To brutally honest, the answer to the question “Did I make a difference ?” would have to be “Not much” for large parts of my career. Which fortunately is a slightly more positive answer than if the question had been “Did I leave a legacy ?” – the latter would have to be answered with a flat “No”.
During my student days I never raised my horizon beyond getting through the exams without having to resit them – an ambition, low though it may be, that I achieved in all but my first year at university. On the other hand, one could hope that a thesis work had the possibility of having more of an impact, especially since the chemical products used in the galvanising and chromating process were supplied by Oxy Metal Industries, and presumably they would have had some interest in getting feedback on how their products performed. However, no feedback was forthcoming and I can only assume that the thesis was filed away and never looked at again.
My time as a researcher may have made a difference to myself in that it shaped me and taught me more in depth knowledge of certain metallurgical aspects of the job. However, I doubt that even the assistance I provided towards existing and future thesis works in the end resulted in anything but ephemeral value, and the literature surveys I produced would soon be made outdated by new developments in steel products.
As for the Belgian army, it may have shaped me as an individual, however I could not pretend that as a person I contributed in any meaningful way to the success of the Belgian army, or failure thereof. After all, that’s not what’s expected of you, and probably would have been discouraged if you had raised your head above the parapet.
The first time I think I made a difference would have been during my work at Iscor on attempting to correlated the results of the Flex-draw test on DWI tinplate with steel making and casting process, where I dispelled many convenient myths by confronting them with hard data. One can only hope that not too much of these findings got lost in the mists of time.
However, the first time that I really made a difference was through my involvement in the steel selection for the Mossref process. Maybe someone else might have done the same job with the same level of success, but in the end I was the person in the driving seat who ensured that we came through the qualification trials with flying colours. Provided that this ability to produce high-quality pressure vessel steel did not get lost in subsequent years, this could even be an achievement of lasting value. However, since I no longer have any contacts in Iscor, I have no way of knowing whether part of my building stone is still in place after more than 25 years.
See also the second part of “Did I Make a Difference ?” to see what my impact was in the second half of my career.