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Is an engineering degree really that useful?

  1. Feb 15, 2013 #1
    let's be honest about this....

    In north america, I went through engineering school, at a top university.

    Only to come out feeling like it was a waste of time. Mainly because they suck at teaching the courses conceptually.

    It felt like a drive-thru restaurant-- without gaining any useful skills that would be applicable to industry.

    I feel that a 2-year technical college with an apprenticeship would've been much more useful. At least there, you get the hands on experience with a wide variety of tools and instruments, and actually gain skills that can get you a real job.

    In engineering school, all you learn is a bunch of useless techniques to crunch numbers.

    The designing courses sucked as well, all you have to do is just go to a 4th year design course, and look at quality of the student's work. You'll see power sources with no switches, hanging wires, redundant column/brackets, ...etc.


    Going back to the math, I haven't seen a single engineering job in North America that actually uses those big math formulas that was crammed down our throats.

    What's funny is that the jobs I worked at, the engineers hardly ever use proper mathematical techniques when conducting their work (techniques like factorial design). Instead they resort to trial&error to get the job done.

    I haven't seen any engineer using DE or calculus at work. No one does strain/stress calculations. The computer does all that.

    Hell I haven't seen or heard anyone use bode plots at work.

    Maybe all that is useful for Acadamia, but academia is obviously a huge scam that's currently thriving on high tuition rates thanks to cheap student loans.

    The research they conduct is absolutely useless, Bell labs in 1 year made more progress than what academia in north america has made in the last 4 decades.

    In industry, businesses are failing because the engineers they hire lack real engineering knowledge.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2013 #2
    This is disappointing if true. :(
  4. Feb 15, 2013 #3


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    I think you miss the point somewhat. Undergraduate study is less about what you learn than about demonstrating that you CAN learn. Your having an engineering degree tells a prospective employer a lot about you, including the fact that you can put up with a fair amount of BS, just as you have to do in a job.

    On the other hand, your terrible, negative attitude is NOT something you want to advertise to prospective employers so I'd advise you to keep that to yourself in job interviews.
  5. Feb 15, 2013 #4
    That makes a lot of sense. Without an internship to get real experience and maybe even a job offer your degree is just an academic exercise. An internship is one if the most important things you can do in school.
  6. Feb 15, 2013 #5


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    The purpose of the degree is to teach you the theoretical underpinnings for engineering work. For example, I design and implement algorithms for communication receivers for a living. There are of course all kinds of real world complications that can't easily be covered in a textbook, and 90% of my time is spent developing and debugging software, but if I don't even know the fundamentals of signal processing, and what would be the optimal design in an idealized setting such as additive white Gaussian noise with no distortion or fading, then how can I hope to implement anything that will perform well? (i.e., at least as well as the competition!)
  7. Feb 15, 2013 #6


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    I'm not sure what that proves, except that you haven't looked "everywhere".

    Maybe that would have been more useful for you personally. The industry need both sets of people - but it doesn't need people who think everybody with a different mindset to themselves is inferior by definition.

    But taking a global view, it doesn't really matter if the US engineering industry goes downhill. There are plenty of people in the developing world ready to take up the slack. And if the US wants to "create jobs" by repatriating low level manufacturing and assembly work, you might even start to get contracts to do that stuff for the third world - so long as the quality is good enough and the cost is low enough, of course.
  8. Feb 15, 2013 #7


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    I'm just going to say it. This post contains a lot of rather ignorant, stupid commentary.

    1. You didn't say if you are currently employed. If you are, do you think you would have been employed and gotten this job if you did not have the degree that you have?

    2. If the school taught you WAY more than what you need, then it has done its job! It cannot predict what you will and won't need, so it has to teach you as much as it can within the academic constraints. But more importantly, it has to teach the basics that you will need to be able to LEARN on your own when you are faced with the stuff you do in your job!

    3. That comment on Bell labs is laughable. First of all, Bell labs benefits from Academia! Where do you think those people that Bell Labs hired came from? Secondly, look at papers and patents that came out of Bell labs. You will notice that, inevitably, a lot of other fundamental work and discovery were done ELSEWHERE! Refer to the citations if you don't believe me. Thirdly, I have no idea where you get your information that "... Bell labs in 1 year made more progress than what academia in north america has made in the last 4 decades...." Would you like to compare the number of papers coming out of MIT and Stanford per year with Bell Labs?

    4. If you think you can just shoot things off as being valid without providing ample data to back your claim, you have found the wrong forum. You obviously can't tell the different between valid evidence versus anecdotal evidence.

  9. Feb 15, 2013 #8
    I'm not employed at the moment because I want to take some time and teach myself real skills .

    Skills like system integration, welding, machining, plc/scada, ...etc. Knowledge that is relevant to the real world where you can get a stable job.

    I had a few internships, and the work I did was BS grunt work. Testing, drafting, thoughtless coding, ...etc. None of those firms had the money or time to train me properly and help me learn some real skills.

    It didn't teach way more than I needed.

    It just distracted me from learning useful skills.

    Instead of crunching numbers with a bunch of useless formulas in shigley's text...

    I could've been in the lab or the machine shop, making something useful, like building a digital multimeter, or a viscometer, ...etc.

    Well then they shouldn't be in business if they can't predict what industry is demanding in terms of skills.

    Businesses want engineers. But they want engineers with useful skills....not someone who can plug numbers in a calculator, or do stress/stain analysis and draw a free body diagram (a CAE software can do all that).

    I hear this BS line all the time. Universities make this statement to lure young kids into their programs and force them to get huge student loans, so the admins can keep getting their fat paychecks.

    Anyone can learn on their own if they want to. They don't need to go into huge debt to learn that in university. If anything they should've learned that skill in elementary school.

    I can learn on my own anything I feel like learning. I taught myself calculus by age 13, physics by age 14, affine geometry, combinatorics and graph theory by age 15, ...etc.

    It's easy to learn on your own if you're motivated, especially in today's age, where many universities have online video lectures for these courses.

    What's difficult to learn on your own, is to learn how to work with machines and equipments. How to design and integrate devices neatly and efficiently. How to machine parts....etc.

    No they didn't. Go read Jon Gertner's book, and you'll learn that many engineers/scientist who joined bell labs were very frustrated with academia.

    They couldn't do the research they wanted to do, administrators constantly harassed them with BS paper work, teaching duties, constantly had to apply for grants.

    Bell labs was a paradise for them.

    Like I said, in 1 year they made more revolutionary breakthroughs than academia has in the last 40 years.

    What revolutionary invention has academia brought us in the last 2 decades?

    Thomas Edision, Nikola Tesla, and other individual scientiests/engineers, made more technological breakthroughs than all the useless profs and PhD students in academia of the last 2 decades combined.

    You think that publishing papers = progress

    that's a very ridiculous proposition

    Bell Labs brought us real tools that truly advanced the engineering discipline. Tools like the C language, Transistors, solar cells, information theory, satellites, UNIX, ccd chips, fiber-optic communication techniques...etc.

    Read Jon Gertner book for more.

    Acadamia may be good at publishing a lot of paper.....but what good is it, when the vast majority of those papers are never used in industry.

    It's like we're living in the 1600s/1700s and you tell me that academia is very productive, because they publish thousands of theorems on euclidean geometry.

    I came here to give my honest opinion for the kids here who are making decisions for university. I know a lot of young kids are being encouraged by teachers, parents, guidance counselors to go study engineering because they think there will be 'lots of jobs'.

    What they don't know, is that the quality of engineering school today is very poor. The lost of our manufacturing base should be a big sign regarding this trend.

    Today's engineering profs are not that smart IMO. I mean, there are mechanical profs that have no clue how to fix their car when it breaks down. There are ECE profs who can't tell you the wisdom behind 3-phase power. I can come up with many more examples.

    Most of these profs got to their position, because they're very good at cramming. They simply memorized problems and solutions, and regurgitated what they remember on their exam paper. Eventually they become profs and make insignificant contributions to their fields, because they lack true understanding of what they've studied.

    Engineering school does nothing but distract you from becoming a true engineer.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2013
  10. Feb 15, 2013 #9
    Then go be a "true engineer" without mentioning to any potential employers that you have an engineering degree.
  11. Feb 15, 2013 #10
    No offense but do you truly believe that the theoretical work you're doing is making any significant improvements to communication receivers?

    What's wrong with the communication receivers today that requires you do implement more advance algorithms?

    Do you know the history of the telegraph? People didn't know how it worked, and a lot of people spent time optimizing the system and coming up with mathematical theories to figure out how everything works.

    Eventually radio and telephone came into the marketplace and made the telegraph obsolete. So all that money and hard work going to optimize the telegraph was a waste.
  12. Feb 15, 2013 #11


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    Read the patents from bell labs and look at the references.

    Secondly, a lot of the advances done in academia are often transfered into businesses. In fact, many funding sources demand that commercialization and technology transfer be part of the work.

    You want example? Look at a project called Large Area Picosecond Photodetector. This is a perfect example on how research work done via several universities and national labs are producing a transformative technology that no other companies, not even bell labs, wanted the risk to pursue. They had already been awarded the R&D 100 prize for the multichannel plate development. And as mandated, it will be licensed to various companies for commercialization.

    Btw, the Bell labs now is very different than the bell labs before Lucent. Your romanticized view of it is no longer the situation it is now. And ironically, the old glory years of Bell labs happened when it was ran like an academic institution where one was given the freedom to pursue one's interest without the pressure of producing a marketable profit. Look at it now! The basic physics research that was so productive is practically gone!

    I had a front row seat to the demise of many parts of bell labs when it got transformed to what it is now. For physicists especially, there is no longer this prestige of of working at bell labs.

  13. Feb 15, 2013 #12
    the idiotic cultural attitude that you need to have a degree to get a job needs to change

    maybe with this thread people can get people talking about this

    Henry Ford had an 8th grade education, and he's one of the greatest engineer the world has seen in the last 100 years.

    Carnegie and Edison didn't get engineering degrees, but they accomplished more than any engineer prof you meet in academia.
  14. Feb 15, 2013 #13


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    So, you want to do manual labor, not be an engineer. You're right, you should go to a vocational school if that's what you want to do.

    You do realize that you've listed over 70 years of work? I worked for AT&T and had the opportunity to work with the guys in Bell Labs by bringing them customers to beta trial new products and services. You know nothing about Bell Labs. And there were scientists from many fields that worked there.

    A person that wants to work for AT&T Labs has to have a PhD and be active in research in order to even apply.


    And you taught yourself all there is to know about physics when you were 14. Right.

    I do believe that people wanting to become engineers will ignore your nonsensical rant.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2013
  15. Feb 15, 2013 #14


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    I also work on communication circuits, and yes indeed, we are improving the state of the art. And doing so requires a LOT of math and advanced engineering concepts.

    You optimize the existing systems (the telegraph in your example), while you also work on newer breakthrough systems. That is what professional engineers do.

    It's unfortunate that you've had such a bad experience, but please do not try to generalize your experience onto all working engineers. It's neither appropriate nor accurate.
  16. Feb 15, 2013 #15

    when I'm talking about Bell labs, I'm most definitely talking about the old bell labs. Not the one in Lucent.

    In terms of technological progress... I'm referring to revolutionary progress. NOT evolutionary progress.

    For example consider the phonograph. Nothing existed that allowed you to play music at home--apart from paying a band to come play in your home.

    When the phonograph came into existence, it was a revolution. Now you could play music at your home.

    I'm certain Edison had no understanding of DEs, material engineering nor electro-magnetic theory, but he had good knowledge of working with tools and integrating systems. This is what I consider to be true engineering knowledge.

    Look at all the jobs and businesses that grew because of this one invention he made.
  17. Feb 15, 2013 #16
    No I want to go to school and learn skills that make me productive. Not waste my time with theories/formulas that are presented with no intuitive explanation whatsoever.

    You seem to have an elitist attitude towards manual work-- thinking it's labor and not the kind of work that engineers should do.

    So according to you, Edison going through 1000 iteration of making the light bulb was nothing but a useless manual task.

    First of all I'm talking about the old bell labs, where most of the engineers have long retire or are dead.

    I highly doubt that you worked with any of those old folks. I think you're referring to some sales folks who worked there in the latter years.

    general college physics for olympiad training

    that's your opinion
    but I think it's important to share the real truth about modern acadamia-- and in particular, engineering schools
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2013
  18. Feb 15, 2013 #17
    Ok so how much more improvement do we need in this field?
    For the last 4 decades we have many PhDs graduating in communications theory, and we haven't seen a single revolutionary invention that would eclipse the telephone, like what telephone did to the telegraph.

    Ok, so what new revolutionary breakthroughs has academia given us in the last decade--with all those new math formulas they keep publishing?

    I used a cell phone in the early 90s getting the same quality of service as today (probably better).
  19. Feb 15, 2013 #18


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    Oy! The OLD Bell Labs was run as if it was an Academic Institution, not as a business! Talk to any of the old Bell Labs guys, rather than reading it out of a book! There were no pressure in producing profit, and people had the ability to pursue even theoretical work! It was, for all practical purposes, a research institution very much similar to a university or national lab!

    So this very place that you are exulting so much was run in the very same way that you were criticizing Academia for!

  20. Feb 15, 2013 #19


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    No fibo, I worked with the scientists that were developing new internet technologies, I was on the marketing end.

    You sound young and inexperienced. You don't understand how things work in the real world, so you think what you were taught in college has no value and you couldn't be more wrong. Sounds like engineering is not for you, and that's fine, but don't come here spouting off about how things worked over 100 years ago. And I find it funny that you don't know that Joseph Swan invented the incandescent lightbulb.

  21. Feb 15, 2013 #20


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    We certainly need continuing improvement. The bandwidth is limited, but the demands for communication keep increasing.

    What you are saying is pretty close to misinformation (which is not allowed at the PF). There have been a number of significant inventions (Internet, HDTV, Digital Over-the-Air TV, text messages/SMS, 3DTV, etc.)

    Misinformation again. Cell quality is significantly better (coverage, hand-offs), and there are many more useful features like SMS, 3G/4G coverage, GPS integration, Still/Video Camera integration, SMS/Video links for 9-1-1 calls, and so on.

    And yes, a lot of those advancements came out of academic research and research at private R&D labs (like the lab I work in now, and at Bell Labs where I worked pre-Lucent).

    Please just take a deep breath and focus on what you are going to do next. It does sound appropriate for you to gain some new practical skills, to team up with your academic background. I've always recomended that engineering students build projects on their own, to start to get a more practical feel for what matters in real product design.
  22. Feb 15, 2013 #21
    I know it ran like Academia..... but it was the old Academia or the late 1800s/early 1900s--- where profs where doing research out of their own curiosity and not R&D funded by industry/gov, they had tenure, didn't had to worry about funding their labs, and they occasionally taught a class of 20 enthusiast students.

    My complaints are about the lack of productivity in today's academia. Where it's a drive thru business that really thrives on cheap student loans. Students come in, graduates go out learning nothing useful for industry and neck-deep in student loans. The academia today where profs are not tenured so they can't focus on the needs of their students...and are struggling with the publish or perish policy. Academia today where emphasis is more on rote learning and not conceptual learning.

    Do you understand my points?
  23. Feb 15, 2013 #22


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    This is silly. It is OK for you to cite antiquated technology to back your claim, but yet, you want to compare that to present-day way of running things! No wonder you have such a difficult time sorting out what you understand - you change the rules whenever it suits you!

    And until the early 80's, Bell labs was run like any university research that I know of TODAY! It is the SAME philosophy.

    You speak of all this as if you are an expert and went through it yourself. I put it to you that you have practically NO knowledge of how it was at Bell Labs, and you also do not have any clue on how research work are done in Academic institutions, because you never did any of it.

    Now prove me wrong.

  24. Feb 15, 2013 #23


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    Thread closed for Moderation...
  25. Feb 15, 2013 #24


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    Because of the quantity of misinformation in this thread, it will remain closed.
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