Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Washing out of engineering? I feel your pain.

The Confessions of an Engineering Washout makes a pretty good case for one cause of America's difficulty in recruiting and training its citizens to be engineers.

I'm an undergrad engineering physics washout who ended up moving into the "arts and sciences" division of my alma matta by switching into pure physics. My big break with the engineering world came with the final project of an electrical enginneering class. This was a Radio Shack kit for an AC-to-DC converter that everyone in class received, the final project being to assemble the kit into working order. After commencing assembly of the device, I eventually discovered that the one, critical screw required to keep the whole thing from going up in a cloud of smoke was missing from the kit. Also, even if I had the one critical screw, my engineering department had overlooked the necessity of installing a drill press in my dorm room to allow the one critical screw to be bolted to thing it needed to be bolted too that made it so critical in the first place. In other words, this kit was essentially a death trap for my final grade which my final grade promptly stumbled into and perished in.

On the last day of class, I handed in an AC-to-DC converter that was as assembled as possible. My teaching assistant took a few other kits from other students and quickly spirited them away, mercifully not putting them anywheres near a source of AC voltage for risk of catastrophic pyrotechnics. That's when I noticed that half of the students in this class had a variety of sophisticated metal or plastic AC-to-DC converters that were not kits, and hadn't been bought at Radio Shack.

Apparently, the unwritten expectation that the professor had of the real engineers is that they would dump their pre-fabricated kit in the trash on day one and construct their own converters with extra credit given for greater power handling and better noise rejection.

That class was the final straw, although there were plenty of other reasons why I left engineering. The maddeningly obtrust engineering textbooks seemed to have been cooked up by the same author who gave us the Necronomicon. Most of the software teaching tools that accompanied my engineering classes were either completely unbugged or didn't come with instructions. I'd meet junior-year aeronautical engineers who still think everything in the space shuttle falls towards the earth when it goes into orbit instead of experiencing weightlessness. Being in a class with one of my engineering professors was a lot like being in a class with an engineer from ancient Egypt: the professor's writing could, in principle, be deciphered by comparing it to a translation in a known language, but this gives one no clue as to what his spoken syllables were supposed to mean.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi because it's Halloween or just because it's weird I was looking around the internet and found The Necronomicon - I dunno whether it's Satanic or the work of chimpanzees but I can't sleep now. Anybody else seen it ?

1:37 AM  

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