Technical University Bubble


If you read my first column ‘Stand Out’, you know how much I struggled in finding my place at this university. As I am close to wrapping up my bachelors, questions of the next step arise both inside of me and from those around me.

At the start of this year, LinkedIn published an article demonstrating the top skills companies looked for in 2020. Out of the top five soft skills, four of them (creativity, persuasion, collaboration and adaptability) remain the same as last year, but at the fifth position is emotional intelligence instead of time management.

Emotional intelligence taking over time management shows us how much companies value our ability to understand our fellow colleagues and interact effectively with them. In a company setting this of course translates to working together with a human resource officer, an accountant, a scientist, an engineer, a psychologist etc. How well prepared are we, students of the TU/e, at doing this? How skilled are we in being able to step into the shoes of a social science graduate?

Studying at a technical university definitely comes with its advantages of quality research and education. However, something I have struggled with from day 1 at the TU/e, is accepting this 'arrogance' that comes with being a STEM student. Funnily enough, even at this technical university we often look down at the less technical studies such as Psychology and Technology or Sustainable Innovation sciences (SI).

For my bachelors, I combined my major Chemical Engineering and Chemistry courses with electives from these departments and the response of my chemistry colleagues was almost always, “Oh that must be quite easy!” (and assuming that is why I chose the course). I am sorry for your ignorance, fellow hard-core engineers.

Quartile 1 of this year, I followed the first year SI course Sustainable Development in a Global Context, which involved a considerable amount of writing. Individual essays, group papers and the final exam - all of them involved sharp and critical thinking which no quantum mechanics course can teach. Surprise surprise, often students from the more technical studies struggled to push their way through these assignments.

I am not sure whom to blame at this point. Is it the education system that sets this sort of mentality, or do the students already enter TU/e feeling more 'superior'? Sounds similar to a nature versus nurture debate.

Through a lovely chat with Johanna Höffken (assistant professor at Innovation Sciences), I realized that we need to get out of this narrow-minded engineering mindset and start working on transdisciplinary projects in order to really tweak our skills and fit the profiles that employers are looking for. After all, one day we all have to leave this technical university bubble and enter the real world facing real world problems.

Being bold enough to take the unconventional path is quite challenging, but like Frost, I too hope to one day say:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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