June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Educational Research and Methods
12.618.1 - 12.618.17
Engineering as Lifestyle and a Meritocracy of Difficulty: Two pervasive beliefs among engineering students and their possible effects In this paper we discuss a series of narratives collected from ethnographic interviews with engineering students concerning questions about what they wish to be an engineer. Our paper reports on two related beliefs that we have found among engineering undergraduates, most commonly in their first two years of four-year programs. These are: engineering as a lifestyle and a meritocracy of difficulty. Engineering as a lifestyle refers to the anticipated comfortable life that students expect from their careers as engineers. In terms of a meritocracy of difficulty we are referring to how students’ justify their anticipated comfortable futures based on the fact that they perceive their school work to be much more difficult than that of students in other departments. The reason that the difficulties of their engineering studies will merit them the comfortable material existence that comes from earning an engineering degree. This paper’s analysis is based on data from a comparative, four-year longitudinal study of undergraduate students’ pathways through engineering degree programs at four engineering schools across the United States. Our analysis of engineering as a lifestyle focuses upon how little first and second year students know about the actual practices of engineers. In a similar vain, a meritocracy of difficulty also persists due to this lack of understanding, as such we argue that students construct reasons for their expected future prosperity that if they work harder now, they deserve more later.
It seems a universal feature of human experience to tell stories about one’s place and direction in the world. Research on storytelling has shown that this is as true of individuals as it is of nation states.1 Given this range, we can assume that members of cultural groups of sizes between individuals and nations will share common, if never identical, narratives. In this paper, we report on a collection of common narratives that come from a distinctive student culture, that of undergraduate engineering education in America.
Our paper reports on two related beliefs that we have found among engineering undergraduates, most commonly in their first two years of four-year programs. This paper’s analysis is based on data from a comparative, four-year longitudinal study of undergraduate students’ pathways through engineering degree programs at four engineering schools across the United States. The transcript data we analyze for this paper is derived from ethnographic interviews collected with students in each of the four programs over their first three years.
The first belief we call the engineering as lifestyle perspective. We find that when students give reasons for why they want to be an engineer, the most pervasive reason is to have a comfortable material existence. Students express interest in making a good salary, having the security of a professional position, and even the expectation of travel. Much less frequently, students speak for their goals of being an engineer in terms of the craft of engineering or the actual impact of engineering work on society. Our interpretation of the engineering as lifestyle perspective is that it is rooted in how little first and second year students understand about the actual practices of
Stevens, R., & Amos, D., & Jocuns, A., & Garrison, L. (2007, June), Engineering As Lifestyle And A Meritocracy Of Difficulty: Two Pervasive Beliefs Among Engineering Students And Their Possible Effects Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2791
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