At SWE we love to ask questions about why there aren’t more women in engineering. One key that we’ve found is that our world has a kind of narrow image of what an engineer is. This means lots of kids feel like they won’t “fit” into engineering, or just weren’t meant to be engineers because they don’t meet the stereotypes. Here are some myths to knock down when talking to kids so they’ll realize that engineering is something that LOTS of different people fit into.
Myth #1: Engineers just sit at desks all day.
Reality: How can you make the world a better place if you’re not out in it? We get bored easily! If you’re going to get clean water to remote villages, make a power plant more efficient, or repair injured brain cells, you’re going to be in lots of places having a very exciting life!
Myth #2: Engineers work all alone.
Reality: It’s very rare to solve a problem all yourself – we need people with all kinds of talents (and engineering degrees) to help out on these teams! Magazine stories may act like all inventions were made by a single “hero” but if you dig deeper, you’ll almost always find that they had help. If you can work with people you’ll be a great engineer!
Myth #3: You need perfect math grades to be an engineer
Reality: Some of us got Cs in math – and it’s okay! We don’t sit around doing math problems all week, and we’re not all geniuses. The only thing we have in common is that we love learning and trying things, and sometimes we get more joy out of a concept that we understand even if we didn’t “get it” right away.
Myth #4: Our favorite subject is always math.
Reality: Engineers everywhere are using our so-called “non engineering” interests like art, history, or music in our jobs every day. If you’ve got the ears to tell that a stereo system sounds like a concert hall, or a knack for choosing color palettes could make beautiful user interfaces, you could be a great engineer!
Myth #5: Engineers only have “tough” hobbies.
Reality: Actually, a lot of crafty, and dare we say stereotypically “girly”, hobbies involve solving design challenges, just like engineering. Someone who can figure out how thick a clay vase needs to be to survive kiln firing obviously has a brain wired to work with properties of different materials. A seamstress or quilter solves geometry problems to make fabric pieces fit together. Lots of the creative processes we love to do for fun really prove that we make great engineers!
Myth #6: If you’re meant to be an engineer you’ll KNOW it. There is no room for doubt.
Reality: A lot of great engineers just fall into it, not even sure where we’re going, but that’s okay because engineers do all kinds of things. An engineering degree doesn’t lock you in, it’s really flexible and you could have a career that changes constantly until you find your place.
What do all these things have in common? They point to the idea that there’s no one way to be a great engineer, you don’t have to change or have some magic genetic code. You can just be yourself. If you’re considering career choices and wondering what an engineer looks like, don’t look at stereotypes. Look in the mirror!