General Engineering Introduction/Frustration

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Most People

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Most People want to live life with no frustration, no confusion.

People are afraid of Frustration because they are afraid of failure DARPA Video. Engineers fail a lot. But they learn while failing. This is what produces success.

Inspiration = frustration - fear of failure - doubt of ability - despair of ignorance - impossibility 

Richard Feynman calls whats left of frustration -- "confusion" rather than "inspiration" in this youtube video.

blank graph with frustration on dependent axis and time on independent axis
No Frustration

Most People do not want to deal with brick walls of frustration or confusion. Who do they call?

frustration spike on graph with frustration on dependent axis and time on independent axis
Frustration Spikes feel like hitting brick wall


Students Expectations

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Most people expect teachers to eliminate frustration-confusion from courses.
Teachers are expected to identify the average frustrations-confusions students have with the course.

frustration spikes on graph with frustration on dependent axis and time on independent axis
An individual students frustration spikes

Teachers are expected to design presentations, exercises, and/or homework that eliminate these frustration-confusion spikes.

frustration spikes on graph with frustration on dependent axis and time on independent axis
Most common frustration spikes in a classroom

So that the average student experiences:

blank graph with frustration on dependent axis and time on independent axis
No Frustration

Most Instructors

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Most instructors try to combine "no student frustration" with a "mountain of knowledge."

outline of mountain with teacher at top and student at the bottom
Teacher at top saying "Come, be like me"

Students are either bored or immediately defeated by the incredible expertise, endless explanations and enthusiasm the instructor models. Rather than being inspired, the student tries to figure out the minimal subset necessary to pass or get an A, which doesn't generate mutual respect.

Engineering Instructors

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Engineering is different. Frustration is turned into opportunity. Despair turns into inspiration. "Fear of failure" increases the power of observation.

The goal is to find these frustrations - confusions, turn them into art, turn them into profit, turn them into science that is trusted. The goal is to improve society, culture, standard of living. Most engineering instructors celebrate frustration identification. Don't expect empathy from engineers. Expect excitement.

Students may feel engineering instructors are similar to an evil drill instructor. Please believe that engineering instructors are not creating artificial frustrations.

lots of frustration spikes on graph with frustration on dependent axis and time on independent axis
Natural Frustration Spikes of Everyone Combined

Nobody has the same frustration set, and nobody has the same talent set. These are often the same thing. These frustrations-confusions are almost like a finger print.

Your personal frustrations are unique. This will make you a unique engineer. Somewhere in the world, someone else is frustrated-confused in the same way and will pay for relief.

Engineers learn to love frustration - confusion, owning problems and identifying unconscious issues.

There are lots of natural frustrations. An engineers first goal is to figure out which are inside themselves, which are part of the natural world and which are collective averages of other people. The next step is problem solving.

So how does an Engineering Instructor teach this? Students feel that they are invited up the mountain and then pushed off in a sink or swim situation. They are given homework that is always impossible to complete. The labs go on forever.

teacher pushing student off top of mountain
Student falls down mountain, hitting all the trees, getting cut and brusied

Students respond to this incredible challenge by either:

Letting their life get in the way (cars, significant others, family, money, sleeping)
Cheating or Self Deception that results in self depreciation (stupid mistakes, drawing blanks, not an engineer)
Complaining their instructor doesn't teach them anything and doesn't help them
Letting outside world defeat them (broken equipment, doesn't exist, can not find)
Doing their best and letting go of grade worries


Grabbing Control, organizing study groups, negotiating more facility time, starting ethical discussions about the boundaries between copying/explaining, group/individual work and renegotiating reasonable/unreasonable project/homework/lab expectations.

Engineering instructors present the raw, unfiltered, marvelous world to you. Then they watch and listen. It is your job to chop the frustration spikes into pieces rather than let them defeat or hurt you. Remember the bottom line of engineering is respect.

The above is true of each and every engineering class you take. Content is only there to provide a context in which to present the above learning opportunities.


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This is an email from a former student of this course:

I can't tell you how much your lectures on frustration and view on engineering have helped
me through out my college education. ... Also, you can tell anyone complaining about engineering 
notebook logging that we still use them here at NG...