Five Questions For … Michael Webber, UT Professor and Energy Expert

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and ask him what’s his daily routine or habit? What does he do every day? He was a great innovator and I’d want to understand more about that.

X: What’s your most impressive or most quirky skill that has nothing to do with your day job?

MW: I do a pretty good impersonation of a chicken. It makes my kids laugh. 

X: Tell me about your early influences.

MW: An obvious early influence is my father. He was a professor for 40 years. I’m basically becoming my father. I am a professor just like my dad. I bought my childhood home from my parents. I have the same commute as my father. He had three kids. I had three kids, and both the middle kids name is David. I’m a very different kind of professor. He loved the lab. If you took him out of the lab, it would make him grumpy. He had no ambition to be department chair. He just wanted to do research and teaching. I’m much more outward facing. I engage with the public and am much more ambitious and prominent in many ways. I’m not so interested in being in the lab. The habit that I have from him is he is very calm and even and fair and I got a lot of that. I’m not real moody. I don’t yell at people. I don’t lose my temper. He worked a lot. He loved his job. If we didn’t need him—he coached my soccer and basketball teams—he’d work. We are both drawn to our work. We find it very rewarding.

X: What did you want to be when you were a kid? 

MW: I wanted to be a professor. When I was six years old, I wanted to be a fire truck. And then I wanted to be, in the third grade, I wanted to be involved in space exploration. I never wanted to be an astronaut. I hate rollercoasters and I’m afraid of heights. I have horrible eyesight. I could be in charge of the space program. Mission control was appealing to me. I went to college for aerospace engineering for that purpose but thought I would be a professor. When I came out of undergrad, I only applied to graduate school to be a professor.

But I always had side businesses, like lawn mowing. I have an entrepreneurial side. Everyone thought I would be a businessman. They didn’t think I would be an engineer. I believe in the mission of engineering more than the mission of business. I came to UT to be a professor and went to graduate school at Stanford to be a professor at UT. At grad school, I was miserable. I thought, I will never be a professor. I hate this. So, I went into industry for six years. Then I thought, screw that. I want to be an academic. So, my prediction to be a professor at UT came true. But for a while, I was averse to the idea.

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