?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Who should be an engineer

There's been a lot of talk in the engineering field lately about "remessaging" what we do.  Kids don't want to be engineers anymore, even though the field is growing, enrollement is dropping.  And more companies are having to look overseas to India and China just to get the numbers of engineers they need.  It's got less to do with labor savings and more to do with supply, that's just the fact of it.

The big mistake we make is that when kids ask us "so who should be an engineer?" we say "Well, you should be really good at math & science."

I was not "really good" at math and science.  I enjoyed science.  I was slow on my multiplication tables.  Algebra didn't even really click with me, until I was like 17.  I was not in any advanced math classes, I was just average.

I was good at some math, like geometry and proofs.  But I think it was just by chance.  It's a sad thing in our country that we think of math as this one big thing, when it's such a diverse field.  Saying you're bad at math is like saying you don't like pie.  Really, you don't like any pie?  Apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, lemon meringue?  You really hate every kind of pie?

But despite not being a math wiz, I've done well as an engineer.  I'm enthusiastic, I like figuring out where to start, I like explaining things to people, I'm good at organizing things, I'm motivated by improving the world.  All of this is important.

Saying that you should be an engineer if you're good at math is like saying that you should be an artist if you like drawing lines, or you should be an accountant if you like balancing your checkbook.  There are plenty of people who like that stuff, there are plenty who don't.  It's especially hard when you say those things to a 12-year-old, because their view of the world of math is so limited, you risk having them associate "engineering" with those multiplication tables.  It's not that at all.

Of course you have to be smart enough to know what 6x4 is, but I think every well-paying field requires that level of intelligence.  What separates engineering is the problem solving, the environment, who you work with, the projects you work on... that's what makes it the career for you.

Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
binaryprecision
Nov. 1st, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
I think that advice (about being good at math and science) stems more from what's required to get an engineering degree, not necessarily what engineers do on a daily basis. I don't use differential equations or electromagnetics on a daily basis, but I took those classes in college because they taught me the foundations of engineering principles. I COULD have gone into a field where I used that stuff all the time, but it turns out the majority of engineering jobs aren't that in depth when it comes to math and science. Mostly we're just using an engineering thought process to solve problems and create products, not solving for X or Y in a particular equation. I've found there are also a number of "engineering" jobs that usually have very few math and science responsibilities associated with them: vendor sales (not FAEs, just the sales folks), test engineers, project engineers, non-fab process engineers, etc. But to get to all those, you still have to pass the math and science classes in the degree plan.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 2nd, 2011 01:33 am (UTC)
Yup, yup, yup. I had a guy once ask me how much math I used on a daily basis and I responded very little. Some algebra, a but of trig here and there. His response? "HAH!" What? It was like he thought he uncovered some great conspiracy. You do need to be capable of understanding the math. That doesn't mean you need to do Laplace transforms in your head.
(no subject) - binaryprecision - Nov. 2nd, 2011 01:50 am (UTC) - Expand
sandokai
Nov. 2nd, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
Darnnit, now I wonder if I should have been an engineer...
mrs_dragon
Nov. 2nd, 2011 01:32 am (UTC)
In our outreach events we always tell the girls "What do engineers do? Engineers solve problems!" I think most people go the "math/science" answer because THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT ENGINEERS DO EITHER. So it's this old line that gets used over and over again.

Part of the remessaging campaign that I find odd/confusing is that they are trying to reach girls by rebranding engineering as a field where you can "help people" and "make a difference" since apparently that matters more to women than men. And sure you can do that but that is completely not what motivated me to the field. I suppose it might sway some of the people headed into medicine and law though, if engineering was viewed in the same way.
spacefem
Nov. 2nd, 2011 02:51 am (UTC)
Yeah, I don't totally get the motivation there but I assume there's some research behind it. I guess the thinking is that girls are more social, and there's this myth that engineers are isolationist, people-hating trolls or something, so we're combating that?

I can't totally put into words what *did* get me into the field, so I probably shouldn't dwell much on that element :)
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 3rd, 2011 01:59 am (UTC) - Expand
litlebanana
Nov. 2nd, 2011 02:30 am (UTC)
I suspect that while you don't have to necessarily be good in math, you need to at least not hate it or be afraid of it.

My husband, who has a math degree but works as an engineer, seems to think that engineers aren't interested in math at all. He's constantly frustrated about this.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 3rd, 2011 01:51 am (UTC)
My husband, who has a math degree but works as an engineer, seems to think that engineers aren't interested in math at all. He's constantly frustrated about this.

Word. Math is a very boring, somewhat necessary evil. People who enjoy math for math's sake are a special breed. Engineers are far more interested in making stuff DO things. To give an analogy--math people (and physicists, chemists, the pure theory people) they love nothing more than a beautiful, complex function, where the math perfectly describes the physical phenomenon. Then engineers come through, draw some straight lines through parts of it, dub it "linear approximations" and call it good enough. Drives them nuts.
(no subject) - dichroic - Nov. 3rd, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spacefem - Nov. 3rd, 2011 06:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 01:33 am (UTC) - Expand
aparecida
Nov. 2nd, 2011 03:46 am (UTC)
Agreed. Thanks for this.

Relatedly, being a doctor does not result from or require being good in science, nor should you major in biology to go to med school.
spacefem
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
Just curious- what should you major in?
(no subject) - aparecida - Nov. 3rd, 2011 03:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spacefem - Nov. 3rd, 2011 10:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 01:35 am (UTC) - Expand
fauxklore
Nov. 2nd, 2011 09:33 am (UTC)
Another thing I like to point out is that engineering can be highly creative. There is this odd idea out there that technical careers are routine, while I've found things to be anything but.
mrs_dragon
Nov. 3rd, 2011 01:52 am (UTC)
I think people think that equations are boring so the work must be to. *shrugs* Design is highly creative, no equation is going to describe the art of good design.
sunneschii
Nov. 2nd, 2011 03:06 pm (UTC)
I agree with what you wrote.
I think the reason why many decide against engineering is that it's hard work (or too difficult) to pass university for what you get in the end. Recognition is not too good for engineering, and neither is the pay.
spacefem
Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:19 pm (UTC)
Really? What pays better? I mean it looks great when you compare it to other jobs where only a BS is required, and look at the average not just the "shining stars" (like, I know a lot of actors make millions, but the vast majority are waiting tables, right?)
(no subject) - sunneschii - Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spacefem - Nov. 2nd, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sunneschii - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sunneschii - Nov. 2nd, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 3rd, 2011 01:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dichroic - Nov. 3rd, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 01:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 01:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
dichroic
Nov. 3rd, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
What constitutes a fabulous life? Because I'm pretty sure I can point out examples of people I know (including me) getting most parameters I can think of that qualify, except for the fame and adulation. (A rare few even get that, but I admit it isn't exactly the lot of a normal engineer.)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - dichroic - Nov. 5th, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 01:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 02:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 02:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 03:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 03:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spacefem - Nov. 4th, 2011 11:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mrs_dragon - Nov. 4th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

November 2017
S M T W T F S
   1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow