AN ENGINEERING STUDENT SURVIVAL GUIDE
Richard M. Felder
Hoechst Celanese Professor of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7905
You say things aren't going quite the way you'd like this semester, especially in your ten
The professor just covers the board with equations and doesn't explain
The textbook is dry as dust and doesn't have worked-out examples?
problems are nothing like the homework and class averages are in the 40's?
Well, I'm not unsympathetic--I had some classes like that in my day and complained
about them just as bitterly.
Unfortunately, while complaining may make you feel better,
it won't do a thing for your grades.
I'd like to propose several more productive ways to
First, though, let me suggest that the real problem is not that professor who's making your
It's that over the years you've bought into a message that goes like this:
My teachers have the truth, the wisdom, and the tricks of the trade.
Their job is to feed
it all to me in lectures, and my job is to soak it up and then repeat it on homework and
If I can do that, I've learned what I need to know.
..and that's the only way I can
That approach may have worked in high school and earlier, but it begins to fail
in college – and once you get into the plant or research lab, it stops working completely.
On the job there are no teachers, lectures, homework, or exams.
There are only
problem – usually poorly defined ones – and solutions that are either acceptable or not.
To make it worse, you no longer get partial credit for solutions that don't work, even if
you use the correct formula.
If you design ten reactors and one blows up, trust me – they
won't give you a 90 and congratulate you.
And yet every day, hundreds of thousands of engineers, most no brighter than you--many
not as bright – who once struggled with their own confusing instructors and texts and
didn't understand entropy any better than you do, are out there doing just fine, figuring
out what they need to know and solving their problems.
How do they do it?
They know a few things you still haven't discovered, that's how.
They learned soon after graduating not to count on someone else telling them everything
they need to know to solve their problems.
Then they learned how to find out for
themselves what they need to know, and discovered that there is a lot of help available if
they know where to go for it.
These engineers learned those things out of necessity, most of them after graduating.
What I'd like to do here is give you a head start, both to help you do better in your
remaining courses and to enable you to hit the ground running on your first job.