Good Enough

So we’re five and a half weeks into spring semester and I’ve only posted twice? I’m sorry, guys. I’ve been distracted by life a bit lately, but I haven’t forgotten you! I’m happy to report that my absence is not due to being lost in the land of stress, chaos and mild nervous breakdowns. Compared to last semester, things are downright calm on the school front.

This post is really more of an extended question than a story. While the pace and tone of this semester is much more manageable than last, the material is not easy. Fluids has been a mess of derivatives and integrals that are all jumbled together in my head. Vibrations has been dynamics on steroids paired with a dizzying number of random greek variables that I have to keep straight somehow. It feels like every lecture is a marathon of rushing through derivations of complex theorems and equations and trying to just keep up, to say nothing of actually following the logic.

Fun with vibrations.

Fun with vibrations.

The result of most of these derivations is a somewhat simplified equation or formula that can be used for the problems that we are assigned. If you can figure out how to actually use the formula, you will probably be okay. But as someone who really likes to understand things, these derivations (and even sometimes their applications) are testing the limits of my intellect.

I know there are many students who spend most of their school career memorizing formulas and just learning how to apply them, without really understanding the deeper concepts. They manage to pass their classes and graduate and become engineers. Some of them might even be really good engineers. So my question is, at this level, how important is it that I understand every detail?

Every engineer I’ve ever talked to tells me that in their day-to-day jobs they use almost nothing they learned in school. Calculations are done by computers. Knowing anything beyond the broad concepts is unnecessary. And yet I spend hours going over notes, looking through textbooks, trying to make sense of things, trying to understand it completely. I’ve always done that. It’s worked for me. So what happens if I reach a wall, and I just can’t anymore? Does it matter? Can I learn to be successful if I only understand it 75%?

Learning to accept “good enough” is extremely hard for perfectionists. In my distorted world view there is perfection and there is failure. I’ve never really stepped into the gray area in between when it comes to school because frankly it terrifies me. Is there a gray area? What if I try to find it and all that’s there is failure, just like I’ve always feared?

So, that’s the question. Can “good enough” be good enough? Engineers? Recovering perfectionists? What do you think?


6 thoughts on “Good Enough

  1. I used to PANIC when I didn’t understand everything. After my co-op sophomore year (during which I spent 4 months working with X-ray tubes that, to this day, make no sense to me), I learned that it’s okay to not understand everything all the time. Since I came to that realization, things have gone better. Heck, we survived ECE didn’t we? Now I spend more time working in research and volunteering in other ways through the college. It’s not going to get me perfect grades, but I learn SO much more now.

    • Thanks for sharing! I know in reality that it’s okay to not understand everything, but it’s so hard to let go of that fear and panic. It will be a process I guess. I hope my internship this summer will help me like yours did for you. 🙂

  2. I see no reason to be concerned about understanding how a basic formula is derived. Everyone remembers E=mc^2, and the terms are easy to remember, but no one is expected to be able to duplicate or understand Einstein’s method of arriving at that simple equation. The same applies to the many basic calculations in the Crane manual I gave you. You don’t have to understand how these were originally derived, but only know that you can find answers by applying them. And knowing some of the basics of the formulas helps to understand other basic concepts, such as if you double the flow rate, you will quadruple the d/p.

    • All good points, Dad. I’m sure you’re right. I did have to look up the flow rate/differential pressure relationship after I read your comment. I definitely have some studying to do before my test 😉

      • But on the other hand, if the prof tells you that he expects you to show how a formula is derived, then you’d want to memorize that, at least till the end of the test. 😃😃:)☺

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