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How sci-fi fandom led to a career in industry

May 19, 2022
Thomas Wilk, our resident science fiction fan, considers his own alternate engineering future.

One of the most rewarding aspects of working as chief editor for Plant Services is also the one that carries a great deal of responsibility: the ability to identify the stories that matter most in our industry, and then share them with you.

From the Editor

This article is part of our monthly From the Editor column. Read more from Thomas Wilk.

Working in this field represents one of the two career options that most appealed to me in my late teens and early 20s. I spent a lot of time in high school reading science fiction, which has been described as the literature of change. Most of my interest leaned toward “hard sci-fi,” which bases its storytelling around the possible future implications of real scientific advances. Some writers in this group include Charles Sheffield, Joan Slonczewski, and Gregory Benford, each of whom have the ability to not only explain complex scientific concepts but also to make them relevant to our everyday lives and choices. 

Since that time, my career has followed the path of the technical communicator. This was not always a deliberate choice. In college, I started out studying chemistry, having been inspired in high school by an excellent science teacher (and by a lot of hard sci-fi) to focus on how to solve pressing real-life engineering problems.

However, after spending two years trying to master the art of lab work and not doing so well (and running into the brick wall known as physical chemistry), I switched to my other passion, literature, and earned a degree in English with a math and chemistry minor. During those years I also worked for the college newspaper, The Daily Illini. It wasn’t the science beat, but it was a good position to be in when breaking science news would happen, such as when an uncontrolled thermite reaction demo in the university chemlab almost killed some onlookers.

My next career stop was Ohio State University where I taught writing courses geared towards engineering undergrads. The stop after that was with Battelle Memorial Institute, working with environmental scientists to turn field data into reports for the DoD and EPA. Finally, I spent 8 years as lead content developer for Panduit, working with the B2B press and helping that company tell its own environmental story.

And the other career option, the path in my case which was not taken? That would be environmental scientist. And it’s amazing and frustrating to consider that one of the biggest stories of the ’80s, climate change, has only increased in urgency over the past several decades.

That was the story that drew me toward environmental science in the first place, and since that time, instead of being part of a direct engineering solution, I’ve quietly worked with students, scientists, and now plant practitioners to fight the good fight for the sake of our planet. Our Big Picture Interview this month with Peter Garforth is one of those opportunities.

You can hear our full conversation as part of Plant Services’ Tool Belt podcast. And here’s to a future where the challenges of climate change are resolved.

This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Thomas Wilk
Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University.
About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University