Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Do you agree? engineers pls come in and take a look

  1. Jul 10, 2010 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2010 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    There seems to be a looming shortage of engineers, at least that's what I've heard from the companies with which I interface. But more importantly, the quality of engineering students is not what it used to be - and I hear that almost universally.
  4. Jul 10, 2010 #3
    i am concerned that companies are getting too overdemanding in what they are expecting from the engineers today.
  5. Jul 10, 2010 #4
    While I tend to agree, I think that's more because of my age than an actual decline in the quality of engineering students. :smile:

    I'm always reminded of a letter I have promoting piano lessons for young children. It pointed out that young people today are totally lacking in culture and discipline and that the barbarians are at the gates and civilization as we know it is doomed if we don't start raising our children properly. Starting with piano lessons at a young age.

    The letter was from my grandfather's piano teacher in the 1920's.
  6. Jul 10, 2010 #5
    I don't think so. While the newer engineers are bright and very capable in handling sophisticated computer models, they lack understanding of the fundamentals which results in the models being " black boxes", and a concomitant lack of critical thinking with regard to the output of the models. This seems to also extend to some engineering faculty, and perhaps that is the root cause. I have heard similar thoughts from am now emeritus, engineering professor from MIT.
  7. Jul 10, 2010 #6
    Im tired of hearing the older generation complain about how inept the younger generation is. Going back to what TMFKAN64 said it is obvious that every generation thinks that they are somehow superior to the following one. Now I could go on a long rant (with good points) about how this topic in general is, to put it bluntly, BS. But this is not the place. To answer the original question specifically I think that the current "shortage on talent" is a combination of too high of demands on people just out of school and the general feeling of superiority by the older generation.

    (I don't mean to sound rude, and I am sorry if I came across that way. This topic just gets under my skin. I feel kind of insulted by it.)
  8. Jul 10, 2010 #7
    I think the lack of fundamentals situation starts in high school. Many of my remedial math classmates were between the ages of 18 to 23. Most of them performed horribly even though they had been out of high school very recently and the remedial math classes were easy, perhaps a bit too easy. It seemed to me schools, at least in NYC, were only concerned with attaching a high school diploma to people. It also felt as if those remedial math classes were simply federal money collectors. From what I've read, similar situations occur in other parts of the US.

    Probably worse is the young physics associate professor at one of the CUNY senior colleges that "shunned" me away because I asked him what skills he would like to see in students wishing to major in science or engineering. His reaction was probably due to me being a remedial math student but I certainly hope he treats his students better.
  9. Jul 10, 2010 #8
    Your indignatin is belied by your own reference to "too high of demands", as though failing to fullfill requirments of a job is somehow the fault of those who defined the requirements.

    The plain fact is that while there is no failure in innate intelligence there has been a marked decline in the level of education and understanding achieved. Grade inflation is rampant. Whether that is the fault of the demands made by the education system itself or a lack of demand by those being educated,the result is indeed a reduction in the quality of the product produced.

    There is nothing imagined about this. Current engineering students commonly lack understanding of elementary linear system theory that would have been taken as granted in the past. Fluid mechanics professors have dumbed down their classes because the students cannot handle material that was common twenty or thirty years ago. At some graduate schools new mathematics graduate students enter unprepared to study measure theory.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2010
  10. Jul 10, 2010 #9
    It probably starts in grade school.

    It is certainly not a situation unique to NYC.

    There are far too many high schools that fail to prepare their students to be able to take calculus on entering college, and any science or engineering student not prepared to do that is already far behind.

    You might be interested to know that neither I nor most of the people that I know in academia are proponents of high school calculus. There are a few good high school teachers who can handle that material well, but only a few. In general I think it far better for a student to enter a university sufficiently well-prepared in algebra and trigonometry to study calculus than to "clep out" with only a superficial understanding. But there is a huge problem, for science and engineering students, when the student is not ready for calculus upon matriculation. I have encountered only a handful of students who, if they required remedial mathematics at the university level, were able to progress beyond that. Again, there were a few, but only a few, while the vast majority simply failed even the remedial classes -- so I can understand, not approve but understand, the reaction of the physics professor.
  11. Jul 10, 2010 #10
    There were two main reasons why I went to that professor for some advise. The first one was that I passed the remedial sequence with A but still felt the courses were watered down. I wanted to ask the professor what algebra and trig topics I should strengthen or obtain before hitting calculus. I even brought along a plan of attack, my exams, etc. but he did not bother looking at them. He did mention many of those that took remedial classes failed to go beyond them and I got the impression that included people that got high marks. I was not asking him for reassurance, I wanted sound advise on how I could correct this problem. I wanted to point out his institution offered remedial classes but I was not going to take more of his time.

    The other problem is that there is a disconnect between programs at the different CUNY schools, even between those that have articulation agreements. Some schools cover extra material that the science/engineering schools do not cover, so students like me are left to guess how to properly correct our deficiencies. My solution to that problem is to simple learn up to intermediate algebra and trigonometry (the way people in prior to the 1970s were learning it), master it and hopefully it will be enough for calculus. But it would be nice if CUNY provided a clear list of what skills to obtain before I invest my time with them; make it easier for both myself and my professors.

    It feels as if CUNY is also interested in attaching college degrees to people and not in actual teaching.
  12. Jul 10, 2010 #11
    I've been watching this tread with interest and have been having trouble coming up with anything useful to say about the subject. It's hard to be sure of the issues without hard data.

    At the risk of saying something that is hard to justify, there is a simple point I'd like to make, based on my own intuition and experience. I think that good engineers are born, not made, and I don't mean to minimize the importance of training when I say that. I don't think it matters what generation we are talking about, nor how good the high school math training is. A certain percentage of the population is suitable to be good engineers and they will be good as long as an opportunity is available. There are very good university programs that provide the fundamental training suitable for anyone with talent to become good. So, perhaps in our time, more than any other time in history, people that should be engineers actually become engineers, and are just as good as at any other time. I think it is also true that, more than any other time in history, people who shouldn't be engineers are becoming engineers. However, this is OK because there are many engineering related jobs that do not require the "true born engineer".

    I don't really know what hard data would say about whether there is a shortage of "born engineers", or not. That is, it is not clear that the positions that require the talent and passion, can't be filled. However, if there is a shortage, then it is (I think) largely do to the fact that demand exceeds the natural talent supply in the population, and not due to any failings in our present society. When you exhaust the talent pool, you will end up with a shortage of the good, and with a high percentage of mediocre engineers as the general population tries to fill the void. I'm not saying this is happening at an increased rate lately, and I have a feeling that it isn't happening, simply because the pay scale for "born engineers" is low for the value they provide, in my opinion. When a real shortage spike occurs, salaries will reflect that fact (again in my opinion). We could very well see a larger split in pay scale as companies seek out the thoroughbreds . This is what basic economic theory would say, and I don't see a good reason why this would not apply in this case.
  13. Jul 11, 2010 #12
    I think that this is fundamentally correct. It also applies to the sciences and mathematics.
  14. Jul 11, 2010 #13
    I have no direct experience with CUNY but I did know a couple of PhD mathematicians and one very senior faculty member (what they called a "Professor of the University"), and my impression is that their standards were appropriately high.

    If you understand algebra and trigonometry the way people "prior to the 1970's" did then you are adequately prepared to learn calculus.

    The learning of science and mathematics is not particularly dependent on specific skills, but more so on an intangible quantity called "maturity". Pre-requisites, particularly in mathematics, are fairly meaningless, until about the second year of graduate school. My suggestion is to just take the classes and see how you do. You might make it and you might not -- there is no way for me to judge that in this kind of venue.

    On the other hand, if you are not facile with elementary algebra, and the majority of remedial mathematics students are just plain dismal (independent of whatever grade they may have received) then calculus is going to be well nigh impossible simply because you will be unable to focus on the meat of the material because you will have trouble following the simple manipulations.

    Calculus, if done correctly, is not a subject about manipulations and "finding the answer" (I know that those who concentrate on evaluating derivatives and integrals will be taken aback by this) but rather the heart of the subject is the concepts and learning how to make estimates that can ultimately lead to exact solutions to a given problem. It is more important to understand what a derivative and an integral are than to be able to manipulate symbols and simply calculate them. This requires a different mind set from algebra, and hence the need for "maturity" of thought as opposed to specific skills.
  15. Jul 11, 2010 #14
    I can agree with this, and im young....hahahaha. I was actually having a conversation yesterday with a ME professor (from my university) at a local coffee shop where we frequently visit to do work. He too said that he had to dumb down his classes because of a lack of fundamental knowledge of what was common years ago. Hes about 65yrs year old. I took no offense to what he said. How can I disagree with someone who has been in the field for so long and watched every step of the way to this point? Meh, I am more responsible for learning/understanding and providing my own education than the institute giving it to me.
  16. Jul 11, 2010 #15
    If you understand this, then you will have no problems. Recognition of this fact is the key to deep understanding.
  17. Jul 11, 2010 #16
    I feel like there is a lack of opportunities for the young scientist and engineers to gain these specific type of skills during high school and college. There is a lack of apprentice type positions and companies willing to really work with students.
  18. Jul 11, 2010 #17
    If you are in high school or the first two years of college you are not a young scientist or engineer, just someone with interest and maybe potential.

    There are usually plenty of summer jobs in industry for the top engineering students. Your opportunities are what you make them to be.

    Companies do not generally work with students. Students work for them. Companies are not charitable organizations. They hire people who can make a contribution to the company. That goes for summer employees as well, though there is usually some handling with kid gloves and an evaluation of the student for eventual full-time employment. But the bottom line is that if you to impress a potential future employer it is up to you show what you offer the employer, not the other way around.
  19. Jul 11, 2010 #18

    Not completely true. The sword cuts both ways for companies creating interest for the future. Its not all about the companies as you as you can see since they are the ones complaining here. It's on them too.
  20. Jul 11, 2010 #19
    Companies know what they need to do. If you take the attitude that a company has some obligation to you then your chances of landing a position are reduced. When you work for someone else you are selling the product of your labor. It is really that simple.
  21. Jul 11, 2010 #20
    I remember reading somewhere that an employer's rule of thumb, for an employed engineer, is to expect fruits from their labor with a value greater than 3 times their salary. If they don't do this on average, they are not worth having around, or they are being payed too much.

    An engineer needs to think about this rule at the end of every day by taking 3 times his daily pay, comparing this to the value of work done and then asking himself if he was worth his salt. There will be many days where the answer is no, but there had better be many more days where the answer is a resounding "YES!". It's not always easy to assign value to an engineer's work, but a wise engineer will figure out a way, and convince his boss of the validity of his formula at every performance review.

    I once had a boss who would make us periodically write down and submit a list of our recent accomplishments. I wouldn't be surprised if he never read a single list. I'm convinced he made us do this for our benefit, not his.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook