Taking Charge of Public Perception

Who is responsible for improving the image of engineers?

20 February 2013

This is the week set aside in the United States to acknowledge the many accomplishments of engineers. While we certainly know all the great contributions our members have made to society and celebrate your achievements through our articles, the public still has a hard time understanding exactly what you do. So it’s no surprise that engineers feel underappreciated, even during National Engineers Week.

While the public’s lack of understanding can be attributed to several things, part of the reason is you—your words and behavior. That’s according to a study done by the National Academy of Engineering. How so? The report found that when you talk to your neighbors or school children you tend to imply that engineering is only for those who are great at mathematics and science; that you don’t focus on the visionary aspects of the profession but on the nitty-gritty dry details of your daily work, and you use technical jargon to explain your work, not simple terms that most people would understand. It’s not totally your fault. After all, you haven’t been trained by anyone on how to communicate effectively about how your work benefits society.

That’s why the NAE wants you to be responsible for changing the perception about the field you’re so passionate about. Its Changing the Conversation campaign helps you with lots of information and material to support your own outreach and communication efforts. There’s a toolkit that includes a prerecorded webinar, a PowerPoint presentation, and tip sheets for how to change not only the language, but also the images and messages used. Funding for this project was provided by the United Engineering Foundation, of which IEEE is a member.

The NAE teamed up with a market research and brand development company to create and test new messages and short taglines that capture the creativity and inspiring nature of engineering. For example, the top four messages are: engineers make a world of difference; engineers are creative problem solvers; engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety; and engineers help shape the future. There are seven short phrases known as taglines. These include “engineers help shape the future,” “life takes engineering,” and “because dreams need doing” (my personal favorite). NAE suggests that you consider using these messages or taglines in your e-mail signature. Maybe even redo your biography or curriculum vitae to include some of these phrases.

There are several recommendations. Instead of saying the term build, use the words “design” and “create.” Tell people how your work or industry is making a difference instead of giving the dry details of your project.

The site also gives examples of how some organizations have improved their materials to boost interest in their engineering outreach efforts. For example, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering brochure for freshmen uses several of the engineering messages.

As the saying goes, don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. Do you have ideas on how to improve the image of engineers? And happy National Engineers Week!

Photo: Robert Churchill/iStockphoto

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