What Engineering Students Lack is Motivation, Not Intelligence

Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in May 2016 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.

I’ve come across this Reddit thread about a student who is worried about getting his first B, which prevented him to become the valedictorian in his class. In the thread posted in 2012, he doubted himself that he is intelligent because of that grade, and also because others already appeared to be smarter than him.

Among the 700 comments posted is this one comment from an MIT graduate who shared the same struggle and inadequacy when he entered Cambridge. Cal Newport’s Study Hacks Blog reproduced essential points that the commenter posted that will strike as a good tip for engineering students as well:

The people who fail to graduate from MIT, fail because they come in, encounter problems that are harder than anything they’ve had to do before, and not knowing how to look for help or how to go about wrestling those problems, burn out.

The students who are successful, by contrast, look at that challenge, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, and then begin to take steps hiking that mountain, knowing that bruised pride is a small price to pay for getting to see the view from the top. They ask for help, they acknowledge their inadequacies. They don’t blame their lack of intelligence, they blame their lack of motivation.

During my freshman year, I almost failed out of differential equations.  I was able to recover and go on to be very successful in my studies. When I was a senior, I would sit down with the freshmen in my dorm and show them the same things that had been shown to me, and I would watch them struggle with the same feelings, and overcome them. By the time I graduated MIT, I had become the person I looked up to when I first got in.

You feel like you are burnt out or that you are on the verge of burning out, but in reality you are on the verge of deciding whether or not you will burn out. It’s scary to acknowledge that it’s a decision because it puts the onus on you to do something about it, but it’s empowering because it means there is something you can do about it.

So do it.

What this MIT graduate shared can be a wake-up call for engineering students who are failing their subjects because they claim that they are “dumb enough” or “not good enough” to be in engineering. When actually, intelligence can be worked on – it is the drive to learn engineering that is essential for every engineering student, and not the requisite intelligence that others claim they need.

Of course, engineering students need intelligence to be able to graduate in engineering; but to be able to get to the higher level required for an engineer, you need the motivation to pursue your dream. Being able to decide that you will succeed in engineering college is a mindset you cannot lose along the way.

Motivation is a critical component whenever an engineering student, or any student at that, feels challenged and more so, beaten. When you are overwhelmed with failure and you can’t seem to stand up, all it takes for you to rise again is to repeatedly say to yourself, “I can do it.”

Sources: Reddit | Calnewport

1 thought on “What Engineering Students Lack is Motivation, Not Intelligence”

  1. Education, in any form, should mean VOLUNTARY academic learning. Hence, things some time overwhelm us – especially when we are at ground zero knowledge. The most important thing would have been “MOTIVATION”. This motivation must include empathy – a way of including to believe that we are unique; and such UNIQUENESS would mean granting enough patience, and understanding to teach those (learners or students) who might not have it yet. This uniqueness includes being unique in the way we learn and process, being unique on how we perceive and contextualize, being unique in the maturity of our understanding with enough clarity as to their practicalities and applications to name.

    Ours, teacher or learner, is a sense of interconnectedness. That in one way or another, we should be there for each other as the call for a better community comes in.

    When a student becomes better than a teacher, VOILA! That is a great manifestation of everything being done out of collaboration from both of ’em.

    Now, when a student is still far from that of the teacher’s, it does not mean norm. It MUST ONLY MEAN a call for empathizing what needs to be understood FROM the students’ ends. After all, schools are not there to tell and present merely the gaps between high-calibre brilliant minds of teachers to that of the starting-to-grow-and-mature, innocent and less-experienced minds of the youngsters.

    A matter of drawing between the line to motivate and empathize to one another; as, we are interconnected to be parts in collaborating a better community utilizing and respecting individual strengths/ capacities, and weaknesses/ areas for improvement.

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