Engineers...it’s time to talk about your feelings. Starting your career in engineering can be a daunting undertaking. Are you happy with how your engineering career is progressing? Are you afraid of your future in engineering? Are you considering studying something else? Are you coping with the workload? Is the money worth what you’re doing right now? Are you generally happy? These are the kinds of questions that would make someone working in engineering - or studying towards working in engineering - become introspective.
Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarin, both engineers, released a book entitled Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life. Their book focuses on the idea that if engineers have been able to engineer such amazing things that humans benefit from, could they not also engineer happiness itself? In the book, the engineers say they have created the fundamental equation of happiness. They write it as: HAPPINESS equals REALITY minus EXPECTATIONS.
Furthermore, in the chapter ‘Defining Happiness’, they write: “Happiness is composed of the momentary feeling that we all have when things are going our way, when the weather is beautiful, or when our favorite team just won the big game. And unhappiness is composed of the unpleasant feeling we all have when we get a bad grade or catch flu.” However, there is further puzzlement as to what would cause engineers to be unhappy. And, they’re using a term that is gaining in its seriousness.
They’re calling it the ‘quarterlife crisis’. A time in a millennial's life where uncertainty is a dominant feeling. Making the change from student life to working life in their twenties, and then feeling as if they have made the wrong job-decisions as they settle into their thirties, are the suggested causes of a quarter life crisis. Depression sets in soon thereafter, where the millennials feel trapped in an unhealthy situation of not enjoying what they have decided to do with their lives. Some may already be in their jobs and feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Additionally, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), United States, have reported that 8.4 percent of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 years old have experienced major depressive episodes.
Dr. Oliver Robinson as the University of Greenwich further delves into the relatively new-sounding quarter life crisis in his study: Emerging Adulthood, Early Adulthood, and Quarter-Life Crisis:Updating Erikson for the 21st Century. The study offers a window into what the different phases of a quarter life crisis look like. Robinson says that those going through the crisis might remove themselves from a situation that has them feeling trapped. The person then develops new commitments more relevant to what interests them. This is something an engineer who feels they’ve gone into the wrong job could potentially do. It is easier to find a new path in early adulthood than it is when you’re much older.
Robinson’s study has resonated with engineers online who have commented that the modern engineering industry has produced a handful of graduates who are uncertain that they truly chose the right engineering training. Another engineer, who has only been employed in 3 months, commented, saying: “It was the same for me and I’ve never had an engineering job until 3 months ago. I think it’s a 2-something thing and not industry specific.”
However, At the University of Waterloo, Canada, a group of researchers conducted a study on the mental health of their engineering students based on their classifications. The research was titled: Analyzing the Mental Health of Engineering Students using Classification and Regression. They compiled a questionnaire that was distributed amongst the students and subsequently based their findings on the results. The questions were set with consideration to guidelines provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The researchers found that overall mental health was affected with the number of hours of homework students had. They also found that second-year students posted the highest mental health numbers, showing that they were the happiest. Electrical engineers were found to suffer from lower mental health scores due to the competitive nature of their programs. Whereas, system design engineering students had the highest scores due to the amount of teamwork involved and the flexibility of their curriculum. Moreover, women in engineering reportedly also had lower mental health overall. The lack of happiness for women in engineering could be tied to the male-dominated nature of engineering industries, where women may feel out of place.
At the end of the day, engineering studies and engineering workplaces are high-pressure industries that require responsible, steadfast and motivated people. The harsh reality is that some humans cannot deal with the pressure attached to engineering, and, as a result, experience the quarterlife crises. This year alone, there have been an unprecedented number of engineering student suicides. If you happen to be having suicidal thoughts here is a page of worldwide suicide prevention hotline numbers: HOTLINE NUMBERS.
On a lighter note, The Institution of Civil Engineers recorded a video that further encourages engineers to feel “happy” in their engineering workplaces. They are trying to lure more students in, showing that engineering can be fun. Despite being in serious workplaces, they want to show that human happiness can shine through it all. The video even has Sir John Armitt, one of Britain's most successful civil engineers who was very instrumental in the construction of London 2012 Olympics facilities that have now become part of the country’s infrastructure.