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Topic Title: Do Engineers make good parernts?
Topic Summary: Should the Institute support its members more broadly with their whole lives, rather than simply with the work element?
Created On: 30 June 2013 10:14 PM
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 30 June 2013 10:14 PM
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Trillian77

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Has there been any research done into how well engineers are able to relate to their children?

The very things that make people succesful in the engineering world can also make it hard for them to interact socially.

As a daughter of a very succesful engineer myself, I feel he is a man who was good at his work life but terrible in home life. Perhaps I am biased, but I seem to meet other daughters of engineers who feel their fathers have missed out on an emotional part of their lives through not being very good socially, or lacking in soft skills.

I am starting to look to see what research has been done in this area. I am interested to hear people's views

Thanks

T
 02 July 2013 08:46 PM
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amillar

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I asked my 17 year old daughter, and she said "I think it depends on the engineer, they're all different." She also commented that the people she knew who had the most problems with their parents were the children of counsellors/social workers!

I have been known to suggest, however, that the only reason some people become engineers is because they can't deal with people, they like stuff that always appears to behave logically. But actually I've found this can also be true of many school teachers, doctors, and (even more bizarrely) pub landlords and hotel receptionists. Let alone accountants, solicitors and quantity surveyors.

But I have to agree that it would be interesting to know if there is a trend to those with poor social skills becoming engineers, and (more importantly) whether anything can be done about it. Modern engineering is all about team work, and good social skills are actually, I believe, hugely important for good engineering.

And yes, I do get on very well with my daughter. But then maybe she's odd too! (This is the girl who carries a screwdriver in her pencil case.)

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 03 July 2013 08:35 AM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: Trillian77Has there been any research done into how well engineers are able to relate to their children?


I think it's a worthwhile area of research but I'm not holding any hopes that a highly conservative organisation like the IET thinks along the same lines. They don't even appear to have carried out any research into how changes in technology since the millennium have affected energy consumption in homes.

It is well known that people with Asperger syndrome can and do make very good parents. One theory is that social aspects relating to AS means that they are more inclined to be with their children rather than out socialising with their mates and work colleagues in pubs and restaurants like those of a neurotypical mindset like to do. Latchkey kids are a big problem in Britain nowadays and contrary to popular belief is less of a problem with working class families than middle class families where parents go out wining, dining, and hob-nobbing all in the aid of career building whilst forgetting their children.

Occupations where people with AS can end up becoming bad parents are those that require 100% commitment to work and having to do long hours and overtime just to stay in the job. City investment banks are one such example where employees have to effectively sell their soul to their boss and stuff their family life.

When looking at the issue one has to clearly differentiate between issues and problems with soft skills and those resulting from the lack of time and energy to devote to family life due to employment commitments. Stability is required to support a family and it cannot be achieved on short employment contracts and having to constantly move in search of work.
 03 July 2013 12:31 PM
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amillar

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I kept thinking about this overnight, as there's all sorts of things here I find really interesting.

Engineers have a reputation for having really bad social skills. But having worked in engineering and engineering management for 35 years, when I look back at the engineers I've worked with and come across I have actually found as many socially ept people there as you might expect to find in any cross secton of society. The problem is that it's easy to notice those who conform to a pre-conceived stereotype, and ignore the majority that don't. As an analogy, it would be easy for yer average blokish bloke to stand in a car park and see 99 women park perfectly, and when the 100th makes a pig's ear of parking he'll still mutter "typical woman" - stereotypes beat statistics every time. (I remember chatting to my sister last year, and mentioning that I was going to an engineering conference the next day. "Ah, lots of men with beards" she said. So I actually took notice, and in fact only saw one person with a beard - and that was when I looked in a mirror. But she was half right, it was mostly men )

I think if such a study was done the results might really surprise a few people.

There is at least one real problem, which I suspect has contributed to this stereotype; this is engineers struggling to explain a subject they know very well in terms that the layman can understand. But actually, when you think about it, that's true for all detailed professions (accountants can make my eyes glaze over in seconds flat). This can be overcome by training and experience, and we do need to realise as a profession that it is vital we improve these communication skills. It makes everyone's life easier, and increases respect for engineers from outside the profession.


Just had another thought: there is, of course, a caveat on all the above. The engineers I work with most are, of course, those who like working for the type of company that I like working for, and indeed many of those I work with now are those I have recruited. So there may be a self selecting sample here. Similarly those who I meet through the IET, STEM ambassadors etc are going to be the more outgoing types, as are the customers / partners / suppliers that I end up chatting to the most. But realistically it would still need rather more evidence to convince me that "The IT Crowd" is a documentary rather than a - very funny - exaggeration of some characteristics of some people (including myself).


Personally if I had to generalise any profession as having poorer than average social skills (and I really don't like generalising) it would have to be teachers, and I know my many friends in the teaching profession would agree with me as we've discussed this many a time. Bit worrying perhaps that teachers keep asking me why I don't retrain as a teacher...even more worrying that my manager has been known to say the same thing! Best social skills? Oddly enough, in my experience it has been marine biologists, although the fact that they all (male and female) seem to be tall, slim and stunningly attractive must help here...in my next life I'd like to come back as a marine biologist
(Please note that this last paragraph is not based on a robust scientific study, and may contain errors of reliability and validity!)


It would still make a fascinating psychology study, probably the best way of getting it done would be to find someone doing a psychology degree who needs a good project, I guess through a psychology forum. I carried out a vaguely similar study when I did a psychology course a few years back; I was looking at how parents jobs influenced their children's career choice, and found a very good correlation that engineers tended to have parents who were engineers, but not vice versa (unfortunately I could only do this on a very small sample at the time).

-------------------------
Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert

Edited: 03 July 2013 at 02:09 PM by amillar
 04 July 2013 08:32 AM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: amillar
But I have to agree that it would be interesting to know if there is a trend to those with poor social skills becoming engineers, and (more importantly) whether anything can be done about it. Modern engineering is all about team work, and good social skills are actually, I believe, hugely important for good engineering.


How exactly do you define social skills?

Experience accumulated over the years tells me that social skills is a term without a precise definition that can be used to mean almost whatever its user wants it to mean. I do not consider social skills to be synonymous with good manners and neither do I consider it to be synonymous with neurotypical traits.

Just had another thought: there is, of course, a caveat on all the above. The engineers I work with most are, of course, those who like working for the type of company that I like working for, and indeed many of those I work with now are those I have recruited. So there may be a self selecting sample here.


Corporate culture is something that has to be factored in. I have suspected that many interviewers prefer to award jobs to people with a personality that's similar to their own, and more often than not, personality scores higher than skills or ability. This does have an unfortunate effect that interviewers are capable of creating a corporate culture based on their own personality and whims which might be a less than ideal way to run a company. Have any companies failed because too many employees were of the wrong personality type or thought in ways that did not lead to success whilst those who could have been valuable assets were turned away at interviews because their personality was very different to the interviewer's?

Personally if I had to generalise any profession as having poorer than average social skills (and I really don't like generalising) it would have to be teachers,


I have encountered numerous teachers who are contemptible individuals over the years. Their attitude, outlook, and (far left) politics would not go down well in most private sector organisations. This makes me wonder about the type of people who are attracted to teaching as a career. Alternatively many decent applicants could be turned away because of the personality factor in the interview.
 04 July 2013 10:53 AM
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amillar

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It's probably fair to say that most of my friends who are teachers have far left politics. That's probably why I get on with them. (Actually I'm a extremist liberal, but it's all relative!)

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

http://www.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
 04 July 2013 01:58 PM
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drumbold

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Originally posted by: amillar
And yes, I do get on very well with my daughter. But then maybe she's odd too! (This is the girl who carries a screwdriver in her pencil case.)


That's not odd, that's being prepared.

Originally posted by: amillar
It would still make a fascinating psychology study, probably the best way of getting it done would be to find someone doing a psychology degree who needs a good project, I guess through a psychology forum. I carried out a vaguely similar study when I did a psychology course a few years back; I was looking at how parents jobs influenced their children's career choice, and found a very good correlation that engineers tended to have parents who were engineers, but not vice versa (unfortunately I could only do this on a very small sample at the time).


It certainly would be interesting to see how parents jobs influence their children's career choice. And which profession has the highest (and lowest) percent of children following in their parents footsteps. And/or what influence grand-parents play in this. As I read recently that grand-parents have a large influence on your soical mobility.
 04 July 2013 08:35 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: amillarIt's probably fair to say that most of my friends who are teachers have far left politics.


Do you mean of the raving Marxists or Trotskyite types?

Originally posted by: drumbold
It certainly would be interesting to see how parents jobs influence their children's career choice.


Knowledge of how an industry operates and personal connections are of a tremendous advantage for children which makes it easier for them to follow in their parent's (or a close relative's) footsteps.

Attitudes of parents are another factor. Some children end up adopting them themselves whilst others rebel against them.

I was interested in computers whilst at secondary school and eventually took an A Level in Computing. This is despite my own parents having a negative attitude towards home computers. I don't think they really understood them and thought they were just for playing games on.

And which profession has the highest (and lowest) percent of children following in their parents footsteps.


Badly declining occupations probably have the lowest percent of children following in their parent's footsteps - especially if the pay is also low. Examples include fishermen, milkmen, and textile factory workers. I suspect the highest are secure well paid professions like medicine and law.

And/or what influence grand-parents play in this. As I read recently that grand-parents have a large influence on your soical mobility.


I have read something about this but I can't quite work it out.
 05 July 2013 12:31 AM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: Trillian77

Has there been any research done into how well engineers are able to relate to their children?



The very things that make people succesful in the engineering world can also make it hard for them to interact socially.



As a daughter of a very succesful engineer myself, I feel he is a man who was good at his work life but terrible in home life. Perhaps I am biased, but I seem to meet other daughters of engineers who feel their fathers have missed out on an emotional part of their lives through not being very good socially, or lacking in soft skills.



I am starting to look to see what research has been done in this area. I am interested to hear people's views



Thanks



T
I'm really not sure where this is going at all. what does one mean "successful in the engineering world"?
If it means making money, running companies etc., then this requires many of the nurturing and communications skills that engineers are supposed to be really bad at !

If it means "being the brilliant techie that no-one can talk to because they are not worthy" - then quite often that "techie" gets paid an awful lot less and is not really trusted to look after customers etc.

So, "success" is a very subjective thing to start with.

However, I feel there is a grain of truth in the axiom somewhere along the line - but there's no need to go off into the realms of fantasy about it affecting the private lives of a great many "engineers" - because the profession is, as amillar has already said, very broad (and wide, and in my experience, deep).

. . . and as we all know, there are many things that affect children's lives a great deal more than the dedicated "techie" !

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 05 July 2013 08:28 AM
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drumbold

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Originally posted by: jencam
Badly declining occupations probably have the lowest percent of children following in their parent's footsteps - especially if the pay is also low. Examples include fishermen, milkmen, and textile factory workers. I suspect the highest are secure well paid professions like medicine and law.


I would probably agree with the lowest percent,given your examples. However I'm not sure about the highest. My father was in medicine, and there was no-way I was going to follow him. The same goes for all my friends whose parents were in medicine.

It certainly would be interesting to know though.

Originally posted by: jencam
And/or what influence grand-parents play in this. As I read recently that grand-parents have a large influence on your soical mobility.


I have read something about this but I can't quite work it out.


From the article I read, it seemed to suggest that even if your parents were not very socially mobile, it is likely that your grandparents could and would help out if they were shall we say of a higher social class. I guess this to mean that they might assist in paying for extra activities, or prehaps placing ideas of going to university/further education into their grandchilderns minds.

Here is a link to the article on the bbc
 05 July 2013 12:17 PM
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amandalewin

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I'm struggling with this concept of engineers having bad social skills. All the engineers I know are perfectly socially able, even the software engineers know how to hold a conversation and that really is a profession where people think you sit in a dark room by yourself all day.

When I was doing I'm an engineer get me out of here the kids kept asking us if we were like the characters on the big bang theory which I thought was quite odd as I kind of laugh at that show and think 'ah academia, its not like the real world' but that's what the kids were associating with engineering.

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 06 July 2013 03:26 PM
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jencam

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Originally posted by: gkenyoncommunications skills that engineers are supposed to be really bad at !


Could you elaborate on what these communications skills are.

Most job specs specify good communication skills but how are they actually defined? There is a popular (mis)conception that people with Asperger syndrome have poor communication skills but many of the people I have encountered with the poorest communication skills are solidly neurotypical. They are vague, imprecise, misleading, omit facts, ramble on when just a few words would convey all the information, and have very bad spelling and grammar.

Originally posted by: drumbold
From the article I read, it seemed to suggest that even if your parents were not very socially mobile, it is likely that your grandparents could and would help out if they were shall we say of a higher social class. I guess this to mean that they might assist in paying for extra activities, or prehaps placing ideas of going to university/further education into their grandchilderns minds.

Here is a link to the article on the bbc


That article is wishy washy. There is a tremendous difference between grandparents who were from a privileged background or held professional careers, and those who were lower or middle class but made a fortune from property investments in the past 15 or so years.
 07 July 2013 12:28 PM
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westonpa

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With regards to the 'personal' aspects of being a good parent that is for the child to decide and I would think many children will view their parents differently when they are themselves parents. Also sometimes if a person has a bad experience they seek out others who have had the same experience in order to share themselves with someone else who understands them or else maybe they filter out the good parts which another person says in order to hear only the negatives which are similar to their own experience. I would suggest that if we were able to survey the children of all engineers past and present then we would have a normal distribution curve, with most being generally happy with their parent and yet some at either end of the curve.

With regards to Trillian77 maybe your dads social skills are/were actually not that good but then maybe he gave you certain skills in life and your mum gave you different skills in life and it will be a combination of the two plus some of those which you will learn yourself which ultimately will give you a better life and make you a better parent. Whilst I am an engineer I also did some high level qualifications in Psychology in my younger days and in my experience of several decades of life and in working with many people of many different companies and so on I have found just as many women with poor social skills and as many who were unable to properly express their emotions as I did men. It's only over the last couple of decades, for example, where it has become more acceptable for men to cry in public.

Many children see their parents only as parents, because that is all they ever knew them as, and never really get to know the other person, i.e., that one who was your dad before he was your dad and who was also once a child. Sometimes we need to take the time to get to know someone and explore the reasons for why they are who they are and then sometimes that understanding brings us closer and allows us to better express our emotions and share ourselves. Let's be honest Trillian77, your dad managed to find a mate with whom to have children, so his social skills cannot be that bad.

Regards.
 07 July 2013 05:28 PM
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jencam

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Are tensions or conflicts between either an engineer and their spouse or an engineer and their children, but not both at the same time common? I have thought about an engineer with anorak type hobbies who gets on very well with his children who also share the interest but his relationship with his wife is strained due to him devoting insufficient time to her and she doesn't think much of his hobbies because they mess up the house. Another case could be an engineer who totally ignores his children because he wants to spend every evening with his wife in a restaurant and every weekend visiting some adult oriented tourist attractions in his two-seater sports car.
 07 July 2013 09:21 PM
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gkenyon

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Originally posted by: jencam

Are tensions or conflicts between either an engineer and their spouse or an engineer and their children, but not both at the same time common? I have thought about an engineer with anorak type hobbies who gets on very well with his children who also share the interest but his relationship with his wife is strained due to him devoting insufficient time to her and she doesn't think much of his hobbies because they mess up the house. Another case could be an engineer who totally ignores his children because he wants to spend every evening with his wife in a restaurant and every weekend visiting some adult oriented tourist attractions in his two-seater sports car.
Again, are these not endemic of society as a whole, not just Engineering?

And I also worry about the "anorak type hobbies who gets on very well with his children who also share the interest but his relationship with his wife" type statements being really "out-dated", as these are equally applicable across genders, depending on how one defines "anorak", similarly elements of "an engineer who totally ignores his children because he wants to spend every evening with his wife in a restaurant and every weekend visiting some adult oriented tourist attractions in his two-seater sports car" could be agrued to split across genders ("no divide").

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Eur Ing Graham Kenyon CEng MIET TechIOSH
 08 July 2013 10:38 AM
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amillar

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Absolutely, I just tried replaced "engineer" with "man" or "woman" (substituting "husband" for "wife" as appropriate) and this read exactly the same.

My son spent his time this weekend with me in my workshop building a guitar, with my wife watching Wimbledon on the telly (they're both keen tennis players), and also with friends charging around on the beach. (He and I also made ice cream together just to confuse more stereotypes .) Possibly having one parent who is an engineer and one who is whatever the opposite of an engineer is does him good!

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Andy Millar CEng MIET CMgr MCMI

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"The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress." Joseph Joubert
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