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“Beta university mein kia parhte ho”. This is usually what follows right after I meet someone. Well, I just graduated from university in Materials Science and Engineering about four months ago. So nowadays, ‘the answer’ is simple; I bide my time sleeping or cursing the load shedding. However, rewinding back to the good old days of university those four magnificent years, “Uh, I am doing bachelors in Materials Science and Engineering”, I used to say with a satisfied smile which after countless such encounters was reduced “Materials Engineering” and the smile turned to a smirk as there was no point bothering with the pleasantries. Materials engineering, just two words crudely stated indicating that the conversation should not be prolonged.
You might think that it is rude. Not quite because after numerous similar conversations I had learned my lesson; rather I managed to say something was an achievement itself as my mind was now working furiously to hold the waves of anger at bay. You must still be confused so let me clear it up. The problem was this wasn’t the first nor going to be the last such instance and even an imbecile could figure what was coming as the conversation predictably turns to the subsequent question; what is materials engineering? Remember this wasn’t the first and nor the last but after these countless encounters, I had enough.
The problem is that people, especially with no engineering background, usually do not have the slightest idea about what engineering is. Say chemical engineering, oh it says the chemical that must mean chemistry so chemical engineering should be about chemistry. Now that is absolutely bonkers. Its ‘chemical ENGINEERING’ people, that last bit is almost as important as the first one and no it has little to do with the concept of chemistry we learn in school or college.
Now imagine the scope of my problem when I had to explain to such inquirers about Materials Science and Engineering. This is how one of those frustrating exchanges would go. A pause, a deep breath, a valiant attempt at keeping calm and I start off unveiling the train of thought. Materials Science and Engineering encompasses all natural and man-made materials – their extraction, synthesis, processing, properties, characterization, and development of technological applications. This is how University of California, Berkeley defines it and this is the kind of explanation I used to present to my curious interrogators in a very simple mix of English and Urdu.
Job done, eh? Think again because what they concluded from all this is ‘acha tou cement bajri waighera’. Imagine being put through such torture for four years in such countless encounters. It takes enormous restraint on my part to manage a smile, but inside the metaphorical train is no more, rather a gigantic bull with hooves on fire waiting to gore my tormentor right through his chest. I have been raised with better morals, so I vainly attempt another go at explaining knowing full well that the inane fool in front of me would never be able to get it through his thick skull.
Unfortunately, it is not only these people who underestimate the worth of a Materials Science and Engineer. This sickness spreads to frankly a startling number of organizations and industries in Pakistan. I have been to different industries for internship and engineers there had no idea of what materials engineering is. The typical ‘cement bajri’ response is a far cry from what the truth. Just start with the coursework. Fundamentals of Materials, Polymer Science, Ceramics and glasses, Composite Materials, Surface Engineering, Materials testing and characterization, Corrosion Science and Heat Treatment of Steels, to name a few.
Just start with the coursework. Fundamentals of Materials, Polymer Science, Ceramics and glasses, Composite Materials, Surface Engineering, Materials testing and characterization, Corrosion Science and Heat Treatment of Steels, to name a few.
Now just tell me how can all this be justified by ‘cement bajri’? If engineering was a religion this would be considered blasphemy, punishable by death.
The coursework is not a joke. There is nothing superficial about what we material engineers learn. The concepts regarding the above-mentioned topics are extensively studied. Yet we hardly get the recognition we deserve for all that hard work.
Polymer science, for instance, we material engineers have enviably detailed knowledge about the subject certainly no less learned in the polymer arts than our chemical engineers, yet major industries in Pakistan fail to realize our worth and usually a Material Science and Engineering graduate is not even considered eligible for polymer related job.
Moving on to corrosion, pretty sure there is no corrosion engineering not at the undergraduate level in Pakistan and almost certainly other engineering disciplines do not incorporate as part of their curriculum surely not as much as this ill-fated degree. Take a gander dear readers, who does these jobs go to? Once again the blessed students of mechanical and chemical engineering are given opportunities to make a career in this field and once again the Materials Engineers are considered ineligible.
All over the world, materials engineering is considered the big thing. Each day brings with it something new about the world of materials, a concrete that can absorb enormous quantities of water, transparent wood made synthetically with better properties, self-healing surfaces and what not. Companies and organizations abroad are keen on hiring materials engineers.
Why don’t people here open their eyes? When will the industrialists realize the importance of a materials engineer? When will the education ministry finally do something instead of creating more hurdles in the way of education? People talk about ‘progress’ they talk about ‘brain drain’ are those than words only? With all those Materials Engineers out there and after those ‘countless encounters’ why do people still persist with such ignorance?