Engineers’ Back to School Reminder

As the 2012 school year kicks off, a new crop of engineering students will begin to learn the theories, practices and technologies that will be useful in the work place. There are other important lessons they learn as students that will help them to excel professionally.

For example, citations and bibliographies were required in research papers. The importance tracking and validating sources extends past school. Engineers must always check and double check their sources when conducting research. This may sound simple, but many today often rely heavily on Google searches or other public web resources that are not properly cited. There’s a reason why citations are emphasized so heavily in many engineering schools – acting on invalid research in the engineering workplace can have negative consequences.

Suppose a civil engineer working on a bridge repair has a question about a material property that is crucial to the bridge’s structural integrity. An Internet search may present an answer about the material property in question, but the quality and source of that information may be ambiguous at best. In contrast, if the engineer uses a trusted source like Encyclopedia of Materials or Comprehensive Structural Integrity, she will find the information needed to move forward with her work.

Engineers also must combine thorough research with intellectual curiosity. Whether addressing a routine issue or working in R&D,  engineers should bring the same intellectual curiosity to their tasks as they did to their university incubators or co-op programs. When engineering students apply their classroom knowledge in one of these practical environments, they are encouraged to use their knowledge not only to solve a problem, but to solve it in the most effective and efficient way possible. Engineers should strive to
work with this same effectiveness and efficiency in the workplace, and doing so requires intellectual curiosity for evaluating and comparing multiple ways of approaching a given task.

In school, students remain intellectually curious in large part because they are constantly learning new material, as well as finding new resources for staying up-to-date on the latest technologies and research methods. In the workplace, approaching a problem with an
open mind also requires staying up-to-date on the latest technologies, trends and research methods.

Successful engineers embrace lifelong learning and remain intellectually curious and hungry. Many companies have vast information resources, and employ special librarians to help engineers find answers to their questions. Engineers should seek out information
resources in the workplace, and identify how these resources can help them do their jobs more effectively.

Learning how to leverage information resources in the workplace is not only important for mastering the ins and outs of a job in engineering, but it also lays the groundwork for rapid promotion and success in leadership roles. For example, an electrical engineer recently promoted to project manager may be surprised to find out that the company she works for has information resources related to  management training. Using the same research skills that helped her succeed as an engineer can be used to track down useful  management resources such as Effective Team Leadership for Engineers.

Engineers are not expected to retain all the equations, theories and other specifics they were taught in school. It’s important, however to remember how to conduct thorough and properly cited research. Those who remain intellectually curious and take advantage of information resources will continue to excel.

Sasha Gurke is senior vice president and cofounder of Knovel ( Gurke has more than 25 years experience in the technical information field. He led the expansion of Knovel’s award-winning technical resource and contributes to the company’s success by integrating real-life workplace solutions.

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