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So, What's It Gonna Be?

ericmock's picture

Teacher, Scientist, or Engineer

From thinking about the 'I'd Love to Change the World' discussion, I have concluded that my dilemma stems from the (basically) three career paths from which I can choose.

A teacher that can have a great deal of influence on a select number of other individuals' lives and can take great pride in helping others achieve their potential, and possibly make great contributions to society.

A scientist that can continue to explore the unexplained and hopefully discover something that could contribute to society.

An engineer that can use and implement the discoveries of others to make a direct contribution to society.

I realize this is not an all or nothing commitment but deciding how to split up my (career) time amongst the three is hard.  I'd like to spend 100% effort on each.

I think I have always had some aspirations to teach.  However, lecturing to 100 undergraduates in a required class is not what I envisioned.  Plus, I'm not a good motivator to get students excited about something (in case you haven't noticed from my posts).  Teaching can also be very frustrating and I'm not really sure I have the patience for it.  However, teaching good students who are interested can be very rewarding.

During graduate school, I think my aspirations turned to science.  As I started doing research I realized how many things are not very clearly understood and got very interested in being able to contribute to mankind's understanding of the world.  However, simply understanding something without trying to utilize that knowledge just does not excite me anymore.

Finally, I think I've come back to what I went to school to do in the first place: engineering.  I love to learn new things but at some point I want to use that knowledge to engineer something.  I suppose this goes back to my original (since early childhood) interest in making things.

At this point, I think I'd like to be:

15% teacher,

25% researcher,

60% engineer.

However, being an independent engineering (unless you're doing software) is very difficult.


Mike Ciavarella's picture


 why struggle so much?  You don't want to be a teacher, why you need the WORLD to decide for you?  I hope you are not too flattered by my suggestion to read Richard Feynman who probably had more interests than you, and survived quite well!


Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character

Pub. Date: March 1997

Here are the outrageous exploits of the world's most outspoken Nobel Prize-winning scientist.

From the Publisher:

"Richard Feynman was a great
scientist, a winner of the Nobel Prize, remembered equally for his
laboratory work on liquid helium and his wonderful, unquenchable
vitality and sense of humor. His lighthearted approach to life made his
lectures a delight and his scientific accomplishments all the more
intriguing. Feynman was interested in everything. He painted, traded
ideas with Einstein and Bohr, calculated odds with Nick the Greek,
accompanied ballet on the bongos. Here is Feynman's astonishing life
story -- a combustible mixture of high intelligence, unlimited
curiosity, eternal skepticism, and raging chutzpah.

"Anyone who can read it without laughing out loud is crazy." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)




Go for it.  As you know I am interested in your ideas, and we should discuss.  I am writing a research proposal just now on virtual organizations in mechanics.  If you are interested,  just contact me.



ericmock's picture


I'm not really asking others to decide.  These are just issues that are on my mind and I'm sure others have gone through these career struggles and I'm sure many more will.  It seems the vast majority of iMechanica users are young (and younger than me).  I just want to start a discussion about issues that might get people thinking and help others.  No one can decide what's best for me but me.  However, I suspect that other people have struggled with this same issue and I am curious to see if they ever reconciled it.  It's not something that keeps me awake at night or that I need an answer to.  However, I think a discussion of these issues are important for students interested in an academic career.  Having a thread of how people have (or have not) reconciled their competing desires would be nice.

It's nice to have options.  But then you need to make decisions.  And if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.


Mike Ciavarella's picture



 I wish I could help more in the discussion, but this is the best I can do!


  The material I refer to, perhaps is not what you had in mind, but is first class.  Richard Feynman, and Andrew Oswald.   Please have a go in trying to read a little bit, maybe you do find some replies.   Imechanicians are young as you say, so without any disrespect for them, I think we should first learn and "build on the shoulders of giants" like Feynman and Oswald.


   If you find the material completely uninteresting, then of course sorry for diverting and distracting you, but I am confident you could not say this is NOT first class material.   And loosely connected to what you say I am sure.


Regards, Mike


A lot of engineers would also like to add some or more of these (partly overlapping) options:
(i) inventor,
(ii) manager (if not: technolgy forecaster, venture capitalist, etc.)
and, last but not in the least,
(iii) student.

"Researcher" is not exactly the same as "Inventor," not even if you combine the former with "Engineer." The emphasis on practicality and creativity which is meant in saying "Invention" is altogetherly different. Anybody could have kept researching DC, but it took the genius of Tesla to work on inventing the usefulness of AC.

A lot of engineering people keep ambitions of being a "Manager." It doesn't have to be industrial management. (For example, remember the famous words: "Failure is not an option!" It sure was a *management* job!)

Finally, a word about being a "Student." This role needs to be taken increasingly seriously, as a separate activity in serious *work* these days. Various streamlines of technological development increasingly intermingle with each other in so many intricate ways that it all was unimaginable until recently. For instance, a mechanical engineer trained to deal mainly with solid mechanics will have to pick up a significant knowledge of CFD (and not just be content with only computational solid mechanics) and also some working knowledge about physiology and cardiology, if he expects to work in a project involving computational modeling of heart. .... All in all, I think all of us (and the next generations) will have to begin seriously allocating time for being a student as an integral part of our "work." To some extent, in the IT industry, this has already come to be taken for granted.

ericmock's picture

My love of learning will always make me a student fundamentally.  To keep learning is really not an issue for me.  I will always do that and will always advocate others do that.  It's just that I would like to do something with what I learn.  Thus, for me, being a student will always be part of being a teacher, scientist, or engineer.

In fact, my wife still asks me what I did at 'school' today and general refers to my work as school.

Mike Ciavarella's picture

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