TCS Daily


Confessions of an Engineering Washout

By Douglas Kern - September 21, 2005 12:00 AM

I am an engineering washout. I left a chemical engineering major in shame and disgust to pursue the softer pleasures of a liberal arts education. No, do not pity me, gentle reader; do not assuage your horror and dismay at my degradation by flinging a filthy quarter into my shiny tin cup. Instead, hear my story, and learn why the United States lacks engineers.

Not long ago, I showed up for my first year at Smartypants U., fresh from a high school career full of awards and honors and gold stars. My accomplishments all pointed towards a more verbal course of study, but I was determined to spend my college days learning something useful. With my strong science grades and excellent standardized test scores, I felt certain that I could handle whatever engineering challenges Smartypants U. had to offer. Remember: Kern = real good at math and science. You will have cause to forget that fact very soon.

I had three options for a chemistry class: the intro course, the accelerated course, and the genius course. My high school chemistry background made me a good fit for the accelerated course, but my academic advisor warned me not to take it. The course instructor was a legendarily incompetent teacher, even by the dubious standards of Smartypants U's engineering department. He was so incoherent and capricious that academic advisors were warned to steer students away from his courses. So why was he kept on staff? His research was outstanding. My tuition dollars at work.

Being too arrogant to waste my gifts in some kiddie intro course, I enrolled in the genius course. Memo to freshmen, wherever you are: unless you are a certified, card-carrying prodigy with a four-digit IQ, do not EVER EVER EVER sign up for a chemistry class whose informal nickname contains the word "Turbo." "What happened?" said the comment on my second test. I wish I knew.

In high school I had grown accustomed to math classes that featured clear, helpful instruction from teachers who liked to teach and excelled at teaching. At Smartypants U, the jewel in the crown of American academia, my math instructor was a twenty-something teaching assistant whose classroom style never deviated from the following pattern:

        1) Greet class.
        2) Ask if there were any questions about the previous evening's problem set.
        3) If so, work out the problem in question on the chalkboard, without further 
        explanation.
        4) Repeat step 3) as needed.
        5) Announce the pages in the textbook from which the next problem set 
        would be derived.
        6) Perform a sample problem from the new problem set.
        7) Ask if anyone has any questions.
        8) Give the problem set assignment.
        9) Dismiss the class.

Total elapsed time: never more than 25 minutes.

Clutching the shredded tatters of my pride and dignity, I trudged to the office hours of my math instructor every week, seeking an explanation for the increasingly mysterious problems in the textbook. My instructor welcomed my presence as she would welcome the Angel of Death. Irritated? She was terrified. Explain...the problems? Articulate...the steps? Relate...the concepts? I would ask questions, and she would respond by completing yet another sample problem as fast as she possibly could, blushing nervously. I felt like I was on a Star Trek episode. "Captain, I think I understand...the creature communicates through multivariable calculus problems!"

I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. She was as American as I am. Spoke perfect colloquial English.

Engineering physics was only marginally better. The harried teaching assistant could actually explain the occasional physics concept. But he made sure you understood that a poor grade on any assignment reflected upon your merit in the eyes of God. "If you get a 60% below on ANY quiz," he wrote on the chalkboard on day one, "YOU ARE NOT STUDYING HARD ENOUGH." I wondered what would happen if you got a 30% on a quiz. Were you branded? Expelled? Excommunicated?

The social-life-killing workload was the stuff of gallows humor among the three or four upper-class engineers who could still laugh. "Sleep is for the weak!" they bellowed, when gathering at the listless engineering parties. "Your underwear has two sides," they whispered, pressing their furry acne-ridden faces into the ears of bewildered freshmen. "Use them."

Reader, let us not dwell upon the endless problem sets, the wretched grades, and the weary nights spent screaming at my inscrutable textbooks. Compose in your mind a montage of quizzes covered in red ink, classes wasted in the stupor of incomprehension, and frowning instructors muttering strange incantations in their eerie scientific argot. And of the hands-on laboratory portion of the chemistry class, I will say only that I still hold the record at Smartypants U. for most failed attempts at that hateful titration experiment. ("No - not dark pink! You filthy godless soul-eating beaker! Damn you to hell!") They assigned grad students to watch me after failure number six. And I still screwed it up.

Meanwhile, my friends majoring in the liberal arts pulled dandy grades while studying little. "You just wait," I thought, gazing upon them like the ant regarding the grasshopper in the summer. "You party and blow off homework now, but in ten years, you'll be making merely wonderful money as investment bankers and consultants, while I'll be getting laid off from a great job at General Electric."

My first-semester GPA was the engineering major average: 2.7. But to a former academic superstar, a 2.7 GPA was akin to a public flogging.

I nearly fainted when I learned that I received a 43% on the Physics final. I nearly fainted again when I learned that the class average was 38%. A sub-50% grade on a science test is a curious creature, as much the product of grader whim as academic achievement. "Hmmm...looks like he understood a tiny bit of this question. I'll give three points out of ten. Or should I give four? Whoops...tummy rumbling...better make it three." Having allegedly mastered 43% of the course material, I was now deemed fit to take even harder Physics classes. I wondered: at the highest levels of physics, could you get a passing grade with a 5% score on a test? A 3% score? A zero? Could drinking from a fire hose actually slake your thirst?

Exhausted and demoralized, I stumbled into my next semester of engineering. My new math T.A. had all of my old T.A.'s inability to teach, but half of her mastery of English. One day in class I heard myself saying: "If I understood what I didn't understand about the problem, I would understand the problem, and therefore I wouldn't be asking a question." The T.A. stared at me across a void that seemed increasingly unbridgeable.

The course was called "Discrete Mathematics." Many people thought that the course was called "Discreet Mathematics." Wrong. To clarify: "Discrete Mathematics" is "the mathematics in which Kern was getting a D at midterm." "Discreet Mathematics" is "how Kern dropped that class along with the rest of his engineering course load and signed into liberal arts classes, all on the last day he was eligible to do so, because he couldn't stand the stress, abuse, and lack of comprehension anymore." No one waved goodbye to me at the engineering door.

The United States contains a finite number of smart people, most of whom have options in life besides engineering. You will not produce thronging bevies of pocket-protector-wearing number-jockeys simply by handing out spiffy Space Shuttle patches at the local Science Fair. If you want more engineers in the United States, you must find a way for America's engineering programs to retain students like, well, me: people smart enough to do the math and motivated enough to at least take a bite at the engineering apple, but turned off by the overwhelming coursework, low grades, and abysmal teaching. Find a way to teach engineering to verbally oriented students who can't learn math by sense of smell. Demand from (and give to) students an actual mastery of the material, rather than relying on bogus on-the-curve pseudo-grades that hinge upon the amount of partial credit that bored T.A.s choose to dole out. Write textbooks that are more than just glorified problem set manuals. Give grades that will make engineering majors competitive in a grade-inflated environment. Don't let T.A.s teach unless they can actually teach.

None of these things will happen, of course. Engineering professors are perfectly happy weeding out undesirables with absurd boot-camp courses that conceal the inability of said professors to communicate with words. Fewer students will pursue science and engineering majors, and the United States will grow ever more reliant upon foreign brainpower to design its scientific and manufacturing endeavors. I did my part to fight this problem, and for my trouble I got four months of humiliation and a semester's worth of shabby grades that I had to explain to law schools and employers for years. Thousands of college students will have a similar experience this fall.

So engineering is suffering in this country? It deserves no better.

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32 Comments

Confessions of an Engineering Washout
I wonder how this differs from instruction in other countries.

I had a similar college engineering experience. The part about the class being nothing but review of the assignment brings back memories. It is why I stopped going to class. I was able to get through engineering (with poor grades) simply because most of the people in engineering aren't half as smart as they think they are. I was able to limp through by picking up the book the night before each exam. In other words...class time was useless.

I got through and expected to never get a job...but I did. I have now worked as an engineer for over 20 years and there is one thing that experience has taught me. College sends out engineering students into the world totally unprepared to do anything. They are useless. They get trained on the job.

I had a similar college engineering experience. The part about the class being nothing but review of the assignment brings back memories. It is why I stopped going to class. I was able to get through engineering (with poor grades) simply because most of the people in engineering aren't half as smart as they think they are. I was able to limp through by picking up the book the night before each exam. In other words...class time was useless.

I got through and expected to never get a job...but I did. I have now worked as an engineer for over 20 years and there is one thing that experience has taught me. College sends out engineering students into the world totally unprepared to do anything. They are useless. They get trained on the job.

I had a similar college engineering experience. The part about the class being nothing but review of the assignment brings back memories. It is why I stopped going to class. I was able to get through engineering (with poor grades) simply because most of the people in engineering aren't half as smart as they think they are. I was able to limp through by picking up the book the night before each exam. In other words...class time was useless.

I got through and expected to never get a job...but I did. I have now worked as an engineer for over 20 years and there is one thing that experience has taught me. College sends out engineering students into the world totally unprepared to do anything. They are useless. They get trained on the job.

"Give grades that will make engineering majors competitive in a grade-inflated environment. "

In other words, "inflate your grades."

This article is dead right. The instructors were atrocious at my alma mater CSM in the mid to late seventies. I had one class in thermoD taught by the dean of students who was a total friggin bozo. I was later rescued in thermo by a guy visiting from MIT who worked at the new NREL lab in Golden CO. Another prof in the mining dept was clearly senile.

Back then the best of the best were A.Y. Sakakura (Physics), Dale Foreman (Kinematics/Dynamics, and a former WW2 B17 pilot), and Frank Stermole (Economics).

The rest of my undergrad career was entirely forgettable.

It is only as good as the instructors and nobody is paying attention now or then.

So, let me get this straight...

You knew that you were weaker in math and science than more "verbal" subjects, but you jumped right into the most advanced chemistry course the school offered at your level anyway. And then, when you didn't succeed in that class, it wasn't your fault.

But you did succeed. I mean, it wasn't like you failed miserably or anything. You took challenging classes and you ended up with a C+ GPA, which is a perfectly respectable passing average -- especially given that math and science weren't your strengths in high school.

I really don't mean to come across as hostile, but how does that point to a problem with how math and science are taught?

Meh. Not very good teachers or textbooks? Find other textbooks you understand better, look online. Not much use going to class? That's fairly normal for the reasons you gave. Change sections or tough it out. Do whatever it takes. You must if you want to continue.

You're a lawyer, you don't have science in you. You did the wise thing. You were enlightened early on. Anyhow, you wouldn't want to hang out with us pimply engineers and our poor social skills. We lack verbal ability.

The problem with real world engineering was hinted at by simmer65. The actual jobs are so unchallenging and tedious that you really can pick up what you need to know along the way. I only had one interesting assignment in 30 years of engineering consulting, always hoping the next one would be better.

Then I went and did something else. Like you, I did the wise thing, only later.

I've been both a physics TA and engineering TA and taught both college physics and engineering. Got BS and MS in physics and MSEE.
OK, physics and engineering are hard, I flunked partial Diff Eqs twice. I flunked Quantum Mechanics and re-took it. I flunked another math class (I forget which) and re-took it. I got my BS in physics by simply being stubborn. I got thru grad school by being unwilling to give up when others did.
However, I really liked being a TA and teaching because I knew that if I could explain it to someone, them I understood it myself.
Later, I taught advanced labs in EE and loved it. Designing a simple yet elegant experiment to illustrate something was wonderful. I taught physics to pharmacy students who were not really expected to "get it". It was an "ok" experience but I hated to flunk kids who tried so hard but do you want them to be mixing up your prescriptions?
If you are in it for the grades then you shouldn't be in it at all.
The solution is not to inflate grades but to tell Eng and science students that they truly are special just for being there regardless of grades and that other majors are really fluff by comparison. Instructors should not water down grades but should instead encourage kids to try again and again. I'd prefer a student who is re-taking a class to someone who breezes thru and simply manages to get grades without a deep understanding.

Meh. Not very good teachers or textbooks? Find other textbooks you understand better, look online, talk to people. Not much use going to class? That's fairly normal for the reasons you gave. Change sections or tough it out. Do whatever it takes. You must if you want to continue.

You're a lawyer, you don't have science in you. No one's going to spoon feed it to you. You did the wise thing. You were enlightened early on. Anyhow, you wouldn't want to hang out with us pimply engineers and our poor social skills. We lack verbal ability.

The problem with real world engineering was hinted at by simmer65. The actual jobs are so unchallenging and tedious that you really can pick up what you need to know along the way. I only had one or two interesting assignments in 30 years of engineering consulting, always hoping the next one would be better.

Then I went and did something else. Like you, I did the wise thing, only later.

I've seen similar students like you while I was in undergraduate engineering program. They all got great high school GPA. Great SAT scores. Many of them even completed a few AP classes. My SAT scores are just average, but much better at math than verbal. One main difference between those who do well in engineering school versus you was that we love engineering. We went engineering because we tinkered with stuff while in jr. or high school. We were curious how things work and we felt college calculus and physics opened new doors to what we want to know. Those who dropped out of engineering were the kids who think because they got good grades in high school therefore they will do well in engineering. It was hard for all of us, and we expected that, and studied hard. We mostly enjoyed the challenge while we were there. Those who didn't enjoy it, like the author quickly dropped out.

My academic grades weren't that great. I never got more than B+ in calculus. The same can be said for physics. Almost flunked out of Diff. Eq. Almost flunked out of thermodynamic. Barely pass dynamics,etc. You get the story. But I learned enough in my first two years that my junior and senior years were enjoyable. I got A's in classes that gave out a few Fs and Ds. I got A's because I enjoyed the new found knowledge I got and from all the studies I did two years before. I almost aced Laplace transform. I wasn't a smart kid either. I mention that I think.

I never cared about high GPA or class standing. All I wanted is to gather as much engineering knowledge by the time I graduated. I tried to take the easiest liberal art classes so I could spend more time with engineering and math classes. Sounded crazy but it was true. I stuck with engineering because I wanted to do engineering. I already knew how to use the hand tools and machinery in the labs, I just needed to know the theories of how things works. If that is a simple goal we tell our engineering students, we may get to keep some of them until graduation.

If you had been in my intro physics class for engineers things would have been much different. My class is student-centered, and uses findings from cognitive science to create a productive learning environment. And actually, I was hired primarily because of my research program and the funding I brought with me. A strong research program and excellence in teaching are not mutually exclusive.

But I know that not all classes are like mine. Unfortunately, what is described in the post is still quite evident in many places. That needs to change.

I have a BSME & a MSME as well as a BS in Biology. Engineering is hard. The professors & TAs (I have been one & taught, too -- probably not well) are as non-verbal as the engineers in industry. I am pretty aggressive & found that helped me getting into things that didn't bore me. Of course, at times the jobs terrified me, too. It is a career where you fight everyone to get them to do their jobs. You also have to fight the unfortunate fact that in industry they will continue to follow the same path to failure -- it can go on for infinity, as far as I could tell. However, when you actually find a solution, they will fight it because it is not the accepted path. Anyway, my point is that undergrad & grad studies in engineering are pretty much a test whether you can stand that kind of environment. Of course, it does ruin your GPA and because none of the Liberal Arts types that run things know how much harder engineering is that anything else (well, physics is harder), they don't realize that a 3.2 in Engineering is pretty much a 4.9 in their areas. I always got As in everything by Organic Chem, but that is science, too. However, I found that the world outside is very aware of how hard engineering is & also found that even MDs were kind of afraid of us. So, I guess there are compensations. Anyway, you go beat. So,what.

dbohara,

And what of part of your physics class content does a pharmacist need to know while compounding prescriptions?

I got a BS Mechanical Engineering 28 years ago, and this experience is not unusual. JooKL had a similar experience as me, and what he says about engineers loving this stuff holds true in my case as well. From the time I was in my early teens, I was always trying to figure out why things worked the way they did. When a car magazine would have an occasional article that went deep into the forces acting on a race care, or how one exhaust system worked better than another, I would eat this up. I remember when I was about 13, my dad picked up a automatic transmission from a junkyard for $5. I spent the whole summer trying to figure out how that worked. So, by the time I was doing Statics, Dynamics, and Thermo in college, I had been thinking about this stuff for almost a decade. What was left to learn was making this understanding specific, structured, and math based. Regardless, I eeked out of college with a 2.2 GPA. In my non-technical classes, by the way, I was getting mostly A's, and they were EASY.

Of the Technical instructors, about half were effective. The other half were either language challenged, or just didn't care. The professor of my Production Engineering class was outstanding. He was a visiting professor who worked at a defense contractor, and brought real world experience to his teaching. It was in this class that I discovered what was unique about me that would carry me to this day - I was a rare person in a technical field that could communicate. I was a strong writer, but was an even stronger public speaker. I have continued to hone this ability. It is amazing the number of engineers that will pay you (and pay you well) so that they don't have to speak in public.

Luckily, I graduated shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected, and there was a buildup in the defense industry. I got a job as a civilian engineer for the Navy, which served as a great start. I started pretty low on the gene pool based on grades, but within a few years I was managing the people who were academically stronger than me when we were hired. My ability to speak meant that my managers exposed me to many situations with sponsors and customers where my contemporaries were left back at the lab safely hidden away from view.

In summary, I really loved this stuff, and it was still really hard. For me, a few years after getting my first job, my poor grades (thank God) became irrelevant. Particularly if you are not innately good at engineering, you will need to get alternate ways of learning - study groups, on-line, etc. I have directed a couple current engineering students to the Khan Academy on-line videos, and they have helped a lot. In the engineering workplace, you will probably need to communicate with co-workers that are just as bad at communicating as the bad profs. This is just another skill that is learned.

Sorry Buttercup, those gold stars you earned in high school were lying to you. If you didn't get past first semester of your freshman year, it's not their fault, it's yours. If you weren't tearing apart broken electronics and appliances to see what made them tick and/or hacking* your computer in junior high and high school, you aren't cut out to be an engineer.

The system worked as designed. TAs that can't speak English, give shitty grades because they don't like your face, and are generally unhelpful are intentional. I had the same fresh-off-the-boat chemistry TA 1st and 3rd quarters and his English actually got worse over time as he tried and failed with bigger words.

I had a hard freshman year, took 6 years to graduate with two engineering degrees (and a 2.8 gpa) while working to pay for it all, and aced the EIT/FE exam and the PE exam. 20 years on, I own my own engineering firm and hire guys that DO survive the grind.

*old school definition of hacking, not computer crime.

I am a retired engineer, and this brings back memories of being utterly lost in class most of the time. I still managed to graduate with a respectable GPA because I had a good work ethic and I did all of my homework.

Teaching a complex subject is haaaaard, and only a tiny fraction of human beings have the innate ability to do it well. When I was in class, I rarely grasped an intuitive understanding of the subject matter. I mostly learned to mechanically solve problems by doing a lot of homework problems.

I wish that back then I had access to something like the Khan Academy where you can watch a top-notch instructor teach both the intuition and the mechanics. And you can pause and rewind if you have to. In my mind that is far superior to being in a classroom with a mediocre teacher trying to deliver a one-size-fits-all lecture.

Hey, what can I say, but you gave up. Sometimes it helps to get into a less competitive college or university for STEM majors. I knew someone who was accepted at MIT, but decided due to personal reasons to go to California State University (not University of California), which is a big step down from the Ivy Leagues. This is actually good for him because recruiters like to get the best graduates. By default, he had no competition.

For myself, my SATs are very very bad, average for most people. I had around 550 in both verbal and math. I did well in math when compared with liberal arts, which was why my family and school counselors suggested I go into engineering. I struggled to get through Physics. I failed 2 Physics classes, but I decided to get tutoring and later passed with a C and B (for the latter class). Only after I started my Junior and Senior level classes did I begin to improve to B level. I graded with a 3.2 GPA at the California State University.

Do I regret it? No. I am gainfully employed at Defense company. I was laid off once, but my current salary is above average (definitely middle class living). I considered changing my major to Business, but my family was strongly against it. The Engineering career has its risks. There is a lot of mass layoffs at down times like right now, but there's a lot of upside as well.

Later, I earned an MBA, so my career is still moving forward, but I wouldn't have been able to do this without my Engineering degree. I strongly recommend STEM for minorities (women, black, hispanic) since there is almost a guarantee of employment. There was no such job guarantee for myself, but I persisted and gotten employed. If you're above average in schooling and work ethic, it isn't hard to hold on to your job since there is a lot of mediocrity out there.

Hey, what can I say, but you gave up. Sometimes it helps to get into a less competitive college or university for STEM majors. I knew someone who was accepted at MIT, but decided due to personal reasons to go to California State University (not University of California), which is a big step down from the Ivy Leagues. This is actually good for him because recruiters like to get the best graduates. By default, he had no competition.

For myself, my SATs are very very bad, average for most people. I had around 550 in both verbal and math. I did well in math when compared with liberal arts, which was why my family and school counselors suggested I go into engineering. I struggled to get through Physics. I failed 2 Physics classes, but I decided to get tutoring and later passed with a C and B (for the latter class). Only after I started my Junior and Senior level classes did I begin to improve to B level. I graded with a 3.2 GPA at the California State University.

Do I regret it? No. I am gainfully employed at Defense company. I was laid off once, but my current salary is above average (definitely middle class living). I considered changing my major to Business, but my family was strongly against it. The Engineering career has its risks. There is a lot of mass layoffs at down times like right now, but there's a lot of upside as well.

Later, I earned an MBA, so my career is still moving forward, but I wouldn't have been able to do this without my Engineering degree. I strongly recommend STEM for minorities (women, black, hispanic) since there is almost a guarantee of employment. There was no such job guarantee for myself, but I persisted and gotten employed. If you're above average in schooling and work ethic, it isn't hard to hold on to your job since there is a lot of mediocrity out there.

"And what of part of your physics class content does a pharmacist need to know while compounding prescriptions?"

If you can't handle elementary physics, then you probably shouldn't be in a pharmacy program. Pharmacy school, in case you don't realize it, *gets harder than elementary physics.* If you're not willing to work hard to master a subject that doesn't come naturally to you, then you seriously aren't going to make it through a pharmacy program.

Look, you can take a liberal-artsy view of the sciences. Physics teaches a certain style of logical and mathematical thinking. Chemistry teaches another angle on the logical and mathematical thinking, as well as building skills of memorization and association -- the kind of skills that are needed to understand how one material can interact with another. My engineering courses also each built on one another to develop a certain skill-set and attitude which is well-developed for *solving problems.* And I don't mean "doing homework problems" but learning how to approach problems in a certain way -- namely with the optimism of "I can't know everything about this problem that I need to solve it -- but I do know something about it -- what things do I know? what things can I assume? what things can I approximate? now how do I build on that foundation to make as much progress as I can towards a solution to the problem? and how can I effectively communicate my ideas so that others will see it my way and will also work towards the solution?"

You can take that skill-set, this particular kind of logical and critical thinking, and apply it *outside* of an engineering job, too. I do it every day, and I'm not employed as an engineer, and yet I'm very thankful for my engineering education. It formed me as a whole person.

"And what of part of your physics class content does a pharmacist need to know while compounding prescriptions?"

If you can't handle elementary physics, then you probably shouldn't be in a pharmacy program. Pharmacy school, in case you don't realize it, *gets harder than elementary physics.* If you're not willing to work hard to master a subject that doesn't come naturally to you, then you seriously aren't going to make it through a pharmacy program.

Look, you can take a liberal-artsy view of the sciences. Physics teaches a certain style of logical and mathematical thinking. Chemistry teaches another angle on the logical and mathematical thinking, as well as building skills of memorization and association -- the kind of skills that are needed to understand how one material can interact with another. My engineering courses also each built on one another to develop a certain skill-set and attitude which is well-developed for *solving problems.* And I don't mean "doing homework problems" but learning how to approach problems in a certain way -- namely with the optimism of "I can't know everything about this problem that I need to solve it -- but I do know something about it -- what things do I know? what things can I assume? what things can I approximate? now how do I build on that foundation to make as much progress as I can towards a solution to the problem? and how can I effectively communicate my ideas so that others will see it my way and will also work towards the solution?"

You can take that skill-set, this particular kind of logical and critical thinking, and apply it *outside* of an engineering job, too. I do it every day, and I'm not employed as an engineer, and yet I'm very thankful for my engineering education. It formed me as a whole person.

Wow I don't expect this many responses from the engineers.

My advice for the aspiring college students trying out for the STEM curriculum is to MAKE SURE what it's what you wanted. Don't go into STEM because of the advice of your high school teacher or your parents or your grades. Your high school grades don't mean squat. You will study a lot harder in college. Getting an A in any high school class is easy. Getting an A in a STEM class is hard. You will hate it when you realize no matter how hard you study, you can barely understand the material and barely pass a class. But that comes with the territory. In real life no one knows all the answers. We just have to try. Those who succeed tend to dig into the problem the longest.

This is similar to training for the US Special Forces. They physically torture you until most of the people drop out. Those who stay and finish the training are those who want it the most. They aren't the strongest but are mentally tough and are willing to stick it out.

"And what of part of your physics class content does a pharmacist need to know while compounding prescriptions?"

If you can't handle elementary physics, then you probably shouldn't be in a pharmacy program. Pharmacy school, in case you don't realize it, *gets harder than elementary physics.* If you're not willing to work hard to master a subject that doesn't come naturally to you, then you seriously aren't going to make it through a pharmacy program.

Look, you can take a liberal-artsy view of the sciences. Physics teaches a certain style of logical and mathematical thinking. Chemistry teaches another angle on the logical and mathematical thinking, as well as building skills of memorization and association -- the kind of skills that are needed to understand how one material can interact with another. My engineering courses also each built on one another to develop a certain skill-set and attitude which is well-developed for *solving problems.* And I don't mean "doing homework problems" but learning how to approach problems in a certain way -- namely with the optimism of "I can't know everything about this problem that I need to solve it -- but I do know something about it -- what things do I know? what things can I assume? what things can I approximate? now how do I build on that foundation to make as much progress as I can towards a solution to the problem? and how can I effectively communicate my ideas so that others will see it my way and will also work towards the solution?"

You can take that skill-set, this particular kind of logical and critical thinking, and apply it *outside* of an engineering job, too. I do it every day, and I'm not employed as an engineer, and yet I'm very thankful for my engineering education. It formed me as a whole person.

Sorry about the triple post, it didn't seem to go through the first couple of times. There, I've undermined my authority as a techie ;-)

bearing,

Interesting comment, and I even agree with most of it: but it's not really responsive to my question. Maybe dbohara will still come along and weigh in on it.

The reason it's not responsive is that dbohara didn't say, "Of course we want some tough gatekeeper classes just so we can ensure we're getting the top, and only the top, students", he wrote something that sounded like a person who couldn't pass a physics class could not become a competent pharmacist. I'd like to see that claim elaborated in much greater detail before I signed on to it.

bearing,

Interesting comment, and I even agree with most of it: but it's not really responsive to my question. Maybe dbohara will still come along and weigh in on it.

The reason it's not responsive is that dbohara didn't say, "Of course we want some tough gatekeeper classes just so we can ensure we're getting the top, and only the top, students", he wrote something that sounded like a person who couldn't pass a physics class could not become a competent pharmacist. I'd like to see that claim elaborated in much greater detail before I signed on to it.

bearing,

Interesting comment, and I even agree with most of it: but it's not really responsive to my question. Maybe dbohara will still come along and weigh in on it.

The reason it's not responsive is that dbohara didn't say, "Of course we want some tough gatekeeper classes just so we can ensure we're getting the top, and only the top, students", he wrote something that sounded like a person who couldn't pass a physics class could not become a competent pharmacist. I'd like to see that claim elaborated in much greater detail before I signed on to it.

bearing,

Wow, it's contagious. :-) The error message we got ("Unfortunately there were no suitable nodes available to serve this request.") make it sound like the comment posting failed, but apparently it's only loading the newly-supplemented page that's the problem.

Oh, well; I wonder if I can invoke the "If I tell you something three times it's true" rule? :-)

During my junior and senior years I watched eleven people get booted out of the School of Engineering for having a low GPA. All but one went into the Business School and had 4.0/4.0 GPAs after one semester - without studying. Not once in the history of the School of Engineering did someone booted out of the B-School for low grades get a 4.0 GPA in engineering after one semester without studying. Fast-forward 24 years. The part of the job that I love is 3-5% of the work, the rest is mind-numbing repetition, inane busywork and paper shuffling. I don't see myself doing anything else - I've worked in a factory since I was 16 - but I wouldn't recommend it to my own children. I tell them to learn a trade.

I agree:
I wish I knew what we could do to take action on your main point - that the education system should be revised so as to be more inclusive and nurturing. As for myself, an engineering student with a good GPA, I have seen other good students get bad grades for similar reasons.
Use strategy:
You have to play the cards you are dealt when it comes to so-so professors. I just ALWAYS get on their good side and coordinate my expenditure of energy with their assignment of 'points'. Sometimes you ought to be skipping class to do your project or cram for that exam.
Life is long:
In the end, you might have a lingering feeling that you could be more satisfied in an analytical career. If that's the case, you can try again. The illusion that you only have n options is totally your fault, or at least...absolutely no one but you can perceive your options for you.

I agree:
I wish I knew what we could do to take action on your main point - that the education system should be revised so as to be more inclusive and nurturing. As for myself, an engineering student with a good GPA, I have seen other good students get bad grades for similar reasons.
Use strategy:
You have to play the cards you are dealt when it comes to so-so professors. I just ALWAYS get on their good side and coordinate my expenditure of energy with their assignment of 'points'. Sometimes you ought to be skipping class to do your project or cram for that exam.
Life is long:
In the end, you might have a lingering feeling that you could be more satisfied in an analytical career. If that's the case, you can try again. The illusion that you only have n options is totally your fault, or at least...absolutely no one but you can perceive your options for you.

I agree:
I wish I knew what we could do to take action on your main point - that the education system should be revised so as to be more inclusive and nurturing. As for myself, an engineering student with a good GPA, I have seen other good students get bad grades for similar reasons.
Use strategy:
You have to play the cards you are dealt when it comes to so-so professors. I just ALWAYS get on their good side and coordinate my expenditure of energy with their assignment of 'points'. Sometimes you ought to be skipping class to do your project or cram for that exam.
Life is long:
In the end, you might have a lingering feeling that you could be more satisfied in an analytical career. If that's the case, you can try again. The illusion that you only have n options is totally your fault, or at least...absolutely no one but you can perceive your options for you.

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