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Letter: MUN engineering needs less research, more design

Memorial University’s St. John’s campus.
Memorial University’s St. John’s campus. - Joe Gibbons

Universities use research to grow. MUN is no exception. Some research is good. But most research is useless and a waste of money. Because of research, MUN has too many professors. Together, they cost about $100M each year. The people of N.L. cannot afford them.

Engineering research is supposed to be an attempt to understand something. Engineering design is attempt to create something. Both make use of mathematics and science. But design is also an art. This puts it at a higher level intellectually than research.

Design is the focus of engineering in industry. It is also the focus of undergraduate engineering schools worldwide. Yet, it is basically ignored at the graduate level at universities worldwide.

The focus at the graduate level has always been on research. Each student works for a professor in what is basically a master-slave type relationship. The focus is on the career of the professor and the reputation of the institution, not on the student.

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Students who do research for professors often end up working on projects they are not really interested in. Also, the work is often very specialized and does not prepare them for work in industry. Industry needs people who are creative and versatile.

Good engineers excel at design. Research-based graduate programs cannot produce such engineers. Currently, very few graduates from the undergraduate engineering school at MUN go on to do graduate work. This is because graduate school, with its focus on research, has little to do with engineering.

There is a need to establish a design culture at the graduate level. Most professors are products of a research graduate program. Many have no industrial experience. Many do not understand design or the needs of industry. So, a design culture cannot be established through professors. Unique graduate design programs, separate from research, which focus on students, not on professors, must be developed.

There are five disciplines of engineering at MUN. Some of the money wasted at MUN each year on professors and research could give five of the top graduates from the undergraduate engineering school at MUN, Design Scholarships for Masters of Engineering work, each worth $50,000 spread over five semesters.

These Design Scholarships would be very prestigious. No other university in Canada has them. Each scholarship would contain a stipend for the student and a grant for prototype construction. It would cost $0.25M per year. Muskrat Falls costs 50,000 times that amount. It is roughly the cost of two professors.

The design students would work on projects with a high potential for innovation and thus the creation of new industries locally. The scholarships would give students greater control over projects, which should motivate them to do good work.

A Board of Studies would assign and oversee projects. Students would not have supervisors in the research sense. Ideas for projects could come from professors, students and the people of N.L. Design could connect the people of N.L. to MUN in a way never done before. It would be a good investment in the future of N.L.

I made Premier Dwight Ball aware of the Engineering Design Masters idea. Minister Al Hawkins responded saying that there were no funds to support it. Yet, he is always in the news announcing more funds for Internationalization at MUN. That seems to be a priority area.

Mike Hinchey

St. John’s

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