Thinking, Communicating, Doing: Through the Lens of Culture in the Workplace

Nitya MallikarjunBy: Nitya Mallikarjun, MEMP ’11, Director of Product Development at VIF International Education

Last year, I was part of a leadership training workshop at work that included 13 people from across the organization. Our workforce, albeit small, is incredibly diverse so even this limited group included Americans, Canadians, Costa Ricans, Indians, a Nigerian, and a Romanian. As an exercise, we were asked to draw three circles to represent the past, the present and the future respectively. Without giving it a second thought, I drew a small circle representing the past, a bigger one around it for the present, and the biggest circle around the second one for the future (imagine a dartboard with three concentric circles).

When the group shared their drawings, I was quite surprised to find that only one other person (interestingly, an American) had drawn the same figure.  Everyone else drew three circles of varying sizes not in a concentric manner but side by side in a linear fashion, starting with the smallest and ending with the biggest representing the future.

The presenter explained to us the difference between this circular/cyclic concept of time vs. the linear concept of time. In cultures that value this “linearity” of time, it is too precious of a commodity to be wasted. It moves fast and one must move with it, making use of every minute to produce value in some form or the other. This is typically an American concept of time, and also one that is greatly valued by German, Swiss, British and Scandinavian cultures (to name a few).

The “circular” concept of time, on the other hand, is one where people try to understand the linkages and connections between the past, the present, and the future. It is almost as if life controls time, rather than the other way around. Decisions are made differently with reflection on and consideration to past experiences. It should come as no surprise that this is a predominantly eastern view of time and life, notably in Chinese, Japanese and Indian subcontinent cultures.

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Photo by Nitya Mallikarjun

As foreigners studying or working in the U.S, we find that time is not the only aspect of life that may be different from what we were used to back home. As the global economy grows, work becomes increasingly knowledge-based, and technology breaks down barriers to communications and collaboration, we may find ourselves in a workplace that is more diverse than ever before. Luckily, organizations the world over are quickly recognizing this diversity and cultural differences as an asset rather than a liability. This means by increasing awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we have the ability to truly succeed in the global marketplace no matter who we are or where we are from. To explain how this cultural diversity comes into play in our workplace, I broke down the essence of “work” into three broad categories that I feel are agnostic to one’s job, company, or industry. They are more process-oriented and will most likely occur in some form or another no matter what you do.

Thinking

In the knowledge economy it’s becoming clear that as important as what you think is how you think. With companies focussing on rapid problem solving, creativity and innovation, having cultural diversity in the way people think about specific problems helps in identifying solutions in a more effective manner. These cultural differences are also important because they can help avoid groupthink, minimize expert overconfidence (yes, there is such a thing!), and glean new & fresh insights as well as perspectives. Try to let go of your fear of being wrong, and don’t be afraid to bring your own unique perspectives forward. Thinking however, is not enough. We must also be able to communicate these ideas in an effective manner which becomes a challenge when working in a culturally diverse group.

Communicating

When it comes to communicating in a culturally diverse setting, things can get tricky and often do. Some cultures are infamously upfront and direct, while others are more indirect and non-confrontational. It is important to understand that you do not need to become like one from another culture, you simply need to find the right balance while communicating with people. This means understanding them, understanding yourself, and finding the best way together to get the message across. As young professionals we are particularly at an advantage for this kind of learning and being able to apply it to work. Ask your friends, ask your peers, and especially ask your managers and superiors how you can find the right balance while communicating with your team.

Doing

Now that you have brought forth your unique perspectives and communicated them with those around you, it is important to be able to adapt to how your team and company works and values time within the context of work. Do you understand how work is divided within your team and why? Do you know what is expected of you and when? Do you know when you need to take initiative, and when you need to be a supportive team member? In some cultures, work is defined and we are encouraged to not question authority and “go with the flow”. Deadlines are not stringent, and focus may be on long term gains. In other cultures, especially in the U.S, you may be expected to show initiative and take on things without always being asked. Time may often be more important than money. Try to understand these expectations from the perspective of your job function and your role in the team/organization, and continuously look for feedback to grow and improve.

There is a common thread in all of the three above – relationships. It’s easy when you are friends with everyone you work with, but that is not always the case. Better relationships should mean better teams that think more creatively, communicate more effectively, and work more efficiently. But, it’s a vicious circle of sorts because these three in turn also lead to better relationships! So whether someone is from your culture or not, try to understand their perspectives and focus on building a genuine relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.

Feedback—An Essential (and Often Forgotten) Component to Your Success

Johnson_Jenny_2015By: Jenny Sloop Johnson, Associate Director of Career Services

Welcome to the last weeks of class! In the next two months, you will begin your summer internship or your first job after the MEMP or MEng program. Congratulations on your hard work and perseverance!

In Career Services, we’ve found that our students fall into two categories once they have committed to a short-term or long-term role. In one “camp” we have the students who are so relieved to finish their job or internship search that they put the role they will take completely out of their mind. They have classes to finish, projects to complete, and want to connect with friends before they disperse. Think of an athlete who has finished one of the most intense games they’ve ever experienced and you’ve correctly pictured these students. And we get it. You may have spent the last 9-12 months looking for said job or internship and need time to recuperate and finish strong in finals.

The second “camp” of students is those who celebrated accepting a job or internship offer and then recommitted the time used for their search to preparing for the beginning of that role. We’d encourage you to be part of the second “camp” of students. To have the most valuable internship experience or the best first 90 days in your new full-time role, you need to be prepared. And don’t assume that because you successfully completed the job or internship search, that the preparation ends there.

One of the most valuable components in your preparation is the role that feedback will play in your experience. Consider both the feedback you will receive from supervisors and peers and the feedback that you will provide in 1:1 and team settings.

To give you a better understanding of how to receive feedback in a constructive way and how to provide helpful feedback, read this article on The Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work from Fast Company (originally written for Buffer). Learn which strategies will work best for you and ways you can ask for feedback that will promote constructive conversations.

To go deeper into how you receive, remember, and utilize feedback, watch this TEDx talk by Sheila Heen, a founder of Triad Consulting Group, a member of the Harvard Negotiation Project and co-author of Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback. The 20 minutes go fast as she provides ideas for how to incorporate others’ feedback into your own learning and growth. One of her main points is that you can’t wait to be assigned a good manager who is able to provide feedback in exactly the way you like. You have to learn how to utilize feedback from multiple sources.

Utilize these two resources to help you better prepare for your internship or the start of your full-time job. Knowing how you will handle feedback and also how to provide it to others will be key to your success and professional growth!

Winning the MEMPC PriSim Business War Games Competition

By: Fares Alzahrani, MEMP ’16

“Go Duke” were the last two words in the congratulatory email we received from the Master of Engineering Management Program director, Dr. Bradley Fox, for our selection to represent Duke University in the MEMPC PriSim Business War Games Competition. To me, his two words represented bestowed trust, serious competition ahead of us, and a request for a championship. I was honored to be part of an intellectually cooperative team representing our distinguished university in the Master of Engineering Management Consortium, which includes Northwestern, Cornell, Dartmouth, MIT, USC, Stanford, as well as Duke. We were further honored to be the first place winners in the competition. More importantly, the competition and simulation provided me invaluable lessons in applying what I have learned inside and outside the classroom.

The month-long competition consisted of 10 decision periods, each of which represented a simulated year. There were 11 teams, two of which were from Duke. Those teams were split into two automobile industries, and each team was made up of 4 students from the same MEMPC school. For more details on the competition case, visit here.

I was lucky enough to work with Saraswathi Gautham, Jun Yang, and Yijun Liu, each of whom brought outstanding intellect and personality to the team. At the beginning of the competition, we all realized two important aspects that we had to settle in order to win: team dynamics and the firm’s strategy. For team dynamics, our Management course, EGRMGMT 540, came in handy in solving two critical aspects for our success: team’s roles and responsibilities and managing conflict.

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From left to right: Fares Alzahrani, Saraswathi Gautham, Dr. La Tondra Murray, Jun Yang, and Yijun Liu

We had never worked with each other before, and given our busy schedules, there was little time to get to know each other well before we reached the performing stage. Therefore, we started sharing information about each other’s strengths and preferences on the roles to guide us during the meetings. However, in our first couple of meetings that were planned to define our team and firm, we had seemingly endless and unproductive discussions on the formulation of our firm’s strategy. We realized that our management education was useless if we could not turn around that situation and align our goals for better performance. At the end of the second 2-hour meeting, everyone at the table stated their goal for the competition, which primarily included winning and learning. Astonishingly, that short genuine discussion of our purposes and interests significantly boosted our team spirit as well as understanding and trust for each other. As a result, we were able to settle the firm’s strategy and team’s roles and responsibilities within 15 minutes.

The competition provided us an enduring and practical lesson on strategy that would have taken us 5-10 years to experience first-hand in the real world. Some of our members had taken the Competitive Strategy course, conducted various cases, and/or had practiced strategy formulation with a previous employer. We all have learned that strategy in the long run can provide powerful competitive advantage in the market place.

However, none of us had ever experienced the serious executive debates that go into approving and committing to a strategy. We had never been challenged with tough decisions that forgo market opportunities for the sake of better strategy alignment. We had never realized how powerful strategy can be in positioning our firm for long term success until we committed ourselves to test that essential strategy lesson in the simulation. The agreed-upon strategy truly served as a compass in all of our discussions and debates. Reflecting back on tough and long-debated decisions, the team is extremely happy on the outcome of those decisions that our competitors initially found strange or even stupid. The graph below shows our firm, Firm D, stock performance against the other firms in our industry:

Competition graph

The chart does not necessarily indicate that we had a superior strategy over other competitors, but it clearly shows that our team was focused on a strategy over the course of the competition. It demonstrates that the team made sound decisions that delivered significant value to the firm’s bottom line.

The simulation has cemented our finance and accounting lessons acquired during the fall and spring semesters as part of Duke MEMP’s core and elective courses. Those courses provided the basis for the discussion and analysis of our firm’s and competitors’ financial statements on each round. One important, yet subtle, lesson I learned during my Advanced Finance Course is that profitability and liquidity are inversely proportional to each other. This lesson allowed the team to make sound financial decisions which led to our winning the competition. Therefore, I also believe that the simulation and competition fostered our financial acumen.

Finally, I would highly encourage all MEMP students to apply for the competition next year as it was truly captivating and rewarding. There are innumerable lessons to be gained in different fields such as product development, marketing, finance, pricing, strategic thinking, and others. More importantly, I had the opportunity to try and validate hard-to-apply lessons in team dynamics and competitive strategy beyond just studying and discussing them in classroom cases.

Paapdi Chaat | Indian Chaat Recipe

The Professional Masters Program’s diverse student population likes to share and learn about each others culture. One of our favorite ways to do this is through food! Enjoy this recipe to get a taste of a popular Indian dish.

By: Ankur Manikandan MEng ’15

Paapdi chaat is one Chaatof those Indian chaats that is irresistible – spicy, tangy, crunchy, yummy! Every person has a different way of preparing Paapdi chaat – some prefer certain chutneys and some can do without, some like thin paapadi’s whereas some like thick paapadi’s, some prefer a little spicy or some like it a bit tangy. The best part is, there is no certain recipe for Paapdi chat because the ingredients can be absolutely added in random quantities and mixed to suit your personal preference and still taste good in the end. And why not – with the blend of different flavorful chutneys, the crunch from the paapdi, the mixture of spices, and the tartness from lemon juice – all combined together wonderfully makes this Paapdi chaat a tempting chaat.

Honestly, I would never use a Paapdi chaat recipe – I would only want to know the basic list of ingredients for making the chaat, understand the concept or the procedure and then make it as per my taste and preferences. I am listing the approximate quantities of each ingredient to give an idea and I strictly recommend you to adjust the tastes to your liking.

Ingredients: 

For Sprouts Paapdi Chaat (serves 2-3)

1 cup sprouts (you can use store bought)

1/4 cup onion, chopped

1/4 cup cherry tomato, chopped (optional)

2 thai green chilies or jalapeño pepper, minced (optional although recommended)

1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoon mint leaves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon chaat masala

12-15 crispy paapdi (find any local Indian or ethnic store)

tamarind chutney, per taste

Spiced yogurt, per taste

Hot green cilantro chutney, per taste

For Tamarind Chutney

4 tablespoon seedless tamarind

1 1/2 cups water

3-4 tablespoon jaggery (can substitute with dark brown sugar)

1 teaspoon oil

1/4 teaspoon nigella

1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 bay leaf

Instructions: 

Soak tamarind in water for a couple hours. Use warm water to speed up the process. Once soft, mash tamarind in water and then strain through a strainer. Collect pulp in a bowl. Heat oil in a sauce pan. Add dry spices. As they sputter add tamarind pulp. Stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Add jaggery. Let the mixture reduce for 8-10 minutes until jaggery dissolves in the tamarind chutney and thickens it in the process. Turn heat off. Let cool. Store in an airtight jar in a cool dry placChaat 2e.

For Spiced Yogurt

1/2 cup thick plain yogurt (salt to taste)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together.

Assembling Sprouts Paapdi Chaat:

In a bowl mix together sprouts, onion, tomato, chili, salt, cilantro, mint and chaat masala. Set aside. Poke holes on one side of the crispy puri. Make sure not to poke through the other side. Fill with sprouts salad. Drizzle the chutneys per taste. Serve as an appetizer with your choice of drink.

 

Alumni Spotlight: Kevin Seybert, GE Aviation

By: Wesley Cohen, MEng ’16, MEngagement Career Committee Chair and Christina Plante, Assistant Director of Career Services

In an effort to maintain alumni relationships, the MEngagement Committee caught up with MEnger Kevin Seybert to learn more about his current role at General Electric.

1) Where are you today and what are you doing? (Company, Position, Responsibilities)

2bedd0eI am working with GE Aviation, in the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP). It is a three-year development program consisting of three one-year rotations, leadership training and technical education, which can include a Masters degree (though, coming from MEng, I forewent the Masters as I already had one).

My first role was in the turbine design group of the Product Engineering Center. This was a technical role largely in the military space, where I was responsible for turbine structures (casings, seals and shroud supports) for a number of engine lines spanning from turboshaft helicopter engines (CT7/T700) to turbofan military fighter engines (F414). As a hardware owner, I had responsibilities spanning from legacy engines (field support, MRB support, Component Improvement Programs for US Navy and Finnish Air Force) to development engines (engine test support for F414-INS6 Indian Air Force variant) to early-stage concept redesign (F414 Enhanced Engine for the USN).

My second, and current, role is with Flight Test Operations (FTO) in California, where we own two Boeing 747s on which we test development commercial engines such as GEnx, Passport, LEAP, and GE90. Out here, I am a flight test integration engineer, and I am currently the integration lead for the LEAP-1A (Airbus) flight test program. This is a less technical role and more of a project management position. I am the engine-to-aircraft engine focal, coordinating between Systems, flight test directors, Airbus, the engine hardware owners, Performance & Operability engineers, instrumentation, and data systems. I am essentially responsible for all ground operations, making sure everything necessary gets done to get the engine on-wing and the plane in the air on schedule (on a ridiculously fast-paced schedule set at the executive level).

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2) How has the MEng program helped you in your current position?

The technical courses I took at MEng definitely helped in my first (technical) role, although since I was doing structures work and most of my coursework was in aerodynamics, it wasn’t directly applicable.

The management portion of MEng is the huge aspect that I am drawing from in my current role. The technical- and non-technical team projects helped me learn how to stick to deadlines, keep modes of communication between multidisciplinary teams, and deal with difficult/conflicting personalities.

3) What is one thing you suggest that a current MEng student takes advantage of while here?

With the assumption that most MEng’ers are looking to go into industry rather than academia, my advice would be to seek out project-based and team-based courses and try to treat them as a real-world work situation rather than something you have to do for a grade. Try to take a leadership position within a team-based course. Even if you are not an assigned leader, take initiative and show leadership qualities at team meetings. It is much more difficult to get this kind of “practice” once you enter an established technology company with senior-level engineers who have been around for 20+ years. MEng is a great opportunity to develop these leadership and interpersonal skills in a technical setting.

Industry Roundtable: 

In conclusion of this interview, Kevin also agreed to host an industry roundtable with a small group of students to discuss his different roles further, explain industry trends, and give advice for those interested in aviation and GE. The purpose of roundtables is for students to learn more about industries of interest, build relationships with alumni, and get personal questions answered about how to be successful in that field.

Kevin discussed elements of design, development, testing, production, materials, flight test operations and meeting strict deadlines with expensive equipment in his roles. He talked about how the Edison Engineering Development Program has allowed him to gain exposure in technical and managerial roles in a short period of time. He stressed the importance of communication and building relationships with at least one point person in different teams. He also mentioned being willing to help others when they need it is crucial to team development.

The Engineering Masters Career Services Team and MEngagement Committee really appreciate Kevin’s interest and continued involvement in connecting with current Duke Students.

New Digs for DUhatch

By: Samyuktha Sundar, Student Coordinator DuHatch, MEMP ’16 and Ric Telford, Adjunct Associate Professor, Executive in Residence

On September 3rd, The Foundry had its Open House,DUhatch2 revealing to everyone this amazing new 7,600 square foot facility on the ground floor of Gross Hall. The Foundry serves as “maker space” for students, faculty and staff who have an idea and want to build it from the ground up. Given the mission and vision of the Foundry, it became a perfect new location for DUhatch, Duke’s technology incubator program. Earlier this month, DUhatch completed its relocation to the Foundry and is ready to start the next step of a journey that began 5 years ago.

DUhatch (short for Duke UnDUhatch1iversity hatchery) was first conceived in 2011 as a subsidiary of then Duke Student Ventures. Duke has always had its share of budding entrepreneurs, and the time seemed right to start developing more tools that could help the entrepreneur community at Duke.   Space was carved out in the Teer building and DUhatch came to life in 2011 with a well-attended kickoff event.

The mission of DUhatch is fairly straight forward. DUhatch is committed to helping incubate new ideas on campus by providing space, equipment, mentorship, and a network for student success.   There are anywhere from 5 -10 teams at any given time in DUhatch and they provide a wide range of product and service solutions.

One of the more well-known graduates of DUhatch was Tatiana Birgisson. Tatiana started Mati Energy drink – a healthy alternative to today’s energy drinks. Tatiana was a Google DemoDay winner and continues to build her company by working out of the American Underground in Durham.

DUhatch is now part of larger, coordinated efforts across Duke focusing on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E). We coordinate with the leadership in the Duke I&E organization to ensure we complement activities across the campus.

Today, we have a record-high 10 teams that call DUhatch home and they represent a wide variety of new business ideas, including:

  • FarmShots: Image analysis to help farmers and agronomists
  • Physao: Remote monitoring platform for chronic lung conditions
  • BioMetrix: Motion capture wearable sensors
  • Genie: Peer-to-peer service provider
  • Mentormee: Mobile mentoring platform
  • Tiba Health: Wearable device for patient adherence

Come by and see the DUhatch digs next time you are in Gross Hall – we can be found in workspaces 45 and 47. If you are interested in learning more about DUhatch, check out our website. For more information, subscribe to our listserv by clicking here.

 

Features and Tips on our New Application

By: Susan Brown, Assistant Director of Admissions

This summer, we became the first department to launch a new application that Duke plans to roll out across the university. Being an early adopter had its ups and downs, and we’re still fine-tuning the system in preparation for our early 2016 deadlines, but we wanted to highlight a few features and tips for the new application.

Features:

• GRE Scores: If you’ve taken the GRE multiple times and gotten higher section scores on different test dates, this new feature is for you. Our new application allows you to list your highest GRE section score and the date it was obtained. As long as you report all results to Duke (institution code 5156), we’ll take your highest score in each section.

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• Multiple Applications: Can’t decide which program is right for you? (See our video below.) Want to apply to several programs? The new system allows you to create multiple applications to several Duke programs in engineering, divinity, or the environment.

Events: Use the system to search and register for events such as webinars, information sessions at various locations, and on-campus visits. We can’t wait to meet you!466445_416426295090340_527763488_o

Tips:

• Document Uploads: We require a resume, statement of purpose, transcripts and other associated documents, but the new system will not show the transcript uploads until you’ve submitted the application and paid the application fee.

• Status Updates: After you submit your online application, you’ll be able to check the status of your application materials via Duke’s Applicant Self-Service system. Applicants who submit their application should receive an email on how to create this log in within five business days. We recommend that you check periodically to ensure that all required application materials have been received.

If you have any questions while creating or submitting your application, please contact us. We’re happy to help!

• Master of Engineering Management (both campus and distance): memp@duke.edu

• Master of Engineering (all disciplines): m-eng@duke.edu

What I Learned Preparing for Career Fairs

By: Wesley Cohen, MEng ’16

After attending TechConnect, Duke’s Fall Career Fair, and the NC State Career Fair, I learned a lot about how to prepare more effectively for these events. The following points are the most important techniques I learned for successfully approaching career fairs.

Before Career Fair

Polish your Resume: Make sure your resume looks professional and is free of typos. Schedule a one-on-one appointment well before the career fair with a career counselor to review your resume.

Update your LinkedIn Profile: Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and professional. Schedule a one-on-one appointment well before the career fair with a career counselor to make sure your LinkedIn profile is strong. Every employer will look at your LinkedIn.

Research Employers: Research employers before the career fair that way you can create a list of employers that you want to talk to. This will allow you to maximize your time at the career fair and to think of intelligent questions to ask employers. For the Duke Career Fair and TechConnect, plan on visiting around 5 employers. For the NC State Career Fair, plan on visiting around 8 employers each day.

Have a Plan: Create an order of employers you want to talk. It makes sense to talk to the employer that interests you the least first and then to meet with the employers that interest you the most later on.

Prepare your Elevator Pitch: This is also known as the 30 second introduction.

A general structure to follow is:

1) Your Name

2) Major and Program

3) A couple of sentences highlighting your experience

4) Something you find interesting about the company that shows you did your research

5) Connect your experience to a project, division, or position at the company

6) End with a question that is specific to the company and once again shows that you did your research

Practice your Elevator Pitch: Video record yourself! This is really important to make sure that you look confident and speak clearly. Schedule a one-on-one appointment well before the career fair with a career counselor to review your elevator pitch. Also practice your elevator pitch with friends and see what suggestions they have.

Practice Common Interview Questions: Some employers will use the career fair to conduct on-spot interviews. Prepare for this by reviewing common interview questions. Also be prepared to talk about all of the experiences on your resume.

Print your Resume: Make sure to use resume paper when you print your resume. This paper makes a difference as it wrinkles less easily. Employers have commented on the paper I have used. Print at least two resumes for every company you plan on speaking with. You will talk to multiple people at some companies. You will also talk to some employers that you did not plan on meeting with.

During Career Fair

Get to the Career Fair Early: The career fair will be much less crowded and the lines will be shorter. This will allow you to maximize your time at the career fair.

Network: Be open to talking to employers you may not have planned on meeting with. Sometimes employers will want to talk to you based on the major on your name tag. Sometimes employers with no lines will try to start talking to you. If they do, you should meet with them. It is a great way to network, to learn more about other industries, and to practice your elevator pitch.

Talking with Employers: There is no substitute for the actual career fair. Practice cannot effectively simulate the noise and crowdedness of the event. You may be excited and want to talk to your top employer first, but this is not the best approach. Always start with an employer that is not high on your list. Once you feel entirely comfortable, go talk to the employers that interest you the most.

Give the Employer your Resume: I have found that it works best not to give your resume to a recruiter at the start of the elevator pitch. Instead, promote yourself by talking about your qualifications and get the recruiter to ask for your resume.

Get a Business Card: If you have a strong conversation with a recruiter, ask for a business card or their contact information. Not all recruiters will have business cards or be willing to give out their contact information.

Take Notes: After talking with a recruiter, write down anything memorable about the conversation. This will become important for following up after the career fair.

After Career Fair

Email Follow-Up: Send a follow-up email to any recruiter that gave you his or her contact information.

A few pieces of information to include in this email are:

1) Your elevator pitch to remind the recruiter about who you are and why you are qualified for the position

2) Something memorable about your conversation

3) Thank the employer for his or her time

4) Attach a copy of your resume

Internship Insights: Marketing the Reinvented Toilet at RTI International

By: David Richards, MEM ’15

Eat something, you’ll need the energy,” my supervisor remarked.

The I-zone meeting room – short for innovation, inspiration, or really any positive word starting with an ‘i’ – was empty now, but soon it would be filled with a collection of executives, primed to hear our toilet market entry recommendation. I grabbed the closest boxed lunch and managed a few bites of my sandwich before their voices drifted inward…

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RTI’s “RTT” Design

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself here. In 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation issued a challenge: reinvent the toilet. Not just the porcelain object we all know and love, but the entire infrastructure around it.

Back in Research Triangle Park, RTI International applied their wide variety of capabilities in chemistry, materials science and international development to build a water-less, energy balanced system that also has the potential to fulfill RTI’s mission, “Improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice.” This process was documented in an awesome blog entitled “A Better Toilet”.

RTI’s project successfully caught The Gates Foundation’s attention. In 2014, RTI was awarded a substantial sum to create a working prototype and bring this revolutionary technology to market.

Enter me, an inexperienced Duke MEM candidate, ready to begin my role as an open innovation consulting intern! The first day, I was led into a room by my incredibly intelligent supervisor, and explained everything. RTI seeks to enter the India sanitation market, but we want you to develop and communicate the entry recommendation. Go.

With a few markets in mind and a rough outline of the story we were going to tell, I got to researching. And I researched. Hours and hours were spent pouring through publications and news articles. They discussed statistics about India’s state of sanitation: only 36% of the population has access, and of those that do, only 13% of their waste is treated. Because of a lack of toilets, girls do not attend school and women must trek to remote locations for privacy. I came to realize that, though this phenomenon isn’t publicized in the media much, it is an enormous problem – and not just in India.

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Countries with <50% access to sanitation and projected water scarcity

There are dozens of countries that suffer from low access to sanitation and will have unprecedented water scarcity by 2025. India was chosen as the target location for three reasons:

  1. It has a large and growing economy
  2. It has a democratic and cooperative government
  3. RTI has both an office and several partnerships in the country

These three factors allowed for the possibility of not just making an initial dent in the problem, but a sustained impact.

As I collected more and more data, a market clearly presented itself and an entire deck was created with this recommendation in mind. My supervisor gave me the tremendous opportunity to present my work to six vice presidents and two senior directors in a capstone meeting.

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Presenting at the 7th Annual RTI Internship Showcase

In the end, I realized that though my level of experience paled in comparison to my audience, what I learned over the last three months uniquely positioned me as an expert on this project. I knew where all the numbers came from, had a comprehensive understanding of why our recommendation presented the best opportunity, and understood the nuances of the engineering backstory for the toilet and the Gates Foundation’s stipulations. They listened as I spoke and I answered as they questioned. It was a remarkable experience that I will remember for the rest of my career.

More generally, having participated in 20+ projects over the last three months, I learned three important lessons about the process of working, especially juggling multiple tasks.

First, I realized it helps to carefully divide and conquer – whether you’re working on one project or five. You need to divide each task into manageable chunks and make sure you are working efficiently. This required not only planning but also giving yourself the confidence to say “no” to other projects when you are aware of how little time you have to spare.

Second, you must adapt to your supervisor’s working style as soon as you begin working with them. Since I was involved with so many projects, I collaborated with a large number of project managers – each one with a completely different style of working. Some liked for me to communicate in person, others via the phone and a few only over email. Questions must be asked early and effectively.

Third, and most importantly, you must strive to add your personal brand of value to every task you participate in. This means thinking critically about your assignment and going above and beyond what your supervisor asks you to do. It helps to come up with questions at the beginning of a task – some may be simple clarification questions; others may lead you to take the task in a completely different direction. Conscientiously adding value does not only differentiate yourself, but also gives you the chance to think creatively about your work.

RTI International’s Innovation Advisor’s group was a fantastic place to intern this summer and I hope that their relationship with the MEM program continues to strengthen.

What is the Global Leadership Fellows Program?

By: Lorelle Babwah, Assistant Director of Student Services

The Global Leadership Fellows Program (GLF) is a brand new initiative within the Professional Masters Program led by Bridget Fletcher and myself, Lorelle Babwah. If you are audiovisually inclined, you can learn more about the program by watching our Harry Potter-style recruitment video found here.

GLF Program

We are pleased to announce that the program received 20 applications for our inaugural class! From that, we selected 10 excellent fellows and sorted them further into two, five-person groups: House Babenclaw (headed by yours truly) and House Fletchendore (led by Bridget Fletcher).

The goal of the program is to develop a small community of MEM and MEng students who are interested in digging a little deeper. Fellows focus their engagement in three core areas: Leadership, Personal Development, and Cultural Competence.

I’ll elaborate more on these later, but today I’d like to talk a little bit about our fellows’ current activities—knowledge sharing! In keeping with the school’s mission of “knowledge in service of society,” program fellows must demonstrate leadership through service and ongoing engagement to develop others and improve Professional Masters Programs. Each fellow must plan and execute an activity where he or she shares some knowledge with the greater community. Here are just a few examples of the fellows’ presentation topics for this semester:

Working on Diverse Teams

Singlish (Singaporean English)

Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

Women in the Workforce

Palm-Reading

Chinese Characters

Navigating Chennai

Chinese Culture and Paper Cutting

Living Through the Five Senses

Look for future updates on our fellows and the GLF Program as we progress through this exciting first year. In the meantime, please check out the Global Leadership Fellows Program blog, with special links to hear from the fellows themselves! Who knows, we may even feature some guest bloggers very soon…