Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Engineering Stereotypes Drive Counterproductive Practices

Date:
June 16, 2009
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Bad practices that many students believe will make them become expert engineers are the ire of managers who hire recent engineering graduates.

To engineering students, scenes like these might sound familiar: students splitting up group projects so they don’t have to work together. One student bragging that he did the problem without following the directions but still got the right answer. Another student bragging about how he did the whole project in the hour before class.

It’s practices like these that many students believe will help them become expert engineers — but it’s the same practices that are the ire of managers who hire recent engineering graduates.

These are the findings of a study done by Paul Leonardi, the Breed Junior Chair in Design at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, with colleagues at the University of Colorado.

“Industrial advisory boards are always saying engineers come to the workplace with good technical skills but they don’t work well on team projects,” says Leonardi, assistant professor of industrial engineering and management sciences and communication studies. “We wanted to know why. It’s not a lack of skill — engineering students are smart people. So why aren’t they working in teams?”

The study, conducted over several years, included interviewing more than 130 undergraduate engineering students and observing lab sessions and group project work time in order to study the culture of undergraduate engineering.

What they found was that when students entered engineering schools, they already had an idea of what an engineer should be from television programs and other media.

“There’s a stereotype that engineers do things by themselves,” Leonardi says. “So when students are asked to work in teams, they think, am I going to be disadvantaged? When I go to the workplace am I not going to be as valuable?”

In other words, students believed that if they weren’t able to do a project alone, they couldn’t consider themselves an expert engineer. Leonardi and his colleagues often saw groups splitting up group work, even if they were specifically asked to work on it together at the same time.

Researchers also found that when professors gave out documents that detailed exactly how to build something, students would often throw them away and try to figure it out on their own — another practice that stems from the stereotype that engineers should be able to figure out problem solutions on their own.

“They would figure out workarounds and try to reintroduce more difficulty into the task,” Leonardi says. “It was a mark of distinction not to follow the task.” This was often partnered with what researchers called “delayed initiation” — i.e. procrastination. But students didn’t procrastinate because they were lazy — they procrastinated in order to prove that they could figure out the problem in a short period of time.

“All these practices were very counterproductive to working in a team,” Leonardi says. Researchers even found that freshmen at first wouldn’t engage in such practices; once they saw older classmates doing it, however, they, too, would take the social cues and engage in the practices. All the while, students would continually justify their actions as “that’s what engineers do,” and continued justification made the practices seem that much more natural.

To combat this, professional societies often say that engineering schools should put more team-based projects into curriculum, but Leonardi argues that isn’t enough.

“The change we need is helping to put new kinds of stereotypes and images of what it means to be an engineer into the culture so students can reflect on those and think about changing their work practices to align with what we really want engineers to be,” he says. “It’s important for organizations to get involved with engineering education, providing internships and co-op opportunities, because it allows students to see early on other images of engineering so they can see that there are images of engineers out there other than the expert loner.”

The study was recently published in the Academy of Management Journal.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "Engineering Stereotypes Drive Counterproductive Practices." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 June 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090608182553.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2009, June 16). Engineering Stereotypes Drive Counterproductive Practices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090608182553.htm
Northwestern University. "Engineering Stereotypes Drive Counterproductive Practices." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090608182553.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

German Researchers Crack Samsung's Fingerprint Scanner

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) German researchers have used a fake fingerprint made from glue to bypass the fingerprint security system on Samsung's new Galaxy S5 smartphone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Porsche CEO Says Supercar Is Not Dead: Cue the Spyder 918

Porsche CEO Says Supercar Is Not Dead: Cue the Spyder 918

TheStreet (Apr. 16, 2014) The Porsche Spyder 918 proves that, in an automotive world obsessed with fuel efficiency, the supercar is not dead. Porsche North America CEO Detlev von Platen attributes the brand's consistent sales growth -- 21% in 2013 -- with an investment in new technology and expanded performance dynamics. The hybrid Spyder 918 has 887 horsepower and 944 lb-ft of torque, but it can run 18 miles on just an electric charge. The $845,000 vehicle is not a consumer-targeted vehicle but a brand statement. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com
Industry's Optimism Shines At New York Auto Show

Industry's Optimism Shines At New York Auto Show

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) After seeing auto sales grow last month, there's plenty for the industry to celebrate as it rolls out its newest designs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ford Mustang Fetes Its 50th Atop Empire State Building

Ford Mustang Fetes Its 50th Atop Empire State Building

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) Ford celebrated the 50th birthday of its beloved Mustang by displaying a new model of the convertible on top of the Empire State Building in New York. Duration: 00:28 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins