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Why Students Are Leaving Engineering

ScuttleMonkey posted about 9 years ago | from the not-so-gentle-gardening dept.

Education 1218

Ted writes "A former engineering major has written an interesting article explaining why he thinks many smart students are not studying engineering anymore." Many business leaders have commented on the lack of engineers and several companies have even started initiatives to help bolster our diminishing ranks. Will these measures be enough, or does the system require much more drastic measures?

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Article summary (5, Insightful)

seanadams.com (463190) | about 9 years ago | (#13664168)

Individual with neither passion nor aptitude for engineering attempts engineering degree, finds it tough, fails, and blames the system. Aside from the math being hard, he complains that the parties were dull.

We should make our engineering programs easier and more glamorous so that more people can hack it. This will help our colleges turn out better scientists and innovators.

Re:Article summary (1)

ePhil_One (634771) | about 9 years ago | (#13664188)

Aside from the math being hard, he complains that the parties were dull.

Work hard, play hard. I recall the parties on the Engineering campus being much better.

Re:Article summary (5, Insightful)

b0r1s (170449) | about 9 years ago | (#13664191)

There's also a bit of complaining about the poor state of advanced education, which has some validity as well.

I spent a lot of money (in loans and scholarships) to go to a GREAT school. Many of my friends took the free ride to the local state school, and found that their professors didn't teach, the TAs didn't care, and they walked away knowing very little. The cause of this problem is complex, but the state of public secondary teaching is slacking, and that's bound to impact the graduates at some level, too.

Mod parent up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664274)

"took the free ride to the local state school, and found that their professors didn't teach, the TAs didn't care, and they walked away knowing very little."

This was essentially my experience with undergraduate engineering. The state university I'm going to has little interest in anything other than churning out gross numbers of graduates, with little mind for the quality of the program. The program itself is a series of hoops to jump through - put up with shit now, if you stick it through to the end they can be sure you'll put up with it for the rest of your career. I switched out of the engineering program after three years, and I'm going to be graduating with a degree in film studies.

Re:Article summary (4, Insightful)

SilverspurG (844751) | about 9 years ago | (#13664311)

Many of my friends took the free ride to the local state school, and found that their professors didn't teach, the TAs didn't care, and they walked away knowing very little
But, if they put up with the boredom properly, they found themselves easily situated to take the appropriate engineering tests and the GRE and move on to another 4 years of the same dull mindless grind. Then then could graduate with an advanced degree and shoe themselves right in to a cozy salary.

Like you, I went to a really great school, and then found myself in a working world that didn't care. Unless you have extraordinary social contracts the salary will be based 90% on the degree. Had I known then what I know now, I would've saved my money, slacked my way through state school, and slacked my way into a cushy PhD position.

Re:Article summary (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 years ago | (#13664353)

Not all public universities suck. Some, like Georgia Tech, are just as good as the best private ones. I think the more likely problem is that either he went to a crappy regional school, or that he never really wanted to be there in the first place, and brought the entire problem on himself.

Re:Article summary (1)

Rimbo (139781) | about 9 years ago | (#13664240)

That was pretty much my feeling, too. I had classes exactly like the ones he described, and I did badly at them, too. But the difference is, I'm a better engineer because I had the drive and desire to keep going anyway.

Or maybe it's just stubbornness.

Engineers (5, Insightful)

Mark_MF-WN (678030) | about 9 years ago | (#13664254)

You know what? Everytime I cross a bridge, ride an elevator, or fail to be crushed by a collapsing building, I'm thankful that engineering schools work the living crap out of engineers.

Engineering is too important to be easy. The right way to get more engineers into circulation would be better pay -- it's basic supply and demand. When demand exceeds supply, prices must go up.

It's funny how corporations love economics right up until the point where it involves paying intelligent people higher wages.

Re:Engineers (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664279)

Anyone can build a bridge that stays up, an elevator that doesn't plunge, or a building that doesn't collapse in an 8.0 earthquake.

It's the engineer's job to make sure the bridge barely stays up, the elevator is almost too heavy for its cables, and the building will only come down in an 8.1 earthquake.

Re:Engineers (5, Insightful)

arminw (717974) | about 9 years ago | (#13664334)

....The right way to get more engineers into circulation would be better pay.....

As long as an investment banker, stock trader or lawyer makes several times what an engineer or engineering teacher gets, there is a big disincentive to study engineering. Supply/demand appears not to be working or there is too much supply or too little demand for engineers. Liberal arts graduated company execs want to hire engineers for cheap and have convinced the govt. to let them get that cheap labor overseas.

Re:Engineers (5, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 years ago | (#13664368)

Yeah, and what makes that even more ridiculous is that when a doctor (for example) screws up, only one person dies. When an engineer screws up, bunches of people die!

Alternative summary (5, Insightful)

cpeikert (9457) | about 9 years ago | (#13664256)

Instruction in math, engineering, and sciences is abysmal. At least, according to the author.

I had some phenomenal instructors at my own Smartypants U, but there were some bad ones, too. And even the best of them sometimes failed to communicate the concepts well. Ideally there would be plenty of instructors who can really capture the students' imagination and communicate the joy and beauty of the ideas underlying mathematics, computer science, and engineering. Lord knows that these fields have no shortage of beautiful and powerful ideas.

However, it seems to be true that teaching is undervalued in the typical faculty job. There aren't many reliable metrics taken, and of those that are, there seems to be little accountability for poor performance. For research output, on the other hand, judgement is precise and swift. Under such a regime, how can one blame a professor for focusing on his research? Certainly there are many cases of faculty who are brilliant researchers and teachers, but in the more marginal cases, it's typically the teaching that gets the short end of the stick.

For the long-term health of mathematics and science, I think more focus must be on inspiring students within those fields, and that requires uniformly good teaching and advising. How we get there, I have no idea.

Re:Article summary (1)

HTTP Error 403 403.9 (628865) | about 9 years ago | (#13664267)

Ok, so the guy got his ass kicked and he quits.

Stand up, dust yourself off, reapply eyeglass tape and get back into the f'ing classroom.

Re:Article summary (1)

FLEB (312391) | about 9 years ago | (#13664377)

Or, at least, come to the realization that you aren't cut out for it, and refrain from bitching.

Re:Article summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664275)

You study very hard for years. You amass considerable competence. Other people who don't listen to you because it would mean admitting they know 10% as much as you get to make the decisions.

blech. at least if my stuff breaks i can fix it :)

I had no passion for it and still made it. (3, Insightful)

emil (695) | about 9 years ago | (#13664292)

The author is spot on in quite a few respects - engineering is more a test of endurance than intelligence. Professors are assigned courses that have nothing to do with their areas of research, and it shows. Most TAs hate their jobs and constantly attempt to unionize because of poor working conditions.

Shortly before I started engineering, a crazed physics TA went on a shooting rampage through my campus, killing seven people before he turned the gun on himself. Yes, being a TA at a major university can be a very bad career move.

Get as much education as you can from a community college, where teaching is the main goal and not a sideline. It will do wonders for your GPA.

University Professors take a liking to students for the flimsiest of reasons - in my case, after compiling twm for hpux and replacing vue, my 68000 assembler professor hounded me to enter graduate school (an offer I sanely declined).

The whole system is a sham. Worthless waste of time, just to have a line item on your resume.

It;'s about the attitude. (5, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 years ago | (#13664295)

You know, the guy in the article could almost be describing my school (Georgia Tech), except that I haven't noticed as many incompetant teachers, and they seem to care more (but then again, it could very well be that the guy was ignoring the help available).

However, despite the school tradition of complaining, it's almost always self-deprecating humor rather than genuine unhappiness. Around here, we take pride in our 40%s, when the average is 20% -- numbers don't mean anything without context, after all. Also, most of us were warned before even applying to the school that we should expect our grades to average a letter grade below what we got in high school.

You're absolutely right: this guy has completely the wrong attitude, so it's no wonder he gave up. It's just as well, too: everyone I've met with his kind of attitude would have made a horrible engineer anyway! As my Statics professor says: "When engineers make mistakes, people die. You must be ever vigilant, and you must be perfect." And the only way you can do that is if you really enjoy what you're doing.

If this guy did become an engineer, he'd kill people!

Re:Article summary (3, Insightful)

macrom (537566) | about 9 years ago | (#13664316)

Here's a better way to summarize the article :

If we're going to churn out students with a passion for engineering studies that actually KNOW their stuff, we need more teachers like Dr. Richard Feynman and less TA's who learned barely enough English to fill out their student visa forms.

And he's right. Some of us decided to suffer through our science and math courses, but many students turn to majors that are a bit less stressful in order to actually enjoy their college years. What's the fun in studying 5 hours a day for a single class only to get a 35% on a test? And then find out that 35% was a GOOD grade?!?! Most people don't want to see their tuition used in that manner. It's just us die hards that tend to tough it out. And you need more than a few die hards to keep a field of study moving forward for this country's future.

The answer is to just wait. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664331)

As soon as there becomes a scarcity of engineers and companies become desperate enough, the salaries will rise once more to acceptable levels and you'll quickly have a glut of engineering sutdents again.

Supply and demand, folks. Plain and simple.

Re:Article summary (2, Insightful)

DarkBlackFox (643814) | about 9 years ago | (#13664340)

Easier? Hell no.

Watering down the material won't help anything. Instead of students giving up/failing because the material is "too hard," you'll end up graduating students who lack the skills necessary to do good things(tm). Engineering is a challanging field. If students don't learn how to accept and cope with challenging problems, then they'll fail in the real world too. I'd not want to be hooked up to a life support system or drive in a car designed by a D- engineering student.

More glamorous? Tough call. On the one hand, you'll attract more potentially bright people (though many who would consider engineering as a career are already well aware of the triumphs and tribulations of such a trade). On the other hand, you may end up with the "fast and easy training = big pay check" crowd, which causes all sorts of problems (see above).

Hard work (5, Insightful)

BWJones (18351) | about 9 years ago | (#13664176)

Yeah, yeah. The complaint is familiar. In my undergraduate career, we routinely had to deal with taking 13 credit hours of science courses like chemistry, molecular biology and genetics, slaving away in labs until late into the evening while friends taking business courses were taking 18 credit hours for classes that started at 10:00am and were finished by 3:00pm.

Any of us in the sciences can relate horror stories like the molecular neurobiology exam that I took where upon receiving my midterm exam found myself stunned to be looking at a grade of 48%. My look of pain caused the professor to exclaim to me: "What are you worried about? You got the class high". Or how about the mid level Calculus course I took that was taught by a TA who could speak little english, but perfect Russian and often lapsed into it along with weird non-traditional symbols. She routinely exclaimed to us that we were stupid and she should not be teaching a "remedial" class, which honestly may have been, but for someone who came into the sciences from being a film major, I needed the refresher as the only previous Calculus I had was in high school.

But you know what? Science and engineering are hard. That's the honest truth. The classes are difficult, and sometimes you need to show initiative by going outside the class to other resources to master the material in the face of crappy teaching assistants. Part of the system is making it through all of the obstacles like late nights of study, long hours in the lab, poor teaching assistants, etc...etc...etc... It shows that you can 1) persevere, 2) learn, 3) troubleshoot and 4) Work Hard. I am not saying that things should not be improved. Rather, I think they should be improved, but I don't want our scientists, physicians and engineers to be sliding by either.

For those students who may be learning challenged, I am sensitive to those issues as well, but there may be some things that are simply not achievable for all students. That is a reality and those students should be counseled to pick a major that is doable for their skills. Or they should simply realize that it may take them longer to graduate. And before anyone starts shouting me down on this, you should know that I have dyslexia and tend to be a slow reader which makes things for someone with a doctorate a bit hard, but this is the career I wanted and to compensate, I spend more time reading than my colleagues. I knew I could hack it though and just work harder than others to stay current.

Re:Hard work (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664210)

Why bother? So you can have a 10-year career lifespan and then be laid off by the guy who did start his classes at 10 AM and end them at 3 PM, then went out drinking; who, incidentally, makes more than you?

Re:Hard work (1)

synx (29979) | about 9 years ago | (#13664363)

Science and engineering is NOT AS HARD as you make it out...

especially if you have a teacher who teaches... the concepts! What an idea!

Anyways, saying a subject is hard is no excuse to pay $40k/yr for a teacher who can't even speak the prevailing language. What kind of B.S. is that? Having a burned out grad student teaching an upper level engineering class... That is just an insult, slap in the face!

Guess what, that shit doesn't seem to happen in Canada :-)

Why? (5, Insightful)

gamer4Life (803857) | about 9 years ago | (#13664189)

1) Alot of work
2) Alot of theory with little practice
3) Less time to socialize (alot of work)
4) Pay is less than other professions that require less work.
5) No girls in class, and at work after you graduate.

Did I miss something?

WTF (1)

mwilli (725214) | about 9 years ago | (#13664243)

What? No girls in class? Proposterous. I can speak as a current engineering student, and I have several girls in several of my engineering courses.

Yes, it is a lot of work for an engineering degree, but should prove to pay off in the end. I have many friends that changed their major after 1 or 2 years, and it's simply because this major was not for them. I have often debated myself whether or not to switch my major, but have decided to stay put for now.

Re:WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664294)

I've got 5% women in my masters program (space systems) but about 20% were female in my aerospace ug degree. Of those, about half are un-dateable though what with their facial hair or other nastys.

Re:WTF (1)

mwilli (725214) | about 9 years ago | (#13664336)

Yeah, those stats are about the same for my comp E degree program. I was just commenting that their are womein, not how attractive they are.

Luckily... (1)

cornface (900179) | about 9 years ago | (#13664193)

Shelf Stockologist and Greeting Technician are still obtainable with the ubiquitous and useful communications degree.

Re:Luckily... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 9 years ago | (#13664342)

Shelf Stockologist and Greeting Technician are still obtainable with the ubiquitous and useful communications degree.

At least they obtain a higher frequency of opposite gender encounter opportunities.
             

Welcome to the club (1)

timeToy (643583) | about 9 years ago | (#13664196)

I think a large number of students have horrors story about their engineering studies time. In my case I study electrical engineering, get my diploma, but end up going back to university studying History of Art and Cinema. The funny thing is that 6 years after finishing school and after few years spend in the Cinema Production field, I come back to Engineering, software engineering this time, as a manager, and I realize that all the thing that I learn at the time where actually valuable !

It's Not All That Bad (3, Insightful)

filmmaker (850359) | about 9 years ago | (#13664198)

From the Article: "Find a way to teach engineering to verbally oriented students who can't learn math by sense of smell."

I've gone back and forth and back again on this...and right now I'm of the mind that if you can't learn math by sense of smell, well, na-na-na, hey-hey-hey goodbye. Nobody held my hand through Asian, Russian, German and Indian math and computer science profs and incompetent grad student assistants and a myriad of other difficulties (in getting a BA mathematics). Yeah, it's not a perfect world, but if this kid was half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd have made it despite any obstacles. I mean, he kept going on about being a "verbal" learner...and if you're out there, dude, math is not a "verbal" topic...just FYI.

Re:It's Not All That Bad (1)

sharkb8 (723587) | about 9 years ago | (#13664238)

You got a B.A.

Don't go patting yourself on the back just yet.

Re:It's Not All That Bad (1)

filmmaker (850359) | about 9 years ago | (#13664269)

Oh, c'mon. That was a choice. A B.S. would have not allowed me to achieve minors in German and philosophy...without getting close to 170 credits. I had 150 as it was. But not taking a second course in physics and a chemistry lab hardly removes me from rigorous territory. It was also a choice to take so much computer science (which didn't advance my degree, strictly speaking). You might almost say I went to college to learn.

ASIAN? Fucking please. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664357)

Why the continent for Asians, but countries for the rest? Because all Asians look the same, right? Of course.

And, by the way, Indians are considered Asian.

Students leaving engineering but no shortage ? (1)

GaelTadh (916987) | about 9 years ago | (#13664200)

If students are leaving engineering but there is no shortage of geeks [slashdot.org] , maybe there just isn't the same demand that there once was. Or maybe people don't see engineering as a cash cow [csmonitor.com] anymore.
So only students who have an interest in engineering enroll and complete the courses. I wonder what the numbers of high schoolers taking science and higher math are.

Re:Students leaving engineering but no shortage ? (1)

b0r1s (170449) | about 9 years ago | (#13664221)

I don't know how valid your cash cow point is - from what I've seen, a talented engineer still gets to name his price in Orange County.

We had a position open for a .NET/SQL Server dev for 8+ months, and couldn't find anyone who was qualified and could pass a basic competancy test.

Re:Students leaving engineering but no shortage ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664309)

If you were looking for a talented engineer rather than a trained engineer, you wouldn't be administering a .NET-specific competency test. Instead you would find someone who thoroughly understands software development and database design principles because a truly talented developer doesn't need to know the language in advance to be able to give you an excellent product.

Re:Students leaving engineering but no shortage ? (2, Interesting)

fredistheking (464407) | about 9 years ago | (#13664225)

My Starting Salary was $60000 a year with an EE degree from a lesser known Engineering School. Name a profession where you can make more with a bachelor's degree.

Re:Students leaving engineering but no shortage ? (1)

zerus (108592) | about 9 years ago | (#13664255)

Nuclear engineering.... yeah, still engineering, but just had to say it, $65k was my senior class's avg starting salary

Re:Students leaving engineering but no shortage ? (1)

Associate (317603) | about 9 years ago | (#13664298)

Drug dealing. But the benefits suck.

geek != engineer (1)

J_Omega (709711) | about 9 years ago | (#13664352)

IT folks and such also count as geeks, and there are growing numbers of them - less engineers.

Why are fewer people becoming engineers? (5, Insightful)

MsWillow (17812) | about 9 years ago | (#13664204)

Simple answers: P*ss-poor pay, insane hours, unreasonable deadlines and no real power. I was a senior software engineer, and lived through all that, and hated that part of my chosen career. Watching morons making more money, making decisions based on ?horoscopes? ?coin tosses? ?eeny meeny miney moe? really sucked rocks.

Since then, I've steered bright kids into an engineering *hobby* and a far more lucrative, less stressful career in management.

Re:Why are fewer people becoming engineers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664266)

I think he was referring to engineering. You said software engineering. I may be wrong, but that sounds to me like "applied computer science". If that is so, then you are not an engineer, but a programmer.

Re:Why are fewer people becoming engineers? (1)

tepples (727027) | about 9 years ago | (#13664328)

I may be wrong, but that sounds to me like "applied computer science". If that is so, then you are not an engineer, but a programmer.

Any more than a mechanical engineer practices "applied physics"?

The guy is right. (3, Insightful)

Concern (819622) | about 9 years ago | (#13664205)

I can see it now. Cue the chorus of people who say, "this guy must be dumb, no wonder he washed out."

You know what? Bullshit. He has a point.

During my four years of undergraduate, I did my share of engineering, CS, physics, and I threw in an extra liberal arts minor just because I was bored. My experience was exactly like his. The only difference is that I didn't want law or medicine, and was determined to suffer.

I learned mostly outside of class - primarily on the job (I paid for school by already working in the field I was studying). There are always exceptions, and exceptional teachers. Few and far between. For the most part the place was ridiculous, and I constantly pitied the kids who had to actually rely on the teachers to learn.

The sad fact is, the pedagogical technique is absolute shit at the university level. Absolute shit, even in some of the supposedly "great" American schools. The comparison to the secondary level, with its few remaining standards and shattered, vague but lingering sense of professionalism, is stark. These people often have no idea how to teach, and there is very little expectation that they should. There is no requirement for communication skills, metaphorical skills, or even language skills. The grading practices are ludicrous - almost dadaesque. There is no oversight. No standards. For fun, add critical first year classes with 250 students to a teacher. And of course, quite a few of them just plain suck altogether. As an educational environment, it is completely out to lunch.

The math curricula is particularly noxious, but the problem is by no means limited to mathematics. The best I can say of them is that the department may have seen itself as a filter rather than a teacher, selecting the few people who already know as much as they do and can prove it through arcane and torturous inquisition, and discarding the rest. But were they really such big believers in "natural talent" and "high standards?" This theory flies out the window when you see the entire class curved up 50 points. I once saw someone who failed a midterm and skipped a final curved up to a C-. It wasn't about standards. It was just completely non-functional. But this guy expresses it much better than I do.

Making excuses for these people is pointless. If you paid thousands of dollars to learn Differential Equations and got a gibbering 24 year old who barely understands them himself and can even more barely speak your language to explain it, you just got robbed.

I hate to say it, but it feels like the final stages of the great educational decline. We've been letting the public educational system burn at every level for decades, and now I think our higher educational institutions are finally starting to break...

Re:The guy is right. (1)

mungtor (306258) | about 9 years ago | (#13664315)

He has no point except that he didn't select the right school. Want to go to a school because of it's reputation? Or because the professors are famous? Congrats, you failed the first test.

College, regardless of your course of study, is just like life. If you're lucky, you'll get back the same amount of effort that you put in. Most likely you'll get less, but expecting to be hand-held and spoon-fed for the rest of your life is contemptable. My thermodynamics prof was useless so we banded together as a group and learned it with help from an excellent TA and some helpful upperclassmen. The knowledge is there if you truly wish to seek it.

There isn't anything in this article except the whining of a failure with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

Re:The guy is right. (1)

tepples (727027) | about 9 years ago | (#13664354)

He has no point except that he didn't select the right school. Want to go to a school because of it's reputation? Or because the professors are famous? Congrats, you failed the first test.

Want to go to a school because your parents can afford it? Congrats, you failed the second test.

duh (4, Informative)

timmarhy (659436) | about 9 years ago | (#13664206)

engineering is supposed to be hard and a great achievment. it's only in managment fantasy land that it's an easily replacable position.

Great news for the Philippines! (1)

Pao|o (92817) | about 9 years ago | (#13664208)

We got boat loads of engineers without jobs. :) For the love of God dont send more jobs to India or China.

No Sex. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664212)

No sex.

Easier as a transhuman (1)

Fen14 (917322) | about 9 years ago | (#13664219)

A transhuman would just derive most stuff.

Re:Easier as a transhuman (1)

hagbard5235 (152810) | about 9 years ago | (#13664321)

You don't have to be a transhuman. I got through a physics and math degree by derivation. I don't remember things well, but I have a good intuitive grasp of things. So I would generally derive what I needed as I went along. It worked fairly well for many things...

Depends on the type of engineering (4, Insightful)

zerus (108592) | about 9 years ago | (#13664223)

In my field, we've seen almost a 40% increase in undergrad enrollment over the past few years, so I doubt that it's every engineering field that's losing students. Sure since the tech bubble burst, students that would have studied a CS or related field might rethink their plans and pick a different major, but that's not every field. Nuclear, Mechanical, Chemical, Civil, etc etc have all seen steady increases in enrollment. It's most likely just students forecasting what field they think they can get a job in based on the current day demand.

society (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664230)

cuz like..engineering is hard ok? totally..

or..

word homie you make mills sling'n on the street.

God Bless America.

Not Everyone Just Left (1)

oiper (575250) | about 9 years ago | (#13664234)

Some of us were woken up and asked to leave. =( I just tell my friends that I'm "taking time off" for a few semesters.

Weed out courses (4, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 9 years ago | (#13664242)

Well, interesting thoughts on his part, but the truth is that all curriculums have weed-out courses or they are not worth a damn. Discrete math is used for a weed out on CS because it IS the core of CS (it is a fun course, though). Likewise, it makes a good wee-out for any major that requires it. Many ppl just do not get it.

With that said, this guys real problem was not that the university was too tough. The real problem is that his high school did not prepare him. More likely, it coddle him into thinking that he was one of the top. However, with US grade inflation, he was most like average. Hitting top course right off the bat would be difficult.

Now, as to the prof who could not teach, well, there are a lot of them out there. No university and curriculum is immune from it.

Re:Weed out courses (1)

Incoherent07 (695470) | about 9 years ago | (#13664332)

The real problem is that his high school did not prepare him. More likely, it coddle him into thinking that he was one of the top. However, with US grade inflation, he was most like average.
I don't think that's a problem with the high school. I don't care what school you went to, if you go to a sufficiently high tier university you are going to get your ego popped. They might warn you "look, you won't get straight As through natural talent alone", but that doesn't mean you'll listen, or heed the warning. I go to a school with a lot of those people, and a lot of them just can't take getting a B. (A lot of them are premed, incidentally, although there are plenty of engineers like that.)

As for discrete math, if that isn't a weedout course for CS I don't know what would be.

Why I'm no longer an engineering major (1)

Rob_Ogilvie (872621) | about 9 years ago | (#13664244)

Getting out of high school, I was very good at math and wanted to study a practical application of math at college. My life goals were to do stuff that took money. I wanted a job that earned me a lot of money. After three years majoring in ME, my life goals changed significantly - I wanted to be happy and would rather work 40 (instead of 60) hour weeks and spend time with a family (meaning I had to find a girl - they don't really exist in the ME world) than be rich. Of course, now I'm an IS major... and still don't see any girls around. Oops.

Re:Why I'm no longer an engineering major (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 9 years ago | (#13664312)

It used to be that as the limit of GPA went from 4->0, then major went from *E to (business|natural science). Now, I guess it to goes to [CM]IS?

Re:Why I'm no longer an engineering major (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | about 9 years ago | (#13664362)

lol... an IS major, and you think you will only work 40 hours a week :roflmao:

You do know that the IS guys are the ones who are on call to fix the problems when the network/database/application/server/etc., breaks at 4:30pm on Friday night and needs to be up running perfectly on Monday morning because of the presentation that the sale's department is giving to a customer which whom if the sale does not occur will cause the company to go bankrupt and everyone will be layed-off with you possibly being fired first? You know this right? Really, please tell me you know this...

no point to be an engineer in the US (3, Insightful)

sunilhari (606555) | about 9 years ago | (#13664249)

How about after finishing a bachelor's and a master's degree with a 3.5 GPA, your job gets outsourced to India, China, or any other cheaper country?

Companies are giving real incentive to be an engineer.

That's what I did, and now I'm in med school, training for a job that can't be outsourced.

Re:no point to be an engineer in the US (5, Informative)

Tablizer (95088) | about 9 years ago | (#13664299)

and now I'm in med school, training for a job that can't be outsourced.

Reality Check [washingtonpost.com] , let alone potential visa doctor attacks. H1B's are not just for computers.

Snippets:

        Three months ago, Howard Staab learned that he suffered from a life-threatening heart condition and would have to undergo surgery at a cost of up to $200,000 -- an impossible sum for the 53-year-old carpenter from Durham, N.C., who has no health insurance.

        So he outsourced the job to India.

        Taking his cue from cost-cutting U.S. businesses, Staab last month flew about 7,500 miles to the Indian capital, where doctors at the Escorts Heart Institute & Research Centre....replaced his balky heart valve....Total bill: about $10,000, including round-trip airfare and a planned side trip to the Taj Mahal.

        "The Indian doctors, they did such a fine job here, and took care of us so well," said Staab...

        Last year, an estimated 150,000 foreigners visited India for medical procedures, and the number is increasing at the rate of about 15 percent a year, according to Zakariah Ahmed...

        Although they are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, hospitals such as Escorts typically are able to charge far less than their U.S. and European counterparts because pay scales are much lower and patient volumes higher, according to Trehan and other doctors. For example, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan costs $60 at Escorts, compared with roughly $700 in New York, according to Trehan.

        Moreover, he added, a New York heart surgeon "has to pay $100,000 a year in malpractice insurance. Here it's $4,000."

. . . .

True, it may not eliminate the entire need for local doctors, but it could glut the market for a long time.

diminishing ranks? (1)

quintesson (118019) | about 9 years ago | (#13664250)

solution: hire me!

me (2, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | about 9 years ago | (#13664253)

Well, I can give you my perspective.

I'm a college freshman. I eventually want to be an engineer.

I also want to learn other things too. Enginnering schools are simply not conducive to doing that. Every course you take is likely to be tied to your major in some way or another. That doesn't sound very fun to me.

Right now, I'm taking Psychology and Economics in addition to the requisite Physics & Calc I'll need to go to grad school for enginnering. Although I don't see myself becoming an economist or psychologist, I'm thoroughly enjoying the courses, and can definitely tie what I'm learning back into real life and just about any career I choose to go into.

Next semester, I'll probably be taking some english, and possibly some history. I really don't think I could bear loading my schedule full of science courses (which tend to have a disproportinately large workload). Friends I have at engineering schools seem to be bored out of their minds and stressed beyond reasonable limits.

Simply put, if you become an engineering student, and find out that you hate it, you're pretty much screwed. If I end up not going into engineering, I'll still have a great liberal arts education to fall back on, and at the very least, I'll be able to write well.

Re:me (2, Insightful)

zerus (108592) | about 9 years ago | (#13664343)

That's a good strategy, taking courses outside your major that is. I took a couple of minors to even out my education, it also kept me sane during hours or math, advanced physics, etc. If you find you don't like engineering after your junior year, I'd stick with it just to get the degree. Should you want to go to grad school, you can always switch your curriculum to what you want to study. Usually a department would just make you take remedial courses in that major to "catch up" to their traditional students. Keep in mind that a bachelors in engineering just shows that you can do the basics (meaning you can pass the FE exam without too much trouble if you want the grad school route). A bachelors won't make you an expert in the field or a definitive source of all things related to that field, but it shows that you have a good base in the fundamentals and a capacity for future study or field work. Keep up with the extra classes, they'll pay off

No looking back (1)

Wazukkithemaster (826055) | about 9 years ago | (#13664259)

The path to becoming an engineer is rediculous, I recently was about to enter college as an engineering student and realized that all of my credit hours were basically forced to be engineering related classes... This is a problem for most teenagers that are still trying to decide what exactly to do with their lives. Plus from what i gathered from listening to the Profs speak the only thing an engineering degree guaranteed you was 60+ hours a week of work during AND after college. That LSA (Lit. Sci. Art) course looks mighty inviting after the 'Don't Look Back' attitude taken at (at the very least) what WAS going to be my college. (university of michigan dearborn, current reapplying at the Ann Arbor UofM) Thought i'd share my experiences as they seem relevant to this discussion

Family story (2, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | about 9 years ago | (#13664260)

My brother is a mechanical engineer. Nobody is breaking down his door to hire him away from a dwindling company. He often has to fly to Asia to train others how to replace him and his coworkers for less money. He is looking to start up a non-engineering business of some kind to make good money the way most of his successful friends do: start their own (non-tech) business and master it over time. The "American Education Dream" is dwindling. The real money in the US is in salesmenship and ownership.

Re:Family story (1)

everphilski (877346) | about 9 years ago | (#13664333)

Your brother would be wise to specialize. Mechanical engineering in itself is very generic. Specialists in things like chemical/nuclear/aerospace engineering are hard to outsource due to sensitive information crossing country borders.
(I happen to be an aerospace engineer ... I feel very comfortable that I will have a job for years to come)

-everphilski-

Re:Family story (1)

tepples (727027) | about 9 years ago | (#13664376)

The real money in the US is in salesmenship and ownership.

So where does that leave people who are born with a brain disorder that prevents them from becoming effective salesmen? Should they just join the military?

The number one problem with american colleges (1)

orionware (575549) | about 9 years ago | (#13664262)

Twenty-somthing Ta's teaching a class because the professor is off spending his six digit income somewhere.

It's rediculous. I did not pay 20k a year to learn from some fucktard TA with a chip on their shoulder because they think they are hot shit. I want a professor with a TEACHING degree.

Also. Less math specific students because the american public education system has degraded into the "lowest common denominator" method of teaching. No pun intended.

CS = Too much math, so I quit too! (1)

RUFFyamahaRYDER (887557) | about 9 years ago | (#13664272)

I really hate math and I was going for a CS degree. I got sick of seeing half the class fail and me busting my ass just to get by, so I switched to CIS (Computer Information Systems) which was more business-based and less math! The funny thing is - I became a programmer anyway, and I'm now programming for the university with my CIS degree. The math I learned in class doesn't really apply to anything I'm doing while coding. I make the computer do the math for me. =)

Re:CS = Too much math, so I quit too! (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 9 years ago | (#13664330)

... and that, children, is why there's so much shitty bloatware. Good night.

Re:CS = Too much math, so I quit too! (1)

RUFFyamahaRYDER (887557) | about 9 years ago | (#13664364)

Hahahaha! Good one... But I have no problems coding. I didn't say I worked for Microsoft...

Obvious (1)

jswalter9 (695759) | about 9 years ago | (#13664277)

It's obvious to me that the writer of the article is not an "engineer by birth." The real clue is the correct spelling and grammar. Seriously, though, it takes more than aptitude to be a good engineer.

Reaction to globalization? (2, Insightful)

slobber (685169) | about 9 years ago | (#13664284)

Could it simply be that an average engineer-to-be looks at countries like China and India where engineering is becoming *the* career choice (including software engineering) and given that engineering profession is highly outsourceable chooses some other more locale-dependent career like doctor or lawyer? It is kind of difficult to compete with someone who is willing to work for a fraction of your salary... At the same time, accepting lower salary is not an option because of the difference in the cost of living. Thus, bye-bye engineering career.

When were they ever? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664285)

I come from a working class background. My family (and me, with loans) spent a lot of money to send me to a university with a good (not top, MIT rejected me) university with a good engineering school. When I got to college, I took mathematics classes (number theory) and computer science. Most of the people in these classes with me were from either India or Pakistan, with a few Chinese thrown in for good measure. Often I was the only white person in a class. I had required classes as well like English literature. In these classes were many of the white American people, especially female. I did little work and got a high grade in these courses, while I struggled and worked and got a decent grade in the real classes. I chalked it up to laziness, although it's clear to me that many of these people had connections and weren't so concerned. Look at George W. Bush - he got low SAT scores even with his elite prep school, but got into Yale anyhow due to being a legacy (then he turns around and says he's "against affirmative action"). He doesn't have a lot of success in business, but family connections and money helps out, especially when the government built a stadium for him for free. But that's how it is with a lot of these people.

One reason I'm posting anonymously is a funny tidbit. Some of the Pakistani people were connected in various ways to Pakistan's nuclear program. I didn't think of it much at the time. Due to that I followed news of Pakistan's nuclear tests, as well as the news about how they sold nuclear technology to Korea, Iran and Libya. While the upper middle class white kids, with their rooms full of expensive stereo equipment go to business classes, the Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis are doing all the EE, CS and physics stuff that actually takes work. There's no one to fill those seats except people from these countries. White Americans don't want to do the work to be a physicist, so the US takes people like Wen Ho Lee off the boat from China and puts them in top secret nuclear facilities. Then they flip out that he might be spying. If you're worried about China and Chinese spies, don't put people in the top-secret nuclear labs that weren't born in the US. This seems like common sense to me. I guess the answer is, they're cheap, and they can't really find many US nuclear physicists.

just my $.02 (1)

schematix (533634) | about 9 years ago | (#13664286)

I couldn't help but notice while reading the article that this guy has a very similar opinion to that of many flailing freshmen engineers. I most disagree with him about how engineering schools cause anguish for students. I agree that TAs and instructors are often quite terrible at teaching the material, and there is often a language barrier. But you must remember that when you graduate and have a job, there will not be a teacher there holding your hand. You absolutely must be able to learn and work without the assistance of others all the time. It is perfectly possible to learn the coursework for an engineering degree using the resources of all TAs (no matter how shitty they are) and the instructor. If you still don't get it, the internet is extremely useful or face it, maybe you just aren't cut out to be an engineer. Not everyone can do the type of work that is required for it. If the schools aren't difficult enough, they are failing to make a student learn to their full potential.

I think this guy is a typical "smart" kid who thought he could be an engineer, but he didn't have the math skills to do the job. Obviously as he stated, his strengths are with words.

His comparison to getting easy As in liberal arts classes to getting Bs and Cs in engineering classes is also crap. As he even stated at the beginning of his article, he wanted to learn something useful. Engneerings are compared to other engineers. Not to business majors, econ majors, . And most engineers don't have straight As, or close to it even. What matters is how you do compared to other people. And even then GPA only matters for graduate school or your first job, but even then it might not even be brought up.

funding and jobs? (2, Insightful)

fermion (181285) | about 9 years ago | (#13664296)

What would help the most if the religious freaks did not get away with attacking science. It is very hard to do quality engineering when you are raised to believe that there is no cause and effect, merely god. Or that math and science is the devils work.

Alternatively, kids are increasingly being told that they must make money fast. We have spoiled children and criminals who have done little if any work at all levels of government, while the ones who have genuinely studied and work hard to advance human knowledge, and in the process create the knowledge that allows engineers and businessmen to create all the products we rely on, are vilified.

I mean who wants to be a science teacher if parents are going to say you are a devil worshipper. Who wants to be a math teacher if all the people in power say they never were good at math and it never did them any harm. Who wants to be an english teacher if the highest authorities are saying they never read. And without someone to teach kids these skills, there really are no engineers. And increasing the hostile environment, at leas in the US, is causing fewer students to enter American universities from abroad, which ultimately has a significant impact on the ability of the US to peacefully spread it's message of democracy.

A less touchy issue is simply the time needed to get an engineering degree and funding. A student will often need 5 years to get an undergraduate, and, if he or she wants job security, will probably wish a masters which is two more years. There are fields in which one can make as much money after going to school for less time. There are many degrees in which you can still party your freshman year and pass your classes. There are many degrees that you can finish in four years, and not risk having your funding cut off because you are not making suitable progress.

In the end, we are not training engineers. When I was in school, the number of qualified students at the high school and college level were high. It was a challenge to get into programs. The focus on national testing is reducing the number of students who can independently and creatively solve problems, and as a result reducing the number of students that are currently qualified to enter the programs. Popular schools have to turn people away, but the rest go out begging for minimally qualified students.

If we, as a nation or world, believe we already know everything, that everything can be gotten from a single book, then no engineering is needed. IMHO, we need to be curious, know that the universe is more interesting than a story told in a few pages, and be humble enough to admit that we cannot completely understand the mind, intent, or complete working of what we each consider holy.

He is, sadly, right. (5, Insightful)

monstermonster (866861) | about 9 years ago | (#13664304)

Having gone through (and survived) such a program during my many years of school, I have to say that this guy is right.

There are those that have said that this must have occurred because this guy lacked aptitude or passion, but having seen a large number of people with both who simply got caught up in an often fickle system where if you entered during the wrong semester, you got Professor X, who was interested in the reputation of his school (and thus wanted to make the course "hard") but was totally uninterested in whether or not his students learned anything (because he had research to do or books to write or whatever else). This is more avoidable as an undergraduate than as a graduate student, and the fact of the matter is, there were courses where the folks that excelled were the people who'd taken the course before. Or (more often) the large groups of people who were cheating.

Science and math are hard, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something. The thinking isn't "better" than in the liberal arts, but the learning curve is steeper, and it's frankly a lot more work. I've done both, and it is a lot more work. But there are plenty of talented individuals who really want to work in engineering fields who simply get to the point where they say "screw this" because they realize that research universities are, in general, a lot more interested in funding and their reputations (often apparently judged by how many people they cut from the program in the first semester) than actually teaching anyone anything.

People, as they grow up, learn to cut their losses. We need to start worrying about the quality of education and not necessarily only admitting those to the discipline who will say "Yes, sir, can I have another" after every boot to the head.

*shrug* (3, Insightful)

everphilski (877346) | about 9 years ago | (#13664305)

... and those of us who stuck it out, who were able to look past our GPA's, who were able to realise "hey, getting a 55% on an exam is OK if the average was a 45%", we are enjoying better than average pay and benefits in our engineering jobs. You get back what you put in. Freshmen engineeering courses are BUILT to weed out the weak, the people who won't stick it out.
-everphilski-

I'm doing my part (1)

Solder Fumes (797270) | about 9 years ago | (#13664313)

I admit to contributing to this problem. I am truly interested and excited by many fields of engineering and science, but a lot of the people entering school when I did were merely in it for the money. When I graduated, the only people getting hired were due to nepotism since the engineering market was suffering from the tech collapse and saturated by cheap labor. I did get a job (via nepotism) but it wasn't in the field I studied. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. However, my current job requires very little engineering and I merely need to understand various concepts rather than apply them.

So I've been telling kids, whenever I talk to a highschooler who says they're going into engineering, that unless they are really interested they should choose a different major. You have to know that NOTHING ELSE will be acceptable, because you are going to suffer for it with the current economic climate. It is no longer a cash cow, and also moving away from the by-the-book number crunching that anyone can do with training...engineering here is requiring more and more creativity and innovation while the plug-and-chug jobs are shipped to outsourcers. Nothing is more irritating than having an uncreative, engineer-by-rote slob on an engineering team that needs to be running in front of the cutting edge.

Right now I use a little of my education at work, the primary use being only the fact that I have a degree. Most of my education is relegated to my own hobbies...what an expensive hobby that turned out to be, eh?

As a 4th year engineering major... (1)

Goalie_Ca (584234) | about 9 years ago | (#13664317)

I'm in 4th year engineering. Those of us who make it this far (massive attrition rate) have to be pretty smart, hard working, and full of energy. Not to mention that it's a 5 year program in many places. We all realize that some day unless we get into management or business we'll be busting our asses yet earning less than our potential elsewhere. It would be so much easier to become an mba or lawyer and get the big $$$. We're not in it for the money though but i'm fed up of people abusing that and having us work in high tech sweat shops.

What complete BS (5, Insightful)

zymurgy_cat (627260) | about 9 years ago | (#13664319)

The author takes his own personal experience and tries to extrapolate it to "thousands" of other students. What bullshit.

My first chemical engineering professor (Dr. Edmond Ko) set me on fire. He taught us how to solve problems. He even built up our confidence with his great proclamation: "I can solve any engineering problem. I simply apply the same principles, be it chemical engineering, mechanics, electrical engineering, whatever. Once I apply basic principles, I can look up any specific equations or methods I may need." He made us believe we could do the same.

Throughout my engineering studies, I had professors that blended humor, real world experience, and good 'ole basic problem solving to give me and my fellow students the tools to succeed. To this day, I still attribute my success to their efforts.

Did I have bad professors? Yes. I had the ones who had no heart for teaching, passed the buck to untrained TAs (who were just as frustrated as me), and couldn't teach a fish to swim. But they were few and far between.

Engineering is in trouble in the US not because of education but because of the business world. Why study engineering when some bonehead MBA can get a big bonus while still screwing things up? (And I have an MBA!) Why devote your skills and time to building a great product when your job is going to be shipped overseas anyway? I, like many other engineers, came out of college eager to apply my skills and help build new products and processes. It's been the business world, and its utter lack of respect for the abilities of engineers, that's crushed my love of engineering.

Re:What complete BS (1)

guacamole (24270) | about 9 years ago | (#13664341)

Most MBA schools want you take a few years off before entering their MBA programs. So, you might as well get an engineering degree before going for an MBA.

Colleges aren't supposed to be like high school (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664324)

In high school, the instructors have much smaller classes and do a lot of hand holding so that every student who wants to learn can figure out the material. In college, instructors are supposed to guide you without doing all the handholding. You, the student, have much more responsibility for doing the hard work of reading the material, studying all the time, and actually seeking out help if you need it. There is, nor should there be, any hand holding in college. The reason for that as I see it is that once you get out into the workplace, you should be responsible enough to figure out a lot of what you need to know to do your job yourself.

The real reason why United States students are not studying engineering much anymore is because engineering jobs have been and still are moving to third-world countries at an alarming rate. The fact that a lot of people are still going into health fields, which are also scientifically-based technical fields, illustrates that since those jobs are still widely available in the United States that students will go into those majors despite the difficulty in the coursework.

Weed-out courses are necessary (2, Insightful)

kabdib (81955) | about 9 years ago | (#13664325)

When I went through the weed-out courses in college, all I can say is "Thank God they were there."

I was working at the time. A co-worker of mine attending the same college would approach me around the end of every semester and ask for "a little help with an assignment." Usually it was several assignments, two of which were late and the last of which was the final "hard" project that was due in a couple of days, and the cow-orker was completely lost. It wasn't a "little help," it was "please do my work for me." I would give broad hints, but not any code. Three or four semesters of this, and the person was gone.

If I was working with that person today . . . *shudder*. I have worked with some folks who apparently skated through coursework and managed to get hired anyway, and it can be pretty miserable. [Hint: You want your 'A' people to hire more 'A' people. Not 'B' people. 'B' people hire 'C' people and then you are totally screwed and you might as well toss in the hand-grenade and start another company.]

What's really funny.... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | about 9 years ago | (#13664327)

is that there are complaints of all this lack of engineering staff... I'm willing to bet a 12 pack that there are thousands of people doing engineering like work, that would be more than happy to take night classes if someone would help them pay for it....

Sheesh, take the motivated people and turn them into engineers instead of just trying to churn out thousands of newbie engineers that don't know the first thing about working in a business environment and expecting them to be uber-engineers.

I think there is a general lack of focus and understanding of this problem. Its not just why don't more people go into engineering, why don't more people go get a degree? Damn, if you are going spend that much money, it won't be your money, and all these 18 year olds (since the beginning of colleges) don't know what they want to do... anything is okay as long as it doesn't interrupt their social schedules. Fsck! Where is the focus and systematic help programs for people that really DO want to be engineers but can't afford it?

After working for as long as I have, I know that school isn't as hard as people say... Imagine yourself with the Learning PERL book in your hand and contemplating a 3 month project that will eventually include 32000 lines of PERL, 60000+ lines of SQL, and unimaginable days and nights of trying to learn while you are coding. School is not more difficult than that. School has a grade in the balance, that project had my job in the balance!

Yep, lets see some of those programs start funding older-than-23 students, then I will believe they are serious about changing things.

two cents used

Currently an Engineering Student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664335)

I've seen plenty of my friends who started out as Electrical Engineering majors, but then change to business just after the first year of classes. Most of them simply don't want to put the time in. The problem I have with most of my "bottleneck" (classes you must pass because they barely have anything to do with the major)classes are held at too high of a standard. Especially Physics I & II, the lab TA's must think that the lab writeups we do are to be published and grade them as so strictly.

D in Discrete Math (3, Interesting)

jumbledInTheHead (837677) | about 9 years ago | (#13664337)

I don't mean to be mean, but sometimes certain people need to be weeded out of programs. I hate to criticize someone, but six times on a titration experiment? After the first time you fail you think you'd learn from your mistakes. As a former mechenical engineering major who switched to be a mathematics major I can empathize. I came from a good high school and took many challenging courses and did well on many AP test. College is quite a transation in many ways, it can be a difficult one. However, if you are failing out of Discrete Mathematics (the easiest math course, besides college algebra) and you can't handle the experiments in a chem lab, maybe you aren't cut out to be an engineer. The courses are challenging, at least you found out early on that you weren't up to it.

weeded out (1)

js290 (697670) | about 9 years ago | (#13664339)

Sounds like he got weeded out. Big effin' deal. I have a MSME from a Smartypants U. I made a career change and got into IT. Now I work for morons like him. Way to go me! Whoo!

Washout is right (2, Insightful)

mr_gerbik (122036) | about 9 years ago | (#13664344)

Calling himself a washout is the only thing he got right in this article. Plain and simple: engineering school did not fail him, he failed engineering school.

what a wuss (1)

LOTHAR, of the Hill (14645) | about 9 years ago | (#13664360)

Does that student really think he's going to learn how to be a chemist 25 minutes at a time? Do you think you can become an accountant, an author, or a journalist in 25 minute increments? In college, class time isn't where you learn everything you need to know about the subject at hand. Class time is meant to answer questions and summurize the material you have already studied on your own time. That is why college instructors are called professors or lecturers, and not teachers. Learning is your own responsibility. If you can't follow the lectures, get a tutor or start a study group.

He didn't wash out. He failed. They don't hand out 4.0's in college like they do in high school and his poor ego couldn't take it. He signed up for classes against the advisor's warnings. What else should he expect. By his own admittance, he had little to no interest in the subject matter. He never should have been in the major in the first place.

Good riddance.

Summary: getting things right is HARD (1)

OWJones (11633) | about 9 years ago | (#13664361)

I'm willing to be this sounds a lot like the experience of most engineering majors. And you know what: good. Engineering isn't supposed to be easy or glitzy or sexy. You either get things right or they're just flat wrong. A civil engineer doesn't get credit if "most" of the bridge stays up. A chemist doesn't get acclaim if their product only harms people instead of killing them.

Granted, it would be nice if more TA's spoke english. But you know what won't help that? English-speaking students who bail because it's "too hard". Call it a downward spiral, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or whatever you want.

And it would be nice if professors were better teachers. But they're not professors because they're good teachers. They're professors because they do research. And even at big, hoity-toity schools, student tuition is a tiny fraction of the school's income. So even if you're forking out $40K/year for tuition alone, you're still a small part of the equation. Don't delude yourself into thinking that you and your classmates are paying your professor's tuition. You might be adding an extra 10% - 20% on the top, but it's research that puts food on their table and a roof above their head.

Part of the problem is the "get-rich-quick" mentality most people seem to have nowadays. I don't want to actually put the hours in to get paid, I just want to make it big in real estate. I don't want to actually deal with solid right-and-wrong fields like engineering, I want "gaze-into-the-crystal-ball" fuzziness of day trading that might get me my piece of the pie tomorrow. Screw waiting until I retire! I want it now!

So combine one part get-rich-quick with one part affirmative-action-grading (i.e., HS grades not reflecting actual performance because that might hurt poor Thomas and Dakota's feelings), sprinkle with one part actual-challenge, and toss in one part less-than-ideal-teaching, and you've got the perfect mixture for a decline in engineering.

-jdm

P.S. Nyah! Get off my lawn, you stupid kids!

Intelligence is heritable (1)

mc6809e (214243) | about 9 years ago | (#13664365)

There is a lot of emphasis on hard work, but no amount of hard work is going to turn a mediocre intellect into an engineer.

It's a fact that intelligence is heritable. It's also true that the generally more intelligent have decided not to have many or even any children.

At some point the country will be full of mediocre intellects and no amount of hard work or instruction or money for education is going to turn them into good engineers.

Now I'm sure the author of the article is above average. But I suspect he was deceived by inflated grades at public school into believing he had what it takes to be an engineer. There is a degree of innate talent that is required for engineering, but I think he probably lacks this.

It's interesting how ready people are to accept their own lack of talent for running, or throwing, or catching a ball, while also praising another with those talents. There is little envy. But somehow we're all supposed to be equal in intelligence. And if we just "work harder" or have "better teachers" we can all be Einsteins.

It doesn't work that way.

Like it or not, intelligence is strongly genetic.

It's tough, but it can be done. (1)

Dommo (870028) | about 9 years ago | (#13664366)

The main thing with engineering, is that it is the HARDEST of all bachelor degrees. Period. I'm half way to my mechanical engineering degree, and it is the most difficult thing I've ever had to do. How many bachelor programs can you think of that 3/4 engineers who graduate, are on the 5 year plan. Very few. I mean seriously, I look forward to my liberal arts requirements as they are a way for me to beef up my grade point. The only thing that's great about engineering, asside from the 100% job placement, and good pay when you get out, is a sense of achievement. I actually feel like I'm accomplishing something when I pass a test. When I get a B on an engineering exam I'm fricking proud of myself. I don't get that when I take a humanities test. The work is tough, but doable. Work as a team with others that share the same boat as you. Support your peers and they will help you out. Take the initiative, most engineering classes aren't about what you know, but how hard you are willing to work. Also, understand that while you are in an engineering program you will have NO life. You came to learn, and not to party. An engineering degree is just as much a testament of your willpower as it is your knowledge. The only advice with facutly though, is to tour a ton of institutions. Find the smallest one that has a good program and go there. It's a lot easier to learn in a class of 20 then in a class of 200.

OMFG It's ME! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664369)

wow, funny to FINALLY see this in print. I had his experiences exactly 20 yrs ago. Mid eighties were supposed to be science=heaven, but all we got were bs TA's who couldnt even friggen tie their own shoes much less teach an advanced class. I went from a 3.6 hs average to a 2.0! haha it was all supposed to be about "weeding us out". Yeah, they weeded us out and every other american who wanted to get a science education. I'm still bitter to this day, because i was demoralized and felt stupid. I actually studied hard in my engineering class, and, with a "d" (which was definitely my first ever) looming, i pleaded with the fucking ta to give me the .5% to put me over the top(basically 1 question on one test). He didnt, and i basically flunked out of the program. I don't really regret getting a dual psy/anthro degree, but deep down, I WANT TO BLOW HIS FUCKING BRAINS OUT MOTHER FUCKING BASTARD.

ahhh...i feel better now....

Not cut out to be an engineer (1)

jfortier (141983) | about 9 years ago | (#13664370)

When engineers screw up, people can die. When a writer writes a shitty column, people just make fun of him.

The guy couldn't even perform a simple titration. How hard is it? You just slowly let the liquid drip until you see the slightest hint of pink. If he couldn't even follow the instructions for such a simple experiment, he had no business being an engineer.

But wait, people say, "Is an engineer ever going to have to perform a titration on the job? Why should we care about stuff like that?" Well no, you probably won't be many engineers performing titrations and all the other bullshit you do in freshman chem, but if you don't have the attention to detail required to do it right, you're either going to kill people or lose your company a lot of money.

Yes, there are definitely problems with engineering education. Yes, we need to find a way to get professors to be a bit more interested in their students. Yes, we need professors who are capable of communicating (although my five years of experience at Georgia Tech have shown that it really isn't as bad as he says). Yes, the language barrier with foreign TAs and professors can be frustrating (but that's going to be a reality in the workforce too).

But his solution is to make it easier. "Inflate the grades!" he says. Everyone in engineering knows that the good schools don't inflate their grades, so they understand the achievement that a 3.0 GPA represents. So sure, we need to do a better job of teaching. But that doesn't mean we should make it easy enough to let morons like this guy slip through.

CompE grad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13664372)

There's nothing like starting with 200+ ppl in your major, only to have the bubble burst. By the end, there were 21 (incl me) CompE's in my graduating class.

In my experience, the engineering dept. was pretty good. It was the MATH dept. that SUCKED.

The sky is not falling (1)

typical (886006) | about 9 years ago | (#13664374)

Just wanted to drop one note.

Slashdot very frequently runs alarmist articles about the state of engineering, computer science, and so forth.

While there are market shifts, if you were to just look at Slashdot for your information, you'd get a *wildly* distorted view of the world. You'd think that the entire career world is incredibly volatile. The people who are worried about their career post, and so you get the perception that the majority of people are concerned about what's going on.

If you want to do engineering, computer science, or whatever, just go for it. You'll be fine. Until a computer can drive my car, display custom paintings on my wall each morning, understand what I'm saying and speak back to me, until all this happens and beyond, there will always be demand to produce new computer systems. And as long as there's demand, you can get a job doing it.

You can't learn math by listening (1)

blonde rser (253047) | about 9 years ago | (#13664380)

Although he has several complaints a large number of them is summed up in this one
Write textbooks that are more than just glorified problem set manuals.

He seems to complain over and over again that nobody is explaining to him how to do the problems. He wants a magical subroutine that he can run a question through that will give him an answer. I'm teaching mathematics at a university so I've seen this same request before. The vast majority of the time you do a little prodding and you find that the student has spent no time struggling with the problem. They looked at it, didn't immediately know how to do it, then came to my office hour. Given very little prodding these very same students are often able to solve the problem while I'm watching. So what's happening? These students are refusing to struggle with a problem. Spend some time with it in their heads while not knowing the answer.

The reality with teaching math (at higher levels) is virtually none of the learning happens in the class room during lectures. Fortunately I have the luxury to be able to work shop problems in class where I say virtually nothing and the students figure out parts together in groups. But even better than that the vast majority of the learning will always happen with the assignments. In other words you can't learn math listening; you can only learn math doing.
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