Thursday, August 28, 2008

Engineering Ad Campaign

As everyone knows by now, the numbers of US undergrads pursuing engineering degrees is extremely low. So, since I had a group of 18yr olds last week, I decided to ask them why they chose the major they did - it was a mixed batch of majors ranging from philosophy to graphic art to engineering and physics (which also made for an interesting teaching experience).

The answer - engineers don't make a lot of money. I found this very interesting, as engineers do make a lot of money, comparatively speaking. So I pressed to find out what "a lot" was. They ball-parked it at 35k-45k.

Before arguing, I decided to ask about grad school - if any of them had thought about grad school, the costs of grad school, how grad school could effect one's money making ability, etc. Some said yes, some said no, some said "grad school?". In any case, all of them had no idea that engineering grad school (PhD) is often free and you can often get a stipend on top of that (I explained the stipend concept). I also explained that this very rarely happens in fields like medicine or law, where you typically leave with loads of debt.

Then, I laid out the facts about starting salaries - how 35k was not average for a BS and it definitely was not average for a PhD - luckily I happened to have an issue of an engineering journal with me which had average numbers for all engineering fields for 2007. I do not have these memorized. And I explained that you don't have to worry about mal-practice or making partner.

Their next big concern was the concept of "jobs being shipped overseas", which is understandable, as this has been in the news alot lately. So, I explained that there are lots of jobs which can't be shipped overseas - like military work and work at national labs. So for US citizens right now, finding a job isn't hard, it is "finding a job in the geographical location with the right mix of co-workers" that is hard. I don't think the 18yr olds had ever thought about the last two requirements on a job before. Money had always been the priority.

They all pretty much said that if I told high school students these numbers more would go into engineering. So, basically, I need to walk into high schools, tell the students how much their earning potential will be as an engineer, and then they will all want to be engineers instead of doctors and lawyers. Interesting... I don't think that tactic will work, but it was an interesting perspective. Maybe an ad campaign showing engineers in massive houses with gold toilets and fast cars...

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