Dr. John A. Kocur, Jr. is a machinery engineer at ExxonMobil Research & Engineering in Houston, and a member of the Turbo Lab’s Turbomachinery Advisory Committee (TAC) since 2017. The TAC is a group of dedicated industry experts who volunteer their time to oversee the success of the Turbomachinery & Pump Symposia. Advisors are respected leaders in their companies and fields who select the technical program for TPS each year.
Q: First things first: how does one achieve such a perfectly manicured 1980s look?
- A: [Laughter] Eh, I don’t know. I grew my hair out a number of times to donate it to Locks of Love. When I first started working, I thought I’d better look presentable, so I cut it shorter. Then when I got older I figured it’s not going to hurt my career anymore, might as well grow it back out again. That picture caught me in one of those in-between times when I was trying to look presentable.
Way to dodge the question with your contributions to charity, John.
Q: How did you get your start in this industry?
- A: When I was in grade school, I knew I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, and more than that, I knew I wanted to get a PhD in engineering. I enjoyed the mechanical aspects of things, so I started down that path when I was very young. I would take apart everything. My bike, train sets—everything mechanical fascinated me. My parents gave me a clock in the third or fourth grade. It showed the time by moving little bearings instead of hands. I took it apart, and being so young, unfortunately I couldn’t get it back together again.
Q: Did you get in trouble?
- A: Oh yeah, of course.
Q: How did that early passion progress into an education, then into a career?
- A: I got in to turbomachinery because of backpacking. When I was in high school, I went on a backpacking trip with my cousin, John Nicholas, and Paul Allaire, who were both involved with the rotating equipment group at the University of Virginia. They talked me in to going to UVA, and that’s where I get introduced to rotordynamics, and then fulfilled my childhood goal of earning my PhD.
John’s cousin, John Nicholas, is also heavily involved in the turbomachinery industry and presented 14 papers at the Turbomachinery & Pump Symposia, from 1979 to 2011.
John’s first job out of college was at Amoco in Illinois where he worked as a machinery engineer. From Amoco, John moved to Pratt & Whitney, then to Demag Delaval Turbomachinery for 10 years. He’s been with ExxonMobil since 2002.
Q: How did you get involved with the symposia?
- A: That paper you showed with the strange picture of me back when I was younger was from the days of my early career. When you get in to turbomachinery, especially rotordynamics, it’s a fairly small community. I had already known and even talked to Dr. Childs and Dr. Vance back then when I was in school.
Dr. Dara W. Childs recently retired from his post of director of the Turbomachinery Laboratory and chair of the Turbo and Pump Advisory Committees. More on his legacy here. Dr. John M. Vance was a professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M. He published Rotordynamics of Turbomachinery and authored more than 50 technical articles and reports. Dr. Vance passed away in 2016.
Q: How did you get involved with the symposia? (Continued)
- A: The way I view the symposium—even back when I started, which was longer ago than I care to remember—is like standing on the shoulders of giants. Everything that I am able to do is because of what the people ahead of me have done. Whether it’s Dara Childs, John Vance…the list goes on.
Q: Ken Atkins has a memory of the two of you presenting at your first symposium. Does that stand out for you, too?
- A: That one’s a little beyond me [laughter]. But what he mentioned about being able to present at a young age alongside these people that you’ve read about or heard about—it’s exciting and intimidating at the same time. That’s what I was saying about standing on the shoulders of giants. To be in the same group, the same audience with all those people is great. In our industry, they’re famous.
- Now I hope that I can intimidate the younger people now. That would be my lifelong ambition. [laughing]. To be serious, hopefully I can continue to add to that knowledge base for the next crowd.
Q: What’s the best part of TPS?
- A: The best part of TPS is being able to meet colleagues you don’t get a chance to see except at the symposium. It’s nice to sit and exchange ideas with them. After the technical sessions, you can walk down the exhibit hall and speak informally. It’s too restricting to go to a conference where they are just going to present papers for three days straight. TPS gives you the opportunity to have a wide range of communication possibilities.
Q: What can we find you doing when you’re not at work or reviewing abstracts for the symposium?
- A: Playing golf. When I was younger I played hockey—I grew up in Minnesota. I don’t play anymore, but I still skate. I also enjoy traveling with my wife.
John’s trying to earn points for another cake, Ms. Brinson (see next response)
Q: You get one, final meal. What are you having, from appetizer to dessert?
- A: I have to start backwards on this one. For dessert, I’d have tiramisu. My wife got me a tiramisu birthday cake from a bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey—you know the bakery from Cake Boss, the TV show? That was special.
- For dinner, it would be the Lebanese food that my mother used to cook. She died when she was 70, about 19 years ago. One of my favorite things she used to cook was stuffed grape leaves.
- And for an appetizer, I’ll go with chicken noodle soup. It’s good comfort food.
Is it time for lunch, yet?
Any final thoughts on your involvement with TPS?
- A: I’m committed to the Turbo Show. I don’ think there’s a better meeting for our industry. If you want to communicate problems, research that affects our industry, new analytic methods that are applied to our industry, there’s no other alternative. This is the symposium, the meeting to go to. It’s recognized worldwide. Whenever I think I have something to add, I submit an abstract. It keeps everyone informed, and it keeps our industry functioning well. You go to the symposium, and you have vendors, contractors, purchasers of equipment, management, salespeople, down to field engineers, even professors. You have that entire breadth of people there. You can go to ASME or other research conferences, but you won’t find many end-users there like you do at TPS.