Ruknoon Dinder (ChemE 2T1 + PEY) is a young alumnus from the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry who has graciously taken the time to reflect on his experiences since graduating last year. His interview provides valuable advice to our students who are about to embark on their own career journeys this Spring. His memories also offer insight into how his education has influenced his professional life.
What led to your decision to study chemical engineering at U of T?
One of the key driving forces behind me choosing engineering was my desire to be a leader in my community. At a very early age, many of my role models possessed an engineering background. It wasn’t just world leaders. Many successful musicians, politicians, and YouTubers who I followed had a STEM degree, usually in engineering. There is a great emphasis on STEM education in my home country (Bangladesh) and this impacted my ambitions. U of T always appealed to me because of my desire to learn from the best at a reputed university. I wanted to study in Canada and after careful consideration, I felt U of T would unlock the potential in me. Its location, impact, and the opportunities it presented sealed the deal. As for why Chemical Engineering, I actually started in Engineering Science, but it wasn’t for me. Chemistry has always been one of my favourite courses and after speaking to some of the ChemE students who I met during Frosh, I knew Chemical Engineering was right for me. I liked how much diversity there was in the courses offered.
Describe your ChemE journey?
It was a bit rocky at first. I switched to ChemE in my second year and there was always the apprehension that I may be behind my peers in terms of learning or even just making the connections that others had a year to build on. Thankfully, my peers have been by my side since the beginning and it’s so amazing looking back that I’m still close with the people who I met on my first day. In fact, the supportive community is one of my favourite parts of being a ChemE alum. By third year onwards most of my classmates didn’t remember I wasn’t originally from ChemE and I’d often forget myself. I wanted to put myself through a challenge, and overloaded my third year with courses completely outside engineering which was a fun experience. The year ended on a question mark with COVID-19. However, coming back in fourth year, we were able to choose courses as normal and proceed with Capstone or Thesis. The challenge for me as the then Chem Club Chair was to bring back the community for the juniors. The chemistry we enjoyed and the bonds put on hold over the two years of pandemic needed strengthening. I feel I did my job well and managed to help get things back up to normal by bringing back many of our in-person activities through the help of my fellow Chem Club members including now Chair, Purushoth Thavendran. I’m glad that such a wonderful culture of cooperation exists in ChemE. I am very grateful to my class, the folks at Chem Club, and the faculty and staff who I worked with in the department. They all contributed to my memorable years in ChemE.
What was your most memorable ChemE moment?
Being someone who was very deeply involved with ChemE, I was present during many memorable events. Some of my best memories were:
- Designing Professor Jennifer Farmer’s lab coat in second year.
- Playing Despacito on all our laptops simultaneously before Fluid Dynamics midterm.
- Praying to plants before Environmental Engineering final.
- Winning the Skule Kup and becoming next year’s class representative on the same day.
- The third-year dinner dances when all the 2T1s came together.
- Being the Chair of Chem Club and running Dinner Dances and Iron Ring Parties for my class.
- I would get a lot of feedback as Chair for the restrictions around COVID-19 and I thought that maybe I wasn’t doing a great job. But by the end of fourth year, many of my friends came to me and thanked me for “saving” their fourth year, making it enjoyable, and ensuring me that they were always on my side despite all the struggles. That is a memory I will always cherish.
Who inspired you the most at ChemE?
I try to learn all I can from those I interact with but Professor Vlad Papangelakis and my supervisor for my fourth-year thesis, PhD candidate Noel Devaere, were massive inspirations to me. Until I worked with them, I never felt myself to be good enough to research or be a part of academia. They gave me the opportunity to do research and constantly pushed me to perform better, never taking good enough for an answer. Their motivation helped me develop good practices and I am much more of a complete engineer because of them. It is difficult to find such thorough and caring mentors.
Describe your career path after graduating.
During me PEY, I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Environment. From that moment, I wanted to work in the field of environmental engineering. After graduating, I joined a small consulting firm in Newmarket that focused on air quality and pollutant transport modelling. However, I realized I enjoyed regulatory and legislative work a lot more. After a few months, I applied to Stantec as a regulation compliance auditor and I have been there since.
How does your education from ChemE relate to your work now? Are you applying what you’ve learned?
My role involves going to industrial sites and identifying the issues with their processes. In these roles, I apply a lot of the supplementary knowledge I have gained from courses like Environmental Engineering, Lab Safety, Process Design, and Communications. ChemE has given me a well-rounded set of capabilities, which helps me succeed in the consulting space that faces very diverse challenges.
What is your greatest professional achievement so far?
I was most proud of my work during PEY when I helped draft a lot of regulatory requirements that went into creating new technical industry standards for different industries like foundries and concrete plants. In the future, I would like to work on more impactful legislation.
What advice would you give to current ChemE students, as well as those who are about to graduate?
I love chess. One of my favourite chess players, Sam Shankland, always advices, “If you see a move that looks unreasonable, difficult to calculate or infeasible, always ask yourself, ‘But what if I do it anyway?’ You will find that your opponent did not calculate the line for the same reasons and you may be able to get a big advantage by catching them off guard.” My advice to students is the same. If you are unsure, perhaps thinking you are doing too much or do not have time to volunteer, study, play sports, or do a minor in music, just ask yourself, “What if I do it anyway?” If you jump into it with a plan and determination to see it through, you will find the means to do it.
Finally, connect with people, not just a “follow” on LinkedIn. Find likeminded professionals and talk to them. I got my current job by just talking to the right person. Diversify your connections. You will have a lot of preconceived ideas of what is right or normal. Only by interacting with people who live around the world (not people from around the world who live in your locality) will you get an idea of where we stand and where our blind spots are.
My best wishes to you, Classes of 2T2+PEY and 2T3. Feel free to send me a message if you’d like to chat. I’m always happy to help.
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