If you have always felt at home studying science and math, one thing you may not be looking forward to about college is four (or more) years of writing numerous papers. Students whose strengths are in solving challenging equations or understanding complex technical or scientific processes might be reluctant to take up the inexact challenge of writing essays or analyzing literature. While prospective engineering students can rest assured that the bulk of their courses will be in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, learning to communicate well in writing as well as speaking are invaluable skills for engineers.
General Education Requirements in Engineering Programs
Many colleges and universities require students of all majors to take a minimum number of general education courses. These courses that come from different departments and disciplines help students to develop a strong foundation of broad and versatile skills and knowledge so that they graduate with a well-rounded education no matter what subject they study. Prospective engineers aren’t exempt from general education requirements. In fact, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requires all accredited engineering programs to include “a general education component that complements the technical content of the curriculum.”
At many colleges and universities, students will be expected to take at least one or two English composition courses and a public speaking class. Some schools include technical writing or technical communication courses in their general education requirements. Other general education courses in subjects such as history, literature and the humanities may also be writing-intensive, requiring students to compose essays, analyses and research papers.
Some colleges with large engineering schools are developing specialized first-year composition programs tailored toward engineering students.
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Communication Skills for Engineers
Your academic institution’s general education requirements might be the reason you have to take composition and public speaking courses, but studying these subjects is not just a matter of meeting graduate requirements. Communication is an important skill for engineers of all disciplines.
For example, writing skills are particularly important for aerospace engineers to create written explanations of their designs for aircraft and spacecraft, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Civil engineers, too, need to write reports on their projects for an audience of elected officials, architects, regional planners and others without an engineering background.
Communication skills besides writing are also essential, particularly among types of engineers who often work on teams with professionals of different backgrounds. Biomedical engineers, for instance, may work with patients to develop solutions to health problems, the BLS reported. Listening skills and speaking skills are particularly important for industrial engineers, who must understand the factors that contribute to wasted resources and clearly communicate their plans to improve productivity to production staff. In fact, making sure that all participants involved in a project – not just those with an engineering background – are on the same page is an important reason why effective communication is so important for engineers. Engineering managers, in particular, have to be effective communicators to express project goals and their plans to accomplish those goals.
Communication skills are among the most important skills a civil engineer can have, below only technical skills and project management skills, according to LinkedIn.
Succeeding in College Communication Classes
While many students majoring in the humanities and social sciences worry how much math they will need to take to earn their degree, STEM students may have the opposite concern. Even established engineers are often looking for ways, including online courses, to enhance their communication skills to perform better in their careers. Though writing and public speaking might be out of your comfort zone, learning these skills can help you become a better engineer and a more effective communicator in your personal as well as your professional life.
Engineering students can make the most of their writing and public speaking coursework by looking at the big picture of how the skills they are developing tie into their interests and future career goals. For example, writing in engineering may take the form of presenting research in written reports and articles, communicating with engineers and other professionals on your project team and recording observations throughout the process of conducting research and analyzing engineering designs. Engineering students who feel that they struggle with writing-intensive courses can set themselves up for success by utilizing writing resources offered by their engineering department or school and by seeking help through study groups or one-on-one tutoring as needed.
ABET lists the ability to communicate effectively as a necessary student outcome for all accredited engineering programs in all disciplines.