Rachel Park is a freelance writer and editor focused on 3D printing since 1996. She owns RP Editorial Services and is a Director of PYL Associates — and she is our Women in 3D Printing guest #274.
How did a newspaper ad lead to a career in additive manufacturing?
Just to clarify from the off: I don’t actually view myself as having a career “in” additive manufacturing! I get that I am connected to the industry and have been for a long time, relatively speaking at least. However, I am not an engineer or a designer. I don’t have any technical skills or a PhD in polymer or metal powder processing etc. The women that have achieved these things are the ones who deserve the kudos. I just write and talk about the industry and its many layers (pun intended!!).
On that basis – please don’t read any further if you’re looking for any deep and meaningful insights into the technology, processes, materials or software. There’s plenty of other, really talented, way more qualified sources for that.
To answer your question though — it was the tiniest little ad in a local newspaper in Chester in the UK, advertising for an Associate Editor for a new pan-European magazine with a small publishing company in Cheshire. This was March 1996, so I printed off my CV and popped it in the post (I realise I will have lost a whole generation or two of you there, but bear with). I got called to interview a few days later.
I was working for the European branch of a large US B2B publishing house working on a Medical Device Technology title, which I actually enjoyed, but the politics of that organisation was doing my head in! These being the only two publishing houses in my area I figured I would give it a shot. I had no inclination to move to Manchester or London which were/are the two main media cities in the UK and I needed a change.
At interview, it turns out that two of the co-founders of the company had both previously worked for the same US company and had set up on their own. They had acquired a newsletter from Warwick Manufacturing Group called “Rapid News” focused on an embryonic technology called Rapid Prototyping, which they had developed into a well-received journal and the circulation was growing. They were now looking to launch into the US.
Knowing the training I had received in a busy editorial department themselves, I was offered the job on the spot, and started working as the Associate Editor on Rapid News the following month. Rapid News became Time Compression Technologies, subsequently TCT Magazine, the name it still operates under today. I became the Editor and then the Editorial Director of the group — I was also involved in event planning for the conference and exhibition of the same name.
How did you build up your knowledge of the 3D printing industry?
I grew up in this industry.
I suffered with imposter syndrome for a few years – constantly meeting people that were beyond intelligent, while I was trying to keep up. To begin with the industry was so small it was always the same people developing the technologies, working with them and presenting at conferences, so I got to talk to them — a lot — and that helped. I’ve never really struggled with communicating, verbally or in written form, and it turned out to be a good match. Have you noticed how really super-clever people often struggle to convey their work and ideas in an accessible way? That’s where I actually had some skills and I spent many of my working hours translating highly technical research papers into articles that made rapid prototyping, 3D CAD, simulation software and so on more accessible to an increasingly wider audience.
And I kept talking to people — listening actually and then asking a ton of stupid questions.
Most people were really kind and patient, they took the time to speak with me. Obviously, there’s been a handful of arseholes over the years – the arrogant, put-you-in-your-place types. But they were a very small minority, thankfully.
About how many trade shows and manufacturing sites have you been to since 1996?
I have genuinely lost count. Apart from the to-ing and fro-ing to get to them, they’re actually my favourite bit of the job because that’s where the reality hits with the people, the parts and the machines — it’s also where you get the best gossip and off-the-record information about what’s coming.
That said, juggling events with a young family was never easy and in a male dominated industry (if you think it’s bad now, before the turn of the century I was invariably one of a handful of women at any trade show and the only one in an RP lab or on a factory floor) it wasn’t something you could talk about easily or openly, and sometimes it was about hard choices. This was certainly not unique to me, and neither was it unique for this industry, but it was always obvious to me that men could travel for work much more easily than I ever could. We should talk about this more.
When men talk about travelling for work, they tend to talk about the mind-numbing boredom of waiting in airport lounges, and some regale with funny anecdotes of the things they’ve seen or done in bars while travelling. A few have mentioned calls home to speak to their children before they go to bed. I can talk about those things too, but I can also speak to all the extra work, time and money that travelling for work requires for me. If I was attending a 3-day trade show before my children were independent, for example, not only did I have to sort all the travel arrangements and schedule my time away from home down to the last minute to squeeze in as much as possible, I also had to do the same for my husband and two children. That’s 4 x 72 hour schedules that I felt responsible for, with additional planning that ensured the kids were adequately cared for, dropped off and picked up at the right times. This was usually some combination of requesting support from grandparents or friends, booking extra nursery hours or after-school clubs (also extra ££) and/or getting hubby to book time off work, which usually involved at least some push-back about how inconvenient the timing was with his work commitments. It also meant stocking the fridge/freezer with enough meals that they could cook / would eat.
And that’s before you get to the actual time away, worrying if everything was going to plan at home and everyone was where they were supposed to be, while trying to sound intelligent about 3D printing.
When I got home and they were all fed and watered, with no tears, I counted that as a win. Then I’d restock the fridge and start tackling the laundry mountain before trying to decipher my notes from the last three days.
Tell us about your hats. They’re iconic.
Right, the hats! I’ve always liked wearing hats, I wore one on my wedding day. But — and I’ve only told a select few people this up until now — I always take a hat with me wherever I go (business, holidays, anywhere) because I’ve always found them to be a useful tool on bad hair days. I had a REALLY bad hair day on the first day of a TCT conference that I was organising back in the day and I had to be on the show floor by 7.30am to meet a speaker. The hat covered my embarrassment that day but it ended up becoming a thing.
What’s driven your entrepreneurial spirit with your RPES and PYL Associates businesses?
I’ve never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur in any way, shape or form. It actually goes back to those hard decisions. I just got to the point where I didn’t want to have to choose between my work and my family. When you’re an employee, work wins way more often than it should. I just wasn’t comfortable with that so I decided to make a change.
I loved the industry and didn’t want to leave it.
I figured that I had broad enough knowledge and a wide enough contact network, together with refining my communication skills to go freelance, which would allow me to build more flexibility into my work/life balance. That was the theory, anyway. It didn’t quite go to plan, particularly in the beginning when I was approached to launch the 3D Printing Industry (3DPI) news website. It actually got even crazier for a few years. This was also the time that 3D printing had fully transitioned from Rapid Prototyping, Rapid Tooling and Rapid Manufacturing and hit more mainstream awareness levels.
I managed to rein in the new levels of career chaos though, and I backed away from being “press” completely about 5 years ago, except for a couple of “favours” here and there. These days I am much happier working below the radar ghost writing and supporting smaller often start-up additive manufacturing companies with their communication strategies and content. I always ALWAYS advise them to avoid “world first” anything – even if it is!! They don’t always listen.
Do you have any (fun or not) story about your career to share with us?
The weirdest thing that ever happened to me was at the first 3D Printshow (back in 2012!). Apart from the fact that this was a show of a completely different calibre to anything our industry had ever seen before (it worked for a couple of years but then the industrial reality kicked back in); it was the first time I got to meet Bre Pettis (then CEO of MakerBot) in person. I can remember feeling quite nervous – he was like the god of 3D printing at the time because he had really put the technology on the map by commercialising the RepRap concept so successfully (strong dose of irony there, but we’ll leave that for another time). Anyway, I bumped into him (literally) on the show floor before I was scheduled to interview him formally.
And before I could say anything, he was like “OMG you’re Rachel Park!”
That imposter syndrome, it never really goes away!
Have you run into any challenges from being a woman in 3D printing?
Well, I’ve already mentioned the travelling. That really sucked when my kids were little. I also mentioned this is not unique to being a woman in 3D printing, just a woman trying to work and raise a family at the same time.
The 3D printing industry is still a male dominated industry, being as it is a sub-sector of the manufacturing sector. Again, it’s more about working as a woman rather than about the 3D printing industry itself, but there are some significant pockets of misogyny! Some of the egos I have encountered are the size of small continents yet very, very easily dented if you pose a challenging question or two. I’ll stress “pockets” here, because the majority of men in this industry — that I have met over the years — have been intelligent, thoughtful and thought-provoking, respectful and, sometimes even funny.
In 25 years I have only felt scared – fearful that I was in potential danger — once. I was able to extricate myself from this situation because I was able to ask someone I trusted for help. He did. Picking up on the cultural references of 2021 – it’s definitely not all men, but it is too many!
What advice do you have for women looking to get started in 3D printing?
I’m not the right person to ask this (see question 1).
How do you perceive gender (dis)parity in the 3D printing industry today? Is it an issue?
Definitely still an issue, but improving slowly. It’s not just about the numbers, but rather the opportunities and the barriers that still exist for women that are not even a consideration for most men!
Favourite moment you’ve experienced on the job?
Too many of them – and they all revolve around people and/or applications.
My very favourite moments nearly all start with someone leaning in, lowering their voice and saying something along the lines of: “This is not for print, but ……”