Editor's note: At the 17th International Conference of the ISTVS in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S., at which we were celebrating 50 years of ISTVS, there was also a great representation in what we might call the new guard, active younger members doing exciting terramechanics research. We connected a couple of pairs up to interview each other. Daisy Huang of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Cor-jacques Kat of the University of Pretoria interviewed each other!
Cor-jacques Kat, as interviewed by Daisy Huang
How did you get into your field (that's a boring one, but I can't avoid it!)?
Well, after my first year at university I was pretty frustrated and had serious doubts that I made the right career choice. I did not understand how all the math fit into what an engineer was suppose to do. Luckily in the first semester of my second year I got involved in Baja and saw how all the math and theory is applied to real world engineering problems. I learnt a lot from the Baja faculty advisor, Prof Schalk Els, and realized that there was still a lot I could learn from him so I continued with my postgraduates studies with him as my supervisor. That is the short version of how I ended up in the vehicle dynamics field.
Was there any other career you almost went into?
O yes! There were two careers that I considered strongly and engineering was surprisingly not one of them. I never saw myself as an engineer, but that was mainly due to the stereotype image I had of an engineer:) I saw myself as either a reconstructive surgeon or a marine biologist. I taught that being a reconstructive surgeon I would be able to improve people’s lives, and being a marine biologist I would have the best office in the world. However, one day I heard of bio-mechanical engineering and that sparked huge interest in me and effectively started by career in engineering.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I love to travel. I like learning of different cultures. Learning new languages. I love outdoor activities and to stay fit.
Are most of your friends doing similar work, or do you engage with lots of people in different types of careers?
I have a lot of friends in- and outside of the engineering field. I like to diversify as I believe that you can get exceptional ideas from unexpected places.
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
Professionally I see myself actively promoting engineering to young people as an exciting career with endless opportunities. I would also like to, which ever branch of engineering I might be in, make a positive contribution to society and hopefully improve the quality of life.
If you could ignore the laws of physics for one day, what would you do?
Wow, this is a difficult question. First of all I would consider myself fortunate that I understand some of the important implications of the laws of physics. I would however love to be able to manipulate (not ignore) gravity. Flying around like peter pan as always been a fantasy. If however all laws of physics are ignored for this one day, and it applies to everyone, I would probably just stay home. I would not like to be in the chaos outside with cars, planes etc. floating uncontrollably in every direction.
If you knew you had only a year left to live (but would be hale and hearty for that whole year), what would you do with it?
Okay, an even harder question. My answer is going to be boring and well-taught through. If I say that I will quite my job and do the things that I always wanted I would be in big trouble and would definitely have to reconsider what I’m currently doing. I have always tried to have a balance between work and recreation and to use every day to the fullest. I aim to do everything I do as best I can and to make sure I stop to enjoy the amazing things the world has to offer that we so often take for granted. So, I think I won’t change much just try and use every second I have and make sure that I don’t waste one opportunity. I would however love to take a month, charter a sail boat and just chill some where tranquil and beautiful with some of the special people in my life.
If you could meet yourself at 14 years of age, what advice would you have for him? And do you think he would be happy with what you are doing now?
The questions aren’t getting any easier, are they? I would probably tell myself: Don’t worry about the things you cannot control, live life, do things that scare you, take changes, meet new people, be rational but with a hint of emotion, and always make time for the important things in life which you will get to know as you go through life. Then I would tell myself that I will be come an engineer and pursue a PhD at which point I would probably burst out laughing.