Personally I come from science (theoretical physics) and know numerous people in Engineering. Speaking to them I see that the kinds of things I tend to be interested in and what they are interested in differ, e.g. I want to understand why a phenomena happens, they want to make use of the phenomena to do something. Having a look online it seems like an engineering PhD tends to involve: 1) build something and 2) show that it works. But this seems like an incomplete understanding of (academic) engineering research.

What I am wondering is how does academic (i.e. the research done at a university) engineering research differ from academic scientific research? Specifically I would be curious about the differences in how designing a project is undertaken and how people decide what is a good/interesting research project?

I decided to focus this question on the way research is done in engineering departments at universities since this (to my mind) is the most academic/pure form of engineering research, and I believe it is easier for me to understand motivations from industry research. If there are similarities between university and industry engineering research I am also interested in hearing about these.

1 Answer 1

  1. build something and 2) show that it works

That is engineering. There is not much more to be said. And still, it is extremely complicated to build something and make it works without understanding the analyitcal solution behind ... but it is still needed. And sometimes you have to bring things from apparently a different world to make things work. For example, may you need a great understanding of the statistics.

It's not like we did not develop the LED or the laser because we had the analytical solutions to the Schrödinger equation for hydrogen only.

And do not even start to explore how "engineered" is the pharmaceutical industry ... see for example "[General Anesthesia and Altered States of Arousal: A Systems Neuroscience Analysis] (from 2011) 1"

Our analysis shows that general anesthesia is less mysterious than currently believed.

Which means "until now we think we do not understand anesthesia, but who cares if we understood it or not, it works and we use it".

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