Engineering as lifestyle and a meritocracy of difficulty: Two pervasive beliefs among engineering students and their possible effects

Reed Stevens*, Daniel Amos, Andrew Jocuns, Lari Garrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


In this paper we discuss a series of narratives collected from ethnographic interviews with engineering students concerning questions about what they wish to be an engineer. Our paper reports on two related beliefs that we have found among engineering undergraduates, most commonly in their first two years of four-year programs. These are: engineering as a lifestyle and a meritocracy of difficulty. Engineering as a lifestyle refers to the anticipated comfortable life that students expect from their careers as engineers. In terms of a meritocracy of difficulty we are referring to how students' justify their anticipated comfortable futures based on the fact that they perceive their school work to be much more difficult than that of students in other departments. The reason that the difficulties of their engineering studies will merit them the comfortable material existence that comes from earning an engineering degree. This paper's analysis is based on data from a comparative, four-year longitudinal study of undergraduate students' pathways through engineering degree programs at four engineering schools across the United States. Our analysis of engineering as a lifestyle focuses upon how little first and second year students know about the actual practices of engineers. In a similar vain, a meritocracy of difficulty also persists due to this lack of understanding, as such we argue that students construct reasons for their expected future prosperity that if they work harder now, they deserve more later.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007
Event114th Annual ASEE Conference and Exposition, 2007 - Honolulu, HI, United States
Duration: Jun 24 2007Jun 27 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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