@Michael Grieves: You seem to be illustrating my point about parochialism. Maybe philistinism would be a better word. Are physics and math departments necessary for effective engineering education?Maybe not. But there are other good reasons to have physics and math departments, which have nothing to do with engineering.
As much as it might be pleasing to us to think so, the world doesn't revolve around us engineers. And believe it or not, it's possible for something to have value beyond its value to engineers.
Do engineers need to learn string theory, look for the Higgs boson, study stellar formation, etc.? Of course not. These things are important, not because they have anything to do with engineering, but because they advance the state of human knowledge. This is a good thing, in and of itself.
You also seem to be taking for granted that the Texas politicians' decision about which schools "can't support physics departments" is well-founded. I'm not sure that relying on the wisdom of politicians is always a good idea.
Will other universities continue to do physics research? Undoubtedly. But I wish I could share your Pangloss-like optimism that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
One of the things that happening in automation and control regarding senior staff is that plants are automating some of the processes that used to be in the heads of senior staff. The younger staff doesn't know when the plant doesn't sound right. Now automated diagnostics and prognostics do the detecting.
Chuck, I was wondering more about the employer end of things--meaning when are they going to start hiring older, more knowledgeable workers? And especially in engineering? According to Trend B, they're supposed to be figuring out pretty soon now that they need to do so. From what Rob said, it looks like this awareness hit automation already but my question is, has it hit any other engineering disciplines?
To Alex's point, I completely agree with Barrett. I adored science as a kid, and I received an excellent education in it. It was fun and the teachers made it fun. This whole approach seems to have vanished from schools. But math was not at all fun until 9th-grade algebra, and that was because of an exceptionally gifted teacher.
TJ, I couldn't agree with you more. I don't for a minute believe that most older engineers don't have or won't acquire the skillset--I've known too many of them personally--nor do I believe that young, untrained, inexperienced people in any discipline can do as well as or better than senior staff. I was simply reporting the hype I've heard, and it's clearly an argument for saving money.
And Rob, it's good to know that the problem did not happen in A&C, but it's also good to know that at least some companies recognize what a problem losing their institutional knowledge can cause.
I thought it would be of interest to readers of this piece to check out an interview I did a year ago with former Intel chairman Craig Barrett, who has a strong and ongoing interest in STEM. See "Innovation Mandate: An Interview with Craig Barrett." Here's the most important quote: "We do on average a terrible job of educating our young people in mathematics and science. That in itself is almost an automatic filter against those young people going to college and majoring in mathematics and science. It's not so much a culture problem, but it's a K-through-12 problem, which then impacts all of our young people."
Ann: I for one would not be thrilled if Trend B impacts Trend A. I'd really prefer that Social Security be available for awhile. In answer to your question, though, I don't think Trend B will affect Trend A until it becomes abundantly clear to Baby Boomers that they have little or no retirement income.
It's not a matter of skill set Ann. It's another aspect of the economics of the title of the article. I'm moving into that older engineer realm. I'm more than happy to learn new skills; I like learning. But I expect to be paid for my skills and experience, and there lies the rub. Companies don't want to pay for that experience. Hiring young inexperienced engineers is less expensive in that mindset.
Good point on Trend B, Ann. This has been a challenge for the plants and their vendors. Boomers were about to retire and take their knowledge with them in 2008. The automation industry was quite concerned. Then the economy took a dive and dragged 401Ks down with it. So many boomer postponed their retirement, the problem went away, at least temporarily. I would imagine depressed demand also took the pressure off.
I keep wondering about a couple of things related to this subject. The first is something Alex's comment made me remember. Trend A: I've been hearing for several years now that older engineers supposedly aren't up to speed on a lot of things, and/or don't want to learn new skills. So companies are hiring younger ones and dumping older ones, a problem not confined to engineering. That's hardly a good reward to look forward to for the young ones.
Trend B: I've also heard that the age imbalance that's causing all the screaming about Social Security supposedly going bankrupt is also about to cause a labor imbalance, and a shortage of trained employees in unspecified career areas. And supposedly there won't be enough youngsters to hire and oldsters will be in big demand. This supposed hiring spree will be aided by the fact that most Baby Boomers can't afford to retire and plan to keep working (probably because we no longer get guaranteed pensions like our parents did, and/or have gotten laid off for being too expensive).
Engineering tudents need a robust education and understanding in physics and math appropriate for their future career. (They don't need string theory and they don't need to solve the 50th slightly different Laplace transform.) This does not imply that there needs to be physics and math departments, whose professors for the most part have no idea of the problems engineers need to solve.
This doesn't mean that physics and math departments will all go away. Universities that excel in theses areas will continue to do research. It does mean that the Dean's concern is misplaced. If a school can't support a physics department, it shouldn't have one. Engineering professors whoud be well enough versed in physics (and math) that their students won't lack for that education.
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