Reader feedback: October 2021

Nov. 11, 2021

Prep needed for student engineers

The heart of the piece with R. Russell Rhinehart’s advice to graduates, “From student to practitioner” (Aug '21, p 45), is very sound; I liked it a lot.

But I think he let both academics and employers off the hook too easily.

There is a transitional period consisting of approximately the last year of schooling and the first two years of work when a new engineer is, in effect, an apprentice. An apprentice needs to receive practical instruction and mentorship. Academe fails to acknowledge that the first year of that apprenticeship is best incorporated into senior engineering courses because the students are all there studying full time in an atmosphere designed for teaching, and because many practical concepts are applicable to the entire profession. Senior year instruction tends to favor the research interests of professors rather than practice topics that would benefit the soon-to-be-professionals. Seniors should be receiving training in process safety, various aspects of detailed design (including automation) and practical statistics directed towards continuous improvement, quality management and reliability engineering.

Employers need to acknowledge the nature of the apprenticeship, allocate a fraction of new hires’ work time to structured professional training, and devote experienced professional man-hours to giving that instruction, either internally (larger companies) or collectively with other companies. Mentorship should be explicit. Employers should also direct their hiring to those schools that include practice education, rather than those schools with impressive research pedigrees.

Yes, there is a widening chasm between academe and industry. Simply acknowledging the gap and blaming the other side isn’t sufficient. Both sides need to invest in building their half of the bridge over it, especially the painful need to allocate precious headcount resources in academic faculties and industry engineering groups to address the problem. Good solutions require people and time. We may be headed for a future where young engineers learn some or all of this online, but good universities and good companies will strive for better than that because in-person instruction makes for better engineers.

Dr. Tom Meadowcroft
Senior Lecturer, Chemical Engineering
Rowan University
[email protected]

In praise of print

In reference to Jim Montague’s column, “Print is old news” (Aug ’21, p 54), my online learning always turns into a free-for-all of YouTube and Google searches. I use textbooks and print magazines for serious learning.

I abandon online articles at a high frequency. I don't skim as rapidly with print magazines, and in many cases, I read quite intently. I sometimes Google things in an online article, and get sucked into other interesting stuff. The emails are always coming. Work is beckoning me to stop slacking. The music streaming needs attention. The ad needs skipping.

You know.

The last article before yours was Greg McMillan's control loop discussion. I read it very slowly and carefully. I just don't do that online, even when I try. There's a Zen quality to sitting in the La-Z-Boy with a novel. Not so online.

William Love
[email protected]

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