Do Engineers Need Empathy?

Study reveals that today’s U.S. engineering grads lack compassion

7 February 2014
Photo: iStockphoto

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A study from Rice University finds that engineering students are less concerned about the welfare of others after graduating college than they were when they entered. The author, Erin Cech, an assistant professor of sociology at the Houston school with a degree in electrical engineering, surveyed 300 students from four U.S. engineering schools before they started their degree program and again after they graduated. Both times they were asked to rate the importance of matters that show compassion, such as wanting to improve society, being active in their communities, and helping those in need. She found that compassion for others declined after students completed their studies.

Cech calls this a “culture of disengagement.” She credits these findings partly on the elimination of nontechnical subjects in engineering programs, which emphasize technical material for exams. “If students are not prepared to think through issues of public welfare,” she says, “then we might say they are not fully prepared to enter the engineering practice.”

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