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The making of an engineer

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So, engineering is your course choice? Then these are some questions that you need to ask yourself before you choose the right branch of studyand college.

In India engineering is one of the preferred choices for students at the Plus Two level. The competition for the top institutions is intense with students spending a lot of time and money in coaching classes to get the added advantage for the competitive entrance tests. This demand for engineering has resulted in a mushrooming of a large number of engineering colleges in the country. Despite this, the industry complains of an absence of trained quality engineers.

Wikipedia defines engineer as a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, technology, inventions, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, safety and cost. The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs. The role of an engineer is to design, analyse, specialise and exemplify ethics.

Design

Engineers develop new technological solutions. During the engineering design process, the responsibilities of the engineer may include defining problems, conducting and narrowing research, analysing criteria, finding and analysing solutions, and making decisions. Much of an engineer's time is spent on researching, locating, applying, and transferring information. Indeed, research suggests engineers spend 56 per cent of their time engaged in various different information behaviours, including 14 per cent actively searching for information. Engineers must weigh different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best matches the requirements. Their crucial and unique task is to identify, understand, and interpret the constraints on a design in order to produce a successful result.

Analysis

Engineers apply techniques of engineering analysis in testing, production, or maintenance. Analytical engineers may supervise production in factories and elsewhere, determine the causes of a process failure, and test output to maintain quality. They also estimate the time and cost required to complete projects. Supervisory engineers are responsible for major components or entire projects. Engineering analysis involves the application of scientific analytic principles and processes to reveal the properties and state of the system, device or mechanism under study. Engineering analysis proceeds by separating the engineering design into the mechanisms of operation or failure, analysing or estimating each component of the operation or failure mechanism in isolation, and re-combining the components.

Specialisation and ethics

Most engineers specialise in one or more engineering disciplines. Numerous specialties are recognized by professional societies, and each of the major branches of engineering has numerous subdivisions. Engineers have obligations to the public, their clients, employers and the profession. Many engineering societies have established codes of practice and codes of ethics to guide members and inform the public at large. Each engineering discipline and professional society maintains a code of ethics, which the members pledge to uphold.

Besides, an engineer needs to exhibit a lot of character and attitude. An engineer needs to persevere on a task until tasting success. An engineer needs to rebound, resurrect oneself and fight back from severe failures relentlessly. An engineer should never give up easily on any of his endeavours.

Engineering education

A challenge facing engineering education in India is getting students excited and enthused in engineering. The focus of the curriculum/education system is on analysis and mathematical formulations. Students often do not appreciate the hands-on component of engineering components/systems. There have been initiatives by individual faculty to bring in these linkages through special classes, laboratory sessions and technical competitions.

The IITs and IISc are to some extent able to make students excited in engineering but have a high selectivity in admissions choosing only two to three per cent of the applicants for the engineering programmes. They receive significant grant in-aid funds from the government. They contribute to less than one per cent of the engineering graduates in the country, about 20 per cent of the M.Tech and 40 per cent of the engineering doctorates. These institutions have established quality academic programmes and are able to attract reasonable research funding.

Right after finishing Class XII, choosing the right college and branch of study would be the most difficult and at the same time, the most important decision. The accompanying diagram depicts the engineering education lifecycle.

Choosing an engineering College

The diagram depicts a typical engineering education which can aid one in choosing an engineering college as well.

A good engineering college would have all those linkages established. An engineering college should have adequate infrastructure, equipment, building space, funds and most of all the linkages with the industry, society. After checking the requirements, one should not fail to check on the outputs such as number of graduates, postgraduates, Ph.Ds graduating from the college. Moreover, check on the outputs parameters produced by the faculty in the form of publication, journals, books, patents and technology.

Those engineering colleges which have very good output parameters as mentioned above will definitely have good teachers to educate your wards. All the linkages including research, industry and education shown in the above diagram happens through the faculty. Hence, measuring the strength of faculty would be strength of the engineering college. Another important signal in an engineering college or a particular department in an engineering college is the attrition rate of faculty. A high attrition rate either at the college level or at the department level signals back-off. There is high probability that either the management at the college level or at the particular department level is not just right.

Choosing a branch of study

Engineering has many branches: electrical, mechanical, aerospace, civil and chemical, to name a few of the most popular. No matter what branch you are interested in, becoming an engineer takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If you are interested in entering the field, but do not know what to expect, begin by researching options to get an idea of what the next four to six years has in store for you. Choosing a department on the basis of information you hear from others do not guarantee a successful career but choosing a branch of study which you love or that interests you so much makes one for sure.

Every engineering branch of study is a potential field to excel and provides plenty of opportunities for exhibiting one's talents. So, it is highly essential for parents to guide their wards in decision-making to choose the right college and right department and not to force a particular parent choice.

The following factors are of paramount importance in choosing the branch of study in engineering:

Interest in the area of study

Scope of getting a job in the future

Scope of continuing your education in the form of a postgraduation in India or abroad

Type of job that you wish to do once you have completed your course

Some fields of study, in engineering are male-dominated and the main reason behind this is that the jobs that you procure after the completion of the degree are physically challenging, and hence opted for by a handful of the female students who appear for the various engineering exams after they have completed their higher secondary exams.

There are various entrance examinations for engineering in the country and the toughest among them is the IIT, which is one of the most reputed technical institutions in the world.

Apart from it there are many other entrance exams and once you have cleared any one of these examinations, you are granted admission on the basis of your score in the examination. It goes unsaid that a high score in the examination will not only get you the college of your choice, but also the branch that you desire to study.

One needs to put on some research on the intended branch of study to know about the subjects that will be studied. This is critical as there have been cases where students have opted for a particular field of study, without really knowing the subjects and have suffered greatly later as the subjects were their weak points.

Breaking the dilemma

When in a dilemma of choosing between the best engineering college with not so good a branch of study and the best branch of study (this is highly subjective) in a not so good a college, it is better to choose the best engineering college with not so good a branch of study. Better colleges have better systems of education, better professors, and better “resume value” (which are a factor for a long, long time). Better teachers always will have a positive life time impact on a student. Also, in better colleges, the engineering aspirant will have better classmates. This matters in the short-term (because better classmates means more influence of friends who are interested in the right things), and the long-term (better “network”).

To a large extent, success in life is not simply about academic knowledge. It is also about a whole bunch of other factors like exposure. This involves all kinds of things — like interactions with industry, various (non-academic) activities that you indulge in a city, seeing the various interesting and different things that people are doing in the city, opportunities of getting involved in various initiatives, and generally smartness. So, doing a degree in industrial cities like Chennai or Coimbatore (considering a good engineering college), would be better than doing it in a college in a rural area with no industrial or commercial connections.

The transition from high school to college can be a difficult and stressful time. It's probably the first time in life a student is on his/her own — free to make decisions about food, socialising and time management. Just because a fresher has all this newfound freedom doesn't mean he/she can go wild with it. Instead, a fresher should learn to manage it in a healthy way like:

Scheduling the work time

Understanding one's financial and family limits

Talking freely to teachers in case of struggling

Setting aside time to relax and play outdoor games

Having a good circle of friends with whom every day's anxieties and happiness can be shared. Never be aloof. Never keep small or big things hidden from your close friends. Share it and get opinion from them.

Be your own person and never try to fake your identity forgetting you are unique.

Keep a good mind set. Negative thoughts can put one in a downward spiral, so always try to stay positive about things.

Always have the attitude of fighting back at your failures. Bear the attitude of never say never again. Don't forget to hit back hard against your failures!

The author is Secretary,

Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions 2012.

The views are personal.

Next week: TNEA 2012

A high attrition rate of faculty either at the college level or at the department level signals back-off. There is high probability that either the management at the college level or at the particular department level is not just right.


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