Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Letter to an Engineering Student, One We Hope Won't Build Bridges One Day

Is there any way I can BEG you not to become an engineer? You simply are not honest enough for it, because any engineer who wants to build anything and make it work has to answer to objective reality, also known as the laws of physics.

Every step of the way throughout my third-semester physics class, you tried to take a shortcut out of it. You tried to avoid taking the class in the first place, with your unconvincing claim to be entitled to an incomplete, because of illness that the health center actively refused to document.

It makes me shake my head in disbelief, since that class is about motion. How can any engineer possibly get by without understanding motion? Is your work going to be restricted to designing and building machines that don't move, and have no moving parts? Since you're an electrical engineering major, this isn't going to be easy, since those electrons will need to move too.

Do you think I don't know that you are copying your homework from solutions that I have clearly told you that you shouldn't have? That students do this so frequently is why the homework counts only 10% of the course grade. Since I have so many other obligations, among them involving good students in my research, I don't have time to be constantly making up new homework problems and solutions so that you can't abuse them. I wouldn't do it even if I had time anyway, because I know that the only way to learn the material is to work those homework problems, honestly. Most of the course grade therefore comes from the exams, and I can prevent cheating on exams.

You got a 38%, an F, on Mid-Term Exam 1, because you clearly do not know the material. Do you think I don't know that you're lying to me by trying to excuse your frequent absences from class by claiming car problems? That incomplete form you filled out when you tried to weasel your way out of the course had your address on it, and you live two blocks from campus! It disturbs me that you lie to me so readily, and that it is so easy for you. It isn't convincing, you know. From your actions, you clearly don't think this course is relevant to your career. I find this difficult to understand. How can radio waves, moving energy, light, and digital electronics not be relevant to an electrical engineer? Just what kind of electrical engineer are you going to become, anyway? I can answer that question: an incompetent one, whose knowledge and ability are so poor, he's a danger to anyone who uses anything he builds.

I therefore will have no reservations about awarding you an F at the end of this course, unless you change your performance dramatically. I regard doing this as a public service!