Formal Education is for Skills, not Knowledge

When I started engineering school, there may have been some bragging about this major was the best and it’s so great and those damn liberal arts kids aren’t learning anything. That went away, pretty quickly. Mostly gone after the first year, it’s bothersome to hear that idea said now. A quote like “She studied psychology? She’ll never make any money!” Who cares? You go to school to study what you want to study. Learn what you want to learn. You’re paying for a service, you’re paying for exposure to people to teach you things. In the US, you’re paying for the ability to get hired, since a majority of jobs now require a Bachelor’s degree for employment.

That was more of tangent than I meant. A friend of mine, also in the tiny world that is the Earth Systems and Environmental Engineering program, was talking about how people often think majors define them. Or define what they’re doing. For example, they’ll take an introductory Mechanical Engineering course and say “Holy crap this is what mechanical engineers are gonna do? Ok this is what I’m gonna do.” And to quote him, “It’s not. It’s what the professor does.” The fluid mechanics professor? He studies the boundary layer of the atmosphere. Not how to build a piping system. The guy teaching Environmental Site Assessment? That’s what he does. That isn’t what you need to do.

It’s also easy to think that mechanical engineers study how to build small things. Environmental engineers must study municipal water treatment, which is the traditional definition of environmental engineering. Oh and those electrical guys? All they must do is build cool gadgets! What you major is not this narrow, restrictive set of rules and life opportunities. Environmental engineering students now study remote sensing, renewable energy, and climate change. A ton of mechanical engineers study fluid mechanics! Look at the guy teaching the course!

This brings up the idea of what going to school even means. You go to school, and get an “education.” Said education teaches you. I would argue that you go to school to learn how to learn. There is no way you’re going to remember every individual course and its information after you graduate. The majority of us do not have photographic memory. However, you will develop a skill set. What that skill set is up to you. Maybe you’ll learn how to read and analyse papers amazingly quickly. Maybe your writing style will become fine tuned. Maybe you’ll learn how to prove that irrotational flow is given by the curl being 0.

A college education is about developing yourself, and adding knowledge on the side. When someone says “I am a chemical engineering major! Chemical engineers make the most money.” It doesn’t make you’ll make the most money buddy. Especially if you piss everyone off.

So, go to school and think about how you can learn better. Make some friends. Learn how to derive complex principles, and how you can solve problems from the principles of physics and mathematics. Learn how to analyse, so that you can create. And stop talking about how your major is better anyone else’s!


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