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  • The public: not a clue about engineering?

    Discussion in 'The Leisure Lounge' started by GarethW, Aug 5, 2012.

    1. GarethW

      GarethW Chief Clicker Staff Member

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      ...is a quote from this article about women and technology and why women don't want to be "geeks". I think it illustrates how in the UK there's a real distorted view of what engineering is. There are some non-technical people in the past I've attempted to explain what I do to, but they just don't "get" it. Amazing the amount of ignorance really.

      http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/releases/shownews.htm?NewsID=416 is an interesting article about public misconceptions about engineering. Here are a few quotes:

      Anyone got any views or anecdotes about public attitude to engineering, not just in the UK, but anywhere in the world?
       
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    3. Ntopliffe

      Ntopliffe New Member

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      Isn't an engineer...

      Isn't an engineer Someone who operates a train?

      In all seriousness it is a pretty vague term. But whatever you call us, we're indispensable. :)
       
    4. cwarner7_11

      cwarner7_11 Well-Known Member

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      As an engineer with many, many years of practical experience under my belt, I STILL have difficulty describing to the uninitiated just exactly what it is that engineers do. Especially if I have to reduce it to 140 characters or less. There are a lot of people who confuse engineering with the trades- wanting to hire an engineer, for instance, when a mechanic or plumber would be more suitable for the task at hand.
      Let's try this- an engineer documents his work; the trades use the documentation generated by the engineer to keep things working...
       
    5. Mark Stapleton

      Mark Stapleton Active Member

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      Ditto (from both OP and cwarner), I find that even my wife has little idea about what I do after almost 30 years of marriage, and that we don't communicate well in some ways because of it (she can't imagine some scenarios I paint for her verbally unless I can show her a picture). I largely do machine design and product design via CAD, and I can show her CAD models all day long and show them how things fit together and I still don't think she "gets it". This is not necessarily a failure of communication but rather a failure to listen or use much energy to understand, or an innate inability to envision, and I think a lot of people fail similarly. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions) men seem to fail less often and less miserably than do women, but some men do fail miserably to understand anything more about "mechanical engineering" than to realize that some of what I do is "fix things" (actually a very small percentage of what I actually do). It's difficult for me to conceptualize why it is that they can't conceptualize, but I've learned not to take it too seriously in the sense that most people realize that engineers are important and necessary for the world to work as they are used to it working.
       
    6. Cenobytez

      Cenobytez New Member

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      I have to agree on this one, especially when you say you are a mechanical engineer, you can see in their eyes they register "car mechanic" or they come straight out with it, then you have to explain what it actually entails....
       
    7. AndrewNew

      AndrewNew Well-Known Member

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      Mark makes some good points, and I too have given up worrying about how to explain what I do to other people. I just tell them what I produce, rather than how I go about producing it, and hope that somehow they connect the dots themselves. I am happy to try and help the curious to understand more if they want to, and for the many who don't really care, that's fine too. For fun, try throwing the word design into the conversation along with the word engineer. Many people just don't connect engineering with design (one is the oily-rag mechanic at the local Quick-Fit, the other is Stella McCartney). Part of the problem may be the unprotected status of the title "engineer" (at least in the UK), but don't hold your breath while you wait for anything to be done about that. A couple of years ago the letters page in the IMechE's Professional Engineering magazine contained almost nothing but discussion of the status of engineers, and I suspect that the only reason that it doesn't now is an editorial decision that it is not a debate that is really going anywhere. Just Google "design" or look at a website like http://www.designweek.co.uk/ to see how disconnected "design" and "engineering" are, although I suspect to many here (or me anyway!) it's hard to think of them as seperate activities at all.
       
    8. jetero

      jetero New Member

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      At Boeing when I started as a Drafter... You could always tell the difference between engineers and drafters.

      The engineer wore a tie... Last time I worked there 1985 .. only the supervisors wore ties...
       
    9. andysuth

      andysuth Member

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      Design Week

      I've been name checked in Design Week as the Principal Engineer on the Zandra Rhoades & Tom Heatherwick Fashion and Textile Museum "My Favourite Dress" Exhibition (that is going back a bit though!).

      There are problems merging the concepts of "Design" with "Engineer". It's worse for me as a Chartered Engineer and I've taken to leaving my Masters Qualification off CVs, it's a MA(RCA), so people throw the negative expectations onto me instead of seeing it as a bonus.

      One interviewer once commented "Oh, you're an artist?" when I was going for engineering interview.

      -AS
       
    10. BlightonJMW

      BlightonJMW New Member

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      While I was working as a stockroom worker at the local hospital during college, I tried to explain to some of my coworkers what I was going to school for. Somewhere in between me having to dumb down what I do so they might understand and their connection of what I said it got lost that mechanical engineers go deeper than "we just make it work." My coworker thought I was crazy for paying thousands of dollars to learn the details of everything when her husband could "make things work" with his years of experience as a general laborer/mechanic.

      There also seems to be a disconnect when you tell people the math used in school is higher than pre-algebra. You say calculus and their eyes glaze over and the mental gears just stop.
       
    11. Dana

      Dana Well-Known Member

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      The public is clueless about most things, not just engineering. I think the confusion over the term "engineer" may be worse in Europe than in the US... as I understand it, in Europe the term "engineer" is used to describe an automobile mechanic, while in the US a mechanic or "technician" works on your car, and engineer is either an engineer as we understand it, or a locomotive driver, or a bulldozer driver (what they call "operating engineer").

      As for what we do... I have a friend I went to college with who is an artist and musician. Some years after graduation, when I was self employed as a consultant, I was working on a machine design on the CAD when he dropped by. I explained what I was doing, and the light went on... he was amazed to finally realize that mine was actually a creative profession, not just a dry world of numbers and calculations.

      I describe my work to non engineers thusly: My boss (or customer, when I'm consulting) tells me they want a machine or product to do such and such. They don't care what it looks like, only what it does. I start with a blank sheet of paper, with maybe some ideas about previous designs, maybe not, and come up with a design to do what he wants, make drawings of it for the shop to build, and support the build and testing. From that, most people seem to comprehend that I'm not a train driver or car mechanic... :)
       

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