The "Academic Engineer"

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by poopscoop, Jan 14, 2014.

  1. poopscoop

    Thread Starter Member

    Dec 12, 2012
    This is something that has always perplexed me.

    I'm a military veteran, and in the military, when someone is teaching a class there is no question they are a subject matter expert, and have (depending on the skill) done it in the real world and have a real perspective on it.

    In college this is not the case. Many of my teachers have never held a real job (That is, a job outside of academia. Ya know, the real world.) Heck, they're teaching a "Design methodology" course with an instructor who has literally never worked in industry. At the end of the day he has almost no experience working on a team, leading a team, or designing a product for market or industry. He has no idea what its like to work with people who just put in a 60 hour week, are exhausted, growing frustrated, and need leadership. He has no idea how to delegate, spot check, list requirements, and keep people on task without stifling creativity.

    In my opinion, engineering instructors above the 1101 level should be required to have worked in industry. This isn't liberal arts; these students expect to get jobs, and they need to be taught the real skills they'll need for the workplace by people who have been there. Not the theory of a soft-bodied academic.

    alfacliff likes this.
  2. tcmtech

    Distinguished Member

    Nov 4, 2013
    That's what technical colleges are for. Their teaching staff is largely made up of people who have in fact put in some to many years of hands on time. ;)

    Universities on the other hand i have 100% agreement with you on whose working there. I went back to college about 12 years ago as an older than average student with a fair amount of hands on experience with a bit of experience with having worked with real engineers.

    My university experience relating to the actual supposed core classes related to engineering were a joke. A very expensive for me joke. :mad:

    I thought that way too much of my classes had near zero relevance to the EE degree I was after and the classes that did were horribly out of touch with how real life business and engineering handles pretty much everything.:mad:
  3. djsfantasi

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 11, 2010
    I have my Bachelors of Science degree, and started my Masters degree twice. Your comments address in part why I never completed the first attempt at an advanced degree. I had been in the field (IT) for some time and was not impressed with their understanding of the subject matter, including several of the same topics you mentioned.

    Hopefully not all have had the same experience.
  4. t_n_k

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 6, 2009
    I must have been very lucky. Those university lecturers I have met over the years often had sound industry experience and were (in the main) extraordinarily brilliant.
    I also trained and taught at college level & my teachers / colleagues were certainly drawn from the cohort of those with broad industry experience. I also worked in the national R&D organization in my country. Same story.
  5. #12


    Nov 30, 2010
    I just said a few days ago, "You will arrive at the day when you pass your teacher".
    I had already met that day before I started college, about 5 years later than the usual age.
    My first semester chemistry teacher said that electrons have no mass.
    I chalked it up to yet another I had already passed and resolved to take what I could from the class, regardless of the over the hill, jerk that taught it. Besides, his favorite sport was reducing students to tears in public. I already knew that correcting him was useless and correcting him in public was suicide for my GPA.

    My advantage was that I was there for an education, not a degree. I didn't have to take anything I didn't want to take, and the "requirements" were so weak that I met a girl in my first math class, only to discover it was her last semester. She was graduating on what I called a refresher course before I got to the real math!

    Take what you can and educate yourself. Everybody that ever amounts to a good engineer does that.
    PackratKing likes this.
  6. Georacer


    Nov 25, 2009
    What you say generally holds here as well. But I'd like to make a remark.

    Yes, in university you are likely to receive heaps of theoretical knowledge with no apparent application to real-life jobs. But if you manage to do this connection yourself you are in a very favourable position, because you will be able to apply basic theoretical principles to systems you don't have direct experience of. Being able to extrapolate your theoretical foundations onto new situations gives you an edge over people who will have to be trained from scratch to cope with them.
  7. Metalmann

    Active Member

    Dec 8, 2012
    " He has no idea what its like to work with people who just put in a 60 hour week, are exhausted, growing frustrated, and need leadership. He has no idea how to delegate, spot check, list requirements, and keep people on task without stifling creativity."

    That is another reason I quit after one year of Mechanical Engineering.

    I have learned more than any instructor/s, could ever teach in class, just by picking up books. I'm still learning, but I have a few decades of hands on experience to go along with that.;)

    I always wondered why people don't start reading more on their own.
    A lot cheaper than any college. And, more concise.
  8. ActivePower

    Active Member

    Mar 15, 2012
    So true.

    I'm on the verge of graduation and I admit most of the 'useful' stuff I know has come from independent reading. While I have been more of a self-learner from the beginning, the last four years have served not only to preserve but strengthen that aspect. Add to this the unavoidable need for nearly every piece of work to be turned into a publication and you've got a bigger problem.

    There was a similar "rant" I was reading the other day here. While some of it is unrelated I found most points accurate.

    On the other hand, while I do believe that professors in engineering courses should have a certain amount of related work experience, good 'teachers' i.e. ones who smoothen the actual learning process while letting you discover material for yourselves are invaluable and I was lucky enough to find some of them.

    I don't know how relevant it stands to this discussion but I thought I'd tack on this quote about teaching nonetheless. (It's from Feynman's Lectures; one of my favorites about teaching)

    Metalmann and Georacer like this.
  9. DerStrom8

    Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2011
    I often see professors who are experts in their fields, have 30+ years of experience, but have no experience teaching. The tech schools just pull them straight out of the field and expect them to teach a couple hundred students. Of course this doesn't work very well, you get students who are going through the classes but can't learn because the professor can't relay the information very well. That is how we get a lot of students like we see here, who are in their third year of a 4-year degree but don't know what Ohm's Law is.

    This is how I've seen it.

    Brian Griffin likes this.
  10. tracecom

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 16, 2010
    Once upon a time, I managed a technical training center for telecom installers and maintenance technicians. For our courses, we used a process called "Task Oriented Training." I won't bore you with the details, but the curriculum of each course was developed by a "subject matter expert" in conjunction with a "course developer." This process, if done properly, insured that the course content was correct (the subject matter expert's responsibility,) and the delivery method was correct (the course developer's responsibility.) It worked well for us, and I think a similar development method would have improved most of the college courses I have taken.
    #12, alfacliff and DerStrom8 like this.
  11. Brownout

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 10, 2012
    Those who don't have a passion for the baises of engineering, math, physics, electronic theory, etc... may not be cut out to be an engineer. There is a reason these subjects are taught at the university; it is necessary to have a good theoritical foundation to be a successful engineer.

    Making the transition from college to industry is and has always been a challenge. Not everyone can do it. Firms used to help with internal apprentice programs, but that is getting more rare. New grads are on their own these day.
  12. alfacliff

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 13, 2013
    in the 40+ years I have been a tech, there are a few engineers I respect. a degree dosn't mean a person is qualified to do something, only that they were good enough to pass school. not to say there arent any good engineers, but the number of really elementary mistakes I have seen makes me wonder. like the engineer testing a circuit he had built trying to measure the ac current draw across the 120 volt line, instead of in series. made a nice light show and got him a new fluke meter. or the engineer that removed all the grounds from a large aluminum heat table because it was "wired up in delta and didnt need grounds". almost killed someone there. I have taught too, in the army, I taught advanced microwave componants and systems. I agree that experience should be concidered when teaching, in any field, except for siucide bombing, of course.
    Metalmann and #12 like this.
  13. tcmtech

    Distinguished Member

    Nov 4, 2013
    Years ago that was one of my biggest driving forces to go back to school for a EE degree.

    About half the engineers I had ever worked around made feel like I wanted to be one so that I could work with intelligent logical all around clever people. :)

    Then there was the other half who clearly made me feel that if these idiots could get paid as well as they did for as little beneficial work as they produced or contributed to I was already more than capable of doing their job. :mad:
  14. alfacliff

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 13, 2013
    a little over 28 years ago when I started working for Boeing, I found out what they were paying engineers, I am still just an electrician, they dont pay or treat engineers very good here. some real good work has been done here in wichita, like the offencive and defencive avionics for the b1b and more, but now the engineering has been mostly moved out of state. I am still here fo a while. I am the Facilities Electronic Repair shop all by my self, everyone else is gone.
  15. bountyhunter

    Well-Known Member

    Sep 7, 2009
    Got a surprise for you: 99.9% of engineers who HAVE worked in the industry are completely lacking in the personnel management skills you list, based on my 30 years in the industry.

    Really good engineers tend to be problem focused, see a single solution, want people to do their jobs and stop whining, and generally lack the soft fuzzy edges it takes to stroke all the entitled people in this world. Honestly, most really good engineers make terrible managers and they prove it as soon as they get promoted into management.

    Most of my teachers in college had all worked in the industry and left it in disgust to do something else. The big shock comes to any engineer who hits head first into reality and finds a few simple truths:

    1) Solutions are not so important. In school, there was always a solution to the problem.... in the back of the book. In real life it's very complicated. You may find a solution but nobody is interested in using it because of a variety of reasons.... and in some cases, actually solving problems threatens the existence of other people's jobs and they will do anything to undercut it. As the kids say: it's complicated.

    2) Everybody lies. That's the really amazing part, how everybody lies as naturally as breathing. At National Semi, managers lied to their subs, to their peers, and to their bosses all the time. Every level of management lied to the ones above and below it, and it went all the way up to the CEO. It's just kind of a new reality to deal with, when you realize that just about everybody in your environment is warping reality however they need to in order to cover their backsides.

    3) You're on your own: if you think your hard work and good deeds will be valued and rewarded, probably not. You need to document what you do, toot your own horn regularly, and make it clear you expect to be rewarded ($$$) for your work. At Nat Semi, raises were given to groups in a "money block" which is to say a group manager would be given X percent raises to spread around..... for example 5%. He would stiff the "good soldiers" he knew would take less with 3%, maybe have to give 7% to the guy he knew was looking for a job at Linear Technology, and he kept all the money from the box he didn't have to "spend" keeping his people.

    Nothing really prepares you for the working world, it has to be learned the hard way.
    Brian Griffin likes this.
  16. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
    College was back in the late 70's for me, and I think I was blessed with a set of excellent professors, most of whom had the chops to have produced real things in the real world. Most held multiple patents of devices that really did something.

    Plus in my circuits course we had a most excellent book: "Wave Generation and Shaping", written by Lenard Strauss. (Now perhaps obsolete but available online.) While the professor was intimately familiar with the book he rarely used it. For this he could be forgiven as his off the top of his head lectures were stellar.

    His name? Why Lenard Strauss, of course.

    I only has two dismal professors: one who just lacked the personality to teach anything, and a real world engineer who left his day job with a major defense manufacturer to teach the logic 101 course. While he was a very good engineer it just didn't translate to teaching the course material. (I got an A anyway.)
  17. tcmtech

    Distinguished Member

    Nov 4, 2013
    That's been one of my biggest peeves with managers. If you are going to lie to me at least put forth the decency to make it a plausible lie. If not I have no choice but to set you up to undermine yourself until the hole you dig for yourself is so big no one can ignore it any longer. ;)
  18. #12


    Nov 30, 2010
    I usually quit very soon after they start treating me like a mushroom.
  19. THE_RB

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 11, 2008
    People of elite level skill can teach themselves far better and faster than a classroom situation.

    Classrooms are much better suited to bringing mediocre ability people up to a level of standard competence. Those that exceed standard competence are the ones that put in significant effort on their own, raising the question of how neccessary was the classroom?
    Metalmann likes this.
  20. t_n_k

    AAC Fanatic!

    Mar 6, 2009
    I suspect if one considers any profession the same limitations apply with regard to the "foundational" training one receives in the classroom. Do architects become good or even great architects because they satisfy the requirements of an undergraduate architectural course. Ditto for doctors, lawyers, military officers etc. Perhaps there are differences in the scrutiny with which such people are accredited and subsequently let loose on an unsuspecting public.
    killivolt likes this.