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Hyukho Kwon

SFU Student Graduate
Science › Mathematics
Co-operative Education

Position Title
Experience Faculty
Experience Details
Semester
Summer
Year
2023
Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

I am a second-year master’s student in mathematics at Simon Fraser University. Previously, I was a research assistant in the Computer Algebra Group (CAG) in the Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics (CECM) at SFU. I had worked on programming efficient mathematical algorithms in C and Maple for over a year. This January I started to work as a Co-op student in National Research Council Canada Energy, Mining, Environment Centre (NRC EME) and tried to understand a data acquisition and supervisory control (SCADA) system and LabVIEW. During this experience, I installed LabVIEW on the research computer and learned how to implement the SCADA program in LabVIEW until April.  Also, I got accustomed to engineering terms and experiments for four months, which I had never experienced before. During this first Co-op term, I got an offer of an extended Co-op term from NRC, so I accepted this offer and continued this Co-op position from May 2023.

Preparation Tips for Future Students

This time, I got an offer of extension during my first Co-op term at National Research Council Energy, Mining, Environment Research Centre. During my first Co-op term at NRC EME, I extensively and actively looked for lectures and reference books about data acquisition from the SFU library. Especially, it was useful to have access to lectures offered by LinkedIn through SFU Library. These lectures were free for all SFU students, and the contents of these lectures were organized and easy to follow up. As a mathematics student, I sometimes felt lost while I was working at NRC because I did not have much knowledge of engineering fields. However, these free lectures helped me to have a better understanding of what I did. I was able to learn fundamental knowledge of the SCADA system.

Also, I talked to the project team member almost every day to know what I had to do for the second Co-op term. With my team’s visions, it was not much difficult to figure out what I should prepare for. Not only this, I asked a lot of questions to co-workers at NRC when I was confused or stuck during this preparation, even though they did not work on my research project. They always kindly helped me out and gave me useful and important information that I needed. I believe these two tips would be beneficial to prepare for your continuing Co-op term.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

On my first day, I activated my National Research Council email and synchronized this email with Microsoft Outlook. Also, I activated my profile for a research computer and a personal computer. For the first few weeks, weekly instruction emails from NRC headquarters provided the information I should know as a new employee of NRC. These weekly emails were a detailed list of what I had to do each week from the beginning. Creating a signature in my email, recording my work time, and reviewing NRC policies were included in these emails.

There were also online workshops provided by NRC and the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS). Online workshops about security, work ethics, and safety issues were mandatory. For example, workshops about security let me know how NRC deals with the conflict with the interest of the government of Canada as a federal government organization, which was very interesting. The work ethics workshop let me know how to handle the problem caused by social interaction with co-workers. Also, I was impressed by Hazard Prevention Program (HPP) workshop. Since my research project made use of the equipment generating 600 volts of electric power, this workshop was very beneficial to me.

Day to Day

I worked remotely two days a week, but I dropped by the office if something urgent happened. I usually went to the office around 8:30 am. I started my day by checking email and Microsoft Teams. Then, I worked on programming Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system in LabVIEW. Sometimes, I needed to set up a meeting with NI, a producer of LabVIEW and Compact RIO controller(cRIO), to get their technical support. I had two biweekly meetings: one is for the team and the other is for the members of my research project. Before each meeting, I always prepared what to report during the meeting for at most half an hour. During this meeting, I reported what I did for two weeks and listened to what other co-workers did. This was a good chance to learn what NRC EME is currently interested in. Also, I went to the backyard of the office building where all the devices stay to check my program’s validity a couple of times per week.

Learning and Adaptation

As a mathematics student, it was not easy for me to get familiar with engineering experiments. Whenever I faced challenges, I looked for the instructions on the NI official website first. Also, there is a NI community which is an online community to network, ask questions and collaborate on code with other NI product users. In short, NI Community plays a role like Stack Overflow for LabVIEW users. I had a lot of help from this NI community to handle some of these challenges, too. Even though NI official website and NI community helped me out, some issues are too unique, so I was not able to find any information related to these issues on the Internet. In this case, I created a technical support request through the website. Then, I can get their technicians’ and engineers’ help directly via email or Microsoft Teams meetings. Thus, I learned LabVIEW as a programming language using this process.

Moreover, reporting my work to other co-workers during the biweekly meetings was not easy for me. This is because English is not my native language. In the first meeting, I made some mistakes like talking about something not related to the project since I was too nervous. Not to make mistakes during the meeting, I made a list of things I must speak of before these meetings and verbally read the list for practice. This really helped me to become less nervous and reduced unnecessary words.

Accomplishments and Challenges

During this Co-op term, I mainly spent my time building up a supervisory control and data acquisition system using LabVIEW. First, I created a network for all devices in the backyard to enable Modbus communication. Modbus is one of the communication protocols for multiple industrial devices through cables. In this project, Ethernet cables were used for Modbus TCP/IP.  I set the IP addresses of the computer, our compact Rio Controller, an Ethernet switch and so on by having the same subnet mask and DNS server. Whenever I added a device to this network, I checked if this is correctly added to the network by using the ping command on the command window all the time.

Also, there were a couple of devices that used serial cables for Modbus communication. I needed to change the settings of these devices to read data via the Modbus protocol. These devices used RS-485 cables in order to enable Modbus communication. I had to change the baud rate, parity, data bits, and so on. It took more than a month to enable serial Modbus communication, but finally, I figured out how to make it work with a co-worker’s support. After setting up a network and Modbus communication, I was able to read the data from the devices in a real-time.

There was a huge challenge caused by an unexpected error message from LabVIEW. The computer did not have enough space in C drive to install LabVIEW software packages. Then, this resulted in an error message whenever I tried to run my program. To solve this issue, I tried to get help from NI Technical Support. NI Technical Support told me that I had to reinstall LabVIEW to solve this issue. It was frustrating but there were no other options. Before reinstalling LabVIEW, I asked for some advice from other NRC team members to install LabVIEW software packages efficiently space-wise.  In the end, I was able to reinstall LabVIEW with more free spaces in C drive and no longer error messages came up from LabVIEW.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

This second term was a mix of good and bad feelings. It was really challenging when I had to reinstall LabVIEW software packages and set up Modbus communication. My major is not closely related to engineering, and I had never used LabVIEW as a programming language before. Hence these challenges were inevitable. To be specific, it was very disappointing when I tried to fix LabVIEW, but I failed many times. This failure made me think that I was not fit for this project. However, I did not give up and finally figured out how to fix this issue. After LabVIEW was fixed, I was so excited and happy when I saw my program read data from devices in my program. I will not be able to forget this feeling.

Also, it was great to meet a couple of great people at NRC as co-workers. These people tirelessly supported me when I faced troubles and sometimes provided meaningful advice. For instance, the one piece of advice I cannot forget is “If no one said you can’t do something, and there are no obvious rules you can find saying you can’t then assume you can do something and try it.” Since I have little knowledge of engineering research, I was always waiting to get permission to try something new. However, I realized that I should have taken the initiative in this project, and it was not a bit problem. Thus, this Co-op position gave me a lot of invaluable lessons.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

Before this Co-op experience, I did not have any idea about how a research project is constructed, or how researchers get funds for research and publish papers. As a master’s student, I usually depended on my supervisor’s guidelines. However, in NRC EME, I saw how research officers at NRC put a lot of effort to conduct one research project. I was surprised that they did two and three projects at the same time on average. I never imagined how hard it could be based on my previous experience. I was so lucky to witness the whole procedure of conducting a research project.

Also, the moral I learned from this second Co-op term is that I can do something I have never done if I do not give it up. Any single thing I had to do was not easy. Some are easily figured out by myself, but there are always some tough things that made me frustrated and stressed out. However, whenever I was challenged, my co-worker told me “Never give up. I know it is not easy.” These short words made me feel more relaxed and encouraged, and I can put more effort into this research project. In the end, I ended up building a SCADA system as much as the project team expected because I did not give up. Therefore, I believe these things are the most valuable aspects of this Co-op experience.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

The research project I worked on was mainly about electrical engineering and system engineering and mechanical engineering. This project was new to me as I have studied mathematics and computer science at SFU. That means there is no direct relation between this project and my major.  However, this Co-op position offered me a great chance to see how researchers work in the industry because I hope I can be a researcher in the future.  Research officers at NRC work hard to build up a new project, obtain funding for their projects from outside, procure equipment, etc. Although it seems what they do for their work is neither easy nor straightforward, it made me more interested in research as a career goal. 

Moreover, it was great to have the experience to learn a new language in a short time. I had used Python, MATLAB, Maple, and so on, but never used LabVIEW before. Unlike other programming languages, LabVIEW uses block diagrams to code by dragging items and drawing lines. This Co-op position was a good opportunity to learn how to deal with the situation when I encounter a new programming language. In the future, there may be a new programming language that I have never seen in my life at work. By doing this Co-op position, I know I am able to learn a new programming language.  

Advice for Future Students

My schedule at NRC was very flexible. No one said you must come to the office by 9 am or you must stay at the office until 6 pm. Moreover, I usually worked remotely twice a week according to NRC’s hybrid work model. No one looked at what I was doing during work time because every research officer at NRC was busy doing their own work. However, I needed to work hard even if no one watched how I worked. I was required to show the progress of my work every two weeks. If the progress is not satisfying, I had to explain the reason why I did not make satisfying progress during the meeting. Thus, you need to be responsible for what you do at work if you work at NRC.

Also, it is better to be active than passive in the workplace. As I mentioned above, I was worried that I might screw up devices or systems that other co-workers made.  Maybe because of my Korean cultural background, it was not easy for me to do something not allowed by my supervisor.  However, I was told “Luck favours the brave” by one of supportive my co-workers. This implies that the more I try stuff to learn, the more I will succeed. After I worked more actively after listening to this advice, I was able to make more progress than before. Therefore, it will be a great asset if you work actively at this workplace.

Author

Hyukho Kwon

SFU Student Graduate
Science › Mathematics
Co-operative Education
visibility  132
Aug 15, 2023