Case study: Ken Mollison

Control engineering took this British physicist from Alaska to Australia, with plenty of locations in between.

Ken Mollison

Age: 60
Role: Senior plant assessment engineer (retired)
Employer: General Electric
Qualifications: BSc in Physics from Dundee University

Control engineering was an extremely satisfying, gratifying and rewarding profession where I could use physics on a daily basis with enjoyment.

I quickly found myself being asked to travel internationally to support company business at all project phases, or in some instances simply to attend technical meetings, to provide input to certain scenarios and to providing safety, reliability or maintainability advice.

In some instances I may have stayed overseas for many months or in the extreme for less than a day with 12 hours of travel there and back. I had little choice in the destination and found myself becoming an expert traveller with a range from Alaska to Australia with most places in between, including the Middle and Far East.

As the business was an international concern there were many people employed to ensure  that employee travel, health and well-being overseas were appropriately catered for, so I had their support and knowledge and international presence to keep me as secure as possible. However, wearing a high-visibility jacket in areas of potential terrorist activity certainly has pluses and minuses!

As it happened, I had little choice in the locations or the specific type of work that I was asked to undertake. The company for which I worked was international, with a portfolio of countries in the developing world.

I always researched my destination before I departed for it. This involved visits to libraries, reading books, finding maps and listening to colleagues who had previously travelled there. Nowadays, such research would be much more straightforward and easy to find after a few clicks and well worth doing.

Settling in issues and culture shock did not play much of a role in my case. My outlook on such things is very much “when in Rome – do as the Romans do”. This philosophy is one that helped me not offend anyone, as well as make work friends and social friends easily. It probably took up the majority of my research prior to departing for each new workplace.

Returning back to UK after a long trip overseas had one major problem – driving on the other  side of the road. This was the biggest problem I think I experienced coupled with the accusation that I had become American because of accent transformation. Not to worry though, because the accent was soon lost.

If I were to look around now for somewhere  to work which would be interesting, culturally different and where I could practise physics and be suitably rewarded I would give some consideration to South America, particularly where astronomy is supported. In Europe, Prague, Budapest, Czech Republic for machine control and protection, smart electricity grid software, predictive maintenance software and development of novel metallic compounds.