Circling the drain: My observations on the weeding out process in engineering and medicine

The Weed Out Process

In my time in college, I’ve seen this pattern time and time again. I actually wrote the bulk of this article when preparing another post on what a chemical engineer does, but decided to break it off into this new post.

This is a process I call “circling the drain”, which goes more or less like this:

1. An immature, 18-year old kid that got stellar grades in their sub-par high school enters college with ambitions “beyond the dreams of avarice.” They seek to obtain a high-value, prestigious, high-income generating degree. Medicine, engineering, and computer science are big ones. Their desire is to make a high income with little work.

2. Disillusionment is swift. Such people will flunk several important exams in the first semester, then redouble efforts the second semester, and still perform dismally.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards. They will then switch to a less impressive, run-of-the-mill degree for doing cubefarm office work. Like accounting. And writing TPS reports. Ugh.

4. Switch to some type of education degree.

5. After that, get an unemployable major (sociology, mass communications, women’s studies, black studies, LGBTQXYZWTFBBQ studies, which in a more honest age would be called pyramid schemes).

Remarks on Law School

Pre-law is kind of in limbo here with regards to the list above (read this article). The basic pre-law path isn’t too tough – even Captain Capitalism has little good to say about the law school full monty. But educations which lack rigor are unimpressive to law schools – especially in the pre-law programs that are supposed to furnish them with high-quality candidates.

However, patent attorneys, who are required to have a technical degree, are in high demand and have a very difficult education – and are fruitfully rewarded for it. I know of two patent attorneys through my professional connections – both with doctorates in chemical engineering. One become a patent attorney after he failed to make tenure at my undergraduate university; the other is the friend of a professor I spoke with when I visiting graduate schools. The latter said his friend lived in southern California and made “over 300 large a year.” Even outside of patent law, attorneys and judges with technical backgrounds can be indispensable to their profession.

Remarks on Medical School

Furthermore, those desiring to go into medical school are well-served with an engineering degree instead of the standard “biomedical sciences” or “pre-med” degree – and if med school doesn’t pan out, you can get a good job with an engineering degree – while with the other, you can’t. Some might wonder how I know anything about medical school, but I can’t help but know alot about it. The core curriculum in chemical engineering for my first two years of school had much intersection with pre-medicine. Physics, general chemistry, and organic chemistry were almost totally dominated by pre-medicine hopefuls, with a smattering of chemistry, biochemistry, and microbiology majors. I hardly knew any chemical engineers in an organic chemistry course of over 150 people (which declined rapidly to perhaps 80 or 90 after the 2nd exam). But I did know one guy that had no trouble getting into the medical school of his choice with a degree in electrical engineering – and that is not a fluke. Medical schools grow weary of having the standard “cookie cutter” student enter their halls. Engineering majors have a proven ability to think, and they look on such degrees with inclination.


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