In the Field: Patrick McDavid

Author: In the Field

Patrick McDavid is a PhD candidate in the School of Packaging at Michigan State University. The focus of his research? "This is a vibration table. With this, we can simulate what packages feel in the back of a trailer," said McDavid.

May 16, 2018

McDavid in the lab.

Patrick McDavid is a PhD candidate in the School of Packaging at Michigan State University. The focus of his research? "This is a vibration table. With this, we can simulate what packages feel in the back of a trailer, all the bumps and potholes in Michigan roads." It sounds like he could be busy.


In the Field: Patrick McDavid - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In The Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm your host, Kraig Ehm.

Patrick McDavid in the lab: This is the vibration table. So this is the focus of my PhD research. With this we can simulate what packages feel in the back of a trailer, all the bumps and potholes in Michigan roads, how that affects packaging and the product inside, we can simulate that on this table.

Ehm:  In this episode of In The Field I am joined by Patrick McDavid, distribution dynamics instructor and PhD student in the Michigan State University School of Packaging. Patrick, due to your freshmen year at Michigan State University, we were this close to not having this conversation.

McDavid: That's correct Kraig. High school was easy for me. I had physics and advanced chem and did very well at that. And so when I came here as a freshman, I expected pretty much the same thing here and quickly realized that it was not the same and I was not prepared to be a college student. So after a couple semesters, I took some time off, worked for a little bit and decided that I wanted to come back and give it a second try. Came back much, much better prepared mentally and did much better.

Ehm: Sometimes it's not always the best path to leave high school and go directly into college.

McDavid: Sometimes, yep, sometimes. Again, looking back, I don't know what I would've done differently. I certainly learned the lessons about going to class every day, not skipping. Those were the big, those are the easy lessons, but it was really just being mentally prepared to work at it, to put the time in every day after class doing the homework, staying on top of things, not getting behind. Those were the lessons that I had to learn through those early trials.

Ehm: Your path to obtaining a PhD in packaging, a little bit of thinking outside the box?

McDavid: Sure. When I graduated with my bachelors degree from here, immediately hopped into industry, spent 14 years with UPS, spent four years working for a government contractor. Fortunately UPS offered education benefits, so after some time I went back and got my master's degrees, the first one in supply chain management, and then my MBA as well. But PhD was never really in my mind as something that I thought would be attainable at that time. So certainly at this stage of my life did not anticipate the opportunity to be here and to able to work on this.

Ehm: What allowed you to take the plunge and decide, hey, PhD?

McDavid: So, there was an opportunity through a fellowship through a gentleman that I knew from my time in industry. He unfortunately had passed away and his wife had created this fellowship in his honor through the School of Packaging and they were looking for applications. At that time in my career I was not happy at the company I was working with. It was a very interesting job, but just really did not like the company that I was working for, and this opportunity came up, and talked to my wife and just decided we would just apply for it, just to see what would happen. And then to end up being accepted and then coming to the realization that this was something that we were going to pursue, I was going to leave industry, leave a very good paying job, leave those benefits behind and go back to school and basically become a teaching assistant and become a student again.

Ehm:  A little bit nervous-

McDavid: Oh yeah-

Ehm: ... to go from industry and come back?

McDavid: Very nervous because my wife and I, we had just welcomed our first child. I think he was about six months old when we moved here. So certainly leaving a good paying job behind when you have a wife and a new son at home was very, very challenging. But we had the support from both of our families to be able to pursue this. We wouldn't be able to do it without the support of her parents and with my parents as well.

Ehm: Speaking of your wife, you and Julianne are soon to welcome your second child. How do you balance being a dad with teaching and your PhD work?

McDavid: It's finding the time, it's being home for dinner as much as I can. Every once in a while, I'll have to put in a late day here. As an instructor I've got responsibilities to my students, but then also have the PhD work that I'm trying to get done as well. But at the end of the day the family is the most important thing, so making sure that I'm home for dinner, being able to play a little bit, and then being able to put him to bed, give him baths, being around for those types of events. Then once he's down, once he's asleep and settled, then I can work on the PhD, on the school stuff.

Ehm: Being an instructor here in the School of Packaging, were you able to take your experiences your freshman year and realize there might be other students sitting in your classroom who were just like you?

McDavid:  I try to work with students. The class that I teach is a 400 level class. At this stage in their collegiate careers, I would hope that they would've figured out some of the challenges that I had. But I still try and be there, still try and always have an open door. Even though I have set office hours, try and make sure that they understand that my door is always open any time they want to discuss anything relating to the class or also try and help them understand what the challenges are going to be and what is going to be expected of them when they do get into their careers. Having that experience myself in industry working for large companies, I feel like I have the ability to assist them and to help prepare them for those responsibilities once they get into the field, into the industry themselves.

Patrick McDavid in the lab: This is our shock table. So with this we can determine how strong products are, how much shock they can actually withstand. And then based on that information, we can design more efficient packaging solutions based on that fragility knowledge that we have for the product.

Ehm: Do you find it's an advantage to come from industry back into the classroom to relate to students?

McDavid: My personal experience absolutely. I do work with some excellent faculty here in the School of Packaging who haven't had the opportunity to work in industry and have spent their whole careers in academia and have a lot of respect for them and for what they do. But for me personally, the stories that I can tell and how I can relate to the students and help them understand what the challenges are going to be when they get out there, what's going to be expected of them, how do they justify their existence, how do they help themselves more forward with the company, I feel that's the benefit that I offer.

Ehm: The Michigan State University School of Packaging is a big deal worldwide.

McDavid: Absolutely. The School of Packaging was the first of its kind. Historically when the industry was looking for that experience, it wasn't there, and Michigan State recognized that and created this school, created this program. We're the first. We're the largest. We put out the most students. We have graduate programs. We're the only school with a PhD program. That brings in a lot of international students that are looking to extend their degrees and do more work. A lot of the students here are international, so not just domestically but internationally as well this program is looked at as a big deal.

Ehm: Word association, Linda and Alan Crawford.

McDavid: Just opportunity. I knew Alan from industry. The packaging industry is a very tight-knit group, and especially in the field of distribution dynamics lab simulation, which is my focus. Alan was in that same group, so he and I conversed. When this opportunity came up, I actually did not associate the Crawford fellowship with Alan Crawford. When I left UPS to go work for the government contractor, I'd kind of gotten away a little bit from the packaging industry and the group of people that I had known and I was actually unaware that Mr. Crawford had passed. When this fellowship came up, I didn't put it together that it was associated with him. Then later when I was asked to write a thank you letter to Mrs. Crawford, that was when I realized who it was that had created this opportunity for myself and my family.

Ehm: Patrick, what created your passion to teach?

McDavid: Just sharing what I've learned, seeing the benefits in what we do, how packaging affects companies, how it affects their bottom lines, the opportunities that I had at UPS, to share that knowledge with their customers and with their internal folks, being able to educate people on something that they had no idea about, they didn't really look at a box and what it represented, what it meant, and how important it was to get it right. So many companies think about it last and put very little effort in it, and then quickly realize how important it is and what effect it has on their perception from their customers. That's really what led to me looking for those opportunities to teach, realizing how much I enjoyed it. At that time looking at it almost as retirement plan. After I had finished my time in industry, being able to go back and teach at a university as an instructor, but then again, this opportunity to pursue a PhD came up and just the way things have fallen into place has been just an amazing journey to be on the past couple of years.

Ehm:  Best advice you can give students?

McDavid: Continue your education. A lot of companies offer educational benefits, and a lot of them are reluctant to move people up if they don't see their employees trying to get smarter, to get better, and so they offer those benefits. Take advantage of those. Don't let them slip by. Again, looking back at my career, sometimes I wish I had pursued the master's earlier on and not waited so long. But it's never a bad time to do it. Definitely get settled when you graduate. Sometimes it's hard to think about going back, but life, life takes over quickly. Don't wait for those opportunities to slip by. Take advantage of them. They're going to further your career in ways you can't even think about right now.

Ehm: I'd like to thank Patrick McDavid for joining me today on In The Field. Have a great day.

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