Saturday, September 18, 2010

An ode to my chosen profession

Just yesterday, a beautiful grandmotherly type of woman asked my friend and me, "Are you gals engineers?" as we were entering Greenfield Village to enjoy a lunch at the historic Eagle Tavern.  We replied that we were and she said "I think it is so wonderful what a woman can do these days!"  And I had to agree with her, It was 32 years ago this fall that I started in this profession, and when people talk of life changing decisions, this is mine.   I am so glad I did it, and I am sad that the numbers of women choosing engineering has been declining in recent times.  Back in 1982, I chose it because I was good at math and science.   I can't say that I enjoyed high school math and science, but I was good at them.   I didn't come to enjoy those subjects until I was studying engineering, and I learned how to use them as tools to solve problems.  I also like being a woman in a man's field.   Just yesterday, I looked around the room and realized that once again, I was the only woman in there in a room of 20 men.  I forget this most times, because the guys I work with are just other thinkers to me instead of men.   But it still is remarkable to be the only woman in the room...

Engineering is a profession, like medicine or the law.  It's more a life journey, not a job folks pass through on the way to something else.  Generally people stay doing it for their whole lives - I think it is because the education is so difficult, and it is a mostly stable, well paying profession.   And it's because you think a certain way.  It's a great field for a woman, but because it is largely a male profession, it's not the kind of career where a woman can take 5 years off to have kids and come back to it.   Most women engineers that are mothers are working mothers.  Not all women are cut out to do both at the same time - it takes a certain kind of energy and ability to multitask and have your head and your heart in two places at once.   It's hard to know that ahead of time.   Many women engineers I know end up quitting after they have kids.  They are unable to handle both at the same time.  The lure of being a problem solver for someone with a scientific bent is hard to give up.    The problem solving spills over into everything we mother used to hate selling houses to engineers because they'd get a ruler out and a level to hang a picture on the wall.   Everything always can be fixed to be better.   Sometimes I have to remind myself that lots of things are just fine the way they are, even if they aren't perfect. 

Gordon Brown, who was the Dean of Engineering at MIT in the 60s, describes what we do as "Engineers operate at the interface between science and society" and I think that's a good way to put it.  Only 2 U.S. Presidents were engineers, and they were generally thought to be failures as presidents - Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.    I think this isn't surprising - if you were going to pick the opposite of "engineer" when it comes to profession, it would have to be "politician".  Engineers use facts to solve problems, politicians use their powers of persuasion and personal charisma to do what they need to do.  However, Hoover described engineering in this way..... "Engineering is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realisation in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings homes to men or women. Then it elevates the standard of living and adds to the comforts of life. This is the engineer's high privilege." And a high privilege it is indeed!  I am blessed to be a part of this wonderful profession.

1 comment:

Tightwad Mom said...

It's wonderful when you find a profession that you love. It's really not a chore to be a working mother if you love what you do inside your home and outside of it,too.