According to results from a survey of 1024 people published in the June issue of CyberPsychology and Behavior, surfing the Web and checking personal e-mail at work may be more common—and beneficial—than most people think. Time on the Internet can help employees balance job and personal responsibilities; once personal matters are taken care of, they can focus on their work, according to the researchers. Installing filters to block access to Web sites and e-mail services could have a negative effect, causing low job satisfaction and decreased productivity.
Do you agree with the results of this study?
Responses to May’s Question
How Bad Do Engineering Students Have It?
A blogger on Wired.com recently posted the Top Five Reasons It Sucks to Be an Engineering Student. Cited were awful textbooks, professors who are rarely encouraging, poor academic counseling, assignments that all feel the same and, perhaps worst of all, that other disciplines routinely offer inflated grades. And, the blogger continued, “Brilliant engineering students may earn surprisingly low grades while slackers in other [academic] departments score straight A’s for writing book reports…about their favorite zombie films.”
Do you agree with the blogger? Do you have your own reasons to add to the list?
Better by Association
The blogger is right about engineering textbooks. Some texts were good, but many did not present ideas clearly, or prove to be effective references later.
As for teachers, many of my classes were held in an auditorium—which did not encourage personal involvement with the professors. You could get individual attention, however, if you made the effort to visit teachers in their offices.
That engineers are graded harder than other disciplines is a no-brainer. I would expect “C” engineers to be able to pull A’s in a non-technical field if they had enough interest. I believe that having an engineering degree “bumps up” your grade-point average by association when compared to others.
GPA: Nothing but a Number
I guess these are common problems in most countries; I had them in Malaysia. I was one of the top five students in my engineering class, yet my grade-point average was 2.9 out of 4.0. In my university, 60 students would take an exam, and only five or 10 would pass the first time.
When I applied to a university in another country to pursue my graduate degree, they judged everything by my grade-point average. I barely got in. However, I easily earned straight A’s, and every lecturer and visiting professor honored me for my research work.
Grade-point average by itself is not a good way to judge students.
Few engineering professors reach out to first-year students—which leads many of them to fail. Nor do the professors tell students how to get decent tutoring, or offer tutoring themselves. At large universities, the first year is supposed to ruin students’ egos and make them think they’re not cut out for engineering school or even college.
With help and attention from each teacher, students might begin to understand what’s expected of them.
Yes, engineering students work harder than many of their peers. This is nothing new, but it has always been difficult to compare performance across disciplines.
I don't agree with the assertion that engineering is tough because of poor textbooks, grumpy professors, or boring assignments. It has to do more with the depth and breadth of subjects that must be mastered. Many advanced classes build on prerequisites, leaving little to no room to slack off in the basics.
Unfortunately, the engineering profession does not seem to garner the respect commensurate with the effort. Unlike medical doctors, lawyers, and other highly educated professionals, engineers are treated largely like skilled tradesmen and not the intelligent problem-solvers they’re trained to be. It’s rarely a matter of debate whether medical school is difficult, and it is usually considered worth it. Is engineering worth it? An increasing number of young people are deciding that it is not.
Andrew A. Rockhill
Worth the Effort
I earned my engineering degree in Australia, and it was clear that engineering classes had some of the biggest workloads. Add to that a compulsory fourth year and the fact that engineering salaries are modest by comparison with other professions and you can see why engineers feel a little underappreciated.
Despite all of that, I love what I do. I always want to be challenged; I never want to do trivial things. I’m wired for achievement and solving problems, so engineering has proven to be a great career choice for me. The high intellectual content of the work, the need to get things right, and the benefits from doing things well outweighs the other issues.
Endeavour Hills, Australia
Missing Out on Student Life
I agree with everything the blogger said. I had an average of about eight classes a day (normally starting at 7:30 a.m.) and I had to prepare for practical and tutorial sessions (never mind studying in between). I think this adds to the perception that students studying other subjects are receiving inflated grades. I still enjoyed my studies, but looking back and talking to my non-engineering friends, I wonder if I missed out on an important part of student life because of the fast pace of learning, and that I really had to work hard to achieve reasonably good grades.
Centurion, South Africa
Better in Theory Than in Practice
All too often engineering students are stuck with professors who are far more interested in their research projects than in teaching. They may hold Ph.Ds, but there has always been a dearth of good teachers. Preferably, we would like teachers who have had some real industry experience and not post-Ph.D students who went straight from writing a thesis to the podium.
Chelsea L. Whitten
I took a minor in business, and my grade-point average for those courses never dropped below 4.0. Regardless of the course, minimal effort resulted in an exceptional grade. But I worked hard to maintain a B average in engineering.
Regardless, I love my academic choice a little more each day. Engineers solve problems, rise to challenges others run from, and remain ever vigilant to changing trends to ensure we continue to grow in our abilities. It takes a tough academic environment to produce quality engineers.
Welcome to the Real World
That blogger needs to ask himself if he really wants to be an engineer. The academic program for engineering is meant to be demanding. Engineering students must work hard to get the kind of grades the blogger appears to believe he deserves. Individual grades are meaningful only when compared to those of other engineers at his school; the fact that students not studying engineering get high grades is irrelevant.
If the blogger believes that working as an engineer is significantly different from the academic experience, he is in for a surprise. Much of the work is repetitive, and the encouragement you receive—except for a steady paycheck and occasional salary increases—is in the form of personal satisfaction. Professionals know when they’ve done a good job.
But engineering students should take one of those “slacker” writing courses. My experience is that many engineers are poor communicators, and many companies require new applicants to take a literacy test. Later on, many brilliant engineers are passed over for promotion because of their poor writing. That is the ultimate failing grade.
Mississauga, Ont., Canada