Since I was a kid I’ve always been a tinkerer. So naturally, when the time came to pick a major/career I decided on moon captain giraffe wrangler. Because this isn’t a thing yet I went into an applied science/engineering hybrid. Basically, there’s a lot of physics coupled to a lot of ‘practical’ design as some people call it. At that point, I realized that all the theory I loved learning about could be used to design the things necessary to take my giraffe and I to the moon. I quickly specialized in turning imagination into reality. Having an equation to draw on the board to explain nearly every single design decision became something I wanted to instill on every person in my old industry group and something I wanted to teach students. I come up with a lot of wacky ideas and corresponding patents, but without being able to turn those things into a reality I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help the people that needed them.
I’ve written about academia and the applied sciences or engineering. The people who were teaching me never designed anything and brought it to being a tangible object outside of the lab, and so I had to learn myself how to bridge the words of the tangible and theoretical. When I was applying for faculty jobs I touted this a lot. I wanted to be the one other PIs call on when they have something great that they want to bring outside of the lab. At the time I thought this was awesome, but I feel I’m being taken advantage of sometimes. But it’s pretty rewarding and there’s a lot of variety so I deal with it, and do what I said I would upon coming into academia. I feel like maybe only one of these will actually be something that will make an impact (it’s an application to help the 3rd world), but it’s still cool to see PIs looking beyond the lab, and I’m glad I got to be a part of this.
Design is a diverse field. There are these new areas that 10 years ago wouldn’t be considered ‘design’ in the sense of seeing a problem, understanding the problem, creating a solution, then testing the solution. These are more around conceptual thinking or solving large socioeconomic issues. I have nothing against them, but I’ve never been a fan of think tanks that don’t actually do anything. I’m more of a purist so I think that design should result in something tangible that can change the world, regardless of profit, nonprofit, open source, etc. There’s this new department here that has PIs from every walk of life and it’s fascinating because I get to learn about a lot of different things, but my gosh, some of these societal things, while I feel could benefit society, the cynic in me thinks this is a waste. But being the good person I pretend to be, I smile along and do my part.