1.5 Why educate engineers? Research

Even within the context of ‘education’ as defined above, there are at least four motives for providing an education in engineering.

To prepare students for research

A comment: Few of the students in your classes will want the same career as you. On the other hand you should not feel any need to apologise for your noble choice of vocation!

Only a minority of engineering graduates will embark on a research career (indeed this is a very small minority in most cases – in the UK in 2012 about 4% of engineering graduates went on to start a PhD). Nevertheless I consider this educational motive first because of the prominence (and current dominance) of research in many Departments and Schools of Engineering in Europe, Australia and the USA. The career success and reward of many engineering academics depends on their research output, usually measured by the two proxies of grant income and refereed publication. This environment drives academics in two particular ways: They are encouraged to believe that research is hugely important and that their teaching should be ‘research-led’ (although many would be hard pressed to articulate convincingly what this means in practice); Their success as researchers is facilitated if they have a ready supply of able and research-minded graduates eager to undertake doctoral study and post-doctoral employment. It is therefore in their self-interest to stimulate undergraduates to aspire to a research career.

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2 All Responses to “1.5 Why educate engineers? Research”

  1. Peter Goodhew

    Jonathan Seville has wisely pointed out that my four reasons to educate an engineer do not include “so things don’t fall down, blow up etc”. Mea culpa! We should surely recognize that some students have a powerful drive to engineer the world both forwards (to make better things) and backwards (to make existing things better). To do this, they do not necessarily think in terms of “employment” as I rather lazily assumed while writing.

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  2. Ciaran MacNamee

    “teaching should be ‘research-led’ (although many would be hard pressed to articulate convincingly what this means in practice); ”
    Thank you – I’m looking at the emperor’s new threads a little differently now.

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