Are engineering assignments really so wrong?


by Artman
Tags: assignments, engineering
Artman
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#19
Mar11-05, 11:26 AM
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Quote Quote by FredGarvin
Artman,
In that example, I blame your boss more than the Masters program that he graduated from. To put someone as lead on a project right out of any school, without a mentor or guide is just plain bad decision making. How did his attitude towards experince change after this episode?
I agree with you on this. He should not have been placed in a remote office without a guide. I left that company not too much later because of just such poor decisions. As for my boss' attitude towards experience vs education: he was sorry to see me go.
russ_watters
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#20
Mar11-05, 12:05 PM
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I actually had a discussion with some female teacher friends of mine yesterday about how we'd do if we switched places for a day. I told them that though its helpful to have basic engineering knowledge in my job (I'm an HVAC engineer), right out of college, it is expected and accepted that you'll be utterly useless. The engineering knowledge flattens the learning curve, but the curve still starts near zero. Contrast that with teaching, where your first day on the job, you're expected to be able to teach.

Now, part of the difference may be that teachers get more on the job training when in college. I think that's important for engineers too, but rarely ever done. An internship where you can see first hand what enginers actually do gives a college student a huge advantage when they hit the market.
Moonbear
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Mar11-05, 02:25 PM
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Quote Quote by russ_watters
I actually had a discussion with some female teacher friends of mine yesterday about how we'd do if we switched places for a day. I told them that though its helpful to have basic engineering knowledge in my job (I'm an HVAC engineer), right out of college, it is expected and accepted that you'll be utterly useless. The engineering knowledge flattens the learning curve, but the curve still starts near zero. Contrast that with teaching, where your first day on the job, you're expected to be able to teach.

Now, part of the difference may be that teachers get more on the job training when in college. I think that's important for engineers too, but rarely ever done. An internship where you can see first hand what enginers actually do gives a college student a huge advantage when they hit the market.
First, is it relevant that your teacher friends are female? Or did you throw that in just to see if I'm one of the people reading?

Yes, with teaching, one gets practical experience as part of their formal education. We even have programs available for PhD students to improve their teaching skills if they wish to remain in academics and teach.

I like the idea of co-ops and internships as a way to obtain practical experience to balance the theoretical experience. However, there are very few fields where this is expected. For most college graduates, not just engineers, you graduate with a lot of general knowledge about the theory and principles you will need to do your job, but have little to know experience in the practical applications (or often, more importantly, the practical limitations) of that knowledge. It would be challenging, if not impossible, to teach students about everything they needed to know about any job they might get after graduation in order to hit the ground running.

Though, from reading the examples given here, it does seem like it would be helpful to at least use examples in assignments that are closer to reality than what are used. But then that might require a sense of humor from the professors. For example, in the problem you all seem to be talking about, it sounds like the numbers used for the example would lead to catastrophe, so have some fun and after giving the exercise for practice and to demonstrate the theory of how to use the equations and principles, toss in a question for a bonus point: What would happen if you really designed a system this way? Get the students to think about reality a bit.
Artman
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#22
Mar11-05, 02:30 PM
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Quote Quote by Moonbear
...For example, in the problem you all seem to be talking about, it sounds like the numbers used for the example would lead to catastrophe, so have some fun and after giving the exercise for practice and to demonstrate the theory of how to use the equations and principles, toss in a question for a bonus point: What would happen if you really designed a system this way? Get the students to think about reality a bit.
This is my point exactly. At least include real world concerns in the the theoretical homework.
russ_watters
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#23
Mar11-05, 03:16 PM
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Quote Quote by Moonbear
First, is it relevant that your teacher friends are female? Or did you throw that in just to see if I'm one of the people reading?
No, its not relevant and I'm not really sure why I said it. But now, I am aware, it would appear that you are following me around...
Moonbear
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Mar11-05, 05:47 PM
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Quote Quote by russ_watters
No, its not relevant and I'm not really sure why I said it. But now, I am aware, it would appear that you are following me around...
*cues Twilight Zone music*

You know it's hard to not follow you around as you seem to post everywhere! How can you be in so many threads at once?
Ivan Seeking
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Mar11-05, 06:23 PM
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I learned some immediately useful information in college [physics], but the value of the math and problem solving skills aquired in college have proven to be the most valuable. Practical experience is certainly important, but it seems to me a waste to spend too much time in college learning transient technologies in place of life long problem solving skills. All of those brain straining homework problems are worth the effort a thousand times over, IMO.
Artman
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#26
Mar12-05, 08:14 AM
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Quote Quote by Ivan Seeking
I learned some immediately useful information in college [physics], but the value of the math and problem solving skills aquired in college have proven to be the most valuable. Practical experience is certainly important, but it seems to me a waste to spend too much time in college learning transient technologies in place of life long problem solving skills. All of those brain straining homework problems are worth the effort a thousand times over, IMO.
I don't disagree with this. When I went back to school, I had some physics and college level algebra and precalculus that I find very useful, especially knowing what I already know about engineering.

Don't get me wrong, I think that college graduates entering the field learn very fast. The scary thing is if they are not watchdogged, they can make some grave errors. Also, when they first enter the field following school, they seem to believe they are worth a lot more to their employer than they will be worth for at least a few years.
Moonbear
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Mar12-05, 01:44 PM
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Quote Quote by Artman
Don't get me wrong, I think that college graduates entering the field learn very fast. The scary thing is if they are not watchdogged, they can make some grave errors.
That happens in a lot of fields. Consider the M.D. who not only has 4 years of undergraduate work, but also another 4 years of med school, yet still needs at least another 2-3 years of residency to be competent enough to go off and work on their own.

Isn't that the point of having EIT exams (or whatever you call them now), to remind them that they are only engineers-in-training? Seriously, engineering is one of the few fields I can think of where they blatantly tell graduates, via an exam, that they are only in training and not yet professionals. If I'm not mistaken, you need several years of work experience before you are permitted to take the PE exam; is that correct?

Also, when they first enter the field following school, they seem to believe they are worth a lot more to their employer than they will be worth for at least a few years.
Again, this isn't a trait exclusive to recent engineering graduates. But, hey, I've done my share of knocking the arrogance of a few engineering students/grads, let me at 'em! (Okay, I was a bit younger then, but I used to have fun giving my roommate and friends a hard time; "So, when you take your ideal bridge built entirely in an ideal system out into the real world, how long before it collapses?") Anyway, anyone in the business of hiring recent grads should know this and be prepared to give them specific on-the-job training and mentoring. It's their boss' responsibility to make sure they are only given tasks suitable to their experience (or inexperience) and to ensure they are reminded of the limits of their experience/knowledge while they are still learning.
Ivan Seeking
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Mar13-05, 05:03 PM
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Based on what I've seen, in many companies the error lies with management. Too much is dumped on new engineers who haven't even begun to learn how the real world works. College prepares a person to begin a career but not to be experts right out of graduation. Really you have been given the tools to learn a profession but that's all. However employers want people to hit the ground running. In today's world I think it is the employers who must adjust. There is more than enough to try to learn in college. But then again, in our proud new service economy, maybe all that we really need are trade schools.
Adam Y.
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#29
Mar18-05, 05:30 PM
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Quote Quote by Astronuc
Oh, Yeah! That's why it takes time for companies to retrain undergraduate students who are entry level engineers. Graduate students are more likely to have done research on real world problems, but even there some courses teach theory with outdated material.

This problem in education has been a big issue with me for 30+ years, and it is not getting better. In fact, its getting worse!
Actually it is getting better in some schools but not because the curriculum is better. The reason is that there actually some colleges that actually combine education and work in the specific field. You work six months as an engineer and then go to school for six months. Of course it's a scary thought that I am expected to contribute something with only three semester's worth of schooling. Nice though I get a year and a half of work experience before I even graduate and I get paid too.
amuron
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Mar22-05, 05:08 AM
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This one hits home for me.... My apologies for being harsh, but this is a real world we live in, not a dream one. The one thing I must mention however, is my opinions are based upon my experience as a startup, and as a small manufacturer. In a large organization, I would assume the expectations would be different.

I've hired a fair amount of people, including seasoned folks and recent grads over the years. I think there is one thing missing from the discussion. As a business, we are in business to make money, we are not educational institutions, we are not charities, we have stockholders to keep happy, we do not have the time to be altruistic.

We do expect the newbie to hit the ground running. If we did not, we would hire liberal arts grads, or even folks without educational credentials and train them. I hired a violinist/electronics tech years ago and trained him. From a creative standpoint, as well as a technical standpoint, he was a lot more capable than most senior level engineers in short order. Still, the training overhead is high, but in reality, not much higher than some entry level engineers with a BSEE. The key imho, is not vast technical competance, but the ability to learn, and to learn quickly.

Now as far as expecations go for newbies. Its pretty easy to determine whether a candidate is on the ball and capable or not during the interview. If I am hiring someone, the basics better be rock solid. More than a few times, I gave them some simple circuit issues to solve, only to come back, and find they were clueless. Thats pretty disheartening. I'm not going to teach basic circut theory to a 4.0 BSEE who states, I just memorized that for the test, I never knew I might need to use it.

By the same token, I don't expect the newbie to know my CAE tools, business processes, regulatory issues, or manufacturing technology I do expect them to take the books home and study to get up to speed. I also expect a newbie to put in long hours, much of it devoted to learning these peripheral issues. That is where a good program with substantial non-engeering course work enters the picture. The ability to learn quickly is often times a greater asset than being a guru at theoretical engineering calculations, at least from my perspective.

The other issue I have is the overly simplified and overly complex methods that are used in education. Many students become masters of the complexity of solving differential equations from a theoretical math standpoint. Real world problems have real world effects that do not fit into easily solvable mathematical processes. If I take a real world circuit, and try to theoretically analyze it, I will remove variable, after variable until it fits within a nice solvable math model. SPICE macromodels are probably the most common example of fitting the part to the math instead of the other way around which is why I rarely use them. If I add in real world effects, the math model becomes so complex, it may well take a poor student a whole semester to analyze it, and even then, more than likely he will get it wrong.

By the same token, there are many scenarios where a slide rule is a huge time saver. We don't need to dwell on the minutia, often times a ball park is more than adequate.

I'm not saying we need to throw theoretical math out the window. What I am saying is that its a small part of the solution, and that real world problem solving is drastically different. I'd rather see one less semester on calculations, and one more semester in the lab, where things physicially happen. My ideal analog lab course, if I were to make one would include how to use a simple high gain op amp circuit as a force sensor, humidity sensor, temperature sensor, humidity sensor and an airflow sensor, and then an attempt to model such a part with these real world phenomena. Note, I am not saying to interface an op amp to a sensor, but to use the actual op amp as the sensor itself. I'd also include a section on Smith charts, nomographs, and slide rules such that students could see the ball park methods as well, despite the fact that many of those methods have been superseeded by a computers. Lastly, the lab course would involve troubleshooting and repair. Its a rare prototype that works perfectly on power up. The exposure to real world noise mitigation, tracking down glitches, solder shorts, and open traces, combined with situations where one is sure that Mr Maxwell and his equations were wrong would add a lot of value to the experience. A newbie doesn't need mastery, but he should have at least a minimal exposure to the real world. A single team oriented senior design project usually falls way short of such exposure.

As far as co-ops and internships go, its pretty difficult. Usually the intern gets grunt work a fair amount of the time. Occasionally they get some real experience, and sometimes the fortunate are able to get in the trenches. Its better than nothing for sure, but too many times, its way too easy to put them in a corner doing grunt work. I know, I'm guilty of it, despite trying very hard to include them in the day to day activities. When a customer has a problem, thats the priority, not the intern.

After my 2nd intern, I did come up with a solution. When I got too busy, I'd put him to work as a tech. I'd have him build cables, solder prototypes, work with the machine shop guys, and troubleshoot various low priority circuits. Granted, most engineers do very little tech stuff... but it is a skill we need to pull out of the closet from time to time, and it does take a while to learn. After the internships, I'd often get comments as to the psotive experience of being exposed to the technician work. Its a whole lot easier learning that side of being an engineer as an intern, than having to learn ones soldering skills in a motel room the day before a big tradeshow.

Ron
morry
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#31
May13-05, 05:09 AM
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I have to agree with a lot that has been said here.

I am in my 2nd year of mechanical eng. At the moment, I have no practical skills. I would not know where to start something practical. Its a bit of a worry actually.

I am hoping to get a years worth of work experience after 3rd year, which should give me more of an understanding about what is really expected of me.
FredGarvin
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#32
May13-05, 06:13 AM
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Don't get yourself in a tizzy over this. School is there to give you the basics so you can understand what will be expected of you when you get to an employer. Colleges can't teach practical things down to the levels we'd want because that tends to change from place to place. Learn all you can and don't sweat being able to do a job the first day you show up. You won't be able to do that.
Artman
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#33
May13-05, 07:20 AM
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Quote Quote by FredGarvin
Don't get yourself in a tizzy over this. School is there to give you the basics so you can understand what will be expected of you when you get to an employer. Colleges can't teach practical things down to the levels we'd want because that tends to change from place to place. Learn all you can and don't sweat being able to do a job the first day you show up. You won't be able to do that.
This is true. Most places with decent leadership will recognize your experience level and challenge you without expecting you to know everything. My current employer is in this class, my former one was not. Just don't underestimate the help available in the form of designers and draftspeople with a lot of experience even if they do not have a degree.
Astronuc
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#34
May13-05, 07:55 AM
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Quote Quote by Artman
Just don't underestimate the help available in the form of designers and draftspeople with a lot of experience even if they do not have a degree.
And watch out for cocky engineers who think they know everything.

I used to audit manufacturing shops, and I was astounded to learn that some engineers would never visit the shop floor and actually see the product that they designed. That to me is a piss poor attitude.

Anyway, as Fred and Artman alluded to, school is meant to teach the basics. Then the novice engineer needs to search out a mentor, not necessarily a senior engineer - it could be a designer or draftsman who has had lots of 'practical' experience.
CarlB
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#35
Jun25-05, 12:14 AM
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Having the engineers regularly drop by the shop floor is extremely valuable to a company. First, you find out where there are problems in the design that are causing rework or other difficulties. Second, an engineer can frequently, in just a few minutes, design a test fixture that will greatly assist the shop in putting out a product. Engineers frequently don't appreciate how important the manufacturing test equipment is.

In addition to the engineers who don't visit the shop floor, there's a fairly large number who won't work the bugs out of their own designs.

Carl
leright
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#36
Aug10-05, 11:01 PM
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Quote Quote by Moonbear
That happens in a lot of fields. Consider the M.D. who not only has 4 years of undergraduate work, but also another 4 years of med school, yet still needs at least another 2-3 years of residency to be competent enough to go off and work on their own.

Isn't that the point of having EIT exams (or whatever you call them now), to remind them that they are only engineers-in-training? Seriously, engineering is one of the few fields I can think of where they blatantly tell graduates, via an exam, that they are only in training and not yet professionals. If I'm not mistaken, you need several years of work experience before you are permitted to take the PE exam; is that correct?



Again, this isn't a trait exclusive to recent engineering graduates. But, hey, I've done my share of knocking the arrogance of a few engineering students/grads, let me at 'em! (Okay, I was a bit younger then, but I used to have fun giving my roommate and friends a hard time; "So, when you take your ideal bridge built entirely in an ideal system out into the real world, how long before it collapses?") Anyway, anyone in the business of hiring recent grads should know this and be prepared to give them specific on-the-job training and mentoring. It's their boss' responsibility to make sure they are only given tasks suitable to their experience (or inexperience) and to ensure they are reminded of the limits of their experience/knowledge while they are still learning.
To become a licensed engineer here in michigan you are required to obtain an ABET accredited engineering degree, pass the fundamentals of engineering exam, obtain 4 years of experience as a practicing engineer (engineering grad school or industry), and then take the professional engineer exam.

The FE exam is 8 hours. 4 hours for general engi. knowledge (math, chem, thermo, circuits, statics/dynamics, cost analysis, ethics, etc), and the other 4 hours is on your particular concentraton (EE, ME, CE, etc)

The PE exam is similar, but is more focused on ethics, and practical knowledge that could only be gained from experience in the field.

When I graduate with my BSEE, I am gonna take the FE exam (AND PASS IT THE FIRST TRY, UNLIKE MOST!! I plan on studying hard...it is a tricky test) get my foot in the door, bust my *** and get my experience, and I plan on going to grad school at night to get the MSECE while I do this.

I am also considering getting into the DEMS program (doc. of engineering in manufacturing systems....this is a very sought after degree in the area). It is also designed for working engineers to complete it during night school. I think I can do it in about 7 years part time. This of course, is IF I'm not burned out by then. This Ph.D is designed for engis with masters degrees in engineering already.

Having a P.E., MSECE and Ph.D can't be all that bad, and I hope to get LOTS of "practical experience too.

Plus with a P.E. your job opportunities are not outsourced and having the P.E. makes you highly sought after. Plus the pay is much higher, but a lot of that extra income is lost since you have to pay for liability insurance when you become a PE.


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