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The 2023 new year edition of Women in CFD features Kristen Karman-Shoemake, lead product engineer at Cadence. So far, we have had women with backgrounds in mechanical/aerospace engineering and physics conquer the field of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), but Kristen stands out among those as she drives the CFD world with her graduate and undergraduate studies in mathematics and computational engineering. Read our conversation below to learn more about Kristen, her career journey, and her key advice for young graduates and interns planning to make a career in CFD.
Tell us something about yourself.
I'm originally from Texas (Fort Worth area), but my family moved to Tennessee when I was in high school. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I did a double major in mathematics and classical languages (a very unusual combination!). Later, I pursued my master's and PhD in computational engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC).
When did you learn about CFD?
I've been around CFD my entire life. My dad is an aerospace engineer and has spent his career developing CFD software. I've always been good at math but pursued studies in languages instead. In my senior year, I wasn't sure what to do next, and my dad enlightened me about how computational methods are applied to various applications (other than aerospace). I preferred the applied part over pure abstractness in my math classes, so it seemed a good fit.
My dad encouraged me to apply to the Computational Engineering program at UTC. So, I took a fifth year in undergrad, finished my math degree, and enrolled in all of the numerical algorithm and differential equations classes I could. The following year, I started my master's degree at UTC with a biomedical research project on optimizing the cross-sectional shape of arterial stents to improve blood flow.
When did you start working with Cadence, and what does your typical day at work look like?
Soon after completing my degree, I started working for a biomedical startup in Scottsdale, AZ. Their main focus was on simulating the deployment of flow-diverting stents for treatment, but the project I worked on was for automatic aneurysm detection and measurement. This work led to five patents (three in Europe and two in the U.S.).
After about a year, I saw that Pointwise (now Cadence) had an open position for a technical support engineer. I had done a summer internship with them during grad school, and they were happy to have me back.
Kristen worked on this new feature of exporting high-order meshes in the Fidelity Pointwise 2022.2 release. She is also one of the authors of the book chapter Mixed Order Mesh Curving, which elaborates on this feature.
In my current role as product engineer (a new position for our group), I handle all of the non-development responsibilities involved in getting a release out the door—quality assurance testing, running regression tests, and documentation updates. I am also actively involved in new feature design.
Which CFD tools have you used so far?
Most professors in our graduate program liked Pointwise (now Fidelity Pointwise), so we used Pointwise as our primary meshing tool. Besides, I have limited experience working with other commercial CFD tools, as we were encouraged to use in-house solvers or write our own.
I get asked this question often, and most people are surprised (or disappointed) that I don't have experience with commercial solvers. I don't see it that way. The great thing about our degree program was the focus on implementing our coursework. Every class had a programming component. For instance, I implemented my own 2D Euler solver for my CFD classes—codes for Delaunay triangulation and grid smoothing for my grid generation classes. I combined them all for my design optimization class (which I then expanded for my master's research).
Kristen generated the surface and volume mesh (top and bottom images, respectively) of the convergent nozzle geometry for the 5th Propulsion Aerodynamics Workshop. The summary paper of this work was awarded Best Paper of 2022 by the Inlets, Nozzles, and Propulsion Systems Integration technical committee.
It's one thing to learn the theory behind how an algorithm works, but it's an entirely different experience to code it up, test it out, verify it, and debug it along the way. Even though programming is not part of my current role, these experiences and the ability to "think like an algorithm" made me more effective as a technical support engineer and are vital to my current responsibilities of quality assurance and feature development.
What do you do when not working?
I have a two-year-old, so much of my time when not working is spent caring for him. Lately, I've been trying to grow a vegetable garden, which also doubles as an activity to use up my son's excess energy! I also enjoy baking and doing crafts: sewing, knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching, etc. For the last few years, I've been working on a series of cross-stitch portraits of the solar system from images provided on NASA's website. I've worked my way up to Jupiter so far.
Some cross-stitch portraits by Kristen.
What are your thoughts about women studying and working in engineering domains?
I am very fortunate to have a sound support system within my own family to help me when I am struggling, but most don't have that. We have all struggled in a class before. Sometimes the material is just not explained in a way that makes sense. That's where you need to be able to go to other mentors, teaching assistants, or peers for help.
But sometimes, these support systems are non-existent, especially if you are the only woman in your classes. You may even become a target. I've had teachers grading me differently than the rest of the class and classmates fighting over being partnered with "the girl" like I was an oddity or some prize. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and isolation, and I've known many women that gave up and pursued other fields instead.
I'm pleased to see that things are changing. There's been more of a push to teach STEM concepts earlier and from various perspectives to reach a wider audience. There are also more women entering STEM fields, which motivates others to follow. We are witnessing a transitional phase, but closing those gaps will take a long time.
To learn more about Fidelity CFD as it evolves, connect with Kristen on LinkedIn.
If you would like to try Fidelity CFD for your CFD applications, request a demo today!