I wonder if the "unhappiness" quotient directly translates to how post-graduate engineering students will feel about their jobs. Long hours and poor communication with management are likely conditions that will carry over to the real world as those are some of the constant struggles of engineering management.
The point about the curriculum being theoretical and not tied to real-world engineering problem solving is one I've heard consistently, but I was under the impression that a lot of the leading schools were implementing changes to provide a more hands-on experience. Is that not the case?
Students at Olin have very good reasons to be happy. For starters, their tuitions are fully covered by the Olin Foundation. Also thery are in very small classes. I have been able to take some night classes there as a part of a commmunity program (Needham, Mass.) and Olin seems to encourage students to study creatively, and in a sense pursue their dreams. You see a lot of interesting projects in the classrooms and hallways. And yes, the students are smiling.
In answer to your question, Beth, some of the well known engineering schools have taken the lead on this and are incorporating more of a sense of context into the early part of the engineering curriculum. To name just a few: MIT; University of Texas; Olin College of Engineering; and Rose-Hulman Institute. Still, I'm told that far too many engineering schools are making token efforts or no effort at all in this area. I think there's still a sense -- somewhat justified -- that efforts on this front can only go so far; students will always find the curriculum difficult.
In going through four years of engineering school, I can understand how engineering schools can be on the top of unhappiest students. Spending weekends in the computer lab to get projects done can be tiresome. On the other side, this was something that was enjoyed by my fellow students and I.
As for real world application of engineering principles. This was not seen or emphasised until the final senior project, and this was really a canned project. I learned almost as much my first year on the job as I learned in four years in college.
For challenging curriculums like engineering, it can be easy to lose sight of the goal. When you're going from semester to semester, the goal is not to earn high grades on the final. The goal is to learn. That's a pretty diffuse reward for four years of hard work, which was preceded by 12 years of the same sort of effort.
I took Mechanical Engineering at the University of BC in Vancouver many years ago. No, it wasn't fun. I was a hick from the sticks in a university that didn't know a thing about the industrial engine that drove the Province that in turn fed the university--Forestry and Mining. I couldn't understand why all my classmates seemed hell-bent on getting into designing gas turbine blades for P&W on the other side of the continent while my professors were more interested in what they were going to do on their summer holidays. There were only 3 or 4 kids in my year of over 60 ME students who even knew what sawmills and pulpmills where all about. Zero work on BC-related industrial issues. I had many conversations with the ME dean about this lack of local connectivity...maybe it helped; in my last year they had hired a new prof who was interested in analyzing bandsaw blade dynamics...finally something that related to what we did in BC! Industry donated him a brand new 5' bandmill to set up in his lab.
There were some minor attempts at getting the real world into the classroom. In our last year, the course I enjoyed the most was was an engineering design course that focussed less on the math and science behind a project and more on how sucessful the end result was. Which, of course, is real life. It was a huge eye opener for me in terms of who was sucessful in this course. Usually the class brains fell FLAT on their face in this class. It was my turn to excel for a change.
I think the issue boils back to the course material that the school has chosen to present. We, as many other schools, spent way too much time with advanced calculus and other courses that were forgotten once the final exam was over. As kids in school, most of us were not so dumb that we didn't know the material was a waste of time. Does jumping through administratively pontificated mind-numbing hoops make anyone happy?
I always said, the best thing about university was to "have the sheepskin in your hand and the university in your rear view mirror." I never even went back to attend graduation ceremonies.
I would have concurred with the Princeton survey when I was in engineering school simply by comparing demands on my time as compared to others around me. A desire to excel in Engineering left little time for "fun". Hearing about the great times people were having while I was buried in a book was disheartening.
In my professional life I have found that I am generally more satisfied with my work than my colleagues from other departments.I suspect if the Princeton survey followed its subjects into the working world the happiness result would be flipped.
I see that student life at my alma matter (Illinois Institute of Technology) is improving. When I was a student there, we were number six on the list of least happy students. Now we're only number nine. Things must be getting better!
Seriously, I had a great time as an engineering student. In fact, it was one of the happiest times of my life. Sure, I worked hard - but if I didn't want to work hard, I wouldn't have gone into engineering in the first place.
On the other hand, my college experience was definitely non-traditional. For one thing, I was a little older than the typical student - I was 23 when I transferred into IIT from a community college. By this point in life, I had a little more maturity and a stronger sense of purpose. I didn't have any illusions that I was going to college to party.
Also, I lived off campus with my family, so I never set foot in a dormitory or ate in a cafeteria, never had roomates (other than my parents and my niece), etc. Having a stable environment, surrounded with people who wanted to see me succeed, was very important. Also, having to balance schoolwork with family responsibilities helped to keep me grounded.
My social life was also mainly off campus. For the most part, the friends I hung out with on the weekend (when I had time to hang out on the weekends!) were old friends from my high school days. Like my family, my friends were a big support to me.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I worked full-time off campus as a technician in a failure analysis lab, so I was constantly exposed to "real world" engineering. My co-workers were another source of encouragement and support, as well as professional mentoring and practical advice. And every day I saw how the things I was learning in school could be applied.
So maybe the problem is not with engineering schools themselves, but with the traditional conception of the college experience and the expectations created by popular culture. Anyone who goes to engineering school expecting to party all the time is going to be very disappointed, or else flunk out in the first two years. But if that's your idea of happiness, maybe your shouldn't be in engineering.
Dave: What a coincidence. My Alma matter is also IIT. Was I happy?, Sure from the point of view of education and instructional benefits I received while at IIT. Worked hard in just about 2.5 years, after my master, I got my Ph.D. in mechanical. I could be happier, if the professors were not so strict. But then there is this trade-off. You got to make compromises if you want a good education. I have seen few, who did not put enough time has had difficulties in finding good jobs. It pays to work hard. It pays to be little unhappy. At the end it is you, who needs to decide “why are you are there”?; “what you want to achieve in your life?” It is that balance that makes the difference.
I had a some of my best times being a tech student at URI and MIT. Clearly URI was much friendlier, but also less stressfull. It all depends on hw you establish yourself. Do not be a jerk. Try to find nice and reliable friends to study with and keep some time for relaxation. Make sure you take classes from other departments to learn other things in addition to numbers and formulas.
I got involved in robotics and had the best time in the lab.
Clearly that engineering is not easy, but I did not see too many unhappy students.
I think that engineering is one of the most interesting professions.
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