Are engineering assignments really so wrong?

  1. I didn't want to derail another thread or insult the person who started it, so I'm starting this one.

    In the other thread the figures used in the question make no real world sense. No one would balance an HVAC system to a 100th of a gallon. Real world, you'd be lucky to get 1/2 a gallon. Nor would they be likely to use the temperatures stated in the problem as a design state.

    I'm guessing this was an engineering school question, but I could be wrong. Have you ever come across any questions in a school book or on a test that just make no real world sense?
  2. jcsd
  3. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    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students are more likely to have done research on real world problems, but even there some courses teach theory with outdated material.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!
  4. I was ranting a bit. I feel this problem strongly because I am an undegreed engineering designer. I can't call myself an engineer because I don't have a degree, but I do engineering on a higher level than my boss (he's pretty good, but out of practice. He mostly just does field work and meetings.). It gets frustrating when I have to train nubies, fresh out of engineering school, who can call themselves engineers and can't do it.
  5. PerennialII

    PerennialII 1,094
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That it is, I think overall even beyond engineering it takes 4-5 years to be a contender, perhaps the first two to flush out the excess and get the guys focused on what really matters.
  6. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    Artman, in my book that makes you an 'engineer'. I do have engineering degrees, but as far as I am concerned, if you can to the work, then you deserve the title. Actually, you could check into the Society of Professional Engineers and look into taking the EIT and Fundamentals exam, with which you would become a licensed engineer. Either one needs a degree from an accredited engineering program or one obtains experience by doing.

    I have a big problem with those with degrees who cannot do the work.
  7. FredGarvin

    FredGarvin 5,084
    Science Advisor

    Actually, the FE (previously the EIT) only qualifies you to take the PE exam. You are not a licensed engineer until you pass the PE exam.

    Ditto! Add on to that a cocky attitude and it all goes down hill from there.
  8. Within my rant though I had another point: It almost seems like those writing the materials have no idea what is happening in the field. This is a real shame. A student using information culled from that problem might design a real problematic system.

    It makes me wonder if the information in the question came from someone with limited knowledge of metric conversions, who just took a 20 deg Fahrenheit temperature difference and did the same for Celsius without converting it.
  9. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    Thanks for the correction Fred. I was not careful with my terminology.

    I did mean PE (Principles and Practice) when I wrote Fundamentals.

    Also, it is the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) which administers the tests.

    About the FE -
    About the PE -
  10. cronxeh

    cronxeh 1,202
    Gold Member

    Wait wait.. what are you guys talking about

    you discussing the 'common sense' approach of creating solutions to problems? or like the mathematical reasoning of undergrads out of engineering schools?
  11. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    We are contemplating the quality of education, primarily in undergraduate engineering programs. For example, are the information and problems in textbooks up-to-date? The state of the art is continually changing, and we are wondering if the class lectures and texts are keeping up with the state-of-the-art.

    Then there is the question of whether or not the educational process (in high school and university) is sufficient, thorough and rigorous enough to produce competent engineers at the entry level.

    And the concern is not only discussed here in this forum, but in many industrial and technology sectors outside this forum.

    A significant problem in industry and technology right now is the loss of institutional memory. In some areas, the experts are retiring and their knowledge will be lost.
  12. FredGarvin

    FredGarvin 5,084
    Science Advisor

    I think the original question ties in. The "unreality" of some of the questions posed dueing engineering school, while teaching topics of study, have no real world application. I know I had issues when making the leap from school to industry. From what I have seen of other engineering students, the curricula is not changing much. I would definitely like to see a bit more emphasis on some of the basic real world items and a little less on theory. Example, a brand new engineer taking force measurements with a hand held force gauge and reporting results to 3 decimal places.

    "Institutional memory." I like that. I agree completely. My company just went through a couple of rounds of in force. A lot of my mentors retired. In our particular case, upper management only looked at the money savings. They did not look at the loss of knowledge. The worst part is that, while they had been mentors, there was no real time to help others prepare to pick up their work loads and to share any remaining knowledge. Now there are engineers with 1-2 years under their belts being asked their profssional opinions on things.
  13. While the students coming out of college and entering the engineering business have a fairly good (much better than I have) competency in necessary math skills and theory, they lack a lot of practical information.

    I get questions like, "What is an Air Handling Unit?" (Honest I've been asked that) because they just don't teach it. So, basically, I have to tell someone making nearly as much money as I do, even though I've been doing high level engineering for about 10 years and working in the business for over 20 years, what an Air handling Unit is. It makes me wonder what they are being taught.

    I don't usually mind, but do you think they even pass on to the boss who told them? Of course not because they don't want the boss to know they didn't know what it was.
  15. How about some courses that tell them that running 50 deg F water into a boiler that is running at about 195 deg F could cause a boiler explosion that could send a 1 ton chunk of hot cast iron a mile into the air instead of creating theoretical problems that imply that these numbers are typical in a hydronic system (which they are not).

    I have no problem with the students getting thoroughly educated in the methods to solve problems. I also think they should get more than a single senior project as practical education in the systems they will be using when they enter the field.
  16. Fair enough. An alternative might be to have junior engineers serve as an apprentice in industry on a couple projects before they get a project of thier own. In my experience this is basically what is done now.
  17. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    Both actually.

    Teach students methods of solving problems in general, but use specific problems and information relevant to current (or even future) technology.

    For example, there have been huge innovations in alloys used in special applications in aerospace and nuclear industries. These materials did not exist 30 years ago, or even 15-20 years ago. Problems based on the older alloys and their behavior would be of limited use, but teaching the students with the more modern information would be useful.

    In addition, it would help if the students were exposed to problems in modern technology - e.g. microchemistry in corrosion processes, or micromechanics in structural materials. I suspect very few undergrad courses, and perhaps even few grad courses really expose students to real-world problems.

    Wherever possible, professors need to introduce students to journal articles with actual data that supplements what is found in the textbooks.
  18. Okay, here's another example. I worked with a guy that had a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering, but no experience. My boss at this place put more faith in education than experience and he sent this guy to man a new office he had opened in a town about 40 miles away. He had one project to work on with an architect who had an office in the same building: he had to do the plumbing and HVAC design for a 4 story hotel that the architect was designing. A month went by and the boss went down to meet with the architect and our guy. HE came back from the meeting furious because over that month the guy had nothing on paper, except a few hand done calculations for building loads and some hand done calculations for ductwork.

    30 or 40 years ago (before programmable calculators and computers were being used) that would have fine as a one month output toward a project. at the time he did it (about 5 years ago), I could have accomplished more in a day. The ductwork calculations could have been done using a ductulator (a kind of ductwork sliderule) in about 1/2 an hour and the building loads should have been done using a load calculating computer program.

    My boss brought the guy back up to our office where he gave me the job of redesigning the 4 story hotel, which only had 2 weeks design time remaining, and at the same time, finishing my own work, a sprawling 2 story school renovation.

    Now you would think that somewhere in a masters degree program that guy would have been taught to run a load program or at least make room take offs in preparation for one, select equipment, layout a usable design for ductwork and operate a ductulator. That is not even considering what hadn't been done on the plumbing.
  19. FredGarvin

    FredGarvin 5,084
    Science Advisor

    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?
  20. 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.
  21. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    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.
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