Felder, Richard, "Just Another Day at the Office."
Chem. Engr. Education, 29(2), 102-103 (Fall 1995).
Richard M. Felder
Department of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7905
The scene is the conference room in a mythical chemical engineering
department just before a faculty meeting. Everyone is talking.
Andre (the department chairman): "Okay, let's get
started, gang, or we'll never get out of here."
(The noise slowly subsides.)
Andre: "Now, our first order of business is the budget."
Everyone: (Loud chorus of grumbling)
Andre: "All right, next person who gives me grief
is our new laboratory safety inspector." (Everyone shuts
up instantly.) "I've got good news and bad news. The
bad news is that it's September 12 and we've already exhausted
our operating budget through April. The good news is that I've
got a plan."
Ed: "You're not planning to make us pay for our coffee
again, are you? The last department head tried that and look
what happened to him."
Andre: "No, it's even better than that-listen up!
The hot research topics these days are biotechnology and microelectronics,
right. I say we write a proposal to genetically engineer a bug
that produces ultrapure silicon wafers from sand. I figure we
should be able to get a bundle for it from a couple of our industry
friends and then use what we get as matching money for an even
bigger bundle from the NSF. Bruce and Gary, how about knocking
out a proposal draft...just make sure you include about 30% release
time for each of you and enough to pay a secretary full time."
Bruce: "No problem, as long as I can get three months
summer support, some lab renovation, and a laptop...and a graduate
student, of course."
Gary: "And I need a scanning microscope and summer
support and two graduate students...oh, and I'll also need money
to go to the Annual Conference of the ESGFPICED."
Andre: "The ESGFPICED?"
Gary: "Yeah, the Emotional Support Group for Physicists
in Chemical Engineering Departments...we're sharing our inner
feelings in Hawaii this year, and since Sheila is chairman..."
Gary: "...chairperson, I thought I should be there."
Andre: "Fine, as long as you don't charge too many
leis to the project. OK, so you and Bruce can..."
Bill: "Wait a minute-you can't get the price of a
bagel for research this year that doesn't include polymers."
Andre: "SACRE BLEU, you're right...OK, how about a
genetically engineered bug to produce ultrapure silicon from a
combined feedstock of sand and polypropylene..."
Irving: "Make it molten sand and polypropylene, so
we can get some good nonnewtonian rheology in there."
Andre: "Right...now in the budget, don't forget to..."
Bill: "...put in summer support and an HPLC for me,
and I also need about three graduate students..."
Irving: "And I need a new rheometer and a REALLY good
pair of safety shoes, four graduate students to do some heavy
equipment lifting, and a workstation with a 287 GB hard disk and
a full-time computer repairman..."
Irving: "...a full-time repairperson to maintain it."
Andre: "No problem. All right, Gary and Bruce and
Bill and Irving go ahead and..."
Hazel: "You can't be serious-you're going to try to
get that kind of money for a project that doesn't involve the
Andre: "CARAMBA-how could I forget that? OK, Bruce,
Gary, Bill, Irving, and Hazel design a bug to produce silicon
from molten sand and recycled plastic things recovered from the
beach after Labor Day weekend. I don't know, guys-this may be
getting a little too..."
Hazel: "Piece of cake...all I'll need is a little
summer support, money to attend the Fourth Annual Conference on
Very Important Environmental Stuff in Acapulco next year, and
five graduate students...someone has to shovel all that sand."
Al: "Just a cotton-pickin' minute here-I'm doing environmental
research too, and I also have the experience to pitch this to
industry...once me and my six new graduate students hit up our
industry friends I guarantee they'll sprain their wrists reaching
for their wallets."
Nigel: "Now see here, none of this will work unless
you do it at cryogenic temperatures, a field that I just happen
to know more about than anyone else here...besides, I have much
broader experience in the manufacturing..."
Sheila: (Clears her throat loudly)
Nigel: "Excuse me, I have much broader experience
in the personufacturing industries than Al does, in addition to
which my British accent makes me sound ever so much more intelligent."
Al: "Oh yeah-well maybe if we were talking about the
cryogenic production of bangers and mash your experience would
be worth something, but we're dealing with polymerization here
and you don't know jack..."
Andre: "BESAME MUCHO-will you guys knock it off already!
If we don't get serious about this we'll never..."
Charlie : "HEY-what am I, chopped liver? I'm
also doing environmental research...besides, if you don't consider
the homogeneous catalytic effects of the impurities in beach sand
and plastic things you'll..."
Ed: "No way, Charlie -if anyone's gonna do any catalysis
on this project it's me and the seven graduate students I need-besides,
this project needs someone who knows how to do real surface science,
and also someone with outstanding diplomatic skills to sell it
to the NSF, and it just so happens that I..."
Paul: "Don't make me laugh, Ed-I'm the real surface
scientist here. You let me and eight graduate students throw
some surfactants into the pot and I could get funding from your
Ed: "I don't think so-my grandmother knows more surface science than you do, and not only that..."
Sheila: "Nine graduate students and my own Cray to
develop an ASPEN simulation of the process and exclusive rights
to our best graduate student hacker as project manager..."
Everyone: (Shout in unison) "Personager!"
Sheila: "...as project personager, or I'm out of here!"
Stanley: "Look, you're all forgetting that we're an
educational institution, not just a research factory."
Matt: "He's right-we need to get the undergraduates
involved. I know-we get about ten graduate students to put the
whole thing in the unit ops lab, then we say that we're updating
the lab to make it more relevant to chemical engineering in the
21st century, and then we go to our friends in industry and..."
Walter: "You'd BETTER use undergraduates-last spring
all the new graduate students agreed to work for me when I recruited
Everyone: (General uproar)
Andre: "MAMMA MIA, ENOUGH ALREADY! Okay, let's see
what we've got here-check me on this. We propose to develop an
undergraduate laboratory experiment on the formulation of an ASPEN
simulation of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalytic impurity
effects on the cryogenic generation of ultrapure silicon from
molten sand and plastic things..."
Hazel: "And its environmental implications."
Andre: "And its environmental implications. Does
that work for everyone?"
Everyone: ("Sure, great, sounds good to me,"
Ed: "I still don't think it's scientific enough-they'll
get proposals to do that from half the departments in the country."
Andre: "We'll take our chances. Now, all that's left
is to write the proposal-we have a tight deadline to meet. I
guess Al and Nigel with all that industrial experience should
be able to..."
Al: "Gee, Andre, I'd like to, but I'm on the Conference
Room Scheduling Committee this year and I've got so much to do,
I really don't think I can free up the time."
Nigel: "And I'm chairing the Coffee Machine Cleaning
and Supply Committee and have much more to do than Al...I really
think Bruce and Gary should do it, since the heart of the project
is their specialties."
Andre: "Okay, that seems reasonable..."
Bruce: "Just a minute, Andre-I'd love to do it, but
I'm going to be away from my office for three weeks and no one
will have a clue how to find me. I'm willing to let Gary cover
Gary: "Gee thanks, Bruce...uhhh, Andre, normally I'd
jump at the chance but unfortunately I'm also going to be unavailable.
It's a physicist thing-you wouldn't understand."
Andre: "Hmmm. Well, how about..."
Everyone: (Shout out excuses.)
Andre, disgustedly: "OY GEVALT, I don't believe you
turkeys. SOMEONE has
to write this proposal, otherwise we'll have to go back to..."
Ollie: "Hold on-I have an idea. I'll assign the proposal
to the first-year graduate students as part of their project class."
Andre: "Sold-just make sure they get it done by Wednesday. Okay, it's late now, so we'll postpone our discussion of next year's faculty retreat in Paris which I'm working on our industry friends to sponsor. Meeting adjourned." (All get up and exit stage left.)