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Pam Waterman

3D Printing Application Engineer

PADT Inc.

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You never know until you try - and it’s just as valuable to discover what you don’t like doing as what you do like.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

As a 3D Printing Application Engineer, I help current and prospective customers/users determine the best materials, printer equipment and approaches to creating 3D printed parts. These models might be for prototyping, medical modeling or installed for actual use; our customers work in industries ranging from aerospace to automotive to medical/pre-surgical planning to consumer product design, so there’s something different to see and learn about every day.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I decided to go into 3D printing because I was returning to hands-on engineering after a career break of 32 years to care for my children and my mother; I felt this was a subject where I could succeed even after being out-of-the-loop for so long. During those years I did freelance technical writing so I could enjoy flexible hours and still be challenged in a way that used both my technical and non-technical skills. Over the course of my writing assignments I discovered the rapidly evolving new world of 3D printing and was fascinated by the applications and possibilities. When the time got closer for me to be able to re-enter the full-time workforce, I made the conscious decision to educate myself in this field with college courses and self-study, since my first career was as a microwave engineer and 3D printing was really quite a switch.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

My parents and professors were all supportive. I did have obstacles in my first career as a woman microwave engineer, not from other engineers but in resistance from technicians and people in the manufacturing world. I switched jobs for a while from manufacturing into design, and that presented a much more supportive environment. In technical writing I was able to use my engineering experience as the basis for great conversations with people as I interviewed them about their work. Lastly, once I had taken courses in 3D printing, 3D solid model CAD design and Properties of Materials, and done an informal internship in a 3D printing lab for about eight months, I felt I could tackle the job of 3D printing application engineer with legitimate experiences under my belt.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

When I was in high school girls were not allowed to take drafting; I wish somehow I had pushed harder for that option, as I had to do a lot of catch-up on my own to acquire that skill. I also wish someone had suggested I consider engineering as a career, since I loved building things like model cars as much as I loved science. But I went into astronomy and didn’t discover engineering (electrical/microwave) until I took a course in radio astronomy and decided the instrumentation was more fascinating than the physics. I jumped into engineering courses as a senior in college, and it would have been helpful to have started on that path sooner. But, I love having had the experience of astronomy as a back-drop to my current career, and no education is ever wasted.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I am excited every day to help customers solve problems using some form of 3D printing - there are so many technical approaches to this concept, and the type of materials available grows every day. My favorite tasks are 1) helping medical personal create pre-surgical planning models to evaluate the best way to perform extremely difficult surgeries and 2) working with young women to show them that they can succeed in STEM careers that can combine their love of art or sports or music or cars or the environment or computers or gardening with a technical approach that will earn them a good living and be very satisfying.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

First, ask questions! When I was a freshman in college, I went to one of my physics professors and said, “I seem to be the only one asking questions”. (I was one of two girls in a class of about 75 guys.) He said, “Always keep asking questions. I guarantee you, for every question you ask, ten of the guys have the same question but they’re too afraid to show that they don’t know everything.” And so I have asked questions ever since, in classes and in meetings, and that is how I’ve not only learned but showed others I had done my research to better understand the problem at hand.

Second, as Ms. Frizzle always said, “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”. I wish every girl had the chance to see and read and build and test and use tools, and to be supported by parents and educators. You never know until you try - and it’s just as valuable to discover what you don’t like doing as what you do like.

INSPIRATION

I grew up fascinated by Marie Curie, Maria Telkes (solar energy) and Maria Mitchell (first woman American astronomer); somehow I thought if they could do it, I could too. Also, science fiction books and Star Trek were great influences!