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Does It Suck To Be An Engineering Student?

CmdrTaco posted about 6 years ago | from the what-doesn't-suck dept.

Education 971

Pickens writes "Aaron Rower has an interesting post on Wired with the "Top 5 Reasons it Sucks to be an Engineering Student" that includes awful textbooks, professors who are rarely encouraging, the dearth of quality counseling, and every assignment feels the same. Our favorite is that other disciplines have inflated grades. "Brilliant engineering students may earn surprisingly low grades while slackers in other departments score straight As for writing book reports and throwing together papers about their favorite zombie films," writes Rower. "Many of the brightest students may struggle while mediocre scholars can earn top scores." For many students, earning a degree in engineering is less than enjoyable and far from what they expected. If you want to complain about your education, this is your chance."

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NO IT DOES NOT (5, Insightful)

warrior_s (881715) | about 6 years ago | (#22846240)

here is my summary and my thoughts

According to the author of the article... inorder for engineering to not suck, we should have inflated grades and beautiful textbooks (whatever that it). He says that the textbooks are awful because they are thick and black and white and contain long equations (i don't know if i should laugh or what).. His other reasons are more related to the school in which he is studying and not with engineering

Seriously ... I don't think this article is either NEWS FOR NERDS or STUFF THAT MATTERS. Clearly the author should not try to become an engineer and should switch to some other discipline where he gets inflated grades and the incorrect notion that he is bright.

Re:NO IT DOES NOT (2, Interesting)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | about 6 years ago | (#22846390)

According to the author of the article... in order for engineering to not suck, we should have inflated grades...
A much better solution would be to stop artificially inflating the grades of the weaker subjects.

I got a punch on the nose recently from a media studies lecturer in his fifties (he'd got drunk at a party, I was a bit teasy) for discussing exactly this.

The point where he snapped was where I suggested that the Maths/Science/Engineering students could make films (i.e. write papers about their favourite zombie flicks) many times better than his average student, if they were not busily, y'know, learning how to do hard stuff.

It's just about brain power.


gomiam (587421) | about 6 years ago | (#22846528)

It's just about brain power.

Considering your anecdote, I would think it's just brain resistance ;-)

You are Freaken Arrogant! (4, Insightful)

SerpentMage (13390) | about 6 years ago | (#22846646)

That's freaken arrogant and spoken from somebody who has no clue about reality. Sorry, but I am an ME (fourth generation) and studied at one of the better universities. Though I also have an artistic background (mother is an artist, father is an engineer).

You really think Math, Science and Engineering students can make better films? BS! Try it, please I dare you to. I paint and let me tell you that to get inspiration for a painting is hard. And please don't get me started on "how I could do that in five minutes." If you think like that then you actually don't understand art.

I graduated 15 years ago, and if there is one thing I have learned is that I wish engineering/math/science students were not so dammed arrogant!

Re:You are Freaken Arrogant! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846704)

How's that hangover?

Re:NO IT DOES NOT (5, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | about 6 years ago | (#22846648)

Typical science snobbery. Truth be told, some liberal arts people are quite accomplished in their fields, and do quality work that would be extremely to duplicate without a similar level of raw talent and time commitment.

The problem is not those people. The problem is that those people are able to coast to an amazing degree because the grading system favors the slackers who take those classes because they don't want to work.

So the real problem is twofold:

One, the truly excellent students aren't getting the sort of challenge that would allow them to hone their abilities to their limits.

Two, the quality of the whole discipline is being diluted by a bunch of crappy students doing mediocre work for a grade.

I witnessed this in liberal arts classes, I also witnessed it in some CS classes, where incompetent coders could pass the class based solely on the curve and their ability to parrot theory on the exams. Literally. I was in a class where a programming assignment's average grade was 7 out of 100.

This isn't high school (4, Insightful)

keineobachtubersie (1244154) | about 6 years ago | (#22846660)

"A much better solution would be to stop artificially inflating the grades of the weaker subjects."

No, that's not any kind of solution at all.

No one who has an opinion worth a damn will ever look at a Liberal Arts major with a 3.8 and think it's equivalent to a 3.8 in chemical engineering.

They're not the same, it's not high school, and you're not competing against the entire student body anymore.

Re:NO IT DOES NOT (5, Interesting)

boris111 (837756) | about 6 years ago | (#22846668)

As an engineering student that took a film class as an elective I can attest to that! I would write papers that had A's while the students to the left and right of me earned C's. My paper comparing Hidden Fortress to Star Wars scored especially well. Alfred Hitchcock was an Engineering student BTW.

Re:NO IT DOES NOT (4, Insightful)

electrictroy (912290) | about 6 years ago | (#22846398)

If you think the books are boring (black and white and contain long equations),

wait until you get on your JOB. Engineering education works perfectly; it prepares you for the boredom ahead of you.

How about hiring them? (5, Funny)

glueball (232492) | about 6 years ago | (#22846600)

New Topic:
Top 5 reasons it sucks to hire the new crop of engineering students:
5.) They expect the Statement of work you're asking for completion to be colorful, fun, and well written.
4.) They can relate how their professor who cave them a B- is soooo much better at solving problems than you.
3.) They are convinced working as a TA is real work.
2.) Untraining the bad habits. I block instant messaging for a reason.
1.) They want me to vote for Obama and incessantly drone on about how horrible life is in the US.

Re:NO IT DOES NOT (4, Interesting)

p0tat03 (985078) | about 6 years ago | (#22846650)

The books do tend to suck a lot more than non-engineering subjects. I suspect it's because engineers who are well-versed in their respective fields have trouble breaking down concepts for relative newcomers. It's not surprising for me to find an advanced concept wedged into the introductory chapters, and helpful beginners' explanations stuck curiously near the end of the book.

I cannot even begin to count the number of times where I've been doing my course readings, and completely not understanding a concept... and then running across a neat little paragraph explaining it all in a very concise way... in an unrelated chapter, half a book later.

I've been in school four years now, and I've had maybe 3 textbooks that I felt were truly helpful. The rest were just shameless wastes of my dollars and many trees. In their defense, all the information is in there somewhere, but rarely where you'd expect it to be.


Digi-John (692918) | about 6 years ago | (#22846788)

On the other hand, I never really understood Fourier transforms until I took Circuits... didn't grasp it fully in the math courses, but one day during Circuits lecture it suddenly made perfect sense.

hate to break it to ya (5, Funny)

techpawn (969834) | about 6 years ago | (#22846246)

"Many of the brightest students may struggle while mediocre scholars can earn top scores." For many students, earning a degree in engineering is less than enjoyable and far from what they expected. If you want to complain about your education, this is your chance."
That's true in school and real life kid. I'd like to tell you life is fair... But then I'd be lying and in a management position.

Wait a SEC! (1)

clonan (64380) | about 6 years ago | (#22846304)

hey...I resemble that remark!!!!

I am almost done with my MBA (applied bio undergrad) and I plan on being the pointy-haired boss shortly!

Re:hate to break it to ya (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | about 6 years ago | (#22846322)

But how often are people with engineering degrees passed over for an ENGINEERING job by that marketing schmuck who has a better GPA? I'd guess rarely because they are looking for an ENGINEER not a marketer.

(Conversely, how often is a mediocre marketing grad passed over by an engineer with a better GPA for a marketing job?)


Re:hate to break it to ya (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846408)

Depends. I have a B.S. in Computer Engineering with substantial (60 + semester hours) in coursework in accounting and business-related stuff. I got offers varying from helpdesk support ( $35K) to I.T. analyst ($40K) to electronics engineering ($50K). This is somewhere around the Chicago area.

At the end I passed all these and shooting for a PhD.

Re:hate to break it to ya (2, Interesting)

toddbu (748790) | about 6 years ago | (#22846656)

Then you're looking at the wrong kinds of companies. A good engineering company will hire smart engineers, not people who are good at marketing themselves. I'd never want to work somewhere where engineers are selected by their marketing talents.

Whine, whine, whine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846250)

Many of the engineering students I know only think their brilliant - until they have to take a science course, and flunk out.

at least you're learning (5, Insightful)

spiffmastercow (1001386) | about 6 years ago | (#22846256)

that's more than i can say for my CS degree. All I learned was in spite of my education, not because of it.

Re:at least you're learning (3, Insightful)

SQLGuru (980662) | about 6 years ago | (#22846410)

What I got from my CS degree is an understanding of how it all works......I already knew HOW to program (years of BASIC and PASCAL before college) and I didn't learn anything about real world projects, but because of my CS degree, I understood why languages are written the way they are (good old BNF's) and the different levels of the OSI model and algorithms (was I the only one who corrolated the O-face from Office Space with the face someone makes as they try to grasp Big-O notation during their first Algorithms class?) and, etc. None of it applies directly to what I do today, but because of that understanding, I solve problems quicker and I can communicate to the groups that I need to interact with (DBA's, Network Ops, etc.) in their own terms.


Re:at least you're learning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846414)

That's kinda what I was thinking... ... this thread is going to be full of whiny slashdotters with computer science degrees confusing their pathetically easy major with actual engineering.

Yes, I have one of each (CS and actual engineering). Computer Science degrees are trivial, and as with the prior poster, everything I learned was outside of class.

Re:at least you're learning (5, Interesting)

Rukie (930506) | about 6 years ago | (#22846652)

I'm in a mechanical engineering degree. In the past 10 years, fewer than 10 people have recieved 4.0 gpas. It is ridiculously difficult. The classes are ridiculously difficult. However, by the time I graduate RIT I'll know this stuff so well.. I spent all weekend on 3 problems. what the heck! lol It takes me two hours to write a decent 10 page paper, it takes me 10 hours to answer 1 math problem. I definitely agree, other fields have inflated gpas, but you know what, I know a hell of a lot more than someone with an inflated grade, and that makes me proud.

So lets see... (3, Insightful)

clonan (64380) | about 6 years ago | (#22846264)

People take a hard major to be challenged and then they are upset when it is challenging!

I wonder what the incomes of the soft majors that got all A's will look like compared to a good chemical/electrical/mechanical engineer.

Re:So lets see... (4, Informative)

jandrese (485) | about 6 years ago | (#22846500)

It all depends on if they have some family in with a business somewhere that would let them get dumped into management or if they're going to be asking "do you want fries with that"? Life is unfair like that. The good thing about an engineering degree is that you're almost guaranteed to be able to find a job somewhere. Engineers have useful skills that companies are looking for. Someone who majors in Women's studies and gets all As is going to have a tough time finding work unless they have a network already in place.

One gets the impression that the author of the article doesn't particularly like math though. I've gotta say he should probably consider switching majors now, because it's not going to be any better after he graduates if he continues on with the engineering degree. There is a lot of math in his classes because there will be a lot of math in his job in the real world with that degree.

Also, he has a point about the textbooks sucking. A lot of them are written by engineers and really do suck. I recommend not missing any classes and try to correlate what the professor teaches with the book as much as possible. A lot of the time those seemingly incomprehensible sections will actually be fairly simple once the professor explains it, but be warned that some professors are not above pulling test material straight from the book, so you better understand how the author thinks too.

Re:So lets see... (1)

kninja (121603) | about 6 years ago | (#22846728)

Grow up, take some initiative.

Read multiple textbooks if the one you're working on sucks. Rarely are you in such an advanced field that there is only one book.

Sometimes you have the bonus of discovering the problems the professor uses on the exam in another book.

As for grade inflation - there are usually some students who get an A in the engineering classes, study harder and become one of them.

Engineering is hard, but it's a good base for doing interesting things with your life, much more than say media studies - more of a basis for watching interesting things during your life.

Employement, post graduation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846520)

Yes, but with an engineering degree, at least you're educated and capable of doing actual work and having a career. Just imagine what it's like with a degree the word "studies" in the title (e.g. "women's studies", "African-American studies", etc.) Those are the biggest bullshit "degrees" ever. Completely worthless unless you plan to work at Starbucks the rest of your life.

Re:Employement, post graduation? (4, Insightful)

p0tat03 (985078) | about 6 years ago | (#22846700)

Until you realize that, historically anyways, higher education is *not* vocational training. Higher education is meant to do exactly that - educate, in any subject that might tickle the learner's interests. Vocational training belongs in trade school - and I bet most engineers have too big of an ego to go to the same school as the mechanics and the plumbers.

Disclaimer: I am an engineer, but I'm routinely frustrated with how our kind tend to think we're better than everyone else, simply because we have a starting salary higher than most other degrees (note that I said starting, this relationship doesn't hold as time goes on).

Re:So lets see... (1)

Bryan Gividen (739949) | about 6 years ago | (#22846526)

Though I don't have numbers immediately available to back it up, income is significantly lower unless a "soft major" (read as: social sciences) attends graduate school. Those students which graduate in Political Science, Sociology, Psychology, etc. are faced with very low incomes or no job with only a Bachelor's for the most part. Engineering, Accounting, and even "Ology" majors see a much higher placement and pay right out of graduate school.

I know that in admissions to many of the law schools I am applying to, a 3.8 in History and a 3.3 in Mechanical Engineering are comparable grades to the admissions committees. The inflated GPA which soft majors enjoy really does little except possibly inflate ego. And as an Econ major, I can tell you that me and my fellow soft major comrades already had inflated egos as is... it's sad really.

Re:So lets see... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846614)

You apparently have been listening to recruiter propaganda about job placement. You'll know what happens towards your senior year. That's when you will know about loan payoffs and fear.

You Don't... (1)

oddsends (867975) | about 6 years ago | (#22846634)

People take a hard major to be challenged and then get pissed off when they see how most of the other colleges at the school are a joke allowing nearly everyone to succeed (kind of like a drivers licence, nearly anyone can get one).

Re:So lets see... (1)

mckinnsb (984522) | about 6 years ago | (#22846674)

Sometimes it isn't just the pay. Many scholarships/honors programs require you to keep a certain GPA (fixed , no variation on major), or you lose your scholarship/honors status.

Last I checked, there was *one* BS Presidential Scholar in our class. And he worked his *ass* off.

Also, some of those soft majors pay pretty well. Marketing can get you a lot of money. So can fashion design.

However, this article (and your argument) still hold weight.
http://education-portal.com/articles/Top_10_Paying_College_Majors.html [education-portal.com]

...but it doesn't mean that kids without rich parents won't have a harder time becoming a science major, or won't have a harder time leaving college with a lighter load on their back. Granted, a science job will help you pay off that 40-200k you owe in student loans, but it's much more liberating to walk out of college debt free- you aren't pressured into a job as quickly and have more time to decide what you want to do with your live. Usually a good mix for innovation.

To throw more fuel onto the fire, the system punishes kids who decide to take more science course electives than "fluffy electives". You can't tell me you didn't know kids in college that took a class just because it was an "Easy A". When the kid who took more electives in his discipline applies to grad school, his GPA is probably going to be lower, and most highly competitive schools look at the GPA first as a quick-screen- they won't notice his transcript. The kid who took fluffy courses will probably get into more schools than the student that actually knows more about science. I'm not saying that kids shouldn't take English courses, but this is what happens.

The worst of all... I never learned to READ! (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 6 years ago | (#22846310)

Actually, the worst part of being a software engineering student is that the demand for "software engineer" graduates is rapidly dropping in Western countries. Most of these jobs are being pushed overseas. The flipside of this is that CS and Business graduates are growing in demand as "thinkers" and "managers" rather than "implementers" are needed to keep offshored projects under control.

As for other types of engineering (hard engineering disciplines), the demand is relatively constant, so this isn't as big a deal as it is for software "engineering" graduates.

I thought it was due to the lack of women? (5, Funny)

ksheff (2406) | about 6 years ago | (#22846312)

I mean the "Sex Kills! Go To Tech and Live Forever!" bumper stickers weren't created just because they were catchy.

Re:I thought it was due to the lack of women? (3, Funny)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | about 6 years ago | (#22846402)

I kid you not, an engineering student said the following quote that absolutely dumbfounded me and all who heard it. It was not a shock to anyone that he flunked-out.

"You know why we need more women in engineering? Because women are hot. The End."

He now flips burgers for a living.

Re:I thought it was due to the lack of women? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846514)

That would have been in my top 5 for sure. Maybe even the top reason.

I need to get one of those bumper stickers.

CA$H! (1)

etherelithic (846901) | about 6 years ago | (#22846346)

Take consolation in the fact that when you step out into the job market you can command a much higher salary than most other majors, especially for electrical engineering and CS majors. An engineering BS is, more often than not, all you need to make a very decent living. Can't say the same for a BS in biochem, math, or psych.

Re:CA$H! (1)

fliptout (9217) | about 6 years ago | (#22846558)

Unless of course you graduate during a tech recession, as I did in 2002 (BSEE from UT Austin). Then you A. change careers B. put off real life in grad school C. Take whatever technical jobs come your way (what I did). Consequently, from my less than rosy experience, I am a complete mercenary.

Re:CA$H! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846612)

only if you found any jobs. More likely or not you will end up doing IT Helpdesk work.

Re:CA$H! (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 6 years ago | (#22846642)

I don't think Biochem, Math, and Psych are pushover degrees or ill-payed professions. But your point about Engineering salaries is well taken.

The students this guy envies will have to take consolation that despite their ending up with a career of frying hamburgers, they once earned a Magna Cum Laude in Basket Weaving.

There are two kinds of pain - discipline or regret. Choose one.

hmm (4, Insightful)

nomadic (141991) | about 6 years ago | (#22846350)

"Brilliant engineering students may earn surprisingly low grades while slackers in other departments score straight As for writing book reports and throwing together papers about their favorite zombie films," writes Rower. "Many of the brightest students may struggle while mediocre scholars can earn top scores."

Who cares? You're not competing against film majors for fellowships, scholarships, graduate programs and jobs. You're competing against other engineering majors. And honestly, the vast majority of engineering majors seem to have greatly exaggerated notions of their own brilliance; engineering profs do give out As, if you're not making them maybe you're not quite as smart as you think you are.

I think the only majors with a higher general opinion of themselves are philosophy majors.

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846524)

I have to agree. The scale is real - you get an 'A' for demonstrating 'A' quality work and understanding. You are not entitled otherwise. Some profs set the bar higher than others, but if you aren't being challenged, what's the point?

Re:hmm (1)

cptdondo (59460) | about 6 years ago | (#22846540)


At my graduation, I couldn't find my name in the roster. With my dismal GPA, I honestly thought I flunked out.

It wasn't till my parents looked through the Honors section that they found my name - my school calculated honors for engineering students separately from the liberals arts students, so a C+ average in the engineering school was enough to land me an Honors degree from an Ivy League school.

My profs never heard of grade inflation, apparently. You worked your ass off for a C; anything below a C- was enough to flunk out.

Did it suck? Yeah, it sucked. I worked for 70 hours a week for years to get a C+ average. Was it fun? At times. Did I learn a lot? Sure.

And the point is?

Re:hmm (5, Insightful)

tppublic (899574) | about 6 years ago | (#22846720)

And the point is?

I suspect the point is: Are you happy with where you are, are you pleased with what you've accomplished and would you do it over again?

People spend far too much time comparing themselves to other people rather than looking after their own happiness. Keeping up with the Joneses isn't worth it.

Re:hmm (4, Funny)

realisticradical (969181) | about 6 years ago | (#22846560)

I think the only majors with a higher general opinion of themselves are philosophy majors.

Now that all depends on how we define one's ability to form a general opinion. For more information read my paper for Philosophy 416, "Our ability to form opinions, real or not." It's clearly an excellent paper, I got an A++++. I'm right because I'm smarter than you are, I have a 4.83 GPA.

Re:hmm (1)

Otter (3800) | about 6 years ago | (#22846624)

Also, one writes "book reports" in fifth grade, not in any semi-respectable university. One gets the impression Aaron Rowe never actually took a humanities class beyond perhaps the most ludicrous one he could find to satisfy a requirement. Does he think English majors make dioramas, also?

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846678)

And what of the merit based scholarships awarded to high GPAs only? Liberal Arts majors can more easily get them. Is that fair?

Language barrier (5, Funny)

zerofoo (262795) | about 6 years ago | (#22846362)

It's been a few years since college, but what I loathed was having to almost learn Mandarin, or Hindi to understand my math teachers.


Re:Language barrier (5, Insightful)

eggoeater (704775) | about 6 years ago | (#22846726)

I had a similar problem with several of my CS professors (I was a CS major.)
I complained to my adviser I couldn't understand them, but he said that I should basically be more sympathetic since they probably
had a tough time understanding me as well. I was shocked by this; I'm the student... if I don't
understand what the prof is saying, I fail. Plus, I'm PAYING FOR THIS CLASS. A LOT!!

One of the things that always pissed me off about academia is the sense of entitlement the professors have.

No it don't (1)

Black-Six (989784) | about 6 years ago | (#22846370)

I've been studying Architectural Design for the past 3 years, and all I can say is engineering is alot more fun. Every engineering class I had to take involved not only designing and building a test object, but doing all the math by hand to prove that it would work (not only that but we also had to test these objects to failure). These people who complain about how much it sucks shouldn't be involved in this field to begin with. However, I do agree that the teacher does have a significant influence on the class. My engineering teacher spent 15 years in the Air Force as a flight test engineer and the guy is a complete hardass in class: he'll let you make a fool of yourself, tell you to sit down and shut-up, then make it a point to tell you why your math failed. That man was honestly the best teacher I've ever had.

Let me fix that for you (3, Funny)

DJ Jones (997846) | about 6 years ago | (#22846380)

#6: It doesn't get you laid.

You're in college to learn. Get over it.

Re:Let me fix that for you (3, Funny)

Rebel_lord (900522) | about 6 years ago | (#22846458)

Lemme fix that for you

#6: It doesn't get you laid yet.
Money might not buy you love but it sure can sex :)

Re:Let me fix that for you (1)

plague3106 (71849) | about 6 years ago | (#22846508)

Um, college isn't just about learning in courses you know. If you think that, it's probably because you missed out.

Re:Let me fix that for you (1)

krog (25663) | about 6 years ago | (#22846716)

Maybe it doesn't get you laid. My mojo had a better uptime than my workstation...

Re:Let me fix that for you (5, Funny)

Rebel_lord (900522) | about 6 years ago | (#22846786)

Maybe it doesn't get you laid. My mojo had a better uptime than my workstation...
Either you use Viagra or Windows ME. I don't think I want to know ...

It was (5, Insightful)

joeflies (529536) | about 6 years ago | (#22846394)

the best of times, and it was the worst of times.

In my experience, engineering school isn't geared specifically for content. It's designed to teach you some basics (electronics, math, logic, assembly language in my case), and everything done above and beyond that was designed to teach you how to solve problems. I may not know how to build an amplifier anymore, but I do know how to build a circuit, simulate it, how to adjust properties, and develop an answer.

I think the same thing goes with Calculus - Everything you did in math was done to give you the 'aha' moment that occurs when you learn derrivatives. You suffered endlessly computing deltas manually, but then you learned what a derivative is, and all of a sudden your world changed. There are other ways to solve problems. And when you realized that, then your approach to math suddenly changed - it's not about slogging through a procedure to get the answer, but to look at problems and see new ways of solving them.

The importance of college isn't what you learn there. It's whether you learn HOW to learn.

Income (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846400)

I got C's and B's in computer science and straight A's in economics. I make WAY more in the computer industry then as some desk jockey and I get to call the shots. CS majors are hard to come by and have a level of freedom for working there butt off.

Whatever (2, Interesting)

EMeta (860558) | about 6 years ago | (#22846418)

We designed and built Potato Guns, for credit, in an upper level engineering class. In another we designed and built autonomous Lego robots. Engineering classes==awesome. I just wish I could afford to go back and take more now.

Lack of theory (4, Interesting)

xRelisH (647464) | about 6 years ago | (#22846420)

I have a lot of friends who were in Engineering when I was an undergrad. The biggest complaint that they seemed to have was that they felt like they were just being fed equations and not taught to think for themselves. The second they came across a problem that was a slight deviation from the questions mentioned in class or from the textbook, they had some trouble, because the underlying theory was lacking. I suppose it's no surprise that the students who do the best in math or programming competitions like Putnam or ACM are typically under the math faculty. Don't get me wrong, I know lots of brilliant engineering graduates, but they often feel a little cheated.

It's for this reason why I chose Computer Science, which is a math-based program at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Although I can't recite as many equations from memory as my engineering colleagues, I know how derive them, and am able to handle curveballs that come by way because I developed logical thinking. As a plus, I was able to get a minor in physics with a specialization in quantum mechanics with the extra freedom in courses I had.

I'd really like to see real math and theory return to engineering. Some formula-feeding might need to be dropped, but a lot of that stuff isn't useful in the workplace anyway.

Re:Lack of theory (2, Interesting)

nomadic (141991) | about 6 years ago | (#22846618)

I have a lot of friends who were in Engineering when I was an undergrad. The biggest complaint that they seemed to have was that they felt like they were just being fed equations and not taught to think for themselves. The second they came across a problem that was a slight deviation from the questions mentioned in class or from the textbook, they had some trouble, because the underlying theory was lacking. I suppose it's no surprise that the students who do the best in math or programming competitions like Putnam or ACM are typically under the math faculty. Don't get me wrong, I know lots of brilliant engineering graduates, but they often feel a little cheated.

I know someone who teaches math at the university level, and she does not have a very high opinion of engineering students; she finds them arrogant, underprepared, and either unable or unwilling to apply themselves to actually learning the mathematical theory.

Spent a few years in Engineering.. (4, Interesting)

zboy (685758) | about 6 years ago | (#22846434)

I'd agree with all the points, but in the end, most of them should be expected. After leaving engineering for art (or maybe while leaving.. since a had a couple year transition), I realized one of the things I hated so much about it was how "strict" engineering is. In the sense that, if you're given a problem to solve, there's only one correct answer, and only one (or maybe 2) correct ways to arrive at that answer. If you take an art class (or a writing class, as they use the example of writing papers), when you're given a problem to solve, there's a nearly infinite number of correct answers. You can do some of your own thinking. Even an answer that one person feels is completely wrong could actually be correct and get a good grade.. it's much more subjective. The freedom to break the rules and think outside the box is one of the reasons I left engineering. That, and I didn't want some little mistake in a calculation to cause a catastrophic structural failure of some sorts that led to the death of innocent civilians...

Engineering is something you do because you love i (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846436)

Personally, I really think it is only the first two years of engineering that suck (given a four year institution) I go to Berkeley, and the first two years are hell, physics/math/chemistry/statics/dynamics/etc. but no engineering, but once you move into upper division and start taking real engineering classes, where you are designing and building it becomes worth all the trouble. I would love to be able to slack off and pull straight A's like some of my humanities counterparts, but I can design and build (and have done so) bridges, levees, dams, etc. My humanities counterparts can read a really long and hard book.

If you really want to know what is unfair, it's what is after college, when those guys that slacked off are making 7 figure paychecks doing nothing, and you work your ass off and maybe make 6 figures. Engineering isn't something you do for money etc, it's something you do because you love your work.

Counseling, ha! (1)

AstrumPreliator (708436) | about 6 years ago | (#22846444)

...the dearth of quality counseling ...

You've got that right. I'm 99% sure my EE advisor was the antichrist. I don't know how anyone can be that bad with people and get a job as a student advisor.

In all seriousness I'm rather dismayed that I dropped my EE major as a freshmen. I ended up switching it for a CS major, then once I found that to be about as challenging as a race with a snail I picked up a second major, mathematics. I still wish I would have stuck with an EE degree. We touch on the EE side of things on occasion in my CS program but never in any great depth and always very easy. Just a forewarning to all those who think EE is too hard and are thinking about switching to CS, you might want to think about it a bit before you switch.

Man, are you in for a suprise! (2, Informative)

eln (21727) | about 6 years ago | (#22846446)

If you think being an engineering student sucks, wait until you graduate and have to actually get an engineering job!

Re:Man, are you in for a suprise! (1)

Chirs (87576) | about 6 years ago | (#22846570)

I got two bachelor degrees in 5 years of school. When I first got a real job _they_ paid _me_ to take training courses, and there was no homework. I thought it was a pretty sweet deal.

Seven years later I still think that work is simpler and less time-consuming than school was.

Re:Man, are you in for a suprise! (1)

eln (21727) | about 6 years ago | (#22846680)

Depends on what kind of engineering, I guess. A depressingly large number of my friends from electrical engineering ended up getting jobs that turned out to be more programming or IT work than actual engineering.

Implement BTree (1)

tcopeland (32225) | about 6 years ago | (#22846466)

From the comments:

I graduated as a comp sci major, and my huge beef with the computer science and engineering professors was that they lacked the ability to translate the material into something that someone would actually USE. Go home and write a B* tree because this is a database class... well great. It's very rare to see someone design their own new database structure these days, when they could just install SQL or mySQL or Oracle or whatever... Ergo, that class was utterly worthless to me. I had a lot of experiences that were just like that. Took a class on cryptography, but because the math involved in most cyptography is very complex, the class runs along with a lot of handwaving, and so all you end up doing is implementing other people's algorithms; you don't need a class for that, you could do that in any generic programming class.
I can see where this guy is coming from, but at the same time, implementing these algorithms teaches you 1) how to concentrate and focus 2) how to test your work and 3) how to do "hard stuff" in whatever language the class is using. It's hard work, but it's interesting stuff... or at least it should be if you're a comp sci major.

Quit whining or change majors (1)

PrescriptionWarning (932687) | about 6 years ago | (#22846472)

while I generally hate taking the stance "if you don't like it, then geeeeeet ouuuuut"

but when it comes to people complaining I make an exception

It's kind of like what I imagine boot camp to be.. (1)

Chirs (87576) | about 6 years ago | (#22846484)

Lots of pain shared with other students, but coming out the other end with the deep-seated knowledge that if you can make it through that, you can handle just about anything. (In that field, anyways.)

I actually took Engineering Physics, which even the other engineering students thought was hard. So you take 20 people that get 80s and 90s in other courses, and then you put them together for the EP-specific stuff and the college thinks that a class average should be around 70 or so and curves appropriately. We were not impressed.

Meh (4, Interesting)

MBCook (132727) | about 6 years ago | (#22846488)

  1. Every Assignment Feels the Same

    Write a short story. Write a slightly longer story. Write the story in rhyming verse. Write a non-fictional story. Write this story. Write that story. Writing assignments look boring to me. However, I saw challenges and differences in the engineering stuff I did. Maybe this guy is just ignorant of the necessary knowledge to see those differences.

  2. Other Disciplines Have Inflated Grades

    Why chose a major you have to work for where you can find correct answers, when you can have one where you just have to BS enough that the teacher can't tell the difference between BS and insight? Clearly, you should just chose you major based on your possible GPA. I know they hire CEOs based on what their GPA was 30+ years ago.

  3. Dearth of Quality Counseling

    Really? I had some wicked smart professors who could help with this. And I heard plenty from other students who thought this kind of thing about their non-engineering courses. I smell an anecdote.

  4. Professors are Rarely Encouraging

    I had encouraging professors. I had interesting professors. I also had boring professors. Why is that every Engineering professor is a stodgy old bore, while the Lit students get class after class of Dead Poet's Society teachers? Oh, that's right, they don't. Besides, maybe if you were interested in the material instead of in it for the $$$, you wouldn't have this problem. You've never seen a teacher engage some students who are interested in the subject, while called terrible by the students who didn't care about the subject? I've seen that since at least middle school.

  5. Awful Textbooks

    My Literature textbooks weren't very good at all. I've seen history books that were a joke. There were almost no good textbooks. Blame the publishers, blame the teachers requiring their own text book, blame the difficulty of writing a good one. Again, Engineering shouldn't be singled out

I call blog spam on this. You notice it's just a blog entry, not a real story at Wired.

Re:Meh (1)

Serge_Tomiko (1178965) | about 6 years ago | (#22846602)

The textbooks point is amusing. I have no idea how colleges are these days - but I stopped using textbooks for humanities subjects in 8th grade.

In high school and college, we read original texts.

Quit yer bitchin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846492)

Quit yer bitchin, babies. Making money after college does NOT suc.

Been There Not Too Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846494)

I just got my B.S. In Software Engineering. Yes, at times it was rough, but I would do it all over again. I still plan to give Grad school a go as well.

My assignments were never the same really. Yes they involved programming, but never the same problem. I enjoyed the challenge of the programs and making them work and work well.

The hard part for me was the sleep deprivation at first. But a few weeks in I got to the point where 4 hours was enough sleep. Many times I would go for several days on 1-4 hours. I never got more than 6 even on the weekend. This was too much for many people and caused them to quit. The rest of us banded together and helped each other through. It would be 4:30 am and we'd still be finishing that lab due at 8am. This would be perhaps the 3rd night in a row we had been in there this late. Suddenly one of us would get it and we would be saved! It was a great feeling. We ALWAYS got the work done. Somehow in the 11th hour we pulled it off.

Many of my non engineer friends felt sorry for us. I never missed class or an assignment, I graduated with a decent 3.2 GPA. I slept very little. I still managed to have girlfriend and be a club president at the same time.

Many of my non engineer friends got terrible grades, had no time management skills. Had no idea how to solve a problem where the answer wasn't glaring at them in a book. They also graduated and had a really hard time getting a job. I had 3 offers during finals week.

The friendships made it great. We spent so many hours in those labs that we all quickly became great friends. We'd make sheetz runs at 3am, play Unreal or some other shooter at 2am when our brains were fried. But we were in it together.

I miss those nights...

Re:Been There Not Too Bad (1)

still-a-geek (653160) | about 6 years ago | (#22846692)

Sorry, dude (or dudette), but you're disillusioned. Software Engineering doesn't even come close to "real" engineering (i.e. Mechanical or Aerospace Engineering). I have an Aerospace degree and a software engineering degree. Software engineering was a walk in the park compared to Aerospace. Software engineering shouldn't be classified as engineering.

Welcome to reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846496)

Many of the brightest students may struggle while mediocre scholars can earn top scores

Maybe you're just not as bright as your mom and dad told you you were.

Welcome to the real world... ain't it a kick in the pants?

Re:Welcome to reality (1)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | about 6 years ago | (#22846766)

Ever watch your own IQ test be graded right there in front of you?

Man. Every red slash is a kick in the nuts. I imagine that's what it's like, except you can try to blame the professor.

I'm on the fence, but there are good points (3, Interesting)

krog (25663) | about 6 years ago | (#22846510)

Bad professors were a big problem for me. I attended MIT and a state school. Most courses, especially on the bottom rungs, were taught much better at the state school. MIT, like many engineering schools, focuses on its professors' research more than their teaching skills. I failed MIT's differential equations course three times, yet earned an A at the state school. Did diff eq change sometime in the three intervening years, or the 35 miles from one school to the next?

Bad textbooks often follow from bad professors. Beware especially the profs who insist upon using their self-written textbook. That goes double for the ones which can't get the book published, and in turn force you to buy a crappy GBC-bound xerox from the campus duplication center.

I never had a good counselor. Good counselors can give you career advice. My counselors were already-overworked professors clamoring for tenure; not only did they lack the insight a good counselor could provide, but they also lacked much time.

I would not have the non-inflated grades any other way. I also don't trust grades to be a very good diagnostic figure for a student's effort, aptitude, or potential.

And as for homework... engineering is ingenuity (same root word), rooted in math and reality (which we usually call "physics"). The math bears repetition. It's not that I liked doing math exercises all the time, but now that I am on the other side, I fully appreciate its necessity. There were math concepts which I did not totally grasp until I had hammered on them for years.

Exactly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846516)

Exactly why I majored in psychology instead of something more technical. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, baby! I still ended up writing code alongside a guy with a degree in mechanical engineering. Go figure.

Duh!! (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 6 years ago | (#22846532)

The shit's hard. That's why it's called Engineering.

If it was easy and useless, it'd be called Art History. Or Sociology. Or Psychology. Or French Literature. Or...

Seriously, though, it's all nice and good that you learn something substantial and useful through much hard work, but those that end up at the top (here in the US) seemed to be lawyers and sales people, while jobs for our ilks get shipped off to Asia and East Europe. Maybe the kid's right after all...

Total agreement (1)

CodeShark (17400) | about 6 years ago | (#22846550)

In my college days it was easy to keep grades in the liberal arts classes that would keep a scholarship level GPA up -- and ponderously difficult to do the same in engineering classes: for a simple reason: in the liberal arts there isn't always a correct answer. AKA good writing skills and an adequate basis in logic is almost always enough to get a decent grade, and a dime's worth of studying gets a great grade. Thing is, no one dies when your English paper gets an "A" that time was wasn't really all that tough. But if a student gets an easy grade in an engineering class and learn to game the system, in the real world that same student might game the system under an employer -- or worse yet get promoted into a managerial position and not be trained well enough to catch bad engineering by subordinates -- and bad things happen. Or, would you trust your medical care to a doctor who got easy grades?

I don't have a solution but a suggestion: there needs to be a difficulty based "meritocracy" in terms of grading mechanisms and even scholarships that basically shows that if an engineering class is 200% more difficult than say Psych 101, then the grade for the engineering class needs to be weighted appropriately higher into the overall GPA, etc. For example, if the Psych 101 class is worth 12 points (for 3 credits x 4 pts for an "A+" grade), then Engineering XYZ at a difficulty 200% would be worth 24 points (3 credits x double difficulty * 4 pts for an A+ Grade) with an appropriate leveling algorithm that doesn't make a "C" grade in an engineering class an acceptable score.


On the upside (1)

Zordak (123132) | about 6 years ago | (#22846564)

I graduated with a pretty good job while the liberal arts guys were thinking, "Maybe I need to go ahead and get that teaching cert."

But then I went to law school, and now the guys with degrees in art history who couldn't even sit for the patent bar are making as much as I do. So take from that what you will.

It sucks to be an engineering student (5, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 6 years ago | (#22846580)

  • ... every teacher thinks that his students may be able to improve the Navier-Stokes equations.
  • ... the dude that didn't start to study engineering now is the dude that has five years of work experience and is hiring you when you have finished.
  • ... all the beautiful girls (boys) are studying something else that doesn't require that you run your head full of formulas.
  • ... all the math involved makes you an introvert nerd.
  • ... you have a perfect understanding of what Isambard Kingdom Brunel did but can't fill in your tax form.
  • ... that you fail to understand why energy-efficient technology is taxed harder than technology that wastes energy.
  • ... you can calculate the distance to a star but fails to understand the astrological terms that the girl of your life is talking about.
  • ... you see the flawed thinking of intelligent design and find out how many jerks you are surrounded with.
  • ... people don't know what the Coanda effect and the Trench effect are.
  • ... you know why a matter changes state from warm and fluid to solid and icy but not why your girlfriend does.
  • ... you still haven't understood why not the whole world has gone metric yet.
  • ... you understand the futility of software patents.
  • ... you know how a Katana is made and why it's so good and still with all that understanding your car breaks down too often for no apparent reason.
  • ... things that you encounter that breaks down due to bad design and you see that "I could have made that better"
  • ... the guy that looked doped-up in the grammar school that got low grades in everything now is a famous artist earning millions.
  • ... you don't have a clue regarding the behavior of the stock market but you have full control over your wallet.
  • ... for a party you calculate the "bang for the bucks" party when buying the alcohol and forget about the taste.

Not the case for me (1)

Pearlswine (1121125) | about 6 years ago | (#22846586)

Recent grad from a Big 10 chemical engineering program and I don't agree with most of those reasons.

I had many good textbooks that I still reference in my job.

Almost all of my professors loved to teach and would gladly take time out of their day to help you understand the concepts (more true for the actual engineering classes than the core 100-level science / physics classes).

I didn't have any problems with my counselors, but professors / 0-credit lectures were used to convey information about the job market or different things that could be done with a ChE degree.

So what if someone can get an A in underwater basket weaving. The person hiring an engineer wants an engineer, not a liberal arts major.

The one point that I feel has merit is that many of the assignments do feel the same. This was done to instill basic engineering principles into our heads. Once we got the basics we were then able to take on many more interesting projects and assignments.

Math (1, Interesting)

DigitalisAkujin (846133) | about 6 years ago | (#22846588)

I hate having to take Statistics and Calculus as an Information Science & Technology major - doing problems very similar to the one in the photo in the article when I'm in the industry to be a developer using readily available tools. It hurts my GPA and wastes my time having to spend 2-4 hours doing homework every other day for a class that is teaching me a skill I will never use (Yes, I'm sure).

It has ALWAYS sucked... (4, Interesting)

coolmoose25 (1057210) | about 6 years ago | (#22846632)

This is nothing new. I got a ME degree from UCONN in the early 80's. My first class had a professor who barely spoke English. His first quote was "I teach you Engineering, You teach me Engrish". His second line (in broken English) was the classic "Look to your left, look to your right. Neither will be with you when you graduate" We assumed he meant ONE of them won't be there, but he turned out to be correct. 2/3 of the entry class flunked out or transferred to PolySci or some other squishy humanity degree. I graduated with a 2.7 cumulative - with a 3.5 cumulative in my non-engineering classes. My roommate was a ChemE who went to PolySci - he graduated with a 3.5... studied about half as much as I did. I ended up going to graduate school because the smarmy recruiters didn't think a B- average was good enough to be a real engineer... Got an MBA in IT and Finance... never looked back. It's too bad because I would have made a pretty good engineer - actually am a "Software Engineer" now... Bottom line is that the grade inflation that took hold of all the other disciplines never translated to the engineering schools... So even though my degree was probably 4 times harder to get, it didn't count for squat due to the costs of inflation. And now America is SCREAMING for more engineers...

Worst part of engineering - the whiners (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#22846640)

Yes, some textbooks sucked. Yes, some profs were horrible. Yes, the labs smelled bad.

But the absolute worst part of my engineering undergrad education where the complainers. These were the students who constantly said things like "engineering sucks," "I hate being here," "I can't wait to get out of engineering," etc.

Well guess what, buddy, the door's over there. I don't have the foggiest idea why these students stuck around, but their constant complaining and apparent apathy really cheesed me off.

Engineers are whiners (1)

Bob-taro (996889) | about 6 years ago | (#22846686)

I admit that's a generalization, but in my experience, engineering students tend to be more whiny than other students. There may be easier majors than Engineering, but there are harder ones, too. I studied both Physics and E.E., and IMO, Physics was harder. I don't mean to offend any engineers. If it makes you feel better, I also think engineering students are much saner and have a better appreciation for good beer.

How many times am I going to have to do this? (0, Offtopic)

Gazzonyx (982402) | about 6 years ago | (#22846690)

As a software development major, I'm starting to get really sick of constantly having three or four projects on my plate at any given moment. I love writing software, but if I have three projects in different languages, all due the same week (and I'll be getting three more when I hand in the current ones), I can't really put that much time in to any of the projects. However, this isn't so bad when you consider I've been writing the same crap for about three years now. Granted, in a multitude of different languages - but a linked list is a linked list, and a queue is a queue... I get it, will samples in five languages really prove it?

How many times do I have to jump through hoops before I'm allowed to actually get back to learning about what I love? Currently, I have a project due tomorrow (well, midnight by email) that I was allowed to use any language for (the second program due tomorrow must be done in LISP), so I decided to use it as an excuse to pick up Perl, which I've wanted to do for a long time now. However, under the time constraints of a paper, two programs and an exam this week, and a make up day taken from Easter vacation, I ended up learning quite a bit of Perl, but not enough to finish the project. So, I sighed and wrote the thing in Java.

Normally I'd take a low grade in order to keep working with Perl, but doing this so many times means my QPA can't afford to absorb another failed project because I wanted to go out of the way to learn something (I've failed for going off on tangents for concurrency, alpha blending, creating dynamic thread priorities, and quite a bit of kernel hacking, etc...). How many times am I going to have to do the same thing over, and over and over before I'm allowed to go off and learn something? How many times am I going to have to "study the test" instead of getting in another chapter from "Code Complete" or "The Mythical Man Month"? Why should I spend nights trying to figure out what curve balls the prof is going to throw at me on the exam, instead of discussing top down versus bottom up design (oh, failed a project doing frameworks bottom up...), or non deterministic garbage collection? Am I the only one who thinks the greater majority of undergrad work is busy work?

Engineers have the best pickup lines (1)

lymond01 (314120) | about 6 years ago | (#22846696)

"Hey baby, what frequency do YOU oscillate at?"

I mean, seriously, complain all you want about how hard the classes are, Engineers are babe magnets.

I find that... (1)

Rampantbaboon (946107) | about 6 years ago | (#22846776)

grade inflation is a big problem between school as there is no longer an accurate scale.

At my university (Purdue) a C in an engineering class means that you have a solid understanding of the material and should be allowed to move on. A C is pathetic in many other engineering programs I hear about. In a core curriculum class, about 20% fail the first time through. In order for the degree to mean something, it has to be tough. It took me 3 tries to get through differential equations (now that's because I'm bad at them and a couple outside factors). I don't blame the university for any of it. I think a lot of it happens when, at least from my anecdotal experience including myself, get tired of the idea of being an engineer by late sophmore/early junior year. I'm going to be a senior, but I've started to find myself much more fascinated with economics as I learn more about it which makes the motivation required to do the gobs of work that much harder.

As far as the repitition, it's far less repetetive than any engineering job which is mostly figuring out the social aspect of dealing with the same problem 10 times with 10 different personalities.

Engineering salaries and disposable employees (2, Interesting)

athloi (1075845) | about 6 years ago | (#22846780)

From what I've seen lately, the hype over web technologies and our service-based economy has degraded the salaries of engineers relative to other professions, and the inflation of our currency.

This is why companies seem to like mediocre scholars, because they can buy them cheaper, throw a bunch of them at a problem and solve it more cheaply than having superstars. They like disposable employees because they never get slowed down when someone quits, leaves, goes into rehab or dies.

Colleges know this, and so they're relaxing standards and caring less about who makes it through, because they're more interested in churning out the inventors of the next FaceBook(tm).

Education reflects the economy (1)

heroine (1220) | about 6 years ago | (#22846784)

The brilliant ones who get lousy grades don't make much money. The ones who do what they're supposed to but aren't very creative get good grades & make more money. This particular economy rewards doing what you're supposed to do & not being creative so naturally education reflects that.

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