James Cotton - McMaster

Engineering His Ideal Future

This mechanical engineering prof is exactly where he wants to be. And it all came to be thanks to some good advice from a mentor.


James Cotton is a Professor in Mechanical Engineering as well as the Associate Director of the McMaster Institute for Energy Studies at McMaster University.  We asked him everything from why he chose engineering to what’s on his playlist in hopes of giving you a better understanding of what goes on outside the lab for one of the best minds in Canadian research.

What inspired you to become an engineer?
I actually thought that I wanted to be a banker but I received some great advice from a friend and mentor, Prof. Joe Paradi, a Chemical Engineering professor at U of T, who explained that many engineers become leaders in all sectors, including banking. He also pointed out that I would get twice as many instructional hours in engineering for the same money it costs for a business degree. It turned out that I really liked the highly technical aspect of engineering, and here I am.

What’s on your playlist?
I listen to everything from Led Zeppelin, Ozzy and Pink Floyd to Ashley MacIsaac, Josh Rouse and David Francey.

If you could meet any historical figure who would it be and why?
Wilhelm Nusselt. Nusselt was a German mechanical engineer who developed one of the fundamental dimensionless analysis used in heat transfer engineering around 1915. I would like to know how he came up with a concept that is still relevant in my teaching and research one hundred years later and what other concepts he considered.

If you could do any profession other than your own what would it be?
I’m doing exactly what I want to do.

What do you like to do for fun?
Cook (and eat), cross country ski, travel, and spend time with my family.

Curious about James Cotton’s researcher? Check out his Orange Chair Interview.