Engineers and Scientists are often talked about as if they are interchangeable, but it is important for students who are considering a STEM related career to understand that there are actually very significant differences between the two. One way to examine the differences is to look at the methods associated with each. In the book “Discussion of the Method,” Billy Vaughn Koen gives the following distinction between the scientific method and the engineering method.
Most high school students can at least offer a summary of the scientific method with a statement such as, “theory corrected by experiment.” A more thorough definition would include aspects of observing the natural world, creating hypotheses, performing experiments in which as many variables as possible are held constant, and formulation of general theories. The scientific method offers truth about natural phenomena.
On the other hand, few students can accurately explain the engineering method. Koen gives us four qualities that define an engineering problem:
- Change – An engineer makes a change to a physical system as opposed to a scientific observation.
- Best – The change that is made is optimal in the engineer’s estimation.
- Resources – The change is made with limited resources.
- Uncertainty – The system that is being changed is not completely known and can change as the problem is solved.
One way of thinking about the difference between science and engineering is that engineers offer solutions to open-ended problems, whereas scientists are more concerned with gaining factual knowledge about our world. The solutions that engineers provide are not unique – there are no correct answers in the back of the book. Engineers often use scientific principles along with their creativity to choose among the many possible ways to solve a problem given the resources and time allotted.
Keep this distinction in mind when choosing your field of study. Both paths lead to rewarding careers. Find the one that suits your talents and interests as best as possible.The objective of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor is to develop fully in our students their potential for excellence in Computer Science and Engineering. If your future career intrests lead you down the road of science and engineering, we invite you to stop by for a campus visit, or visit our website for more information.