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Easing into Your First Plant Assignment

     If you're reading this then most likely, one of two things is true...either you've been there or you're wondering what to expect.   Your first assignment in a real chemical plant.  I'll continue writing assuming that you haven't gotten to your first assignment yet, because if you have, then you already understand what I'm talking about.
     Outside of some internship or co-op experience where you really didn't get to do too much on your own, you'll find yourself in the thick of it after your training at your job.  Training will generally consist of learning the process thoroughly, becoming familiar with company policy and procedure, and learning how the business world really works.  Then you may find yourself in charge of others at the plant.  Chemical operators, laboratory personell, maintenance workers, etc.  The people who, I like to say, "really keep the plant running."  Being fresh out of school and impressed that you're a chemical engineer, you may be tempted to force your will on not the best approach, which you'll learn in about 10 minutes in you dare attempt it.
     Some of the people who you'll be supervising or working with have a very valuable asset that you will not have at this point in time....the dreaded "E" word....EXPERIENCE.  If you are under the impression that as soon as you land a job that your lack of experience will no longer hamper your efforts, you're wrong.  The good new is that now you're in a position to rectify the situation.   Your job now is to bring your knowledge of engineering to discussions with plant personell.  Listen to what others are saying.  If you instruct an operator to do something, and he/she says "That won't work!"  It is not a good idea to go into the theory of why it "should work"...they won't understand you (unless you're talking with a fellow engineer) and most likely don't care.  Rather, ask them why they think it won't work.  You'll find that they're speaking from experience.   Someone else may have suggested the same thing at this time last year and the result was lost production or some other complication.  Don't waste this opportunity to find out what did other words...steal some of that person's experience.   You'll be amazed how much you, the chemical engineer, can learn from the chemical plant operators!
     If you're a strong believer in the old saying, "Better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt", I'd recommend clearing it from your mind.  If you are unsure of something, ask another engineer or your supervisor.  Chances are they'll be impressed with your level of responsibility and your regard for the safety of everyone in the plant.  Form your thoughts carefully and then ask intelligent questions concerning your idea.  After you receive feedback, don't hesitate to write it down and keep a log of information you're stealing more experience.    But what if there are no engineers around or your supervisor is not available and you're unsure of what exactly you should do in a given situation.  Then you should talk to the control room operators or other plant personell.  Approach them with respect and ask they're opinion about the situation.  Now you may be thinking, "I don't want to do that, they'll think that I don't know what I'm doing!"  Well, although that may be the case, they're exactly right.  You don't know what you're doing if you haven't been there long!   That's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.  The alternative may be having to explain lost production to management....try that one and you'll see the light!   Remember....with time comes respect.  Eventually, you and the people you work with will become a team and you'll earn their respect because they'll know that if you're unsure of something, you won't act hastily.  It will also show others that you respect their opinions and then they'll be more apt to offer guidance in the future......then you'll be stealing more experience.  If you go about your first plant assignment correctly, you'll find that you can learn an awful lot in a year at a plant. 

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