Employers say adaptability is vital in professionals at every level. However, for engineers, breaking into to new technical areas (even adjacent to those you know well) can be slow and painful. Whether you’re an engineering consultant having to come to grips with a new technology, or a student (or professor) taking a new course, it’s often hard to find the right level of information to ease you into the subject.
Much of what is published is aimed at the expert: you are supposed to all the background already, and the research paper (or specialist book) fills you in on what’s new. A third of the words are likely to be jargon that you don’t know and will have to look up. Alternatively, you might find an introductory textbook. Much easier to read, but a waste of time if you don’t find out until page 200 that the technology in question can’t solve your problem.
There is an excellent free resource out there in the form of the technical press: newspapers, magazines and websites with journalist-written (or edited) articles that quickly and accessibly outline new technologies, applications, and solutions to problems. Reading this kind of material has the advantage of giving you a flavour of what’s possible and how, without the technical detail and, in particularly, without having the background knowledge you would need to decrypt a technical abstract. Reading a few good articles like this can be enough to give you the keywords and the lay of the land, which can then help to decide how to approach a deep dive into the literature.
The problem is that there are so many competing publications and websites out there, and – until recently – there was no good way to find them. Search engines give you masses of duplicate stories from press-releases and precious little in the way of credible articles from well-respected technical magazines. If you’re in a narrow field, you can probably find a few good sources, but as engineers increasingly end up working across two – or even among several – disciplines, it’s not always obvious where to look.
Engineering Inspiration (ENGins) is an entirely free online news service and research tool to help you find information that may be relevant to you. Developed at Imperial College and University College London, and in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in the US, it contains links to almost 60,000 human curatedarticles from more than 1000 different publications across the physical sciences, engineering, and medical technology (with a little neuroscience thrown in). Each of these was chosen by one of our editorial staff as being interesting, relevant, and not a duplicate, and then tagged so that it could be found on the relevant subject news pages.
Most importantly, the full text of all these articles is searchable through our Research ENGins interface. The links returned take you directly to the website where the article was published in the first place. The new site can often provide more related articles, as well as interesting context.
I use the site myself as both a tech journalist and a lecturer to engineering and physical sciences students at UCL. As a journalist, I use it to see what’s been written about a subject I’m looking into for the first time, and to update myself if I’m going back to something I haven’t followed in a while. As an educator, I use it to find relevant recent articles to discuss with my students.
However, I think the most critical use of the site is for first- and second-year students who are not yet competent to really delve into the literature. They can use it to start research into engineering projects quickly, allowing them to start to start thinking about complex subject without having to understand all the technical details.
We also take the inspiration part of the name seriously and have used the system to build engineering News Walls: our first was for Johns Hopkins University and we are working on one for City University right now. The idea is to keep research news in front of students as a way of giving them food for thought and also to keep them up-to-date with fields that might interest them for future careers. You can see an example of what this looks like here: note that it’s designed to be views on a wide-format HD screen!
If you are interested in collaborating with us, let us know. We are particularly to keen to partner with educators who want to develop ways of using the sites, departments and institutions who might be interested in our news walls or branded sites, and anyone with ideas of how we can improve the various services we currently operate (or use the database to create new ones.
Editorial Director, Engineering Inspirationand Research ENGins
Principal Teaching Fellow, UCL Engineering
Author, Explaining the Future: How to Research, Analyze, and Report on Emerging Technologies