Kelly Knight

Kelly J Knight

Engineering Manager
Bechtel National, Inc.
Reston, VA, United States
Kelly Knight
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Kelly J Knight is the Manager of Bechtel’s Advanced Simulation and Analysis. She is responsible for managing multiple specialists in the fields of computational fluid dynamics, computational structural mechanics and advanced engineering visualization techniques. Kelly’s background experience includes design studies/analyses, computing infrastructure, experiments and conducting surveys/reviews in support of Bechtel projects and outside clients. Kelly’s field of expertise is in fluid dynamics, heat transfer, experimental methods, numerical analysis, turbulent mixing applications, chemical/biological dispersion and technical writing. Kelly has presented papers in field recognized conferences. Kelly holds a BS in Applied Mathematics from Weber State University, an MS and PHD degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Utah.
  • I am willing to be contacted by educators for possible speaking engagements in schools or in after school programs or summer camps.
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Dr. Kelly J Knight

Hi Hyewon, 

It is always good to has experience in something but in this case, it is not needed. I did not have any experience other than basic high school classes. Your success depends on your willingness to dig in and study and do whatever else is needed. Your related courses will help and that is good that you have them.

Anything worth doing is usually hard. A quote from President Obama may help you in deciding to persevere and to dive in with all of your focus: “Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” – Barack Obama

You are making a good choice that will serve you for the rest of your life. You will be with others who have also made the choice to dive into the hard stuff. These are the best people to be with. Find study groups and make friends that support your self-esteem and cheer you on. I did that and have enjoyed what I have learned, the people I have met along the way and the success I now have as an Engineer.


I obtained my Masters around age 35 and my PHD at 41. My initial reasoning was that I was very dissatisfied with what I was doing at the time and made a commitment to myself to walk the path of fulfillment in all of my life and that meant an upper degree at that time. As I pursued my degrees, which were harder to do because I was older and had been out of school for awhile, I figured out that I would be old with or without the degrees. I definitely wanted to put myself in the best place to succeed so my decision was to continue to pursue the degrees. Now I have an exciting engineering job and work on some of the largest projects in the world. I chose a company with a healthy lets-dig-in-and-build-it culture which puts me with energetic and positive, forward-looking people. I made a decision long ago that being old was not going to stop me and I have never looked back since.

Dear Xiaoyu, Your question is a good one. I hope that I can help answer it. The requirement or advantage of having a PHD definitely depends on the field of research and the companies or labs that you are interested in. An example is Boeing. It is a private company but has hundreds of PhDs to design the aircraft. National labs, of course, will favor a PHD. Then there are companies like mine where there are only 50 of us in a company of 40,000 people. In our industry, many problems can be solved using common engineering methods and only a few need special tools like the ones that you learn in a PHD program. Keep in mind that my advice is from a fluid dynamics background in mechanical engineering. I am not too familiar with the civil engineering field. However, I work for a construction company and interface with many other companies in the course of a project. Those companies have many civil engineers and I see a similar trend: only a few problems in civil engineering need the tools developed in a graduate program. I personally wanted a PHD but did not want to go to a National Lab. I wanted to apply my knowledge out in the world as opposed to doing more research. It was definitely harder to find a job but I am very happy with my career. However, I recognize that you do not need a PHD to have a fulfilling career. There are many students that go out into industry after a Master's and then go back to get their PHD. It can be done but I have heard that it is harder to do. Dig deep and see if you really want the PHD. If so, I recommend to stay in school and finish now. I suggest that you search out companies and national labs that are doing things that you are interested in. See what qualifications those jobs need. The Federal government and state governments also use civil engineers. Check them out as well. Searching these companies will also help you see if you want to stay on to get a PHD. You may come across a job that you are very interested in and does not need a PHD. I hope that my point of view helps. Sincere regards, Kelly