“pi=10, it also equals 3 and e=3 so pi=e!”
When talking about safety factors, the informant, an engineering student, shared the joke. Because engineers are always concerned about the safety of the users of their products (because getting sued is no fun) and like to account for the things more difficult to account for, one way to introduce a safety factor is to make pi equal to 10 in all calculations. This massive rounding then prompted the follow up of simply rounding e (~2.718) and pi (~3.14) could simply be rounded to 3 for simpler calculations and that error would be accounted for with the safety factor.
This joke has some practicality to it by reminding engineers to have large safety factors to ensure the safety of their designs, it is also a joke on the rather flippant view of numbers that engineers have as it doesn’t always need to be precise but simply overkill enough for the application. I also relate this to the idea that engineers are lazy and so create processes and machines to ensure they can be lazy at the desired times. Multiplying or dividing by 10 is about as lazy as it gets in math.
The graduate with a Science degree asks, “Why does it work?” The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does it work?” The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?” The graduate with an Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
In a group discussion including college freshmen and high school seniors over what major the students were studying or thinking about studying, one high school senior said they were trying to decide between being an engineering major versus an art major. One of the college freshmen then shared the joke. The group was comprised of students and alumni of the robotics program, so all were at least thinking about pursuing STEM majors.
This is a commentary on the massive pay difference between the average engineering (most STEM) majors and arts majors. It is a way for the rivalry in high school between those who are more STEM minded versus the arts-minded to poke fun at one another. The joke can mean a couple of different things. One, it can be a reminder to students who have interests in both fields that a job in the arts is less stable and guaranteed paycheck wise than a career in engineering. The second is to feed the ego and feelings of superiority that many want-to-be-engineers have in the pre and early college years (and beyond for some).
The engineer’s constant is 3. We don’t need to be accurate so we round e to 3 and pi to 3, and also g is 10.
I collected this piece from a physics lab partner who is also an astronautical engineering major at the University of Southern California. Some of our calculations were off, so he joked about rounding the final answer to three. When I asked why, he explained that three is the engineer’s constant. As such, three would be a good alternate answer if we could not find the error in our calculations. The informant said that he found the engineer’s constant for the first time on an engineering meme page.
This short piece actually reveals a bit about the culture of engineers, including their work habits and particularly stereotypes about them. I have heard of the stereotype that engineers are not always the most accurate, and that they are quite liberal when rounding or making approximations. There are also jokes about how engineering students should not be trusted with any technical applications of their studies because of this. I think the stereotype comes from the fact that engineers often do quick, back of the envelope approximations of things in order to get a sense of what they are working with before they dive into the more detailed computations. Furthermore, sometimes the exact answer is not as significant as getting the correct order of approximation. My astronautical engineering professor has actually done this during class multiple times because the exact values of the computations were insignificant. In most cases, he rounds the gravity constant from 9.8 to 10. By extension, we round commonly used constants such as Euler’s number and pi to 3 for ease of computation as well. As such, those outside of engineering may mistake this as what we primarily rely on when we work. The stereotype is not insulting to engineers though, in fact, engineers themselves have also made jokes about it as seen on engineering meme pages. The potentially insulting stereotype is countered by fully embracing it and taking pride in it as part of the group identity of engineers. What this short piece reveals is how stereotypes may emerge about a group from those who are not in it, as well as how taking pride in these opinions can counter them and become a part of your identity as a member of that group. In this case, the stereotype is about how engineers appear to be very generous in approximation, but engineers embrace this by claiming the engineer’s constant.