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Concerned that engineering might be cold and indifferent?

  1. Oct 14, 2011 #1
    I'm a freshman in college, and there's a worrying thought that's been growing in the back of my head.

    Perhaps it's the fact that I've just moved into a strange, new environment where my friends are gone that's making me feel off, but I wonder if I'd really enjoy engineering. I'd say I'm an imaginative dreamer with a knack for figuring out how things work - if I stare at it or poke at it enough. But I've found I'm actually very people-oriented: It makes my day when I get that sincere "thank you" from someone.

    I'm not sure where an engineering degree will lead me. On one hand, it seems I'd be working with cold, heartless machines. But I've been told by my teacher that engineers are always in a group, and perhaps that's enough to make me feel like I'm making a difference. I was very happy to be walking around my high school engineering class (I usually finished first), helping troubleshoot my classmates' projects.

    It also concerned me when my Intro to Engineering class (a life skills class) was grouped by personality, and I was in the tiny group that concerned itself with the imaginative and emotions. I wonder if such a personality would be a gift or challenge in engineering.

    Have any of the engineers here felt this way or know someone who has?

    (To lighten up an otherwise dry thread, our group agreed our dream vacation would consist of whatever happened in Narnia while the other groups chose... more realistic things)
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2011
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  3. Oct 14, 2011 #2
    If you enjoy the subject matter and you are interested in engineering, then study it. There is room for all sorts of people in engineering. But the description of engineering as "cold and indifferent" doesn't make it sound like you are engaged with the subject. Getting to work in groups of engineers is not going to make up for a general disinterest in the work.
  4. Oct 14, 2011 #3


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    YOu will find there is plenty of "people interaction" in most engineering jobs, especially if you are doing any sort of project management or dealing with customers.

    On the other hand of the "core" of the subject is based on objectivity and hard facts. If you want to call that "cold and indifferent" that's up to you, but you won't fix many engineering problems by optimism and "warm fuzzies". There is no limit to the amount of creativity and imagination you can use, but you have to work within the known laws of physics.
  5. Oct 14, 2011 #4
    One of my instructors did a survey in engineering life. She found that the majority of time spent doing engineering is actually communicating to other engineers. You won't get lonely.
  6. Oct 14, 2011 #5
    I'm sure optimism helps in most branches of engineering. For instance, half of computer projects fail, so you better be optimistic to even begin a computer project! Then again, it helps being *really* pessimistic in nuclear engineering. I can imagine it was an optimistic Japanese nuclear engineer who said something like, "Tidal waves will never get *that* high..."

    If you feel warm and fuzzy after succeeding in an engineering task then that could be a great motivator.

    Engineers might always being in a group, but it's (in my experience) a pretty cold group most of the time - has to be to concentrate on the job. The peoplein the group might be as war as you, but they have to switch if off to do the job - except maybe after a success (been to some great post-project parties!) or whan making a passionate appeal to the dean for more staff...

    Maybe teaching engineering/science could be your thing? You *should* be warm and human with kids much of the time - many teachers aren't - you could really make an impact there.

    Medical physics/engineering could be another branch where human skills would really help - between running the Cat scanner you could be warm & fuzzy with the patients to set them at their ease.

    Actually because few engineers are warm and fuzzy you have a great advantage when applying for any engineering jobs that require warm & fuzzy. Milk it!
  7. Oct 14, 2011 #6
    Holy christ, is that how you think engineers are hired?! Number one advantage is going to be technical proficiency and experience. How warm and fuzzy your personality is ranks just above whether your socks are black or white.

    If you like engineering by itself, independently of how it helps people or how many people thank you or whatever you'll be fine. Engineers don't always sit in an office and run endless calculations, so if you like ENGINEERING there will be opportunities to do good and help people and whatnot. But first and foremost you HAVE to like the subject to survive. Not just liking the feeling it gives you when you fix something for someone or how useful you can be with an engineering degree.
  8. Oct 15, 2011 #7
    The most proficient and experienced engineer is not necessarily the one that is hired. I know when I'm interviewing someone, after I'm convinced that they are competant enough (which I agree is #1), the most important thing is if I think I can work with this person. And that is a question of personalities.
  9. Oct 15, 2011 #8


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    Just as a side-note, medical physicists don't generally get a lot of face time with patients.
  10. Oct 15, 2011 #9


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    I wouldn't put a lot of weight into this kind of exercise. Where I've found value in them are that they help one to understand how to communicate better between different types of people. But they don't determine how good anyone will be at a particular academic subject or career.

    A big part of university, outside of academia, involves learning about yourself and it sounds like you've made some important insight. Engineering is an extremely broad discipline. It will only be cold and indifferent if that's what you believe it to be.
  11. Oct 16, 2011 #10
    If the candidates have equal technical proficiency I would hire the one I could imagine going for a beer with, not the one with blue socks...
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