As a kid, engineering always felt like the coolest profession in the world to me. Engineers made stuff like satellites, Iron-man suits, designed and built the coolest of cars and ended up with the best women. Some of that naivety wore off as I went along, got older, and completely vanished once I got here into IIT. Let me tell you my view on the myths about engineering so that you have a clearer picture of what is and what is not.
Myths About Engineering
Courtesy of the exaggeration tendency and lapping-up mentality (both national afflictions, sadly) – all professions in India have quite a lot of myths floating around them and the myths about engineering top the list. Yes, we’ve all heard the tales, haven’t we? If a parent says their kid was honoured in front of the whole school, chances are that he was given a less than warm round of applause from his class for performing well in a completely worthless class test. People exaggerate, and others lap it up and spread the word. This circle leads to myths being spawned fast, and once you enter a particular professional field, all the myths about that field start applying to you, and if you’re a science student, you become the next victim of stuff like ‘Beta human heart dekha kya?’ while still in your 11th grade (for those uninitiated into the medical world, and those slow on the uptake – you perform human dissections after entering a professional college, never in your 11th standard).
Some myths seem to linger around you for no fault of your own other than choosing a profession. So here’s a post, for the universal brethren of engineers, where I’ll try and dispel some of these myths about engineering and shake up a couple of foundations on the pedestal of which outsiders place us engineers.
As engineers, or one in the making, we should be able to repair your fan, TV, microwave, or any other electrical equipment.
Why oh why!? Why are so many of us subjected to this ignominy? And when we try to explain why we can’t, the most common response is – kya sikh raha/rahi hai tu engineering me fir? It doesn’t work that way and we learn the basic principles of our branch not how to repair stuff. We are taught principles that will help us make stuff in future. We are engineers and not the local repairman.
Myth buster: Speaking on a VERY basic level, engineers are the minds behind the technology that brought about a revolutionary object like the oven, or the TV. And yes, some of us do know how to repair everyday objects, but it’s not a given that every engineer can double as ‘Mr. Fix-it’.
An engineer single-handedly designs satellites, cars, aeroplanes and whatnots.
Say someone is working on a satellite project at ISRO. Their family will be like: ‘ Oh, my so-and-so is doing a project for ISRO, he’s building a satellite to reach such-and-such planet in half the time’. The guy is probably working with a hundred, or maybe even two hundred other techies. He focuses only on a small portion of the satellite. But those who know him proclaim him to be the do-all and be-all of the project! This is like those people who exaggerate on a CV – if they hold the brush, they become the artist!
Myth buster: No project becomes successful without collaboration. A project from the Mechanical Engineering department, or any other for that matter, can never be successful without collaboration of CS guys, electrical engineers, materials scientists and many other departments. A project like a satellite or an aeroplane is never worked upon by a single engineer. It would require a humongous amount of knowledge of all the fields in engineering before the aforementioned proclamation could be heralded as true. Although senior scientist and engineers lead projects, they still need to collaborate with a lot of others to do so.
Higher education as an engineer in the USA is meant for people with the IQ of Albert Einstein.
This is one of the biggest myths about engineering education. A person announces that someone from their family is doing his higher education from the US, and all the mouths around them start to gape and minds get awestruck by this feat. What no one asks is: ‘Which college?’ or ‘How much are you spending on this education?’
Myth buster: Higher education in the U.S. is not only for those with superhuman intellect. Any hardworking student who wants to do it can get their M.S degrees in the U.S. The only catch is: YOU NEED MONEY. U.S. colleges charge an arm and a leg as course and tuition fees – most locals save up their whole lives for it. Living there is even costlier. The REAL challenge is going to the top universities like MIT, Stanford etc on a full scholarship. This requires a significant amount of hard-work during your undergrad years and a lot of patience, not to mention genuine love towards your field of engineering.
An undergrad degree in engineering somehow ‘compliments’ further study in management.
Yes, IIMs are in the minds of most people aspiring to become engineers, even before they have stepped into an engineering college and learnt what engineering is all about! Uncles and aunties who visit our houses have a great thirst to know our career plans. You sit before them, and like a bullet that has already left the chamber, the question is fired at you: ‘So, what do you want to do in your life?’ Ambitious reply: ‘Engineering from so-and-so IIT and then MBA from one of the top B-schools. Eventually want to end up as CEO of an MNC. Want to go for engineering first to enhance my value as an MBA’. Then the fawning-over begins, and your parents are informed as to how well-informed and ambitious you are, and how you will make it really big in life. Sweet enough, I guess. But well off the mark, as most students repeat this very same answer.
Myth buster: How exactly does engineering ‘enhance your value as an MBA graduate’? I myself am still stumped by that. However, as confided to me by a man in the upper echelons of financial circles, and highly respected in them – ‘It’s not engineering graduates we’re looking for. We want analytical skills. You children who prepare so hard for 2 years for JEE develop those skills, and show the ability to learn stuff quickly.’ That’s what adds value to your already burgeoning arsenal of values as a prospective MBA student, NOT your engineering degree. There’s a reason why they kept CAT open to all graduates of all fields, guys.
‘Engineering’ is somehow better than plain old ‘Science’ as a career.
This is one of the most prevalent myths about engineering. Everywhere, people are united in their consensus that a career in engineering is somehow ‘better’ than that in another scientific field. Let’s first understand the difference between the two. A scientist will conduct experiments and observe that light bends upon it’s incidence on glass or other media. This knowledge and experimentation is ‘science’. Using this knowledge to build the microscope – that is ‘engineering’. Engineers are helpless without scientists, while scientists need engineers to put their discoveries to use. It’s a win-win relationship. Now that we understand the difference between the two, here’s a semi-philosophical question: What defines a ‘better’ career? Is it simply money? Or job satisfaction? Or neither? As a mere undergraduate student, I do not know the answer. It is for you all to decide.
Myth buster: It’s not that science as a career is any less interesting than engineering. The fact of the matter is, students are not as exposed to great colleges in India for the ‘Basic Sciences’ as they are for engineering. Colleges like IISc (Indian Institute of Sciences), IISERs (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) and ISI (Indian Statistical Institute) are virtually unknowns among the majority of people. Not many people know the pros and cons that a career in research provides.
Engineering students have no ‘social life’.
You would think this is true and this is the one myth where some outsiders know some degree of truth. Most of them, though, assume that we are still buried in our books 24×7.
Myth buster: Well… where do I even get started on this one? Suffice it to say that we have a healthy social life, decent manners and also know when, and especially how to let our hair down. We are eternally active on social media and we game like mad men, even on nights before our examinations! Face a group of IITians in Counter Strike, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. We enjoy college festivals, we love extra-curricular activities, we party – basically, we do everything that every other college-going kid does. Ask any engineer and he’ll recount the countless stories of fun and escapades that are an integral part of his college life. Although we do tend to study a lot, it makes us want to enjoy and make use of our free time more – work hard, and party harder!
That was my side of the story on myths about engineering. We are similar to other students of our age, we commit the same follies and we have the same desires. Try looking at engineers with these small things in mind, and you might find a person who you can enjoy talking to.