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All Engineering Knowledge Has an Expiration Date. The Trick Is to Know When

Engineering grads are facing an ever rising tide of knowledge


2 min read
Illustration: Andrea Mongia
Illustration: Andrea Mongia

I was listening recently to some engineering graduates talking about their current research efforts. As I was forcibly immersed in the minutiae of opaque mathematics, the thought came to me that this was really difficult work for potentially small gains. But on the heels of that came another thought: These engineers were really skilled. I was greatly impressed by their depth of knowledge and facility with analysis. How did they learn so much in their few years of university training? After all, there is so much more to know now than there used to be, and every year it gets ever more overwhelming.

One explanation is that, as new knowledge accumulates, some old knowledge becomes irrelevant and falls off the knowledge stack. Almost all the college course work I took long ago is now useless in itself, although what remains is an engineering mind-set and a mathematical grounding. Perhaps every course should have a sell-by date. Indeed, in retrospect I now realize that a number of the courses I took were already well past their sell-by dates when I took them. I remember too when the technical library in the lab where I worked was shut down and all the books were offered free to the staff. Almost all of them went unclaimed; no one wanted them. The problem is that we never quite know when a particular course or book will become obsolete.

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Asad Madni and the Life-Saving Sensor

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