An Insult to Female Engineers

I’ve mentioned my genius ex-girlfriend several times before:

Back in 1999 I dated a girl who was studying Mechanical Engineering in the year below me. She went by the name of Wendy and came from somewhere near Nottingham, and she was probably the cleverest person I’ve ever met anywhere, one of those extraordinarily gifted people who just turn up out of nowhere. I think she completed her four year course with an average mark across all subjects of around 90%, and won every damned prize going in the engineering school such that even after her second year her name graced most of the plaques in the foyer. I remember her sitting a 2-hour engineering maths exam and walking out at the earliest opportunity, which was 30 minutes. She told me she’d finished after 20 minutes and that included checking.  She got 100%. She was also a Grade 8 at piano and clarinet. Like I say, an absolute genius (although not clever enough to keep clear of me). My point is that exceptionally clever women have been excelling in hard engineering subjects for at least 20 years, it is nothing new.

Here’s another thing about her: she flatly rejected suggestions she was especially clever (Kate Mulvey, take note), insisting she simply worked hard. Which she did, she worked like hell, revising for days before each exam taking every one deadly seriously, which is why she got scores over 90%. If she’d done no revision, skipped lectures, and stayed in bed until 2pm she’d have still coasted through with first class honours, but that’s not who she was. And I don’t think it would have ever occurred to her that she was remarkable because she was a woman; the idea that female engineers were more noteworthy than the males, or there was any difference between us, was simply not on the horizon in my university days, or in the early years of my career. How times have changed:

Britain’s first specialist engineering university will take school-leavers without A-level maths or physics to boost the number of female students.

The first provost of the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE), which is due to open in Hereford in 2020, said that she was determined to increase the number of women taking the subject.

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, 46, the university’s provost and chief academic officer, said that she would welcome students with three arts A levels. She said that Britain was the only country to insist that engineering students had maths and physics qualifications. School-leavers with strong GCSEs in maths and science and A levels in any subject could apply to NMITE.

Its students will be called “learners” because there will be no lectures, studying or traditional exams and they will not graduate with an honours degree. Nor will they specialise in a particular type of engineering, such as mechanical or electrical. Instead they will work on real projects in groups of five, for nearly a month at a time, and build up a portfolio proving their skills, leaving with a pass or fail in a masters degree.

This isn’t about getting women into engineering; it’s not even about engineering at all. It’s about pretending dim middle-class women are cleverer than they are by having them play-act a serious role. They might as well take them to a petting zoo and a garden centre and call them farmers. I shudder to think what my female engineering colleagues think of this.

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33 thoughts on “An Insult to Female Engineers

  1. “Its students will be called “learners” because there will be no lectures, studying or traditional exams and they will not graduate with an honours degree. Nor will they specialise in a particular type of engineering, such as mechanical or electrical. Instead they will work on real projects in groups of five, for nearly a month at a time, and build up a portfolio proving their skills, leaving with a pass or fail in a masters degree.”

    This sounds incredibly faddy and useless. No lectures? No maths and physics requirements? How’s someone going to design something that doesn’t have a good understanding of forces or electricity? And group projects? So how do you know someone could do something? Did they do it, or did someone else? Will some guy on the team do extra work to cover for a girl because she’s giving him blowjobs?

    The problem is here that the establishment is constantly trying to shortcut qualifications for political purposes. They call things degrees that just aren’t. What on earth do they think is then going to happen? Answer: employers won’t trust those degrees. I will not take a computer science graduate in as a trainee without running my own fairly mundane technical tests. I failed someone who couldn’t write the sort of program that was the equivalent of asking a mechanic to do an oil change. Because they’ve stuffed degree courses with so much stuff that isn’t programming, you can get a reasonable degree without it.

  2. Presumably the next step will be a university to turn out brain surgeons using the same methodology?

    If this happens we may have to learn a lesson from the Romans and make them sleep under any bridges they design and build for at least 12 months.

  3. I shudder to think of then disasters graduates from this ‘University’ will inflict on the world.

    Here’s a modest proposal; the final project should be to build a bridge over a 100m drop. ‘Learners’ should jump up and down on it and if it’s solid they graduate, if not…

  4. As I’ve said before, much of this get women into STEM nonsense is not to produce female engineers but female science teachers. Gotta get those last few blokes out of the classroom.

  5. “As I’ve said before, much of this get women into STEM nonsense is not to produce female engineers but female science teachers.”

    Possibly, though I reckon its another ‘jobs for the girls’ concept – the ‘graduates’ of this sort of education won’t end up actually building stuff, a) they won’t want to, and b) no-one would trust anything they built an inch. The women with these qualifications will work in all the fields they could have done with a degree in sociology, but it will allow people say ‘Look at all the female engineers there are!’ Plus some will be employed by the big corporates as PC trophies, just kept well away from anything that could collapse or go bang.

  6. A very large part of the value of formal education is the means to signal the possession of abilities that employers want. As evidenced by all those jobs where some specified academic certificate is required, but subject matter is not.
    By enabling people without ability to obtain degrees, the signalling value is first diluted and then effectively lost.
    After a bit employers will notice this and then either change their selection methods or get outcompeted by those who do.
    It’s just a shame that so much time and money will be wasted getting there.

  7. Jim on April 21, 2018

    I suspect that many of the “trophy hires” will, hopefully sooner rather then later, be kept away from the hands-on stuff but they will often be promoted out of the way. (Imagine the lawsuits if one of the “victim” class was shoved into a cubicle to count paper clips or put in charge of floor sweeping.)
    Apart from the fact that managers can royally screw up projects too, they can hire in their own image and alienate all the competent workers who might otherwise be promoted.

  8. Assessment purely by groupwork is terrible because you can’t actually work out who did what and credit them appropriately. People who are useless are a drag on the group but everybody else can see them through.

    Assessment purely by coursework/portfolio is terrible even in the case of individual work because you can’t be sure of what is the candidate’s “own unaided work” – tools to combat internet plagiarism have got stronger but the industry of paid assignment writers is growing quickly.

  9. Plus some will be employed by the big corporates as PC trophies, just kept well away from anything that could collapse or go bang.

    Oh they won’t, they’ll be put in charge. What will happen, and indeed does happen and has been happening for a long time, is these companies won’t even attempt to actually make anything that could collapse or go bang, they’ll just shuffle paper around, create PowerPoint presentations, and have meetings while telling each other how essential they are. The real work, as I’ve been pointing out for some time, will be done by ever-smaller subcontractors and individuals.

  10. @Bloke on M4,

    Back when I were a lad and doing bar jobs for pocket money, while studying for my undergraduate degree (at the best University in the entire universe at the best possible time to be there), I worked with a gentleman destined for bar work to be the last stop on his career ladder.

    This gentleman was a recent graduate, having read “Local Government Administration” at one of the ’92 poly rebrands, and talked a lot about “SDL”. I had to press him to find out this stood for “self-directed learning”. I’m not sure he didn’t have to go home and look it up first.

    SDL means there are no lectures, no tutorials, and basically nothing to actually do. At most you have to sit through a few pre-recorded powerpoint presentations, like the tedious crap that corporates make you sit through to prove you have read (and immediately forgotten) their impossible and internally-contradictory SOPs.

    The gentleman was not working in local government administration because some procedures had changed since he graduated so his degree was no longer relevant.

    I feel sorry for him, mostly because anyone who would actually believe that as feedback as to why he didn’t get the job has some serious grey matter problems.

  11. at the best University in the entire universe at the best possible time to be there

    Heh.

  12. “…these companies won’t even attempt to actually make anything that could collapse or go bang, they’ll just shuffle paper around, create PowerPoint presentations, and have meetings while telling each other how essential they are. The real work, as I’ve been pointing out for some time, will be done by ever-smaller subcontractors and individuals.”

    This has long-since happened in my line of work, and it’s better to be in those small service providers rather than the corporates. The corps basically get in the way of getting work done. My favourite is that they have taken what I do, which is essentially a linear and thus easy to manage process, and roughly octupled the complexity of the project management. Everything has to be Gannt-charted, detailed stop and start dates, hours of make-work to update it at each of the 50 slippages along the line. And of course the corps still never keep to their timelines but insist that you make up for their delays…

    So there are downsides too but at least I get to spend some of my time doing actual productive work.

    It’s also concerning that as the boutique that employs you grows from a handful of staff into a mid-sized chest-pounding gorilla, the amount of internal bullshit increases as the square of the number of staff. While other things are still done in a newly-inefficient mom’n’pop fashion. It seems very difficult to get the right balance between simplifying things by formalising them and using common-sense flexibility. I blame the people who think “standard operating procedure” means “only operating procedure”.

  13. “She said that Britain was the only country to insist that engineering students had maths and physics qualifications.”

    ….Something in me doubts that SUPAERO has no mathematical requirements for admissions to it’s masters programmes. Or UT Delft, or EPFL Lausanne.

    A further point is that a fact about Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is that she is ex-University of Sheffield. Sheffield categorically DOES admit people with no maths or physics qualifications….They admitted me in 2009. They literally just took anyone who could pay the fees for their “foundation year.”

    It was as crap as it sounds. I had done other science A-Levels but these were never asked about, nor did they count to any kind of course credit, so you could better concentrate upon what you hadn’t tackled before. It was simply the case that you were expected take the equivalent of to take three A-Levels in one year, with no staff contact whatsoever because there were nearly fifty students doing the course, a full half of whom were foreign.

    A snip at 3500 quid. (Today I believe it is twice that.) All for a building access card and the chance to teach yourself integral calculus because the maths lecturer (Foreign, of course.) has had a baby and doesn’t feel like coming in much. Don’t worry, I didn’t waste any more money on the place having seen how crap it was.

  14. “Oh they won’t, they’ll be put in charge. What will happen, and indeed does happen and has been happening for a long time, is these companies won’t even attempt to actually make anything that could collapse or go bang, they’ll just shuffle paper around, create PowerPoint presentations, and have meetings while telling each other how essential they are. The real work, as I’ve been pointing out for some time, will be done by ever-smaller subcontractors and individuals.”

    Thats kind of what I was getting at. Women having an ‘engineering qualification’ will mean they are now perfectly ‘qualified’ to be in the bullsh*t paper shuffling management strand of the corporation, while some Indian guy does the real work in Bangalore (hopefully he didn’t bung his cousin a few rupees to get his engineering degree…….). Presumably as things stand now its hard for a woman to get promoted into that sphere with no engineering degree/qualifications at all, once they have a bogus degree like this one they can go right to the top……..

  15. How in the hell does this do women who want to get into science and engineering any damn good? If you can’t do the job your plumbing doesn’t matter. This sort of thing does nothing but perpetuate the thinking that some people might be there for purely statistical purposes instead of their ability.

    A funny t-shirt I saw once was worn by a woman I knew who was world class in solid propulsion. It said: Sure I’m a woman, but I are a rocket scientist.

  16. @Tim

    This isn’t about getting women into engineering; it’s not even about engineering at all. It’s about pretending dim middle-class women are cleverer than they are by having them play-act a serious role. They might as well take them to a petting zoo and a garden centre and call them farmers. I shudder to think what my female engineering colleagues think of this.

    +1

    On “projects”: I rather like Formula Student. What are your views?

    See google and:
    https://www.imeche.org/events/formula-student
    http://www.racecar-engineering.com/formulastudent/

  17. ….Something in me doubts that SUPAERO has no mathematical requirements for admissions to it’s masters programmes. Or UT Delft, or EPFL Lausanne.

    Indeed. And something that can be checked by the magic that is Google. Let’s just take the EPFL:

    Upper secondary school certificates from a country that is a member of EU or EFTA
    Applicants holding an upper secondary school certificate from a country that is a member of EU or EFTA (other than Switzerland) are accepted in the first year of the Bachelor’s programs provided that their title fulfils all of the following conditions:

    the final grade average is 80% or more of the maximum grade
    the completed certificate is a pre-University title granted on the basis of a general education
    the completed certificate is in a scientific stream (should streams be offered by the country granting the certificate); – the following subjects are part of the certificate: 1) mathematics, 2) physics and/or chemistry, 3) national language of the country granting the certificate, and 4) second modern language
    at least three of the following subjects are part of the certificate and/or the transcripts of the upper secondary studies: 1) applied mathematics or computer science, 2) physics or chemistry or biology, 3) general geography, 4) general history, and 5) third modern language.

    Anyone else surprised that the base contention that the UK is the only country to require maths for engineering is entirely false and easily disproven?

  18. Bloke in Germany,

    “This has long-since happened in my line of work, and it’s better to be in those small service providers rather than the corporates. The corps basically get in the way of getting work done. My favourite is that they have taken what I do, which is essentially a linear and thus easy to manage process, and roughly octupled the complexity of the project management. Everything has to be Gannt-charted, detailed stop and start dates, hours of make-work to update it at each of the 50 slippages along the line. And of course the corps still never keep to their timelines but insist that you make up for their delays…”

    I think a lot of large corporates are just about powerful men who like having lots of reasonably attractive young women around, and have plenty of budget available. I’m not against women at work, but many of these “project management” women are a waste of money. They buzz around collecting updates. But they don’t understand what you tell them. They ask when it will be done and the reason and just transcribe and then put everything together. Then they produce charts and powerpoints.

    In smaller places, we’ve done that whole job with Jira ourselves. Spend 2 hours a fortnight clicking a few buttons to get the charts and doing a presentation to management about it. That management didn’t have lots of money sloshing around.

    And Gannt stuff is nonsense for most projects. Almost no-one needs MS Project. If you’re building bridges and skyscrapers, sure, but most business projects don’t. It’s just gloss.

  19. Lowering course entry requirements is deplorable. But it’s not too bad – though rather inefficient – if the first year exams are used as a filter. A neighbour’s daughter scraped into Oxford to read engineering with less than stellar A-levels (probably because she was state educated and female); but she failed her first year exams and was out.

  20. Pcar – Unfortunately Formula Student is a bit over-rated as far as motorsport employment porspects are concerned. The reason is that the industry has gotten wise to the reality that there is an awful lot of what can be described as “Catalogue engineering” going on in it. You literally pick parts out of a catalogue, buy them off a supplier, bolt them together and that is it. Competing with them are people who are literally hand building and machining, say, an engine block that they have also designed themselves, at the same time as studying. Racecar Engineering, to it’s credit, is reporting upon the idea that you can’t really tell who is good and who has had a lot of help, and so it is increasingly of less interest to the motorsport teams who would logically otherwise be scouting talent through it.

    It is a fact that the vast majority of FS cars at every event are in direct and clear contravention of Rule A6.1 (page12, FSAE regulations 2013): A6.1 – Student Developed Vehicle ‘Vehicles entered into Formula SAE competitions must be conceived, designed, fabricated and maintained
    by the student team members without direct involvement from professional engineers, automotive engineers, racers, machinistsor related professionals.’

    FSAE rules require that you effectively “build” your own car, but when you take the time to track down and look at some of the entries for the contests, note the fact that they contain things like coilover suspension, advanced electric motors, Carbon-Fibre Monocoque chassis structures (How many university students have the time to do that, or the facilities for that matter?) time in wind tunnels (That everyone can get, naturally) and that the contest does not question or credit creativity in construction in any way. From there it is just a question of contacts and budget.

    You could argue that that is real lesson that you get out of competing in motorsport, but in some ways that is a pretty sad lesson to be taking away, isn’t it? Particularly if you thought you could enter, use your knowledge to build something upon no money, compete honestly and it help with finding a job, and realise, too late, that everyone else is effectively cheating.

  21. @Andrew S Mooney

    My experience when technical colleges run big show-off ongoing project things to draw the students in (making and racing things being a stand-out example but far from the only one) suggests it’s often basically a generously funded hobby for the staff who are involved. Plus a free (albeit not necessarily competent) workforce for getting the boring bits of the hobby done. Plus the ability to get days off to go somewhere nice in pursuit or the hobby without booking it off as leave, or having the usual problems of getting away in term-time, because it now counts as official college business. Nifty if you can get it. But not terribly reflective on the work or ability of the students!

    Feel sorry for those staff in other departments whose subject choices do not allow them to shoehorn their hobby in as a sideline in their jobs! (Incidentally, if anyone here has got secondary school aged kids, have you noticed how many departments you wouldn’t expect are now having expensive field trips to surprisingly nice foreign destinations? Much, I suspect, the same phenomenon.)

  22. All the med students I know are currently in their annual stress-filled bout of manic pre-exam revision of voluminous notes that will be 90% forgotten by the end of summer. This form of periodic cramming is clearly not an efficient or effective way to learn. However, a question for NMITE advocates…

    If, God forbid, they ever develop cancer and need to go to hospital to see a specialist, an absolutely lovely, charming, understanding, communicative, empathetic paradigm of the modern young doctor, would they feel alarmed or put at ease to discover their specialist had never passed a biology or chemistry exam in their lives?

    Didn’t need a science background at school to take medicine at uni so only took arts and humanities. And while at med school there were no old-fashioned exams or assignments. Also they didn’t learn traditional “subjects” like anatomy or biochemistry. Instead everything was integrated. You would develop and display your skills across a whole range of medical areas by building up a “portfolio” of practical groupwork projects – discovery learning by cutting up a cadaver here, a joint report on the sociology of food and its impact on health there, pretty soon an entire medical degree is done! And all non-elitist and fully accessible to widest possible cohort, regardless of their academic and intellectual background.

    Just to reiterate the key point before y’all rush to judgment, the young doc smiles really politely and is very empathetic.

  23. @Andrew S. Mooney, April 21, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    Very informative. I did “trust” Racecar Engineering over puff on Mech etc. Also wondered about “off the shelf parts”, although one could argue finding them is R&D and optimisation of time and budget.

    Budgets and outside help are similar issues – real world vs isolation.

    Would be great if the students themselves collaborated on rules and agreed no outside influence and fixed budget. Four month summer camp?

    I’m much better informed now.

    Thank you.

  24. A neighbour’s daughter scraped into Oxford to read engineering with less than stellar A-levels (probably because she was state educated and female); but she failed her first year exams and was out.

    In my day there was a chap in my college admitted to read classics on abysmal (by Oxford standards) grades, something like BBC. Because he went to a really poor state school and was really committed to it. A bit of class-based affirmative action and he’s in.

    IIRC he didn’t even get as far as prelims (end of 1st year internal exams), cos he just couldn’t hack it. It’s an academic hot-house (your feet really don’t touch the floor) there’s precious little teaching support, and the feedback in the tutorial system can be very negative depending on the approach of the tutor.

    I seriously considered bailing after the end of my 3rd year (for which I would have got an engineering BA without honours and would forever have been trying to explain how in the ever loving cr*p that worked), but was talked into staying (basically by being told that I was being a little silly and that I’d do alright in the end). Ended up scraping a 2:1. Which was nice. So it all worked out in the end, but it’s not 4 years of my life that I’d ever wish to repeat.

  25. Its students will be called “learners” because there will be no lectures, studying or traditional exams and they will not graduate with an honours degree.

    I wonder if they take non-traditional forms of payment, such as knitted scarves, mix CDs and fond wishes? No? They want money? How surprising.

  26. Myburningears.

    Umm… I am at Med school we have to do a portfolio and half of it is group work

    To be fare we have barrier exams, which are v. diffcult. But since we have been feminised with the GAMSAT & UMAT empathy and communication are required skills.

  27. I rather like Formula Student. What are your views?

    I have no idea, never heard of it! Sorry! Fortunately for both of us, Andrew S. Mooney has. 🙂

  28. I think a lot of large corporates are just about powerful men who like having lots of reasonably attractive young women around, and have plenty of budget available. I’m not against women at work, but many of these “project management” women are a waste of money. They buzz around collecting updates. But they don’t understand what you tell them. They ask when it will be done and the reason and just transcribe and then put everything together. Then they produce charts and powerpoints.

    The men aren’t any better, but because this is all that’s required – as opposed to proper engineering – more jobs have opened up for women.

    And Gannt stuff is nonsense for most projects. Almost no-one needs MS Project. If you’re building bridges and skyscrapers, sure, but most business projects don’t. It’s just gloss.

    Absolutely. Quite recently I was required to construct PrimaVera schedules for studies. I also like to point out that generating Gannt charts is a complete waste of time if nobody has any intention of completing the tasks on time and no decisions are going to be made on whatever it shows. I put one together for a project I did a few years ago and found it very useful for working out when various tasks will take place, e.g. load tests, etc. But *I* was running the project, *I* created the chart, and *I* was making the decisions. As soon as you have one person creating the chart and another making the decisions, you’re basically involved in job creation.

  29. In my years in IT,I met a handfull of talented female technicians/programmers – none of whom were British. Like Tim’s gf they were all very bright and dedicated, expert mathematicians, multilinguists and the occasional musician.

    Although a humanities graduate (I wanted to do physics but couldnt hack the maths) I was quite a success in computing, because my training as an historian meant that I could do detective work and break problems down. I also was able to speak in words of one syllable, so that managers could understand the problems.
    Even this low level of ability was beyond nearly all the (British) women that I encountered, those computing graduates that I met became project,account or relationship managers.

  30. “And while at med school there were no old-fashioned exams or assignments. Also they didn’t learn traditional “subjects” like anatomy or biochemistry. Instead everything was integrated. You would develop and display your skills across a whole range of medical areas by building up a “portfolio” of practical groupwork projects ”

    I might be slandering the wrong institution, but somewhere – Southampton University, I believe – actually tried this out for a few years.

    “empathy and communication are required skills.”

    Yes, they are absolutely required skills for doctors and it’s good to hear that this is now being taught rather than left to the vagaries of osmotic learning”

  31. To be fair I know that Problem-Based Learning is A Thing in medical education but one still hopes they pass the odd exam. Team work and communication are vital skills and worth taking course time (and some proportion of the assessment) to do properly. But they aren’t substitutes for knowing the substance of what you’re talking about… I do wonder how far a fake doctor would get, particularly in patient consultations, provider they exuded empathy and had access to Dr Google. Might well get some rave patient reviews.

  32. @Bloke in Swindon
    “And Gannt stuff is nonsense for most projects. Almost no-one needs MS Project. If you’re building bridges and skyscrapers, sure, but most business projects don’t. It’s just gloss.”

    Oh, boy, do I agree with that. As a sometime project manager, there is zero requirement for anything else than a large sheet of paper and a pen.

    …but…

    When I was in the position of either commissioning projects or working into other people’s projects, II’d refuse to do anything wiithout a Gant from Project.

    The reason being that until I saw the project plan, I had no assurance that they’d thought about what they were etrying to achieve. Wrestling with Project to create a plan was evidence that they’d at least put some work into it.

    I could then sit down with that person and critique how they were looking to do it, and check that the risks were beiing mitigated, and they’d not built some stupid dependency right into the core of the deliverables.

    Needless to say, many many people left that first meeting a bit bent out of shape, but the rate of project failure dropped astonishingly over the first six months since I started requiring a plan and a discussion before agreeing to do anything.

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