The suckage of being an engineering student

A blog post at Wired claims to give the Top 5 Reasons It Sucks to be an Engineering Student. Discussion is in the comments there and at this lively thread at Slashdot. The reasons given at the Wired blog are (in reverse order):

  1. Awful textbooks
  2. Professors are rarely encouraging
  3. Dearth of quality counseling
  4. Other disciplines have inflated grades
  5. Every assignment feels the same

It sounds to me like the blogger at Wired is stereotyping, based on what goes on at large research universities. A student could avoid #2, #3, and maybe #5 just by doing a 3+2 program where the first three years are done at a liberal arts college (…shameless plug alert…).

As for the grade inflation, I admit there’s no solution to this short of doing the right thing and forcing real academic standards on some of the touchiest-feeliest portions of the liberal arts world. But I think that would lead to mass chaos, as the stability of many liberal arts college depends on having some department on campus to be the “good cop” which offers refuge to students who just aren’t that interested in getting good at something difficult. All I can offer is some sympathy, that math and science professors are often eviscerated on course evaluations by those very students, who are shocked — SHOCKED — that deadlines would be enforced, hard material would be on tests, and so forth.

So to all engineering students out there, keep on keepin’ on. It might suck a little in the short term, but when it’s over you get to run our entire society!



Filed under Education, Engineering, Higher ed, Liberal arts, Life in academia, Student culture

4 responses to “The suckage of being an engineering student

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  2. Old Fart

    Professors are rarely encouraging
    Part of this is keeping on the tradition. Eng. profs seem to have the attitude that since it was tough for them as students, they will continue in that vein. I imagine that the quality of eng profs as teachers is about the same as for other disciplines. Most eng profs I had were quite good as teachers.

    OTOH, the “rarely encouraging” attitude from profs and the workload means that there is a great amount of students working together on homework problems. “Cooperate and graduate.” This is a good modeling of how projects are carried out in the real world. It doesn’t matter who takes the credit. Bounce ideas off each other. See how there are different approaches to the same problem. Which is also why most engineering exams are open book. Etc.

    Other disciplines have inflated grades
    Employers realize this. Employers AND grad schools will consider a 2.8 to be a decent average for an engineering student. Employers and grad schools will NOT have the same attitude towards an English or Education major with a 2.8 GPA , for obvious reasons.

  3. @Old Fart: It occurred to me while reading your comment that at least three of the five reasons in the original article are all based on feelings — feeling encouraged, feeling like you got good counseling, feeling like your assignments are monotonous. On the other hand, engineering as a discipline is about as far away from touchy-feely as you can get. Perhaps the Wired blogger is seeing this as a negative, but others (myself included) see that as a positive.

    Also, there are a lot of professors out there who are terrible teachers but manage to make their students FEEL really good, but somehow we never seem to hear about how it sucks to be one of their students.

  4. Old Fart

    A further comment about awful textbooks

    Engineering textbooks are cut-and-dried. They exist to explain the subject, and a measure of the textbooks’ success in doing so is that engineers in practice often consult their old textbooks.

    I took two engineering courses in which a prof at my univ wrote the textbook: one directly from the prof, and the other was an intro course taught in many sections. The latter textbook was well-done, though admittedly somewhat dry. It had a wealth of well-illustrated examples, which for an intro course is to its credit. Well illustrated: as visual thinking is very important in engineering, this is of vital importance. I did on occasion consult the author in his office, even though he was not my prof.

    The former textbook had its problems, being somewhat cursory in its explanations, with not enough examples. This was related to the prof not being a good teacher: he had forgotten how to break down problems so that mere mortals could solve them. What is trivial for someone with decades of post-Ph.D. practice is not trivial to a third year student . OTOH, if one could come to the prof’s office with very specific questions, as opposed to saying that one had no idea what was going on, he was very good at explaining. His not being a good teacher in the classroom did not mean that he was not a very good engineer.

    Not surprisingly, the intro textbook that I praised had much wider national market penetration than did the textbook written by the prof with his head in the clouds. The intro Chemistry textbook written by my prof also had wide national market penetration.