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5 October 2009 / erikduval

First engineering lecture

Two weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege to give the first lecture to first year engineering students in Leuven.

I always like to take a few minutes to make them think about why they are there. This year, I used the quote that

Scientists study the world as it is;

engineers create the world that has never been.

(See slide 7 below.) And, of course, I had asked my twitter friends for advice about what to say at this somewhat special occasion – I still remember my first day at the university many many moons ago…

And some good advice I got – slide 9 and beyond… Ruben Faelens wrote on Facebook

Studying engineering is not only about studying. The university is a cooking pot of the brightest minds of society; and there will never be so many smart people together in such a free climate. If you ever wanted to go on a trip around the world, build a catapult, create the next Google, or build your own robot: you will find people to do it with at the university!
Just don’t forget to study. 🙂

To which Steven Verjans replied:

Go home and get a life ;-0

Michael Goossens was more practically oriented:

“Only a few of you will remain next year” >:-). The ugly truth.

That is actually not accurate: slightly more than half the students pass their first year. I am a glass-half-full kind of person 😉
Robert Farrell’s view is quite similar to mine:

It’s all about mindset discipline. You have to THINK like an engineer

My version of that is that I mentioned that it will take engineering to solve some of the more pressing problems of our time, like Global Warming. OK – one could argue that it is also engineers who created that problem in the first place …
José Palazzo Oliveira suggested something I actually did after my engineering studies:

Why don`t you try a little of Philosophy?

On facebook, Leo Plugge concluded the conversation with … shall I say a philosophical note:

That, by the time they graduate, the economy will probably look brighter but the environment bleaker. They did wise to choose engineering, if they use it wise.

Over on twitter, Till Nagel had a suggestion for a nice story: I duly followed his suggestion and explained the story to the students:

The story about the ceramics teacher (see e.g. Art & Fear is generally a great read, not only for artists.

I added Art & Fear to my reading list as well…
Wolfgang Reinhard echoed my sentiments about the importance of failure, by suggesting that

would tell them that they live in exciting times,shall try all they can & are allowed to make faults, risk some to realise ideas

Bart Van Loon rightly remarked:

that for the next 5 years, they’ll learn more outside that room, than inside (unless they want to become an academic) 🙂

And, finally, Xavier reminded me of an excellent way to put some context around their studies, by suggesting the video below, which I showed in class.

All of these were Great suggestions, a reminder (not that I needed one) that I have some truly Great Friends that are full of good ideas when I want to discuss an important topic… Maybe you want to add your suggestion here as well?


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