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Thread: The role of professional societies and the future of SAE Australasia

  1. #1
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    Hi everyone,

    As you may be aware, I have recently taken on the role of Executive Director of SAE Australasia. As an active member of these forums, I recognise the value of engaging in constructive discussion with the Formula SAE community. Therefore I would like to open a little discussion about the value of the SAE here in Australia, its purpose, and how we might go about building an active and dynamic society that engages you, the next generation of automotive engineer.

    I'll preface this by stating that I'm speaking on my own behalf, and partially on behalf of SAE Australasia. The views I am putting forth are my own and are open to your criticism and feedback.

    The role of professional societies

    Professional societies such as the SAE are in a bit of a strange space the moment. We have moved into a new work environment where the traditional model of a professional society does not have as strong a foothold as it might have had in previous years. Firstly the traditional model traded in part on the status of being a member, whereby engineersí credentials were measured partially on what clubs the engineer belong to. We are now in a much more egalitarian society where status alone does not get you very far. Secondly the traditional model relied heavily on the trading of information relevant to your own particular profession. Being a member of the club gave you access to information that you needed to complete your job. Obviously nowadays in the Google generation information is much easier to come by, and therefore access to information is no longer the tradable commodity that it used to be. So we, as the directors of such a society, have some work to do in plotting a new course for the SAE.

    Sure the SAE continue to exist? I am absolutely certain that it does. I would not have taken on this role if I didn't think so. I am passionate about the SAE for the opportunities are provided me during my undergraduate degree, for the brilliant learning experience that was Formula SAE, and for the lifelong career skills and network of contacts I gained through competing in it. I have some very solid ideas about where I should be driving the society, and I'm equally keen in hearing your ideas.

    SAE Australasia

    SAE Australasia is at a turning point. The society recognises that the work environment has changed and its old business model is no longer working. It is also noticing that student members are only staying involved as long as they need to compete in Formula SAE and for the most part are moving on once they graduate. Thus membership is dropping as the older generation move on and as the younger generation don't hang around either.

    Many around me are speaking doom and gloom, but I see this as an opportunity. We have the chance to design and build a professional society from the ground up, in a way that it delivers what we want and not what others had decided we might want on our behalf.

    I have a Board of Directors behind me who are open to ideas and who are looking to the new generation to drive the society in a new direction. Having seen the quality of work that is presented at the Formula SAE event each year, I know we have the human resources and the imagination to achieve whatever we want. I flatly refused to believe the stories I keep hearing about the apathy of the Y- generation because I've seen what this generation can achieve when appropriately motivated.

    Having said the above, put quite simply nothing is going to happen if we all just sit around and wait for someone else to do it. It is a bit like a Formula SAE project. No matter how many committee meetings you have and how many good ideas that are put forth, unless there are people on the ground willing to do the legwork, you are not going to end up with a final product.

    We can rebuild as a dynamic organisation, whereby the members take an active interest in the welfare of the society and get involved in organising and delivering as well as attending society activities. Or we can be a more passive organisation, whereby for the most part the members wait for services to be provided to them. If we adapt the former model, we have a huge pool of resources to which we can draw from. If we adopt the latter, then society members will only receive that which we can achieve with an office staff of three people. The latter isn't a model that will take us into the future.

    There are some of you who will put the argument that if the SAE were to disappear, then FSAE would be taken on by some other organisation and would continue to run as if nothing had happened. Maybe that could be the case, maybe not. For the sake of FSAE, I donít want to risk it. But my argument is that if that were the path we travelled, we lose this opportunity to build anew. It seems to me that most other organisations, successful or not, are wedded to the old traditional vision of the professional society. What I'm proposing to you here is that if we act quickly we have the opportunity to build the society that we want. If that is what we want, the time to act is now while I have the Board's attention.

    My vision of the future of SAE Australasia

    The good thing about Formula SAE, aside from the obvious learning outcomes, is that it builds a certain sense of community within and between the universities. A well structured and dynamic Formula SAE team is the ultimate learning environment, whereby a motivated team work towards a common goal and whereby the team members help each other to achieve that goal. However for the most part, once we graduate the teams and the communities dissipate and we all get lost in our corporate anonymity.

    I think most of us would like the idea of retaining that engineering club that we have in our Formula SAE days. And I think most of us would retain some sort of passion for things automotive, whether we choose to work in the industry or otherwise. I honestly believe we have the opportunity to build the world's best automotive club, where engineers can learn about automotive stuff, build a professional network, share their knowledge and ideas and work with each other on interesting projects.
    The picture I have in my own mind of a society that I want to belong to look something like the following:

    Firstly, the society has offices in each state. I recognise that we have not had much of a presence outside of the State of Victoria for many years and that needs to change.

    The SAE office does not look so much like an Administration office as it has until now - but more like an engineers drop-in centre. There are interesting cars / bikes / displays in the foyer. There are social and meeting areas, a pool/billiards room, maybe a cafe and bar. There are seminar rooms with projection facilities, openly available to members to teach each other stuff. There is a workshop attached, and membership would give you access to a range of engineering tools that you might need to complete an engineering project. There would be computers on hand loaded up with the latest CAD and engineering analysis packages. Four-post hoist? A shock dynamometer? Maybe a chassis dynamometer? Maybe through an arrangement with an outside supplier, members could get access to CNC machines, rapid prototyping machines et cetera. Through the society we can recruit members to work together on projects of interest - such projects of interest would be projects designed to safeguard and stimulate the Australian automotive industry. I have my own ideas as to what those projects might be, but I will keep them to myself for the time being lest you think I have become completely barking mad.

    The above is my dream, and it is surprising how many people in Australian engineering have the same dream. I reckon if we start to move part of the way towards that goal, then we will start seeing a lot of people pulling in behind us to help us along.

    I am going to put this as simply as I can. My motivation is to help build a new Australian automotive industry. No I do not believe the SAE can do this on its own, but I do believe it can play a vital role. I also know that in my travels recently I have met many people in this industry who have similar ideas and who are looking for collaborations to achieve this goal. There are many that look to the SAE for the independent technical expertise that we can offer, and for the huge wealth of human resources we have in you guys, the Formula SAE community. And if there is going to be a future for the Australian automotive industry, then it is going to be driven by you guys.

    Sorry this sounds like a load of twaddle, but I'm happy to put my beliefs to you for your own critical analysis and feedback.
    ?
    How do we get there

    There is a bit of chicken and egg going on here. To get to the above, we need to build a bit of strength into the existing foundations of the SAE. We need to build our profile, which draws in money, which builds our ideal society. At the moment we donít have money or people, and we are losing members because we donít provide enough value Ė because we donít have money or people to provide that value...
    If you want to see the above come to fruition, or even part of it, then I urge you to get involved in whatever way you can.

    Volunteer
    For those of you who receive the SAE-A AutoEngineer journal, my column this month is all about the merits of volunteering. We have many opportunities including the Formula SAE event, various technical and training seminars, the various steering committees or even taking on a role within the SAE head office. Volunteering gets your name on your face known by the key players within our industry, develops workplace skills and adds that extra something to your resume that might just be the difference between getting the job and not getting the job. This is obviously something that is close to my heart given that my volunteering work leading up to Formula SAE last year was one of the key factors in my being awarded my present position.

    Speak
    In my new role I'm seeing endless opportunities for SAE presence at automotive events, public lectures et cetera. For example a general public have little to no knowledge about hybrid and electric vehicles and other new automotive technologies coming into the marketplace. As an independent technical expert the SAE would be the ideal candidate educating the general public in these new technologies. This raises all sorts of opportunities for SAE members to speak to the public, raising the profile of the individual, the society and the Australian automotive industry in general. If we know that we have the speakers, then we as the SAE can actively look out for opportunities to present our expertise to the wider community. More profile equates to more income for the society, which means more benefits to members....

    Write
    We as the SAE community have a wealth of knowledge about automotive technologies, and there are a lot of people out there interested in what we have to say. If you know of something interests interesting with an automotive bent, if you've designed something you think it is somehow unique, if you've attended an interesting event , or if you have some opinions on the Australian automotive industry, please write it down and send it through to is. We are always looking for content for our journal or our upcoming new E-newsletter. If you write well enough we can even look further afield to get your work published in magazines, newspaper opinion pages or the like. Donít undersell yourselves, people want to know what we know, and you can do yourself a great favour by getting yourself published.

    Produce
    Why not go one step further than writing and produce a mini documentary on interesting automotive topic? Kevin Hayward and I spent a few hours recently giving an engineering critique of a friendís off-road racing truck. I couldn't help thinking thereafter how good it would have been if we had have captured it all on video and posted up on the SAE website. And I've seen some videos produced by Formula SAE teams promoting their own team which is documenting the build phase of their vehicles. If you are doing this sort of stuff send it through - we can then do we can to promote your work.
    We could do with some help producing an SAE video on the merits of FSAE Ė anyone want to help?

    Organise
    We are keen to get events running each State of Australia. Site visits, movie showings, race meetings, social outings, bike rides Ė pretty well anything that would interest automotive engineers. If you have an idea let us know, give us the topic and the venue and we can organise promotional flyers, mailing lists and all the necessary stuff to get things on the go.

    Attend
    When we put on an event, come along. The more people are being seen to be active, the more seriously will be taken as a society, and the more the key players in government and industry will pay attention to us.

    Spruik
    As we rebuild the SAE, tell your friends. Get them to join up.

    Buy
    I'm revising our pricing structure of SAE books so that they are competitive with the online booksellers. My belief is that the members of the society should be able to buy SAE books at a better price than your online booksellers. Now a 10% GST works against us on this front, but if you are looking for an SAE book please contact us for a price. A book bought through an online bookseller lines the pockets of the online bookseller. A book bought through the SAE is an investment in your Society, Formula SAE and an investment in our future automotive industry.

    Join
    When it all boils down to it, we are a membership-based society. The more members we have the more we can offer our members, and the more we can do to safeguard our industry's future. The Society puts itself a considerable financial risk to put on Formula SAE each year. It is your membership that avails you are this opportunity, as well is to the generations that follow you.
    ?
    Putting my money where my mouth is


    For every individual member that is signed up to SAE Australasia as at the end of November 2012, I'm going to donate one dollar of my own money to the Formula SAE event. Half of that money will be allocated as prize money for an additional prize to be awarded this year, for the teams demonstrating the best use of design process. The other half will be donated to SAE Australia towards the running of the event.

    This is not some funny accounting or diverting money from an expense account. I will be pitching in out of my own pocket. Last year we had around 1400 members, this year I want to be writing out a cheque for $2000+...

    That is all for the time being, I am eager to hear your feedback and your ideas about how to build a better society.

    All the best,
    Geoff Pearson

    RMIT FSAE 02-04
    Monash FSAE 05
    RMIT FSAE 06-07

    Design it. Build it. Break it.

  2. #2
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    p.s. if you want to volunteer or contact me in regard to the above, you can get me on:

    geoff_at_sae-a_dot_com_dot_au
    Geoff Pearson

    RMIT FSAE 02-04
    Monash FSAE 05
    RMIT FSAE 06-07

    Design it. Build it. Break it.

  3. #3
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    Geoff,

    It is great to see so much enthusiasm coming from the top of SAE-Australasia. The numbers of people that go through the society as FSAE participants is quite incredible, and until talking with you in WA I wasn't quite aware how much the SAE can be the organisation for us.

    With even minimal increased retention of members post university the organisation will consist of a majority of people that have done FSAE. Until getting back involved as a Faculty Advisor I had lost contact with a large group of interesting and knowledgeable people. I guess it is the normal case of not knowing what you had until you lose it.

    I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing some of material produced by FSAE teams. I would think that some of the old design reports would be quite interesting. It might even be a good idea to write up a short history of the SAE-A competition, just as we have a write up of the first 20 or so years of the US comp.

    Kev

  4. #4
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    Excellent post Geoff. Obviously FSAE-A isn't directly relevant to me so I won't offer a view there, but you've basically articulated why I left both the SAE and I Mech E as soon as I saw the eye-watering increase in fees upon graduating.

    Another factor in the UK with the I Mech E was attending an event at Bird Cage Walk whilst on an industrial placement. There is a massive disconnect between the opulence of the headquarters vs. my perception of what being a member would add for me.

    Having said all that I do think it would be nice to be a member of a society if it had more relevance to the modern era.

    Ben
    Tyre Analysis Engineer - Caterham F1 Team
    Alumnus of University of Birmingham
    www.ubracing.co.uk and Formula Student Design Judge

  5. #5
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    Originally posted by Big Bird:
    I am eager to hear your feedback and your ideas about how to build a better society.
    Geoff,

    Your suggestions above all sound very positive and interesting. They might even entice an old curmudgeon like myself to join up. BUT!!!

    The problem is that when you, personally, move on, the SAE-A might just revert to its old ways. Namely, a minor division of the major auto manufacturers that purports to support the advancement of auto technology via its seminars, papers, etc., but in fact suppresses this by making it near impossible for me to access a 20 year old paper! (Well, it took the local library more than a month...)

    Anyway, if you want to improve the SAE-A long term, then I think that along with giving the members more of the immediate benefits you have suggested above, you also have to give them some long term ownership of the society. This means giving members a very real say in the day-to-day running of the society.

    Given that FormulaSAE-A seem to be the major yearly event for the SAE-A, and supplies most of its members, then one way to get the members more involved is as I posted here. This sort of direct and meaningful involvement of the students is possibly the best way of retaining some of them as long term members. It is also, IMO, the best way of stopping the rot.

    The abovelinked thread (mainly page 1) indicates to me, very strongly, that there is currently something seriously wrong with SAE-A and its FSAE-A Rules Committee. I don't know in detail what is going on there (part of the problem is this lack of openness), but I for one will not be a member of a society that is so dysfunctional that it produces that "clarification".

    Sorry, Geoff, but SAE-A will have to undergo major structural changes before I sign up.

    Z

  6. #6
    unfortunately I have to agree with z here. To get active and involved members you have to make them feel like their opinion matters and you have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately at the moment this is not how it seems.

    If you are able to rectify this and implement your strategy for your SAE of the future however, I would gladly renew my membership after FSAE. Your proposed changes sound like a much needed shakeup as far as the society is concerned, as in its present state a SAE membership is of no real value to me past FSAE, especially here in WA.


    Thankyou Geoff and good luck
    Curtin Motorsport 09-12
    2009- Impact Attenuator, General Annoyance
    2010- Pedal Box
    2011- Intake and Exhaust
    2012- Intake, Exhaust and Unsprung

  7. #7
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    Nice to see ssome robust debate happening here. Most welcome.

    Penna and Z, sorry to hear that you don't think the Society has your best interests at heart. Last December here in Oz, 150 people volunteered their weekend, and in some cases a lot more time, right before Christmas, to put on an event to help young engineers get an opportunity to learn that many of them never had themselves. Most do it simply for the joy of helping. Most people I spoke to thought it was a brilliant event, the sponsors loved it, and the unis rave about what their students can achieve. If all this is dismissed because of five lines of text written about a piece of yellow plastic - well it is a bit like passing up a date with Nicole Scherzinger because you noticed she had a pimple.

    My apologies Nicole if you are a frequenter of these boards. And especially if you have a pimple.

    Now I apologize to all for the addendum, as ED the buck stops here and I'll cop this on the chin. I now have egg on face which doesn't please me. But once again if all these changes we are working towards are nullified by a few words about air flow around wheels...

    Now Z, I know you won't let me have the final word (and I don't really want it - it makes me feel ignored ) - but a full democracy? Really? That would be what - 400 delegates from around the globe? Called together any time someone had an idea?
    Wow. When you consider the screams of injustice claimed over a late rules addendum, it is a leap of faith to see universal harmony in rules subject to change daily...

    You know what? I reckon if we really did have open rules - every car would be identical. Too much choice, too scary - lets just copy what the winner did....
    Geoff Pearson

    RMIT FSAE 02-04
    Monash FSAE 05
    RMIT FSAE 06-07

    Design it. Build it. Break it.

  8. #8
    Originally posted by Kevin Hayward:

    I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing some of material produced by FSAE teams. I would think that some of the old design reports would be quite interesting.

    Kev
    That's a really good idea.

    Maybe this would have to be legally agreed to starting now, but if SAE published a book of all the FSAE design reports, say 5 years after the comp, they would still be very valuable and interesting, while not giving away any knowledge that was created by current students in their respective FSAE programs. A potential source of income and relevance.
    -Charlie Ping

    Auburn FSAE Alum 00-04

  9. #9
    What would be equally interesting is to publish a few design reports (in part or in full) supplemented by a few comments/ questions/ observations from design judges.

    I think many students would benefit from that. If the name of the school and car picture do not appear in the document, only a few people could recognize which car is spoken about on nobody would not feel openly criticized.

    The only negative point is that it would put many newcomers in a box and decrease the power of new ideas and students imagination.

    Claude
    Claude Rouelle
    OptimumG president
    Vehicle Dynamics & Race Car Engineering
    Training / Consulting / Simulation Software
    FS & FSAE design judge USA / Canada / UK / Germany / Spain / Italy / China / Brazil / Australia
    [url]www.optimumg.com[/u

  10. #10
    Now Z, I know you won't let me have the final word (and I don't really want it - it makes me feel ignored ) - but a full democracy? Really? That would be what - 400 delegates from around the globe? Called together any time someone had an idea?
    Wow. When you consider the screams of injustice claimed over a late rules addendum, it is a leap of faith to see universal harmony in rules subject to change daily...
    I totally agree to Geoff: Forget about democracy in this setting. Even in the comparatively small rules committees it is sometimes hard to find a solution which is acceptable for the majority. It just does not work.

    What I can recommend is to have a meeting of team captains once a year and ask them for their opinions. We usually have a team captain's meeting at the FSG Workshop in autumn and although obviously not every team takes part, it still leads to being able to get direct feedback from our customers. Trust me, very often we have 60 team captains with 70 opinions...

    And regarding the open-wheel-debate: There will be a clarification in the 2013 rules set. This makes the definition in the FSAE-A rules unnecessary. So hopefully the discussions about this will end soon.
    Regards,

    Tobias

    Formula Student Germany
    FSE Rules & Organisation
    http://twitter.com/TobiasMic
    http://TobiasMic.Blogspot.com

    Not many people know the difference between resolution and accuracy.

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