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Suggestions For Teaching The Engineering Research Process

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.377.1 - 2.377.8



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David J. Lilja

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 0575

Suggestions for Teaching the Engineering Research Process

David J. Lilja University of Minnesota

Abstract: In the process of becoming engineering educators, most professors have successfully developed some fundamental skills that are necessary (although not sufficient) to become a successful researcher. However, they often have no clear idea of how to pass this knowledge along to their students beyond the general approach of carefully guiding their students’ individual research efforts. A sense of not knowing where to begin this type of mentoring process can be especially acute in new faculty. This paper presents several techniques, organized around a set of guiding principles, for helping new faculty teach the engineering research process.

1. Introduction “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable.” George Bernard Shaw

Given that the goal of research is to induce progress by advancing the state-of-the-art, Shaw’s comment would suggest that there is no straightforward way to teach someone how to become a good researcher. If Shaw is correct, it would seem that the job of a teacher of future researchers is to somehow teach a sort of “controlled unreasonableness.” While the ability to do good research may in fact require personal traits and characteristics that are beyond the capability to teach, such as creativity and persistence, there are some fundamental skills that are necessary (although not sufficient) to become a successful engineering researcher. These skills include the ability to critically evaluate the work of others, a facility with the standard tools and techniques of the given field of study, an understanding of appropriate statistical methods, and the ability to clearly present new ideas and results through written and spoken communication.

Since research is an integral component of the engineering design process, engineering degree programs should make a concerted effort to teach students how to become good researchers by integrating research experiences into all levels of the curriculum, including opportunities for undergraduate research, traditional graduate student research experiences, and by providing research activities through continuing education. This paper describes how these integrated research experiences can be combined with several specific techniques to help teach the basic skills necessary for performing good engineering research. A common theme throughout these ideas is the philosophy that a good teacher is a facilitator of learning who tries to ask the right questions at the right time, rather than someone who is simply a source of information.

Lilja, D. J. (1997, June), Suggestions For Teaching The Engineering Research Process Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6803

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