Why Engineering is Purple


Some purple students at a Waterloo Engineering event (from engsoc.uwaterloo.ca)

Waterloo’s official colours are black, gold and white, but you might have noticed that Engineering’s brochures, websites and other material have a lot of purple.  Sometimes I’ve been asked why that is, or why we are using Wilfrid Laurier or Western University‘s colours.    The main explanation is that sometimes our students are purple, as illustrated in the picture, so why not use that as our theme colour?  But there are purple engineering students at other universities like Queen’s, so there is more too it than just that. There is a bit of a long explanation that can be given in more detail as follows.

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Calculators I’ve Known and Loved

Here is a stereotypical, nerdy engineering reflection on calculators.  Actually, the purpose is to illustrate how much technology changes in a single generation, and maybe somebody will find it interesting. So, here is a brief description of calculators that I have used in university and beyond.

Slide Rule

  Acumath slide ruleYes, I actually used this in high school and for the first couple of weeks of university in my chemical engineering program (for reasons you’ll see below).  Once you were proficient, it could be faster than a calculator for some calculations.  The downside is that you can’t add or subtract with it, only multiply, divide, do logarithms and trig functions.  Addition and subtraction you have to do in your head, or on paper.  It’s interesting to think that most engineering design done prior to the early 1970s was based on slide rule calculations. Continue reading

I want to be an engineer. What will my salary be?

Here is a slideshow from the Globe & Mail, showing interesting facts about engineering careers, including salaries and projected future demand.  It’s fairly generic, but might be useful to look at.



Engineering Salary Statistics

The Globe & Mail, a newspaper published in Toronto, has posted an interesting graphic that allows you to determine the average early career earnings (ages 26 to 35) of various university majors, including several engineering disciplines.  This is based on StatsCan data, and so is presumably reasonably good.  After a quick look, some comments.

First, Chemical Engineering (my discipline!) seems to have the highest median income (over $71,000) among the engineering fields.  I suspect it’s skewed by the people working in northern Alberta (Fort McMurray, etc.) where the salaries tend to be high, but I can’t say for sure.  Most other engineering disciplines are in the low to mid $60,000 range for the median salary.  Not bad for someone in their mid 20s to mid 30s, and higher than pretty well any other major (except Pharmacy, as far as I could determine).  For comparison, in 2010 the median lone-parent family income in Canada was $37,050 according to StatsCan.

The other thing I notice is that female median salaries are consistently lower than male.  This seems to be the case for all majors.  I doubt that it is systemic salary gender discrimination, but probably reflects the fact that these are the prime child-bearing years for females, with time off work and lower income.

Overall, some interesting info, and it confirms that with engineering you can mix science, math, problem solving, and a decent standard of living too.

Offer Revocation Season

This is the start of the season when we start deciding whether to revoke admission offers.  The season starts when final grades become available, and lasts throughout the summer as we receive various exam scores and transcripts from around the world.  It’s always a bit painful for us, as we have to make hard decisions in some cases.  It’s certainly painful for applicants who lose their offer. Continue reading

Meeting your Waterloo

June 18 is the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the final major clash between Napoleon’s French Imperial forces and the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian allies arrayed against him, near a small village in modern-day Belgium.  The battle clearly resonated throughout the western world, resulting in the eventual use of the name “Waterloo” for a county and village in Ontario, and a university named after the city where it was founded.  There is also a Waterloo in Quebec, Iowa, New York State, New Zealand, and many other locations according to Wikipedia.  You might wonder what history has to do with the theme of this blog, but I’ve managed to find a connection. Continue reading