Robin Adams 1

 Robin S. Adams is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She was also a Senior Design Engineer in the semiconductor packaging industry, an Assistant Director for Research at the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching, and the lead for the Institute for Scholarship on Engineering Education with the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education. She received her PhD in Education, Leadership and Policy Studies and her MS in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Washington, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.


Dr. Adams seeks to empirically develop "languages for learning" in areas central to engineering practice – cross-disciplinarity and design – and engineering education. A language of learning describes what it means to know, be able to do, or be as a professional and how this changes over time and through experience. It provides tools for learners to reflect upon and self-assess their own progress, teachers to design and assess learning experiences, and leaders to take action in shaping engineering education programs and policies. Her group, XRoads, collaborates on research at the "crossroads" where different perspectives connect, collide, and catalyze new ways of thinking.



tiago1Tiago Forin is currently a student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He received his Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Florida State University in 2006 and his Masters degree in Environmental Engineering from Purdue University in 2008. While in the School of Engineering Education, he works as a Graduate Research Assistant in the X-Roads Research Group and has an interest in cross-disciplinary practice and engineering identity development.




What first got you interested in engineering practice?

Tiago: I first became interested in engineering practice after reflecting on the nature and quality of my own education after I received my Bachelors.

Robin: Before I became an academic, I was a senior design engineer and worked at the interface across many organizational units in the company (quality control, marketing, process control, operations, design) and this has influenced my choices about the questions I think are important to study. I am very interested in exploring issues that seem central to engineering practice but are hard to get your head around or are often taken for granted as invisible and implicit everyday practices. If I can find a way to make these visible then I believe I can find ways to bring these ideas into how we prepare engineers for practice and continually support their professional development.


Why did you begin researching the topic of your chapter? Was it chance/grand plan/ colleague's recommendation ...?

Tiago: I began the research presented on our chapter soon after being introduced to Dr. Robin Adams and learning about the importance and implications of engineering practice research.

Robin: Issues of multi/ inter/ trans-disciplinarity are a part of my own story (I have multiple degrees, I enjoy complexity, and I always look for how things are connected).  I’ve been fascinated how these ideas are talked about and how much we invest in promoting cross-disciplinary work – even though we know very little about what it is as a set of knowledge, skills, values, or beliefs.  So there was always some intentionality in the topic; however, there was also some serendipity – the method we used was completely new to me and came out of conversations with a colleague who worked with me as a postdoctoral researcher, Llewellyn Mann.


What challenges did you encounter when working on this chapter?

Tiago: A challenge in writing this chapter was making sure that the material presented would be received and understood by a wide audience.

Robin: I agree with Tiago.  I’m used to writing for a research audience and struggled with letting go of that training so I could write for a practitioner audience.  This meant dropping jargon and trying to communicate in everyday language, and stopping myself from trying to substantiate every single claim and letting the data itself tell the story.  I felt that it was important to write up the analysis in a way where the reader could relate to the ideas either in their own work or their experiences with others.


What aspect gives you the most satisfaction now?

Tiago: I’m glad that this book has allowed me to spread knowledge that I have been striving to develop.

Robin: This book was a great opportunity to live more fully in a research – to – practice space.  The chapters fit together beautifully and provide a unique and comprehensive picture of engineering practice.  I think readers will find this a provocative book, and will find themselves flipping through the book and stopping frequently as ideas grab their attention – and then, hopefully, talking about what they read or doing something with a colleague!


What advice would you give to someone beginning to get interested in engineering practice(s) research?


 Tiago: If there is any advice I would give to other researchers is that you never lose sight at how your work could improve our beloved discipline and benefit scores of future engineers.

Robin: As a qualitative researcher I feel it is always important to be critically aware of the views you bring to your work.  As I say to my students, “you need to let the data speak for itself”.  In this way, you can be open to unanticipated insights – and get past your own blind spots.  


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