3 things missing from the Mechanical Engineering curriculum
In 2020, I ended my post-doc position and started teaching Mechanical Engineering classes (in a different university). I loved the teaching experience, and I learned a lot. One month ago, however, in search of new challenges, I quit that job and got accepted at a research-only position, dealing directly with industry problems. And in only one month, I realized how much has to be changed in Mechanical Engineering curricula, to make it more modern and more aligned with practical, real problems. These are my suggestions:
- Proper software development: Mechanical Engineering is not Computer Science. Maybe we don’t need to learn about Turing Machines, Cryptography, or Web Sockets. But my present job is the second time in my career that my primary role is implementing models in software to be used by other people, and I didn’t learn any software development in school. Students should learn more about testing, version control, different programming languages, debugging.
- More advanced Thermodynamics: in retrospect, I think I severely underestimated my student’s ability to understand deep theories. The Refrigeration and Oil industries are primary examples where blends or mixtures of fluids are used, and in my experience students have no contact with more advanced Equations of State; there is an enormous gap between “using the ideal gas law” and “just getting the properties from a table”. But guess what: these tables are not magical, they were generated with Equations of State, and the people using them do not understand these equations.
- Studying techniques: I started teaching shortly after the pandemic; I then taught classes online, and went back to in-person classes. And what I saw is that the younger generation completely forgot how to study with full focus. I’m not talking about spending the entire weekend studying for an exam, but rather the Cal Newport style of deep work, in short but intense bursts.
To be clear: I’m not “fighting the system”. These are things that I would change if I went back to the classroom, in my own classes. Teaching Mechanical Engineering made me love the profession more than ever, and I want it to evolve - always.
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