It's been 4 years since I graduated from Uni, which is why I reminisce about those uni days of yore less and less. But every time I do, it makes me sad that I can recall less of it as the days go by.
Which is why I think I should pen down my thoughts here, in hopes that it will help me remember them. Why remember? Well, there were some good lessons learnt from those events, so I hope that I'll never forget them by putting them in writing.
If there's anything I regret not doing better of back in uni is keeping my records digitally in a more organised way. The one subject I regret the most not having kept in good shape are the notes from my Ethics course. Well, if it helps, there weren't actually many handouts that were available from the course anyway, because most of the lessons that 'struck' me were mostly those mentioned orally.
Let's give some background. The Ethics course in question (ELEC4112: Strategic Leadership and Ethics) was the only course I did in uni which touched on ethics. It was a compulsory module for every engineering student in UNSW. And by compulsory, it means some people don't enjoy it at all and will just meet 'minimum requirements' at best. For me, I tried my best. As it turns out, it was one of the courses I enjoyed the most in that particular semester. While some people call it 'dry', 'boring', 'abstract', 'so obvious' and 'totally irrelevant to me as a future engineer', I beg to differ. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I must say Dr Iain Skinner (the course lecturer) did a really good job at managing this course. You can read more about what the aims of the course are and what it entails here.
There's even the ELSOC (electrical engineering society of UNSW) wiki on the subject here.
Ok, let's move on to why it was a very good and eye-opening course for me.
Some people struggle in this course because phrasing arguments (as required in any ethics course) is not their forte (wasn't mine either). And a moral argument at that? Totally not easy. Ethics requires for a person to identify stakeholders and present arguments from a myriad of perspectives, which require some level of empathy, and a more objective view of the problem at hand. This is easier said than done, I think.
I remember one of the modules for the course was that on whistleblowing. And I'm like, I'm all for whistleblowing because hey, if you blow the cover on some misconduct or alleged unethical behaviour, how can that be wrong, right? But there are a lot of other matters at stake, like what happens to your relationship, or the possible consequences to you as an employee, or as a friend? Or to others whose livelihood hangs on the very business you may be destroying? Or, what if the whistleblower is 'blowing the whistle' as a revenge tactic, without having strong ethical grounds for doing so? How about.... if you're blowing the whistle on a multinational conglomerate, what makes you think you stand a chance on winning a lawsuit against a huge entity like that? Retaliation is a real threat, and despite having laws in place to protect whistleblowers, oftentimes it is much more difficult to enforce.
So now, would you dare blow the whistle? How do you overcome it, if you know for a fact that not doing so is tantamount to being as unethical as those you want to whistleblow against?
Tough questions, but why should you care? Since this course is aimed at engineers and takes an engineering spin to the topics discussed, it is real and pertinent to you because every decision made affects people, and you're people too, right? You design/create machines to help people, right? And ethics is a discussion that affects people, so why shouldn't you care?
But again, there is no hard-right or hard-wrong answer, but I believe every person has a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong and that these definitions of right and wrong are similar across the entire planet, in spite of our cultural/racial/religious differences.
There was also one ethics class that didn't quite have any engineering-related issues at hand, but it questioned the basic motivation that drives each and every one of us as humans beings: why do we do the things that we do?
I remember Dr Skinner mentioning something along the lines of 'the chain of whys ends at happiness' and it goes something like this. For example, if I asked you,
-why do you want to change jobs?
--to get that raise in my salary
-why do you want that raise in your salary?
--so that I can afford to buy more luxurious things, like that new car.
-why do you want that new car?
--Because I think I would enjoy driving that beauty and it would make me happy.
-Why are you doing an engineering degree ?
--because I want to be an engineer
-Why do you want to be an engineer?
--because I like mechanical objects, the way things work.
Basically, the examples above tries to get to the end of the 'chain of whys' which usually always ends at the response that whatever it is you want to do, it is ultimately motivated by a belief that you'll be happy if you did whatever it is you do.
It may seem so simple, but it really summed it up well. We all really just want to achieve happiness.
Yes, you may want to win awards, earn a million dollars, but why? Why do you want that?
Because you believe it will make you happy. It's so simple.
Duh, right? But that phrase 'the chain of whys ends at happiness' (or something to that extent) really hit me, and it has stayed with me ever since. Maybe I did not need an ethics class to figure that out, but I'm glad someone told me in a succinct way that really struck a chord with me. And it happened to be at an Ethics class.
I could go on and on, but unfortunately (or fortunately for you reader) I have lost all my notes. All I can recall are the bits and pieces of those lectures which really made me think. (I admit, semiconductors and FIR filters didn't really make me think as hard as the ethics lessons did)
Maybe I'm more interested in 'the human condition' or 'socioeconomics' than I do with the other engineering courses. That's just how it was for me.
So what after all that? Well....Thought I'd share a few 'pearls of wisdom' here on my blog.
Oh yeah, and taking this ethics course improved my English by a lot! Writing engineering reports doesn't really help you explore your other vocabulary capabilities.
How and Why? Because of my Major Assignment where I wrote a story instead of a report. Email me if you're interested to read it.
I scored a Distinction in this course, but I can't say what I could have done better at (to have scored a High Distinction). The Final Exam? My team seminars?
Regardless, the lessons have stayed and I think that's the best outcome than any of those grades.