Feeds

Engineers are troublesome 'expert loners', says prof

Media image, student foolishness blamed

High performance access to file storage

US researchers say that graduate engineers tend to be egoistic loners who can't work properly in teams, much to the aggravation of their employers. Responsibility for this distressing state of affairs lies partly with the media, which portrays a misleading image of what it is to be an engineer, and partly with older students at college who lead youngsters astray.

The new insights come to us courtesy of research by Paul Leonardi, Breed Junior Chair at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"Industrial advisory boards are always saying engineers come to the workplace with good technical skills but they don't work well on team projects," says assistant Prof Leonardi. "We wanted to know why. It's not a lack of skill — engineering students are smart people. So why aren't they working in teams?"

Leonardi and his colleagues spent several years interviewing engineering students and watching them work on projects. It seems that several counterproductive themes emerged.

First, when told to work on something as a group, typical engineering students would instead break the project up into separate jobs so as to avoid working collaboratively.

"There's a stereotype that engineers do things by themselves," Leonardi says. "So when students are asked to work in teams, they think, am I going to be disadvantaged? When I go to the workplace am I not going to be as valuable?"

The prof believes that this stereotype of solo engineering comes from "television programs and other media".

Another troubling tendency, according to Leonardi, was that student engineers didn't much care to follow instructions as to how to solve a problem. Given a detailed roadmap by professors, they tended to ignore it and instead get to a solution by their own means.

"They would figure out workarounds and try to reintroduce more difficulty into the task," Leonardi says. "It was a mark of distinction not to follow the task."

Finally, students would procrastinate about actually starting work, leaving a task until the last possible minute and deliberately completing it under severe time pressure. Leonardi says this was not laziness, but rather a form of boasting designed to show off one's competence among other students.

All these bad habits, according to the prof, were worsened by bad example from more senior students. Such naughtiness was generally defended by statements along the lines of "that's what engineers do".

"It's important for organizations to get involved with engineering education, providing internships and co-op opportunities," says Leonardi. "It allows students to see early on other images of engineering so they can see that there are images of engineers out there other than the expert loner."

The research paper, The Enactment-Externalization Dialectic: Rationalization and the Persistence of Counter-Productive Technology Design Practices in Student Engineering, can be read by subscribers here. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.