I would highly recommend this class for anyone in engineering.