I have for many years had a different spin on the scientists vs. engineers issue. Way back when I was in grad school, a lot of the folks I hung out with were scientists (mostly astrophysicists). We did have mutual respect, and I was often called upon to help them out in their research by designing some exotic bit of instrumentation. I quickly came to appreciate the difference in our attitudes toward the "real world": scientists try to understand the universe/reality by creating models (aka theories) of aspects of reality and trying to verify how well they correlate with reality itself; the goal is simply to understand reality and how it works. Once these models are validated (and their limitations understood, an important step often ignored), engineers use these models to create solutions to real-world problems. THAT is the true difference! Scientists try to understand reality, and engineers try to solve problems by applying that understanding. "All else is commentary; now go and learn the commentary."
I am pround to say that I have praticed engineering for over 40 years, working through design, production, applicaiton and cusotmer support. I too am dissapointed in the use of engineer in many titles that have to technology behind it, or any education requirements. I believe that engineering education teaches you how to make decisions based on basic principals and facts. And I believe that this skill set prepares an individual for life long careers from the deisgner on the bench to the company president who is still making decisioins based on fact as he/she learned in engineering shcool. I take a samll exception to the comment that we have moved designers to engineers even if they do not have a degree. I personally have been in the position of having individuals working for me who had exceptional skills in the field of engineering. These skills were developed by working closely with design engineers, outside study, and lots of experinece. Of those that I have worked with that have been promoted (and yes it is a position as well as a career) from a designer to engineer, they have all done exceptionally well for my company. But then they had over 20 years as designers and technicians to learn their engineering skills. I do believe that any engineer dealing with the public in any safety capacity should be licensed by a regulatory board. This involves not only the civil engineer that is bulding bridges, or high rise buildings, but the engineer designing production equipment. And I believe that this regulatory board needs to be populated with senior practing engineers, not political appointees!
I believe the conufusion of the media is a total lack of understanding of who we are. It may also be a result of an editor who is only looking for the top story of interst, or in swaying a stroy to fit their idea (and I know this for a fact as a friend quite his newspaper job because the editor insisting on a certain stroy line, and was not overly concrend with the facts to support the stroy!). I have found that guidance couselors in high schools and colleges really don't know who we are or what we do. That is our own fault in not being involved in the educaiton process at the younger grades (4th through 6th). Let's get behind or start a local STEM committee and push our way into the schools to put on presentations on engineering. Show them the cool stuff we do - get involved in their design of a unique paper airplane, or the design of nest to support an egg drop from 2 feet.
40 plus years as an engineer and loving every minute of it.
Seeking knowledge for its own sake is mental masturbation, makes a mess and perhaps you feel good for a bit. Serious action requires well thought out purpose. I suppose it comes down to how much a philosopher you are to which camp you will fall.
Working for a manufacturer of eddy-current displacement measuring systems, I quickly found out the difference between a scientist and an engineer. The engineer will buy a component and, when the resulting system doesn't work like he designed, will work through and find out what went wrong. The scientist will buy a component and, when the resulting system doesn't work like he designed, will scream and yell how the component doesn't meet the spec. There is only a 50-50 chance that he will understand after you explain how he failed to take into account certain design situations, but will redesign his experiment with the same problems. Rinse and repeat.
From my memory it wasn't that long ago that the top three professions were doctor, lawyer or engineer. It appears to me that engineering has kind of let itself be dumbed down if you will. It wasn't too long ago that it was expected to go out and get your P.E. license. Now, there are people who move from designer to engineer without even obtaining a degree. Engineering has become more of a position and less of a profession. And I have to admit this offencds me because I still see it as a profession.
But those that follow Design news regularly will note the several stories regarding a design being done by monkeys. Or products that don't have the inherit quality that they used to. I think engineers are partly to blame because we have given in to the marketing and cost reduction teams too often.
It's interesting that you just don't see the same phenomena in the scientific realm. I wonder why. Does it have to do the fact that scientists focus tends to be on discovering cool stuff and how it works. While engineers tend to focus on how can I use that cool stuff my buddy the scientist just discovered in a way to benefit society?
There are several problems that lead to the confusion, including a lazy media that has very little respect for engineers, and the gross misuse of the english language in the application of the terms engineer and engineering. I attribute that blurring to the fact that most engineers don't make a big deal about the complexity of their accomplishments, or even about the amount of education and experience that are needed to be a good engineer. What an observent outsider might realize was an incredible set of correct selections, an engineer would just call "using common sense." The result being that the general public never realizes the enormity of what engineering is accomplishing.
A rather brutal way of making people understand what engineers do for them every day would be to stop making systems that work togather without any user judgement or skill requirements. Just think what would happen if instead of USB to connect things, people had to configure an RS232 connection for all their various computer accessories.
Its all a matter of perception with the general public, as both Charles and Ivan pointed out. The "engineer" is seen a the guy with the hardhat and pocket protector working in the field or bent over some open-floor-plan desk / drafting board. The scientist, on the other hand, is the person who's wearing a white lab coat and in the running for Nobel Prizes. It's the "domestic engineer" vs. the "rocket scientist" (who really happened to be an engineer!)
Is this yet another indictment of public education? that many in our society don't understand or appreciate the difference between Science and Engineering? Perhaps some of the fault can be placed at the feet of the technical societies that have failed to educate the public in this respect.
And of course we should also accept our part of this problem in not being more vocal and helpful in educationg others as to what it is that Engineers and Scientists really do.
I live in Florida and I have said many times that everyone here that enjoys air conditioning owes a big debt of gratitude to the engineers that created reliable and effective air conditioning. Without it, a lot of Florida, and big buildings like skyscrapers would not be habitable.
I think Rob's point about the collaboration between the two disciplines is well said. While there may be media or public bias towards science as the more productive or more intellectual of the two pursuits, there is no doubt that one discipline is heavily dependent on the other. It's the intersection of science and engineering where we see what can be pie-in-the-sky research really materialize into something that can impact society and make people's lives better.
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