This is a guest post by Dr. Lucy Rogers, a Chartered Engineer who has a portfolio career that takes her to exciting places doing interesting things. She has a PhD in bubbles (fluid dynamics) and is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Interplanetary Society.
From problem solving to inventing, designing to making, learning to explaining, my life as an engineer is full of variety. And I love it. That what I do often positively affects the lives of others is a bonus.
But to many, engineering is big noisy machines, dirty conditions and hard physical work. Or it’s a car mechanic, someone who comes to fix the washing machine or those doing work on the train lines at weekends. Go into any science museum or historic industrial museum, and there will be large machines. Most will have been sanitized—so no oily bits—for fear of a child getting oil on their clothes. If the machines are actually working, they are behind huge barriers, saying “Keep back—engineering is dangerous." If there is an operator, it is often a volunteer—someone retired, someone male.
There is a reason we have trouble getting a handle on the term engineering. It’s because we use it as shorthand for so many things. Problem solving, inventing, designing, making, learning, explaining, as well as fixing and improving. And we do not celebrate engineering or engineers. Where are the role models on television? In the news? Engineering is often handled by large corporations. We may hear that a corporation built a bridge, an airplane or a sewage works. But faceless corporations do not inspire.
Yes, there are a few individuals who stand out: Grace Hopper, Bill Gates, Amy Johnson and Burt Rutan, but they are often seen as “special” and “not like us." It’s hardly surprising that parents, grandparents and teachers do not recommend a career in engineering to young people. Or that young people do not know what an engineer does.
It's time to to celebrate engineering. We need to celebrate how engineering has improved our lives—from smart phones and computers to replacement hips and knees, from Ferris wheels and roller coasters to cars and satellites. We use engineering everyday.
There are very few people around the world whose lives have not been touched by engineering. Engineering can be seen in wells, electricity, hospitals, flood defenses, bridges. And engineering also helps our environment. Improved processes result in gold mining that no longer leaves poisonous mercury residue in rivers; improvements in agricultural methods and equipment mean the same area of land will feed more people; and cleaner energy production means the atmosphere is less polluted.
Engineering encompasses many things and can be done in many ways. It can be done sitting at a computer at home, in a workshop, out in the field, or even on the moon. We need more engineers, so things can be improved, fixed and invented.
Why wouldn’t you encourage a child to positively affect the world? Why wouldn’t you encourage a child to become an engineer?