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Why Students Are Leaving Engineering 1218

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the not-so-gentle-gardening dept.
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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Why Students Are Leaving Engineering

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  • Article summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seanadams.com (463190) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:03AM (#13664168) Homepage
    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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by b0r1s (170449) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:07AM (#13664191) Homepage
      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.
      • Re:Article summary (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SilverspurG (844751) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:25AM (#13664311) Homepage Journal
        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 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cide1 (126814) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:57AM (#13664501) Homepage
          You got me. Your onto my plan. Co-op let me realize how the system worked before I graduated, so I didn't even have to leave to come back for grad school. An interesting side note on the GRE. Getting less than a perfect on the math section is a black mark against admission for grad school.

          People whining about TA's language skills is a pet-peeve of mine. Im in the middle of Indiana. Outside of Purdue, the population is pretty homogenous. It doesn't matter. Now that I'm in grad school, and I go to conferences, I have to be able to talk intelligently with these same people. To work in any modern corporation, one must interact with many differant langauge backgrounds.

          Engineering is hard. It just is. No amount of sugar coating will make it easier. Studying hard, going to office hours, going to class and actually doing the homework, instead of copying, makes one better. I partied my fair share, managed to play an intercollegiate sport, got exceptional grades, co-opped 6 terms, and am involved in many extra-curricular activities. I'm not an exceptionally smart person, I just work hard, and I budget my time.

          What more can the government due to encourage higher education? Money is all over the place for qualified candidates. I got a full ride scholarship for a PhD from the National Science Foundation. I didn't get the scholarship because of a physics test score my freshman year, I got it because I was a problem solver, and I got to know many, many professors. Being on a first name basis with a professor is always a good thing. The fact that I can go to a state school, and from the day I step in the door as an undergrad, to having a PhD, only spend $30k in tuition is pretty amazing. And Indiana isn't the only state where deals like this exist. Residents of Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Washington, Iowa, Florida, and a whole bunch I'm forgetting have wonderful schools that are really cheap.

          This guy washed out because he was looking to make a buck, not because he really wanted it. I'm glad he isn't designing my bridges.
          • by Wansu (846) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:59AM (#13664747)

              Engineering is hard. It just is. No amount of sugar coating will make it easier. Studying hard, going to office hours, going to class and actually doing the homework, instead of copying, makes one better. I partied my fair share, managed to play an intercollegiate sport, got exceptional grades, co-opped 6 terms, and am involved in many extra-curricular activities. I'm not an exceptionally smart person, I just work hard, and I budget my time.

            Well said. There's no way to take the work out of the work. All the rigors this guy described are familiar to those of us who stuck it out and got engineering degrees.

            Hell yes it's hard. But in the past, there were usually high paying job opportunities awaiting engineering graduates. That is no longer the case. Many of the businesses which hired these US engineers in the past no longer do because they can hire an engineer in China at a fraction of the pay. That's where the work went. For example, twenty years ago, there used to be a couple dozen good places in the RTP NC area where a skillful analog circuit design engineer could find a good paying job. Today theres one or two. There's still plenty of circuit design work in the world. It's just not being done here.

            Today, engineering is still just as hard as it ever was. There are still good and bad educators at each engineering school. But what is different is the reward is vastly less than in decades past. When companies cease to manufacture and design products in the US, fewer engineers are needed here. There's too much stick and not enough carrot.
            • I'm a freshman at a very respected college of Engineering in a university in Ohio. (It shall remain nameless!) As a freshman in Computer Eng, I am finding myself wondering if I even want to finish this major or just hop onto music or computer science. My reasons for debating on leaving computer engineering is that, at least here, I hardly get a scratch at my specific major until my junior year. Thats right - for the first two years, I will hardly touch a computer program for more than one semester. My
              • In college I knew several Computer Engineers that didn't really know what the hell their major was until it was almost too late. It certainly depends on your school but most believe it to be about an engineering position that uses computers. Not an engineer of computers. So the focus would be on general design principles. And while they use computers in advanced projects and learn plenty about it; Computer Science majors study computers from day 1 and don't stop.

                Once again, this is a generalization but
            • by TamMan2000 (578899) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @10:02AM (#13666470) Journal
              Well, a second hand story from an elder...

              I spent 3 years doing development and validation of computational fluid dynamics software at a major jet engine manufacturer. While I was there one of the guys who had beein in aerospace for 40+ years befriended me.

              The real reason is that there aren't more people becoming engineers is that we just aren't treated like he was when he was my age. His salary when he was 30 was comparable to a medical doctors. It used to be that people who had the brains and passion to suceed in any field would often choose engineering, now, if they want money, they avoid engineering. Engineering is left to folks like me who really love solving problems, and would probably do engineering even if it paid less.

              Companies that scream bloody murder everytime a government regulation interfiers with the free market in any way that hurts their bottom line (complaining that capatalism is te american way) want permission to hire engineers differently from all other professions because engineers are scarce. Well you're the ones demanding a free market.

              Pay us more, there will be more of us!

              My older friend I mentioned before forbid his children from studying engineering... I will advise my kids that a career in engineering is a bad finacial decision, but if they think it will make them happy...

              This is the problem.

              How many of you would tell your kids to become engineers?
          • Re:Article summary (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Vicissidude (878310) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @02:13AM (#13664814)
            People whining about TA's language skills is a pet-peeve of mine. Im in the middle of Indiana. Outside of Purdue, the population is pretty homogenous. It doesn't matter. Now that I'm in grad school, and I go to conferences, I have to be able to talk intelligently with these same people. To work in any modern corporation, one must interact with many differant langauge backgrounds.

            Fine, learn how to understand Indian English or Chinese English on the job. The point of college classes is to learn the material and be graded on your understanding of the material, not your understanding of the TA who can barely speak English.
            • Language skills... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Mauz (869660) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:39PM (#13667881)
              Two stories from when I was a TA:

              1) I taught the lab of a second year digital logic class whose prof. might have been good at research but sucked as a teacher. I didn't believe the comments the students made about the class so I sat in (second row, left side of class room that had seats for 50 people) and I couldn't understand a word the man said. He basically faced the board and muttered while making scratchings that sort of looked like K-maps. So, I got my hands on the class syllabus and started taking the first 45 minutes of my 2 hour long lab to teach digital logic. At the end of the semester, I had a lot of people thank me for doing that.

              2) Communication is key. If students turned in homework, a lab report or a test that was incomprehensible, I gave it a zero. Engineering is all about communication and I quickly taught my students that being engineering students was not an excuse. If they didn't write legibly and clearly, I didn't care how brilliant their work was because neither I or anyone else could understand it. Oddly enough, the foreign students usually demonstrated better written language skills. (I did have to occasionally to convince them that a thesaurus is a dangerous tool.)

              I've been working now for 10 years and communication is still key. I'm in the process of learning Mandarin.
          • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @02:35AM (#13664887) Homepage
            Your onto my plan.

            Im in the middle of Indiana.

            one must interact with many differant langauge backgrounds

            What more can the government due to encourage higher education?

            Let me guess... you were the TA that was trying to communicate with Kern. No wonder he had a hard time.

          • I agree (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Ogemaniac (841129)
            I really dislike the whining about foreign teaching assistants and professors. Yes, it can be a bit challenging sometimes but this is relevant job-training experience. You will be working with these people in the future.

            Just imagine it from the other side - not only does your TA have to be engineers/scientist, but much of the relevant research is written only in English, and they must be able to speak English to do their jobs. Despite the complaints, it is a lot easier to struggle to communicate in yo
      • Re:Article summary (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@@@cornell...edu> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:52AM (#13664475) Homepage
        Yup, a lot of state schools are absolutely horrendous, even the ones with supposedly good reputations.

        My undergraduate degree was from Cornell University - Most of my professors were top-notch, and my worst were nowhere near as bad as what the author of the linked article describes. I loved what I was doing, and didn't find things to be that difficult.

        I am now finishing up my masters' degree at Rutgers University - While there are also some stellar professors there, the average and minimum quality of the professors is utterly horrendous, as is the quality of the academic facilities on the engineering campus. The roofs leak, half the desks in classrooms are broken, the bathrooms flood on a daily basis, and in one of the bathrooms a stall door has been broken without repair for over a year. These facts are especially sad given the $60 million state-of-the-art football stadium a half mile away which is in utterly perfect condition.

        I have also had to change my definition of a bad professor since coming here - Before they were the boring ones that droned on in a monotone, but I've had professors here who would spend 20 minutes trying to work out a mistake they'd made in one equation, IF they even bothered to show up to class. My first semester here, one of my professors failed to show up to a quarter of the lectures, and did not even notify us.
        • too funny (Score:4, Insightful)

          by zogger (617870) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:38AM (#13664675) Homepage Journal
          This is HYSTERICAL. A school with "engineers" and millions for so called amature sports, and no one can cob job their own desks back together? glue, screws, a clamp? the tech leaders of tomorrow who will take us to mars and give us mr. fusion reactors? HAHAHAHA! A simple door off a hinge repair, and NO ONE does it in a year?

          sounds like some people are studying being "elite" more than learning to become practical engineers.

          No, I don't want to hear "it's not your job" either or you pay blah blah blah. Sometimes you just chip in and get something done, don't wait for an invite in the real world.

          Down the street from me is sort of a weird intersection, the weeds grow real high quickly, blocking the view so you can't tell if a car is coming around the corner or not making it hazardous. Ya, the county mows it once a month, sometimes that isn't enough. solution! Take weed whacker in trunk of car, stop, get out, and HORRORS OF DE HORRORS do something practical that benefits the neighbors and me just for the hell of it! And not get paid! And it's not my job! And it costs time, and uber leet mad weed whacking skillz! The horrors!

          MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

          not trying to flame, but really............organize a dang fix up party with your buds and some brewskis some weekend, fix the desks and the doors and the leaks. Maybe after the school newspaper covers the action (don't leave out the contrast with the stadium, nice set of before and after pics, etc), it will embarass the school and alumni enough so they will fund the maintenance department better.

          As to bad professors, no idea other than I hold that all bossess need to work the loading docks and the assembly line once in awhile, just to keep them straight, so all professors need to go out and get non academic jobs once in awhile. Pass a law or something.
          • by xtal (49134) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @03:07AM (#13664990)
            A simple door off a hinge repair, and NO ONE does it in a year?

            Never heard of a UNION, have you? You're NOT ALLOWED to do things like this in most universities. Physical plant services are unionized in every university I have ever been in.

            Nevermind most fundraising goes into a collective pool.
            • by zogger (617870) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @03:54AM (#13665091) Homepage Journal
              uber leet engineers of de phtasmagorikal futah can't sneak past a snoozing "union" janitor and fix a door on a hinge.
              HAHAHAHAHA! Can sneak over to someone elses college and steal a mascot, figure out how to beat vegas, dissasemble and reassemble the profs car inside his bedroom, stuff like that, but a DOOR floors them!

              teehheee hee, take yer razzin! No engineers street cred until you can brainstorm your way to fixed desks and doors! In the real world you have to deal with marketing weasels and deadlines based on when their car payments are due, clueles bosses who order you to do three different things simultaneouylsy that conflict with each other, government regulations that only make sense to people who are required to eat with spoons only, and all sorts of other impossible crap, yet the work still needs to be done, and it gets done. Figure it out, it ain't rocket surgery!

              p.s. I was in a union long time ago, wouldn't have bothered me *one bit* if my work mysteriously got done when I wan't looking, because the CHECK would still show up!
              hehehehehehe, engineers, whooo hawww1one
              • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @09:55AM (#13666423) Homepage
                Speaking of Vegas.

                If you muck around the network wiring in a Vegas casino and you aren't one of the union electricians they will commit grave acts of sabotage to the network: like sever the whole thing with a chainsaw.

                A colleague of mine once got impatient with the pace of work in a Vegas casino.

                Underestimating the potential responses of trashling laborers is a bad idea.
          • Re:too funny (Score:5, Insightful)

            by modecx (130548) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @03:45AM (#13665072)
            The sad thing is, I've met and been around professional and student engineers that exactly mirrors what Andy said, and I equate it to inexperience and apathy. Why do they want to be enginners? I sure don't know--but I do know it can't be because Engineering classes are flooded with attractive females. For whatever reason, they can't take some 2x4s and make something to solve a problem. It's downright pathetic that a budding mechanical engineer is expected to take a year or two of calc in highschool, but not expected to take a shop class, where he can learn to run a bead of weld, or turn the cranks on a mill, and otherwise actually apply all of that fun stuff he learned in geometry and trig... That's what it's all about, where the rubber meets the road.

            Good engineers, in my experience, have a background in what they come to do and love. I've met engineers who just plain can't understand that its beneficial to know what the non-engineers (the lesser-folk to these kind) think when they're working with their products, and I've met engineers who have had experience in their trades.. 100% of the engineers with real trade experience were the better engineers, probably because they can better relate to the poor slob doing the work, at least that's the way I see it.

            This is exactly why I think every engineer should work with the guy that has to maintain/install his product--because at that moment when the engineer is turning the wrench, if his design sucks, he aught to realize it... The end result is a better product. These are the "If it's not broken, make it better" guys, and in many facilities they've been completely abstracted from the Real World, and they therefore can't get a grasp on why their stuff isn't working well.
          • Re:too funny (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Cedric Tsui (890887)
            Howdy. I'm an Engineering Physics student at Queen's University.

            Consider for a second that there is a position which matches the missing pieces of your (zogger's) ideal engineer. It's the technician. The god of fiddly bits of equipment, master of the shop. He isn't paid as much as, is much better in the shop, but not as good at calculus.

            Now in Europe, they call us Canadian (and American) engineers "Reader's Digest engineers" because their engineers and technicians are the same person. An engineer is expecte
        • Re:Article summary (Score:3, Interesting)

          by billstewart (78916)
          My undergrad was also at Cornell, many years ago, and sleep *is* for the weak. Most of the teachers were excellent (with a few exceptions, but fortunately not in critical foundation classes.) I did grad school at Berkeley, and the teaching was probably even better. The styles of the institutions were much different, though part of that was because it was grad school and not mass-quantity undergrad courses - Cornell expected lots of students would blow off some lectures and make it up by reading, problem
      • Re:Article summary (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lpret (570480) <lpret42 AT hotmail DOT com> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:39AM (#13664677) Homepage Journal
        Go to a school that is undergraduate focused. For example, the school I go to, Baylor University, is not MIT or whatever. But our undergrad engineering program is top 20 in the nation. You know why? Because they focus on helping you learn the material -- real professors teach you stuff, not some TA who is just doing it to get his stipend. There's practical inputs from nearby firms that give you a _real_ project that will actually impact people. There's an emphasis on communicating to non-engineering people, even *shock* business terms to help you sell your idea.

        Don't go to a school for undergrad if it's got a good name. That's what grad school is for. Do undergrad at a place where you learn the trade and get involved in practical elements. THAT is what will make you successful in life -- no matter what your major is.

    • Engineers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mark_MF-WN (678030) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:17AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by arminw (717974) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:29AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mrchaotica (681592) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:34AM (#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!
          • Re:Engineers (Score:5, Insightful)

            by grape jelly (193168) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:52AM (#13664477)
            Watch what you wish for....imagine how abysmal the malpractice insurance would be.....
      • Re:Engineers (Score:5, Interesting)

        by BroncoInCalifornia (605476) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:23AM (#13664613)

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

        I have noticed this. They especially do not want to pay intelligent honest people! They will bribe congressmen to bring in more people from overseas. They will "outsource".

        Where I work they are trying to create bureaucratic process as substitute for Engineering knowledge and experience. This is not working but the main players do not have the experience or knowledge to know it is not working.

      • Re:Engineers (Score:4, Informative)

        by weston (16146) <westonsd&canncentral,org> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:27AM (#13664625) Homepage
        "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 [pass students who apparently know less than 50% of their material]." Note this portion from the article:
        I nearly fainted when I learned that I received a 43% on the Physics final. I nearly fainted again when I learned that the class average was 38%...Having allegedly mastered 43% of the course material, I was now deemed fit to take even harder Physics classes. I wondered: at the highest levels of physics, could you get a passing grade with a 5% score on a test? A 3% score?
        Every one of use who's stumbled through this kind of course and walked out with a 45% average and a B+ knows that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, but we're usually so darn grateful whatever it was didn't kill our careers personally that we don't question it too closely, even if we don't know more than half the course material. (Then again, maybe it's good ol' engineering redundancy.)
        • "Every one of use who's stumbled through this kind of course and walked out with a 45% average and a B+ knows that something is rotten in the state of Denmark" Sorry about that. Every one of us might not know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark -- that's a Hamlet reference, for you humanities-deprived folks.
        • Re:Engineers (Score:5, Informative)

          by Jim_Callahan (831353) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @02:11AM (#13664805)
          Um... no. Professors in my department generally design their test to have an average of about 50%, and a standard deviation in the range of 10-15%. Walking out of a class with a 45% average and a B or C just means you have a typically hardass professor, not even an exceptionally bastardly one. Getting 90% or higher on anything but a homework assignment in an engineering class means you've either found your specialty or your instructor is slacking off. It pretty much NEVER means you're recieving an exceptional education in the class, and is generally a good indicator of the opposite.
      • Re:Engineers (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jcr (53032)
        Engineering is too important to be easy.

        True, but it's also important for it to be well-taught. lest you end up with students who can crank through a formula, but not really understand the meaning of what they're doing. People who don't grasp the material on a deeper level can only work hard, not smart.

        I had the great fortune to learn trigonometry at work, the summer before it came up in high school. My boss needed me to order some transformers, which meant that he needed me to understand AC power. So,
      • Re:Engineers (Score:3, Insightful)

        by highwaytohell (621667)
        I totally agree.

        As a structural engineer i have been to too many countries where the education of their engineers leaves a lot to be desired. This shows in the quality of the end product.

        Engineering is not meant to be a glamorous job. The money is good, but the reason its good is because lives depend on it. If you fail to engineer something correctly and leave design flaws, then there can be disastrous consequences. If you need to make it difficult at the college or university level, then so be it. If you c
    • by cpeikert (9457) <<cpeikert> <at> <alum.mit.edu>> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:17AM (#13664256) Homepage
      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.
      • by shitdrummer (523404) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:52AM (#13664719)
        "How we get there, I have no idea."

        1. Pay teachers very well so they are in say the top 5% of all wage earners. This will attract the highly skilled and educated back into teaching.

        2. Send teachers to school during school holidays to further their own knowledge. Pay them for this. This ensures teachers are constantly updating their knowledge instead of driving taxi's during the school breaks.

        3. Don't let your local community decide what should be taught in schools. Curriculum should be decided by a national panel made up of leaders in each field of study. Education should be a national issue, not one decided based on local beliefs no matter how "intelligent" those beliefs are.

        4. Provide options for traineeships in traditional trades (e.g. electrical, plumbing etc) for the non-academic students. This will help remove disruptive elements from classes allowing those who want to study or have the aptitude to study to do so in peace. (not that you don't need to study to become a plumber and such, but I'm sure you all know what I mean)

        5. Properly fund the schools and get rid of the Coke/Chip machines. I know the sugary drinks and food taste great, but they don't help you sit still and concentrate. (A new slogan perhaps? :)

        6. Ban the teaching of religion on any and all school grounds. AND ENFORCE IT!!! Religion has it's place in society, but not in schools!

        Just a few thoughts anyway. I know it won't solve all the problems, but I'm sure it would make things a damn sight better than they are right now.

        Shitdrummer.
        • These ideas will solve soooo much. We'll magically get qualified teachers because they're paid more. Oh wait... whats this, current teachers have tenure and can't be fired... didn't know this. Also reachers have never been held accountable the same way most people are, so paying them more won't help. Teachers have never gotten raises because they're good at it. They get paid based on how many years they've been in the district and how many degrees they have.

          If you try to change the system you get compl
    • 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

      • by SchnauzerGuy (647948) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:09AM (#13664551)
        I was actually in the Engineering building when the shootings [earthlink.net] you mentioned occurred...

        The whole system is a sham. Worthless waste of time, just to have a line item on your resume.
        Unfortunately, you apparently missed the most important part of your engineering education. I have long since forgotten how to do vector calculus and my 68k assembly is beyond rusty, but I'll never forget what one professor said on the very first day of class - "We aren't here to teach you things - we are here to teach you how to think".

        That is the whole engineering education boiled down into one sentence. All of those "test[s] of endurance" are the best way that you can learn how to think like an engineer; how to analyze a problem and methodically develop a solution. It doesn't matter if you are designing bridges or writing software. And that line on your resume will open more doors than anything else on your resume. Getting a quality degree means tells a potential employer that you have the ability to stick with a difficult task and succeed.

        In my own experience, while I have always been asked about my Electrical Engineering degree and education in job interviews, I have never been asked my GPA. It is like the joke:
        What do you call the worst student graduating from med school?
        Doctor.
      • "engineering is more a test of endurance than intelligence"


        So is the profession of engineering. The patience to test every bit of your work for flaws is infinitely more important than being able to do long division in your head or recite the U.S. Presidents in backwards alphabetical order by middle name.
    • by mrchaotica (681592) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:23AM (#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!
      • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @02:25AM (#13664858) Homepage
        "When engineers make mistakes, people die. You must be ever vigilant, and you must be perfect."

        This is true. Of course, it is true for a lot of fields, including the low-level "serfs" that engineers look down upon. When a construction worker makes a mistake, people die. When a quality control person makes a mistake, people die. When the driver of a Hummer makes a mistake, people die. When a CEO makes a mistake, people die. When a politician makes a mistake, hundreds of thousands of people die.

        Stop claiming that the potential for harming people means that a field needs to be a bitch to get into. It isn't true.

    • Re:Article summary (Score:3, Insightful)

      by macrom (537566)
      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
    • Re:Article summary (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DarkBlackFox (643814)
      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? Tou
    • Re:Article summary (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4@ya h o o.com> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:42AM (#13664416) Homepage
      I thought it was more like this:

      "Blah Blah Blah.....I was the bomb in highschool everyone said I was smart I even me....blah blah blah.....Mom and Dad sent me an school......blah blah blah.....teachers didn't coddle me like in high school....blah blah blah......nobody loves me.....blah blah blah......Math was tough.....blah blah blah......I quite and switched to a BS degree.....blah blah blah....This is why America doesn't have engineers.....blah blah blah."

      Gimme a break artcle writer, and take credit for your own failure, blaming others is one reason this country is going in the shitter, no one takes responsibity for their own actions, it is always someone elses fault.
    • Re:Article summary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:42AM (#13664417)
      Agree on several points.

      1) He was basically taking the 5th year of high school physics. The professors have absolutely no interest in wasting another year of their life treating trivial material to anyone (even a brain).

      2) Grades are a joke. They use a bell curve. You hope you don't get in a class with the next Hawking- because he will get the "A". The main point is to reduce the number of people in the senior classes to a managable level.

      3) If that engineering wasn't easy for him, then he would have never cut it as a real engineer. So he was properly filtered out by a system designed to do just that.

      Where I do agree with him...
      College used to teach- now grad students do the work- and in many cases they cannot teach.

      What is not mentioned in the article...
      These days, you go through all that hell, and in many cases you can't get a job at ANY pay level because a foreign national is willing to do it for a fraction of the pay. That's niether right nor wrong- it's just a fact. There is no point in smart but sub-genius level american's going into these fields right now. There may be in 20 years when out economies even out or we have a war and see the stupidity of relying on foreign nationals who are not U.S. citizens for our critical programs.

      A smart but not genius person will reasonably pick the highest compensated field with good employment prospects that they enjoy or at least do not actively despise.

      Geniuses are different tho- they will fight the material easy with or without help- usually will get to bypass the trivial courses and skip straight to the good stuff by the time they are 20 (if not earlier). And they will always find employment at decent wages + benefits.

      Outside of geniuses- there are about 3 billion people smarter than average who are increasingly competing for the same jobs.
    • Re:Article summary (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PickyH3D (680158) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:18AM (#13664593)
      This was not the summary.

      The actual summary went more along the lines of: above average high school student attends Engineering school where the teachers cannot, and often do not, teach. Important material is covered infrequently and as quickly as possible by the teachers (beit a TA or not). Desires a learning environment where students are both encouraged to learn topics and where they are actually TAUGHT the topics. Also would like a place that does not put all of the burden on students.

      It's idiots, and more specifically, professors like you that are causing the problems that this person talked about. "Weeding out" is exactly as he put it, the process of having students accept failures simply because of the inability of teachers to teach. For one thing, he never even said the math was particularly hard, but the teacher and the TA never TAUGHT it. No, instead, they forced students to read the book and go with it from there. I could only imagine what in the hell I would have thought as I looked at Discrete Math symbols used in lower level math books (MVC as he mentioned) that usually carry some sort of teachers explanation; I am very good at math, but I would be lying if I said I could read straight through a new level of math and understand it completely, especially before taking Discrete Math.

      I am an engineer/programmer that is not failing his courses, but only out of my own abilities. My level of care for my courses is near the, "I could drop out tomorrow and not give a damn" level.

    • Re:Article summary (Score:3, Insightful)

      by twiggy (104320)
      I figured being on slashdot that clicking the comments would reveal stuff just like this snarky ass response. After all, it's mostly read by computer science and engineering type people. They went through the schooling, so obviously they're badasses, and the guy who wrote the article is just "weak" or unintelligent.

      I've got news for you, folks:

      I went to one of the "top" Computer Science schools in the country and the TA's and Professors there, with a few exceptions, were atrociously bad. I had Profs who
  • Hard work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BWJones (18351) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:04AM (#13664176) Homepage Journal
    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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:10AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BWJones (18351) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:50AM (#13664465) Homepage Journal
        Why bother?

        Because it is a passion. I get to learn new things that nobody else knows yet. I get paid to do that.

        So you can have a 10-year career lifespan

        Screw that. 30-or more year career lifespans in academia are not uncommon.

        nd 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?

        If you were smart, you would be the one doing the science and calling the shots. I make it a policy to hire people that are smarter than I am, work hard, and the ex-jock business major can go work for someone else and make their life (perhaps yours?) miserable.

        • calling the shots (Score:4, Interesting)

          by phriedom (561200) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @04:29AM (#13665180)
          "If you were smart, you would be the one doing the science and calling the shots."

          It has been my experience that very, very few engineers actually understand business. I'm not going to defend The Suits, I'm just saying that as a person with a Business degree who works as a technical designer (PCB's to be precise) I have often been amused by engineers who offer naive opinions of what is going on in the business or what the managers should do in a way that makes it clear that they don't grasp all the fundamental concepts. And whats more, I'd have to teach them the terms first before I could even begin to explain why they were wrong.

          See, just being smart or having common sense or mastering something that is really hard, doesn't mean you can just pick up something else you don't understand and figure it out. Not without the fundamentals.
      • Re:Hard work (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nasarius (593729)
        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?

        Because some of us are actually passionate about science and are willing to suffer through the intense education required to practice it.

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gamer4Life (803857) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:07AM (#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?
    • Re:Why? (Score:3, Funny)

      by slughead (592713)
      5) No girls in class, and at work after you graduate.

      That's usually why universities MAKE you take liberal arts classes.
    • by walterbyrd (182728) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:45AM (#13664434)
      Who wants to compete with engineers in India who are happy to work for $50 a month?

      Yes, there are some jobs that must be done locally, but the supply/demand ratio looks grim. Seems like a lot of hard work and expense to compete for such dismal prospects.

      Still, engineering makes a lot more sense than computer science, which in turn makes a lot more sense than math.

      Law school is the only way to go. An easy $150K after a few years. In the future, all USA citizens will make their living suing each other.
  • by filmmaker (850359) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:09AM (#13664198) Homepage
    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.
  • by MsWillow (17812) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:10AM (#13664204) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by weston (16146) <westonsd&canncentral,org> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:57AM (#13664505) Homepage
      "You just wait," I thought, gazing upon them like the ant regarding the grasshopper in the summer. "You party and blow off homework now, but in ten years, you'll be making merely wonderful money as investment bankers and consultants, while I'll be getting laid off from a great job at General Electric."

      Business increasingly treats math & science talent as fungible and freely exchangable across borders, in an effort to cut costs, and salaries fall. And we all know how much social status and respect we afford to those skilled in math & science, right?

      Add that to hit-and-miss quality of instruction, and in some cases, an intentionally withering gauntlet to run, and I agree with the author. The truly smart are looking elsewhere.

      Me, I studied Mathematics.

    • by supabeast! (84658) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:10AM (#13664559)
      You hit that one right on the head. I didn't stop building and designing networks because the work was hard, it was because I got sick of working for people who made decisions at random, promised bosses/clients the moon and stars, and then expected me to make amazing things materialize out of my ass over the course of a weekend.

      If America really wants to recover it's position as the technically elite nation in this world, it's time to throw out the old-boys-club culture of management that consistently rewards and promotes corrupt morons who think technology is just magic pixie dust.
  • The guy is right. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Concern (819622) * on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:10AM (#13664205) Journal
    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...
  • duh (Score:5, Informative)

    by timmarhy (659436) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:10AM (#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.
  • by zerus (108592) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:12AM (#13664223) Homepage
    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.
  • Weed out courses (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:15AM (#13664242) Journal
    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.
  • by sunilhari (606555) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:16AM (#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.

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:24AM (#13664299) Homepage Journal
      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.
  • me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:17AM (#13664253) Homepage
    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.
    • I was on the fence whether to mod or post on this thread, but you just tipped me to post.

      You're right that engineering schools in general aren't conducive to learning much liberal arts/history/whatever (though some may do a decent job of it). Science curricula, however do allow for more of the liberal artsy stuff, and will let you go into engineering later if you want, or something liberal artsy (with maybe a technical twist) later. I did physics (and eventually went on to a PhD in it) and managed to stud
    • Re:me (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jim_Callahan (831353)
      Courses I took as an Engineering major that were unrelated to my curriculum:
      Philosophy (upper division)
      Abstract Mathematics (Specifically complex analisys)
      Quantum Mechanics (Yeah, I have weird hobbies)
      Practical Theater
      Modern Dance

      And that's just picked from three arbitrary semesters. What's this about me being screwed now?

      Oh, and I seem to recall Dr. Asimov deciding one day that he didnt' want to be a chemist and switching to a career in writing. It's honestly not that hard to do something else with an
  • by slobber (685169) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:22AM (#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.
  • by monstermonster (866861) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:24AM (#13664304) Homepage
    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* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by everphilski (877346) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:24AM (#13664305) Journal
    ... 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-
  • What complete BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zymurgy_cat (627260) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:26AM (#13664319) Homepage
    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.
    • Based on commentary like that, it sounds like this country needs more MBAs with engineering degrees. The lack of respect for engineers seems to come from the middle-management/PHB's with little to no concept of how the engineering process works, from ideas, to designs, to prototypes, to testing, to re-prototyping, to re-testing, etc, to final product. Most PHBs/managers seem to love setting timetables and deadlines to keep things streamlined and organized, and make sure everything looks good on paper for
    • by Vellmont (569020)
      "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.

      Uhhh, right. Just try that with software engineering and we'll see what kind of code you'll write. I suspect the same thing is true for Electrical engineering (go design a good CPU with some basic principles and "equations"). Not all engineering is that "plug and chug" cr
    • Re:What complete BS (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @02:01AM (#13664757)
      You know, you're right. It is foolish to assume that everyone else the same experiences as you. So what makes it foolish when he does it but not you?

      What he described sounds suspiciously like the Computer Science department at my alma mater. Though we did have additional joys of professors asssigning problems that they haven't even bothered to look at first, which frequently resulted in professors who COULD NOT SOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEM. Now, they'd be happy to give you the final answer, read out of the list of solutions provided by the author, but go ahead and ask them how to solve it. Ummm... errr....

      I even took one course where it was the professor's first year teaching that course (not teaching a CS course at all, just this one) and all he did was use the lecture notes left from the previous professor. That doesn't sound too bad, does it? Well, imagine going in EVERY DAY and having your lecture consist of reading from the notes used by the previous professor for that day --whatever they are. You can't be bothered to glance at them beforehand to see what they're about before you walk into class, let alone actually READ them beforehand! You're a busy man, right? And yes, this even extended to our midterm. After which, a friend of mine confronted him in the hall and asked if our dear professor even wrote that midterm himself. "I...uh... ... um... not exactly." was his half-minute long reply. Insert more periods and "uh"s, "ah"s and "um"s to get the full unabridged half-minute version.

      I don't know, is a 75-90% drop-out rate in EACH class normal? I don't mind tough courses, but at least be able to teach the course. All I got out of university was what I taught myself while trying to wade through this mess.

      Yes, I graduated. Yes, I got a good GPA --thanks to the wonderful grading curve. Perhaps my mind is still stuck in my public school years, but if the highest grade I received in a class was a 53%, shouldn't I fail? No, instead I pass the class with flying colors because everyone else is just as lost as I am and the grading curve saves the day, doesn't that mean there's something very, very broken here? You can blame the professor, you can blame the students, you can blame the system, but can you really say that there's nothing WRONG?
  • D in Discrete Math (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jumbledInTheHead (837677) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:30AM (#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.
  • by six11 (579) <johnsogg@c m u . edu> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:41AM (#13664408) Homepage
    Some of the comments I have read are summarized like this: "This kid couldn't hack it with engineering, so he complains to the web that it's the system's fault. Lame!"

    I do not think that Kern said things in the right way, but I generally agree with him. Look guys, engineering is not about pain and suffering. An engineering curriculum should help you learn about a limited set of facts and theoretical basics that will enable you to solve complex design tasks that real-world situations will throw at you. It is increasingly obvious that the ability to design creative solutions to real-world problems is at a premium (and this is not something that a typical curriculum teaches). Pain and suffering are not part of that equation. Kern is pointing out that there is an unnecessary amount of pointless heartache, wasted hours in lectures given by inept teachers, and horribly crafted textbooks. To those of you who get on people's cases when they complain about the inefficiency of the engineering-education situation: Aren't you just bragging? Or lying? Or just beating your chest because you were able to manage the pain?

    I think the most important part of his article came at the end:

    the United States will grow ever more reliant upon foreign brainpower to design its scientific and manufacturing endeavors.

    I'm not sure if Kern meant this in the way that I take it, but to me he hit it right on the head. It's about design. The ability to solve certain known sets of problems computationally is essentially solved--it can be delegated out to machinery or people in other countries, even if they don't speak your language. The most interesting problems facing people these days are those that are not well-defined, or "wicked" problems as some would call them, and the only way to solve them--to engineer a solution--is by a human being, well-versed in the subject area, to creatively apply their knowledge to the area.

    Good design can't be automated, but this automation is exactly what the American engineering environment is producing, because of this machoistic culture that has taken root. Engineering students are rewarded when they are able to play to a system that assesses everything that is quantifiable. Those things that are not quantifiable (such as the ability to effectively solve problems with teams or design new solutions to problems) are not graded and therefore students can't afford to spend time honing those skills. I think Kern is right; we have an engineering education system that is inefficient, and I think that system is producing exactly the wrong kind of engineers for the American engineering environment to be sustainable in the future.

  • Some reasons... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by andreyw (798182) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:45AM (#13664435) Homepage
    1) Engineering programs are generally-speaking harder.
    2) It's hard to party the night away when you have 20 FSA's to compile into REGEXes. See 1)
    3) Some see it as ``grunt'' work with no future, and in particular, no economic future due to dubious hiring practices abroad.

    Hence, while previously a lot of people went into say, CS, because it was a money tree, now the only people hanging in there are those that actually are interested in CS.
  • I have some ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by man_ls (248470) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:45AM (#13664439)
    I originally started out as a Computer Science major at Georgia Tech. I, however, left that school after my first year, and am studying Psychology at a state university. (I didn't leave because of grades either -- I left with a 4.0 GPA)

    I'm way too social of a person for my own good sometimes, and I had a terrible time finding friends who were interested in anything that I liked. Nobody to go to concerts with at the various great venues in Atlanta. Plus, the school was fairly "greek or die" with respect to socialisation, and I despise the Greek system by and large (and I did, in fact, pledge a fraternity despite that) so my options were a bit limited. My impression of most of the other engineers/science majors there was that they were very antisocial, introverted people, whereas I was not.

    Having switched to a school with few engineers, and changed my major to an outwardly-focused one, I'm so much happier.

    I would bet there are other engineers/computing majors like myself who are smart enough to "hack it" in the program, but for one reason or another, simply cannot deal with the lifestyle that goes along with it.
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:49AM (#13664455)
    A lot of the time the professors just don't understand how LITTLE you know. It is like you are in 1st grade and they are reaching down to 7th grade to try to introduce 12th grade concepts.

    I had a very smart college professor (Dr. Verma) who was notorius for being a very hard class (even weedout levels- 50% drop/fail rates). Here is the tip that gave us close to an 85% pass rate that semester.

    I figured out to ask him for a "trivial" example. When he gave a "trivial" example, at least half the class would understand what he had been trying to explain for 15 minutes. And often, the understanding was like "Oh my god- that's so easy, why was he saying it so complicated?"

    Sometimes, all you need is just to comprehend a little edge or corner of the problem and suddenly the entire problem just peels open for you. The professors are speaking in jargon that you barely comprehend- if you can get them to drop the jargon and give an easy example in english, it may help.

    Good luck!
  • by gambit3 (463693) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @12:59AM (#13664511) Homepage Journal
    hear my story, and learn why the United States lacks engineers.
    There is no complex cause for the engineering shortage. It's all right here, in his story. Only in his story. Hear it and learn.

    Remember: Kern = real good at math and science.
    Just because he got a 43 on a physics final, don't think he's dumb. Oh no! It was the system. The bad TAs. The ignorant teaching he got. He's quite smart, you see. Why? Well, because he says so right there.

    "Discreet Mathematics" is "how Kern dropped that class along with the rest of his engineering course load and signed into liberal arts classes, all on the last day he was eligible to do so, because he couldn't stand the stress, abuse, and lack of comprehension anymore."
    Apparently, getting a 2.7 GPA is considered abuse. Maybe he should be calling his lawyer. We don't want his inner child stressed any more.

    I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. She was as American as I am. Spoke perfect colloquial English.
    It seems that if someone can't communicate with him, we are to immediately assume that she's not a native English speaker, because, well, it couldn't be HIM that's the problem, right? After all, Kern is smart.

    If you want more engineers in the United States, you must find a way for America's engineering programs to retain students like, well, me
    No explanation for the self-centerdness needed here.

    Personal note: I say these things as a man who went through something similar. I graduated High School with honors, got scholarships to college to study engineering, then found it exceedingly harder than I had ever imagined school could be. I matched Mr Kern's 2.7 GPA my first semester. I endured for a few years before Engineering school kicked my ass, and I flunked out. Not just the engineering program, but college entirely.
    And I moped.
    Then, six months later, I decided I was going to finish what I started, and I worked for three years just to earn enough money to pay my way back to finish college. Three years after I re-enrolled, I graduated with a Bachelor's in Electrical Engineering.
    I graduated. I didn't bitch that the System wasn't to *MY* liking. I didn't whine that education had to change to keep more students like *ME*. I didn't complain when I had bad TAs as instructors. I didn't automatically assume that when an instructor and I couldn't communicate, it was due to their lack of mastery over the English language. I persevered.

    That's what *I* did.

    I didn't write an article blaming my quitting engineering on the system that didn't adapt itself to keep students like *me* around.

    That's for a certain liberal arts major to do.

  • Wimp (Score:4, Informative)

    by tknn (675865) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:00AM (#13664515) Homepage
    Basically he went to some grade-inflated little nursery school his whole life and then discovered that he had no skills to survive in a real school. Big shock there. The real problem is that his high-school was not tough enough. He should have properly found out that he wasn't the genius he thought he was in junior high and high school and been steered away. I guaranty those courses aren't as tough as he thought they were, it is not as if foreign engineers have it easier. They have it tougher from the beginning so they self-select.
    • Re:Wimp (Score:3, Insightful)

      by andy55 (743992)

      I'm normally not the "mod parent up" type, but thank you for voicing this. I was growing increasingly nauseous as I scrolled down and read sympathetic whimper after whimper. Frankly, I thought many more people here would post this position and we could all chuckle together at this person craving sympathy.
  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @01:06AM (#13664538)
    I met this guy who was a web developer, worked hard, overtime , for crap wages, etc. He got laid off sent out 200 resumes and not getting a single interview. Now he owns a convienience store and rakes in the bucks. He went and sold $900 worth of champagne he bought at Costco for $4000 on New Years Eve! I met a guy who was an ex-molecular biologist doing mortgage brokerage which is glorified undergraduate business school homework and was making $26,000 a month out of his freakin apartment (NO this was not an MLMer trying to sell me shit, an actual good friend of a family member).

    As an engineer I wouldn't recommend going into it unless you really like it and you're really good at it. Even if you're good you run into a big wall called marginal income taxes and the alternative minimum tax, if you work for a salary, once you start making six figures.

    Going into engineering for the money is far more attractive for people who live in countries where the wage scale is wildly skewed to the point where you can live very well on a regular salary if you're an engineer making $20 an hour because the guy who works at the supermarket or cuts your hair or makes your clothes or cooks for you makes $2 a day (80 times less than what you make) not the $12/hour or even higher union wage they're making here.
  • WHAT A WUS !! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by constantnormal (512494) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @02:07AM (#13664780)
    In the Institution from which I graduated with a BME and a minor in electrical engineering, we had classes 6 days a week (in my freshman year, anyhow), it took nearly two hundred credits to graduate -- as opposed to the approx 125 credits at most engineering schools (yes, my credits transfer credit for credit to anywhere in the world). Our students were restricted to those that had high SAT scores (high being 600 and up in math (clustered between 700 and 800), >200 in verbal -- my verbal score was higher than my math score, wasted skills) and were from the top 10% of their high school classes. There were also other filters, in addition to a 6-hr admissions test. When you're competing against a room full of people like that, the distribution is fairly narrow and grading on the curve is merciless.

    On the first day of my first semester of calculus, the instructor asked how many in the class had 3-4 semesters of calculus in high school. A smallish number of hands went up. He then processed to ask how many had at least 2 semesters, then 1. At the end, there were only 2 of us without our hands raised, one of which was me. I remember feeling the mildest of twinges of concern (hey, I was 17, who knew?) and thinking "Wonder what THIS means?" Some of the guys had 4 semesters of calculus using the SAME textbook we would be using.

    I had a rough time, but managed to hang on and learn. In my first course in differential equations, I was frantically struggling to take notes as fast as the instructor was filling the blackboards, until somebody next to me stopped me and pointed out that he was merely copying the text to the blackboard, word-for-word, from memory. As soon as the class was over, I went straight to the bookstore and purchased a copy of Schaum's Differential Equations, as I knew that if I was ever going to pass this class, I would be doing it all on my own.

    And you know? That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my time there. Repeat after me:

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TEACHING. THERE IS ONLY LEARNING.

    All that any instructor can do is present the material in a manner (hopefully more than one) that will stick when flung at a student's mind. Anybody wanting to be spoon-fed knowledge has watched the Matrix a few times too often, and thinks they can have knowledge downloaded into them.

    The way I think of the learning process is that I'm building a neural net in meatware. It takes motivation, concentration, and reinforcement in the form of repetition to get good at anything. This process is called learning. It's a very active process, nothing passive about it.

    In my day, motivation came from the fact that we were allowed only 2 failed courses before being ejected out of the program and losing our draft deferments, a sure trip to the far east. IF we successfully completed the program, we were virtually guaranteed well-paying jobs and lifetime employment. If we completed with a high enough GPA, we got a free ride to the grad school of our choosing (I didn't make the cut, had to pay for my own graduate degree). The stick and the carrot, time-honored tools in motivation.

    But you know? We had people entering our program that had exited other programs which were suspected by the rest of us of being "more difficult". Those people invariably breezed through our program without breaking a sweat. I consider those schools Tier One (MIT, CalTech, any of the military academies). Guys that washed out of our program went on to breeze through state schools with good names -- names like Purdue, Northwestern, U of Michigan, etc. I consider those to be Tier 3 schools. And there are a large number of lesser (Tier Four) schools that turn out perfectly serviceable engineers. There's a definite hierarchy of engineering schools out there.

    I have no sympathy for someone who isn't willing to do the work. Just because you were hot stuff in high school means very little as you move into larger ponds. You'll find that this situation exists in Med scho
  • by W. Justice Black (11445) on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @03:34AM (#13665051) Homepage
    I just started my upper-division work at a uni similiar to Smartypants U. My earlier experiences, however, include:

    1. Top AP scores (5) on Calculus AB and Physics, and a really good (4) score on English Lit/Comp.
    2. Four semesters of partial failure at my first Smartypants U, much of which didn't transfer.
    3. Computer-type vocational training at a Community College (that didn't transfer at all), and finally:
    4. 30 or so hours at another CC to finish up an Engineering Associate's and make damn sure my time at the uni was minimized (i.e. no GE, nothing at the uni that I could take at the CC).

    What I've learned from all this is that the CC is the best value for the time and the money from both a hours-treadmill perspective and from a "what you actually learn" perspective. Period. Too many full-on universities (or at least uni profs) ignore the educational needs of their students, and Engineering, CS and other Math and Science-related degrees are too damned hard to entrust smart students to people who don't care.

    Community college instructors, on the other hand, generally have no writing/research requirement, and often have interesting day jobs that directly relate to their material. They are generally better at teaching (as opposed to researching), and there are never any TAs that the class is pawned off onto. Lecture-hall classes of hundreds of students are unheard of (common in lower-division at big unis), and class sizes are generally smaller overall. At best, CC instructors match up nicely with the better uni profs, and at worst, they're at least waaaay less expensive and distracted.

    Furthermore, if you live in a state where the CC and uni systems are tight (like in California), there are things like direct course articulation (e.g. http://artic.sjsu.edu/ [sjsu.edu] and general ed certification, so you can plan for and avoid transfer pitfalls. And CCs are at least an order of magnitude cheaper. As long as you stick to stuff that will transfer, you (and whoever's financing you) WILL be happier at a CC than slogging your way through lower-division at a big uni.

    I enthusiastically recommend CCs to all incoming freshmen and to anyone returning to school with lower-division left to complete, doubly so if their planned major is tough. CCs might not get much respect in the academic world, but they are far and away the best bridge from the generally conscientious (and professional) educators in high school to the part-time, often lackluster educators in big unis. While not necessarily all CC instructors are top-drawer, they're far better as a class than those at Smartypants U, and far cheaper.
  • by techstar25 (556988) <techstar25 AT cfl DOT rr DOT com> on Wednesday September 28, 2005 @08:12AM (#13665774) Homepage Journal
    I'd say 90% of the responses to his article so far say something like "Sorry you couldn't cut it, but engineering is hard, so you Mr. Kern must be a lazy moron". Well to that I say, he's a successful writer and lawyer who is getting his material published for Slashdot to read. While, you are posting on a silly message board on your lunch break before you go back to your 80/hr week coding job that you hate. I'd say things turned out okay for him. The smartest thing he ever did was leave the engineering field. That makes him smarter than most Slashdot readers.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern

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