Thoughts on STEM from Walter Russell Mead. Part of the problem is grade inflation in the softer courses and overemphasis on GPA as part of the faux credentialing of modern academics, which chases students away from real degrees and courses. And I agree completely with this comment with regards to engineering:
Engineering is difficult. And if you’re going to stay the course you really must want it in your gut with a passion not far from love. It helps if you were one of the kids who tinkered with radios or with automobiles or even blowing up “spare” stumps with strange concoctions. Experience made college easier. Those who got into it because daddy was an engineer and expected the son to be an engineer mostly didn’t make it. The fire in the belly was missing.
So what’s new today? Manufacturing in the US is a faint shadow of what it used to be. And computer aided design is doing away with the need for large teams just to build a small subassembly for a product like an airliner. You don’t need several passes trying to determine the proper airfoil for a Dreamliner. The computer performs an awful lot of the preliminary testing neatly and cleanly. The final product is then built and tested to confirm performance with little more than some computer drafting needed to tweak performance to specification. A small team can do what many larger teams did in the past.
Despite a long career in engineering I don’t recommend anybody get into engineering these days, particularly if they want to do it for the money. If you must get into engineering do it because you build things, love it, and want to understand how to build them better. Go into it because your hobby is engineering. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.
I’ve commented in the past that when I was growing up, engineering was what a lot of lower-middle class kids whose parents didn’t go to college went into as a way to step up in life, and they were the kids (mostly boys) who tinkered with radios and cars (my uncle was in this class). I think in the eighties, a lot of young women who were good at math steered into it, post-lib, but many of them didn’t have a natural affinity for it. But no one should go into it only with the expectation of financial reward — as other commenters note, most engineers who do really well financially go into management or become entrepreneurs.
I would also note that one of the things that drives New Space, and it’s dramatically lower costs, isn’t just the difference in incentives and business structure, but the fact that the tools available allow small teams to do what large ones used to.
[Update a few minutes later]
This is a good comment, too:
Being an engineer for over 50 years, I note the difference between the liberal arts and engineering grading systems. As was stated to me by Dr. R. F. Mehl, the engineering program does not grade on the curve. It uses real numbers. If you are driving cown the highway, you don’t want to cross a bridge built by an engineer that was graded on the curve. Grading an engineer on the curve can cause disasters later. However, grading a liberal arts student on the curve can only cause a social disaster like Obama. And the unintended result is that the liberal arts person feels so good about him/herself that they can’t be corrected.
Just like Obama.
[Late morning update]
Heh. “Hey, my major is ‘real,’ too.” It’s hard to tell initially whether or not it’s satire, but it becomes more clear as you get further into it.