PEO-SC 2012 - University of Ottawa

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Expert Panel Discussion

Purpose: Submitted questions were presented to the panel and each member was invited to share their insight.


  • Ismail El Maach P.Eng, MASc - Ismail El Maach has more than 15 years experience in biomechanical engineering and is the author of more than 20 scientific publications and 3 patents.
  • Jeannette Chau, MBA, P.Eng - Jeannette Chau is the Manager, Student and Government Liaison Programs at Professional Engineers Ontario.
  • Gregory E. Clunis, P.Eng, ing - Gregory E. Clunis is a Professional Engineer licenced in the Province of Ontario, and President of Integral DX Engineering, an Ottawa-based company providing services in noise, vibration and acoustics.
  • Claude Lague, P.Eng, ing, Ph.D - Dr. Claude Laguë, P.Eng., ing., was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa, first in 2006 and again in 2011. He holds an academic appointment at the rank of Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and he is a registered Professional Engineer in Ontario and in Québec.


1. Marks vs getting involved

  • Claude – Everyone must choose their goals and direction and work towards achieving them. If a person wants to go law or med school they may have to focus more on marks where someone else may not be as worried about marks and will be able to develop certain skills they need for the future via extra curricular activities.
  • Jeannette – I did an experiment where in 3rd year I stopped getting involved and focused on school. I ended up getting the same grades and in the next year when I started getting involved again, my grades went up.
  • Ismail – Engineers are not all the same, pick an objective and then take the necessary steps to get there.
  • Greg – Often students learn how to effectively work at school and so as they get to be better and better students, they can get involved in a few extracurricular activities and still be able to accomplish the goals they have.

2. What is your biggest failure in your career so far?

  • Greg - I wrote a masters thesis, handed it in for review and got great feedback but then never made the revisions and never handed it in.
  • Claude – As an educator I feel that it is a failure when students do not succeed. As an educator it is my job to make sure students have the knowledge and support required to progress through an engineering education, when I see students dropping out and not succeeding, I feel that I have failed as an educator.
  • Ismail – When I came to Canada 27 years ago I did not know the education system and so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do. By the time I found something I liked, it was too late for me to get a Ph.D
  • Jeannette – I worked on a project developing a complex system which would allow management to view performance indicators in real time. This replaced weekly or biweekly presentations at meetings. Once the system was finished and tested, the company found that the management never used the software and would rather just here the presentation once a week. The software was scrapped. Another thing that I see as a bit of a failure is that I started in science and knew that it wasn’t for me right in the beginning, but thought I would give it a chance and see if it got better. After 2nd year I still didn’t like it but had already invested two years. Finally in 3rd year I made the switch to Engineering and have never been happier.

3. Many students focus purely on the theory portion of an education, but as many student leaders know there is much more to it. How would you suggest getting the word out to the purely academic students?

  • Claude – Power of example, show people the benefits through peer to peer communication. Be sure to respect people’s goals and objectives, so if they are focused on achieving a high academic standing and need to focus on academics then that is their decision.

4. What was your first job after graduation and what was the take away from that job?

  • Jeannette – I worked at Bell and in trying to establish myself I worked really hard to set myself apart. While I was working I typically felt the need to ask questions and I felt that they were making me look dumb. But during performance evaluation time, everyone was very impressed with how fast I had picked everything up. Therefore the take away was that sometimes you are harder on yourself than anyone else.
  • Ismail – When I was in co-op I was new to the country and ended up taking a co-op job that nobody else wanted. It was a terrible experience and I learned that you should always do something you are happy doing.
  • Greg- I started work in a recession so work was limited but I got very lucky and was hired as part of a defense contract in noise and vibration which I did not know anything about. I had to do a lot of research and had to be brought up to speed with little guidance. It’s when someone told me that I was a noise and vibration engineer that I realized that I was that. That was one of the most challenging things I have done and because of that is the highlight of my career.
  • Claude – When I graduated I worked for a small consulting firm and due to the small size, you had to do a lot of things that a junior engineer at a larger company would not have the opportunity to do. I learned at this job that you always have to give 110% because what you are doing might be a bit over your head but can be VERY important and you cannot make mistakes.

5. What were your career paths?

  • Greg – There is no right answer, I was thrown into Noise and Vibration and now I have been a Noise and Vibration Engineer for 30 years. Also, try and do Co-Op because I have hired many co-op students and I hire with the hope that some of them will come back and work for me full time.
  • Claude – Be open to opportunities and act on them when they present themselves.
  • Ismail – We always like to put metrics on everything we do, but it’s important to leave a little bit of room for a gut feeling. Everyone will have a different path, don’t base yours off of someone else’s.
  • Jeannette – Write down some goals. Harvard did a study where they followed the 10% of people who had written goals in a group and after a number of years a very large number of the people who had written down the goals had achieved them.

6. In what order should you get your PEng if you want to go to grad school? Grad school then PEng or PEng then Grad School?

  • Claude - I had the opportunity to pursue my masters during my job but in general there is no recipe. Be open to opportunities but keep your goals in mind.
  • Jeannette – Grad School can happen whenever, most of your engineering work is done in the first part of your career so getting your PEng first won’t hurt.

7. What are the top 3 qualities you look for when hiring new grads?

  • Ismail – Imagination is worth more than knowledge, the world is full of knowledge, but you must have imagination so that you can sort through the knowledge and apply it. I want to make sure that if you are going to find a solution, that it is as complete as possible. An A+ GPA, love what you do and show creativity.
  • Greg – Academics are probably on the bottom of my list, but do get considered. Self-awareness and a big picture view of the world are near the top and the ability to answer questions with no concrete answer.
  • Claude – I have been hiring faculty members for 10 years as dean and the biggest thing I look for them is there drive to bring change and if they will challenge things to spur thought and improvement.
  • Jeannette – Resumes all look the same so major relevant projects or anything you have been involved with will help yours stand out.