December 27th, 2011

planet

The best thing about science, and why I became an engineer

This quote in "Innumeracy" by John Allen Paulos COMPLETELY sums up why I became an engineer!

"I remember thinking of mathematics as a kind of omnipotent protector. You could prove things to people and they would have to believe you whether they liked you or not."


Two sentences!

My whole story: I was in high school honors English class and we were supposed to write papers on Shakespeare's Macbeth. I got a D on my paper. The teacher said I didn't cite enough outside sources to back up my viewpoint, which was that Lady Macbeth's criminal behavior was caused by her life in an oppressive society that didn't offer women any means for achievement. I had some sources. But remember this was in, like, 1996... do to research we had to go to these things called libraries and use books, and search in electronic databases if we were lucky. Resources were limited, especially for a somewhat unconventional thesis.

Our teacher had given a boy named Travis an A. She said Travis' paper was extraordinary. His theme was "ambition". Every day in class, we'd talked about ambition, she'd assigned a number of critical literary essays on "ambition" throughout the lessons. There wasn't a single idea in Travis' model paper that hadn't been spoon-fed to him by our teacher. And that, she held up, was what she wanted. I'd quoted from the papers she'd given us, in addition to some of my own that I'd found, I used quotes to back up my conclusion. But it was my conclusion and she didn't like that. Drawing a logical parallel wasn't worth anything without an accomplished scholar agreeing with me, she said.

I should thank her now, because after that paper I decided the literary world was bullshit... at the same time I was taking physics and geometry, and those teachers appreciated independent reasoning. "You can't think too much," a math teacher told me. At the end of anything I did there was an answer, plain and black and white. If I proved something logically, someone who wanted to disprove it would also have to use logic... not "you don't have enough degrees".

So I never took another honors or AP English class again. They weren't important for me to be an engineer. The rest of high school I cruised through the normal English classes where they were reading popular books and learning what a verb was (I kid you not, the divides in our educational system are amazing).

Engineering turned out to be very good for me. I'm not just speaking financially. I really lucked out and love what I do.

It didn't totally save me from the "it's who you know"-ness of the world, I have been sad to find out that even the best idea ever still need a publicist and a good powerpoint that the higher-ups can understand. Dang it! But it's better than the arts I think. In science we can tell when an idea works, and we can run a test and see if a thing passes. That's why I don't think I could operate in any other field. Underneath it all, we have our numbers and that's the most important thing.