An Engineer’s Perspective on the Covid-19 Pandemic

As I see images of and hear about doctors and nurses that are struggling in the face of fighting this pandemic, I find myself grateful not to be in their shoes. Hopefully, their intensive training about human care has included ways for them to cope with the mental challenges both they and their patients are facing. Even with that training, that can’t possibly have prepared them for the pandemic we are facing now. My heart goes out to each and every one of them.

 

That got me thinking about the role engineers, surveyors, and scientists are playing in this crisis and the impact that COVID-19 is having on their psyche. How is our work making a difference? Engineering professionals, at least from my own experience, do not have much non-STEM training. My only liberal arts or humanities based classes were an introduction to psychology elective and a course called Professional and Legal Problems.

 

The Engineers’ Creed states that they will dedicate their professional knowledge and skill to the advancement of human welfare. In my tenure as a professional engineer, everything that I’ve worked on has touched a human life, whether that’s from designing the water pipes that bring a family clean, drinkable water or designing storm drainage systems to protect human life and property. While I see that clearly now, I can’t say that it was always the case.

 

When I think back on my education, I realize that I was ill-prepared for the human side of an engineering career. I learned the science of building and the mathematical equations, but rarely was I asked to consider the implications of my work on others, even though I knew one of my objectives was to advance human welfare. The work engineers do touch millions of people, but in my time, discussion of ethics, human behavior, and culture were not part of the curriculum. I hope that changes if it hasn’t already.

 

Ethics and obligation must guide us through our work lives as well as this pandemic. Covid-19 has forced many of us to face flaws in our careers and our ideologies. As we try to move through them, we must use the human skills like critical thinking, empathy, and ethics, as much as we use the technical skills of drafting, designing, and testing.

 

This is no small feat, and we must prepare the next generation of engineers to be ready to grapple with such tasks. In order to truly live out the engineers’ creed, humanity must be considered as essential to the equation. Our creed is to advance human welfare, and we must continue to do that by completing our work safely and supporting each other through each new challenge that we face.