Ask 100 people, “What do engineers do?”
Many people may say building bridges, designing roads, etc. and continue to describe a civil engineer. Obviously this is a misnomer, but where does this come from?
A national poll done by Harris Interactive ranked the prestige of various careers most recently last August 2007. Firefighters and scientists took the top two spots and engineers ranked tenth, above eleventh-ranked Members of Congress but below ninth-ranked farmers. Scientists are arguably engineers and engineers are arguably scientists, yet why are engineers not as well-regarded as scientists?
When I was in elementary school and an adult would ask me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would say I wanted to be a scientist, because I wanted to make discoveries, know science and use complicated, ‘cool’ equipment. What I was likely imagining was likely engineering — not a strict science — but I had not a clue, and neither did my teachers.
Engineering education is well known as strenuous and taxing. A recent blog post at WIRED titled “Top 5 Reasons It Sucks to Be an Engineering Student” has made circuits through engineering communities via Digg, email, Facebook posts and other avenues. The post has roused 531 comments at the time of this writing and boasts numerous students and alumni venting about their engineering education experiences. Many posts demonstrate students that are not satisfied with their engineering education.
There are many reasons why engineering majors have one of the highest dropout rates (to a different major or otherwise) and that many engineers do not pursue an engineering career path once out of school. Engineering education at some institutions is dry, too abstract, has poor text books, uninterested professors, and many other factors. Despite these reasons, there is a greater problem with the lack of engineers pursuing engineering careers.
People that have vastly different specialties should co-exist in the engineering profession. A homogeneous group of engineers lacks the ability to attack the higher-level difficultly problems that require every type of mind to solve. A diverse group of engineers with varied skills and specialties has the potential to produce innovations, and quality and usable products.
Losing top minds to the business, medical or law world from engineering is seemingly commonplace because people strive to do more and reach higher. This becomes apparent in the Harris Interactive survey: these careers have a better status among Americans. Remarkably, many people regard a farmer better than they regard an engineer.
Could image be the reason for engineers moving on to other careers? Is it the desire for a higher salary? Is engineering too difficult for the pay-offs? Or are tending fields more rewarding than designing a robot?
I have many more questions than answers. I’d like to hear your opinions!