Alumni Spotlight: Doug Aldrich, BS ChE '62, MS ChE '68, PhD (Hon) Humane Letters '01
“Show me someone who has stopped learning, and I’ll show you someone who has stopped.”
Doug Aldrich, BS ChE ’62, MS ChE ’68, PhD (Hon) Humane Letters ‘01
As a new (green) engineer, my first three jobs were finding out how little I really knew, how few answers were in the back of a book, how many challenging problems existed….and how much opportunity there was to grow. During my 38 years at Dow Corning, I had 14 different jobs, most of which I knew little about or didn’t even exist before I was offered the position. I found out personally that I was not cut out for the stable, routine job that was well defined but necessary for the company. I had job evaluations that indicated “Throw Doug into the worst mess or the greatest ambiguity, and he will learn enough to solve and/or contribute better than the company ever expected.”
That didn’t mean, by the way, I had all the answers….it meant that I could plunge in, ask questions, dig into information, think out of the box, and arrive at new insights or answers. When I moved from process/product jobs, it was to go into HR, marketing, business management, metallurgy and analytical departments. My last 18 years was designing/building/operating labs around the world, something I never envisioned when sitting in #304 for thermo classes.
As Mines students and future alumni, you are prepared to embark on a career that is clear for 5-10 years, and then everything around you will have changed. Worldwide information doubles every three years; technology doubles every five. Problems/challenges grow exponentially in some manner; the impact of demographic changes in the world is just beginning to be felt. The only way you and your organization will survive, much less thrive, is to be a learning organism.
Your attitudes and self-motivation will make or break your ability to be a learner. The following might be useful suggestions how to cultivate learning as a habit.
- Read for depth and breadth, but cross-check the information for its validity.
- Network with others across disciplines, ages, countries and experiences.
- Think critically about what you’re told or read, and freely ask “unpopular” questions that stir others to a new perspective.
- Put ideas on paper or spreadsheets that crystallize your thoughts, so others may test or challenge them…and objectively iterate them for new meaning.
- Profit from mistakes, avoid blunders and lunch with the “little people”
- Say yes to new doors opening, and try hard in whatever you choose to do.
Since my industrial career in 2003, I’ve run a start-up business, opened a consulting firm, served on non-profit boards, written magazine articles, chaired my alumni association, helped with the new CBEC building at Mines….and am now writing/reviewing building industry educational programs. Neither life nor careers are predictable; your essential key is learning to do more and do different things.
Learning Never Stops!