It’s college season in my home. My oldest son is soon off to medical school. My younger son just graduated from high school and will be off to college by summer’s end. It’s an exciting time to see your kids make decisions about their field of study and, ultimately, their profession and future.
My oldest son majored in Biology to prepare himself for medical school. He enjoys science, as does my younger son. But my younger son, until recently, was seriously considering engineering. Earlier this month I spent some time with him at his chosen university to register and attend freshman orientation.
Since declaring himself an engineering major, my younger son has decided to shift academic gears just a bit and study biology, also with a pre-medical school focus. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to officially switch majors prior to attending orientation – so he was still declared an engineering major during registration. To simplify the process, I advised him to do registration as if he were still pursuing engineering just so he could get a full schedule of classes, since many of the freshman engineering and science course requirements overlap. He could change declared majors later.
Part of the university’s registration process requires freshman students to meet with an advisor from their selected college. This meeting is designed to give the student a brief look into the types and quantity of classes they need to graduate. My son met with an engineering advisor; I was off attending the parent half of orientation. Just as my parent meetings were wrapping-up, I received a text message from him saying “I don’t want to be an engineer”. While this wasn’t a revelation, I decided to toy with him a bit and replied with “Why?”. He responded with “The professor is talking and I’m not liking the sound of any of it.” Every parent has moments when they smile to themselves over something one of their children discovers about their interests in life – I grinned at his response. Turns out the engineering curriculum, weighted heavily towards math, wasn’t to my son’s liking. He is a pretty good mathematician, but it just isn’t one of his favorite subjects. He realized that engineering and science, while related in some aspects, are not the same. He likes the research and discovery aspects of science, but isn’t too excited about the practical application details of engineering.
Though my definition of the two may by a bit simplistic, I look at science and engineering as follows. Science is the study of why things work, the governing principles/physics of operation. Engineering applies the knowledge of science to create systems and processes that solve real world problems. Scientists do research; Engineers apply it. Yes, the lines are often blurred between the two disciplines, but I think my definitions work pretty well.
I studied engineering because I like designing and building – that “creation” thing I mentioned above, applying science to solve problems. And I’ve found during my life there can be an amazing amount of science involved in even simple projects. My sons are more interested in understanding the nature of things. They dig a little deeper into the “why” questions. I dig a bit deeper into the “how” questions. All three of us enjoy understanding how nature works. It makes for interesting family conversations.