Why is it so hard to change engineering education?

In the last two decades we have seen waves of advocacy for changing engineering education, while at the same time we have entrenched the existing model ever deeper through international standardization and accreditation models like the Washington Accord.

Our research on engineering practice, what engineers actually do, demonstrates the need for changes – see my recent blog post on Dave Goldberg’s Big Beacon site.

Students know that they will never have to solve partial differential equations as engineers, so why do we continue to teach that, and not teach them the things they will actually be doing in practice? Continue reading

Back from Pakistan, UAE, Iran and New Zealand

Some of you may have wondered why there has been a little gap in my blog posts.  I have been pre-occupied with visits to several countries.

My other major project, Close Comfort has developed very quickly with keen anticipation particularly in Pakistan where electricity supplies are subject to frequent interruptions due to load shedding.  Pakistan’s electricity grid is struggling to keep up with demand for air conditioning, and I hope to be able to offer a sustainable solution, as explained in Chapter 13 of the book. Continue reading

“A breakthrough in thinking…powerful conclusion”

The book was launched at The University of Western Australia on November 10 by Peter Meurs, Director of Development at Fortescue Metals Group.

Speeches by John Dell, Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, Peter Meurs, and the author.


(20 minutes)

Quotes from Peter Meurs

“It really does represent a breakthrough in thinking. It bridges the gap between the academic side, studying engineering, and the real engineering world.” (4:02)

“It presents more than just a set of ideas and concepts.”

It represents interviews with hundreds of real engineers, and is seeking to find those characteristics that make an expert engineer.” (4:26)

“Expert engineers are not necessarily technically brilliant but they’re engineers that work out the complex processes of thinking, communicating, collaborating and challenging that lead to value being added to their organisations and ultimately to the world.” (4:38)

“I think The Making of an Expert Engineer applies to all engineers. I wish I had read it 20 or 30 years ago… it would have made a real difference. Many engineers that feel they’re stuck in a rut, they’re not adding value to their organisations, they’re frustrated, will greatly benefit from reading this book and it will help them progress back to their dream of making a real difference in the world.” (5:49)

“James goes well beyond just presenting concepts and ideas … he backs it up with real case studies and stories that add credibility and colour.” (6:15)

“It presents 17 misconceptions, things like “engineering jobs are always advertised” or “my boss will tell me what to do”. That’s a total misconception. It has 85 practice concepts like “time changes the value of money” and “human emotions influence engineering” and “a project plan is a living document”. There’s lots of engineers that need to learn that if you want to be successful. (6:43)

“The conclusion of the book is powerful. James invites all engineers to step up to recognise the contribution that we do make and can make to society as a whole and through my engineering career, through making many mistakes and also through facing challenges I have really come to understand that concept.” (8:51)

One thing’s for sure, when you take on a big project, things will go wrong and it is simply so easy to say “Oh, unfortunately that went wrong so it’s going to cost more and take longer.” A real engineer will step up and say we can still achieve the cost and schedule and all of the requirements. Great engineers, when they’re faced with adversity and challenges, rally the network, apply their technical coordination skills, draw on the collective experience of vendors, fabricators, consultants and contractors and deliver the original solution or something better. (9:15)

In my family I will need at least 4 copies, one for me, one for two son-in-laws who are engineers and one for my son who is just completing engineering degree, and at Fortescue I’m going to need at least forty copies for our graduate program, so congratulations to James and the whole team at UWA for the many years of research that form the foundation for this book.(10:02)

“I think this book has the potential to change engineering and the way that engineering is taught. (10:31)”

Peter Meurs, Director of Development at Fortescue Metals Group through tripling of production capacity in record time, and also co-founder of WorleyParsons Engineering.