Eileen Goold picture IMG 5156resized Dr. Eileen Goold is a chartered engineer and lecturer in the Department of Electronic Engineering at the Institute of Technology Tallaght, Dublin. Eileen has considerable experience in engineering practice; she was the first engineer hired by Intel Ireland and had responsibility for the start-up of the European manufacturing plant. In addition to her lecturing role, Eileen actively promotes the engineering profession; she devised a "Women in Electronics" programme to increase the number of women in the electronics industry in Ireland and she also set up a Technology Awareness Programme in Schools linking education with local industry in the development of a technology training package for young people. Following the closure of the electronics company, Packard Electric in Dublin, Eileen was appointed to the Government's Task Force where she sought replacement industries and devised training programmes for the workforce. She was recognised in Irish Tatler's list of 100 women who contributed to the changing face of Ireland in 1998 for blazing a trail for women in a traditionally male dominated industry.

 Eileen's research interests include engineering practice, engineering education, mathematics learning and engineering career choice. Her PhD research investigated the role of mathematics in engineering practice and in the formation of engineers.

 Dr. Frank Devitt is Head of the Department of Design Innovation at NUI Maynooth, Ireland. Prior to his current position Frank was Head of the Department of Electronic Engineering at NUI Maynooth. Frank has worked over twenty years in technology businesses in Ireland and abroad as engineer, engineering manager, general manager, sales director, managing director and entrepreneur. He has founded a number of indigenous technology businesses and remains a director of some.

 Frank lectures and researches in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking as a strategic innovation methodology.

 

What first got you interested in engineering practice?

 I have always been interested in promoting engineering careers to young people and providing opportunities to students to sample technology through interactions with practising engineers. My decision to study engineering practice stemmed from my work as a lecturer helping students prepare for work as professional engineers. When designing and delivering engineering courses I have reflected on the value of my courses to engineering practice and I have questioned whether engineering education matches the requirements of engineering practice. I have also been struck by the lack of knowledge and indeed the misinterpretations that exist in both schools and society about what engineers actually do. I have wondered if this lack of knowledge has impacted engineering career choice.

 

Why did you begin researching the topic of your chapter? Was it chance/grand plan/ colleague's recommendation ...?

 My interest in engineering practice led me to pursuing research investigating practising engineers' education and work experiences. I enrolled as a PhD student at NUI Maynooth, Ireland in January 2008 under the supervision of Dr. Frank Devitt. It was only after a period of extensive reading that I chose to investigate the way mathematics was taught to students who subsequently became engineers and if engineers' own mathematics learning contributed to their choice of engineering careers. I also investigated the way mathematics is used by practising engineers in their work and whether it matches the mathematics taught in schools and in engineering education. The study was inspired by the lacuna in the scholarly literature concerning the nature of mathematics' role, if any, as a significant cause of the declining number of students entering professional engineering courses and also by the absence of any broad picture of the mathematical expertise required or used by practising engineers. It was a four-and-a-half year research journey.

 

What challenges did you encounter when working on this chapter?

 The main challenge encountered was determining how to measure engineers' use of mathematics in their work. It was decided to consider mathematics usage in three parts: curriculum mathematics (school and college mathematics), mathematical thinking (analysis, reasoning, logical rigour, problem solving and a sense of what the solution might be etc.) and engaging (interest, enjoyment and confidence etc.).

 

What aspect of preparing your chapter gives you the most satisfaction now?

 I am particularly interested in findings based on a rigorous research methodology. One important finding arising from this study is that feelings about mathematics are an important factor in mathematics learning and usage. Another important finding is that mathematics learning generally focuses on objective analysis while thinking usage, subjective analysis and communicating mathematics are also required in engineering practice. These findings have implications for mathematics education generally and they highlight the gap between engineering education and practice.

 Another interesting outcome is the insight into professional engineers practising in Ireland. This includes engineers' individual stories about their background, their mathematics education experiences, their career decisions and their work in engineering practice. The engineers' stories were compiled following interviews with a sample of professional engineers. This is the first time a collection of structured interview data on this topic has been generated and hopefully this will shed light on what engineers do.

 

What advice would you give to someone beginning to get interested in engineering practice(s) research?

  Read this book.

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