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Technical Universities in Europe: a Recommendation Thread

-6 Post author: Ritalin 21 November 2012 06:25PM

I wish to transfer to a university in Europe, to complete my engineering formation. I thought it might be the opportunity to initiate a discussion on the merits of European technical schools, given how many people here have a STEM background, and have experienced the first-hand.

 

Which ones do you think are best at teaching? Which provide the best starting point, professionally? Which have the most productive, idealistic mood among the studentship? If you've been to several of schools, how do they compare to each other?

 

The floor is yours.

Comments (23)

Comment author: RobertLumley 21 November 2012 08:57:15PM 7 points [-]

Better suited to the open thread.

Oscar_Cunningham

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 November 2012 08:57:46PM 5 points [-]

This may make more sense in the open thread. Also, to a large extent your question as phrased encourages people to use personal experience and anecdote which are less than accurate for getting good information and consensus. It might help also if one stated what type of engineering was going into and what one wanted to do after one has the degree.

Comment author: Ritalin 21 November 2012 10:36:26PM 2 points [-]

I find that aggregate anecdotal experiences give me a better sense of an atmosphere than hard statistic data.

For instance, I've achieved a much firmer grasp of the subjective experience of being a black person from Richard Wright's personal accounts, Franz Fanon's case studies, and the (occasionally inaccurate) Roots.

I am also more interested in the subjective insights of like-minded rationalists than I am in a hypothetical statistical study of how students feel on average (of course, such a thing would be welcome, but I do not know of its existence, and, in fact, hardly expect it to exist).

I'm a general engineer, jack of all trades and master of none. I wish to specialize in trains. My goal is to use that knowledge to help develop ecologically sustainable infrastructures in the Third World; the planet cannot sustain nine billion cars, even if they were electric. This is intended to be my personal contribution to fighting existential risk. Making some money along the way would be nice, too.

I phrased the post vaguely because I would like to know more about the general picture of engineering in Europe in general and Germany in particular. I find it rather more difficult to gather information on engineering than on science. I suspect that the problem of industrial secrecy might be involved somehow.

I didn't know there was such a thing as an open thread. I'll make sure to use it mroe often. However, I posted this in "discussion" because I thought the end result would be a gathering on information that new lesswrongers might find useful in the future, and would like to find easily. That said, do you still think it would be better to do this discussion on the Open Thread?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 21 November 2012 10:58:45PM *  3 points [-]

My goal is to use that knowledge to help develop ecologically sustainable infrastructures in the Third World; the planet cannot sustain nine billion cars, even if they were electric. This is intended to be my personal contribution to fighting existential risk.

This doesn't contribute to fighting existential risk in any way that I can see. If "intended to be my personal contribution" means that making a contribution is a motivating factor, rather than a perceived side effect that happened to be a property of the decision taken for other reasons, then there are probably career choices that are much better in that respect. (Most notably, personal philanthropy may allow more impact, in which case the career should be optimized for money and fuzzies.)

Comment author: Ritalin 21 November 2012 11:11:00PM -1 points [-]

This doesn't contribute to fighting existential risk in any way that I can see.

Poor countries are growing rich. There are many people there. These people will want to move around. They might be tempted to do it using cars. That would be bad in terms of resource consumption, energy consumption, and, for a while, carbon emission. Trains represent a much more energy and resource-efficient solution. Such solutions are good for the sustained existence of humankind at population levels close to the current one.

then there are probably career choices that are much better in that respect.

I am quite open to suggestiona. Reduction of existential risk is the most important thing in the world to me, at least when thinking in far-mode.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 21 November 2012 11:40:05PM *  4 points [-]

Such solutions are good for the sustained existence of humankind at population levels close to the current one.

This is not what "existential risk" means. If some disaster was guaranteed in wiping out 99.9% of all population, but not more, it poses no existential risk at all (assuming it's possible to rebuild eventually). For this reason, it doesn't seem likely that things like global warming or resource scarcity pose existential risk.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 November 2012 07:54:54AM 4 points [-]

Though note that Bostrom actually does list "Resource depletion or ecological destruction" as one possible type of x-risk in the linked article.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 November 2012 11:53:55PM 4 points [-]

For this reason, it doesn't seem likely that things like global warming or resource scarcity pose existential risk.

In so far as unstable societies make for dealing with existential risk much more difficult this contributes to existential risk. There's been some discussion also of whether in general rebuilding is possible given how much we've consumed in easily accessible, non-renewable resources in order to bootstrap our way to our current tech level. CarlShulman and I discussed this here a while ago, with Carl arguing that it wasn't much of an issue.

Comment author: drnickbone 22 November 2012 08:44:07AM 3 points [-]

I think the general point is that a big population crash may well leave a remnant which is unable to re-industrialise (too few to make key inventions, too scattered, too many other problems). Or the remnant may have strong cultural pressures against re-industrialising, given it was such a disaster last time. The small residual population would eventually go extinct from natural causes, or evolve into something non-human. So the crash is an existential risk.

Comment author: Ritalin 22 November 2012 01:12:51AM 1 point [-]

That aside, what are the occupations you would suggest for an engineer with a wish to adress existential risk? Did you have anything specific in mind when you said "then there are probably career choices that are much better in that respect"? Name three of those.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 22 November 2012 01:30:38AM *  2 points [-]

Did you have anything specific in mind when you said "then there are probably career choices that are much better in that respect"?

No. My observation was that this particular choice seems to be of no value for existential risk reduction, that if there are some choices that provide some value, that's much better than no value at all (actually, this is faulty step, as even if a "better" choice is much better in relative value, its absolute value may still be low, so that it does almost no good), and that there probably are some (saying which ones can be expected to be useful and are plausible choices for a career needs considerably more research than I can think up for a comment, and I don't know of a reference that already answers this question). If you go with professional philanthropy, optimize for money. This is generally an easier choice, as you can switch donation target without retraining and based on future knowledge about which organizations and kinds of activities become effective.

Comment author: D_Alex 23 November 2012 07:07:04AM 1 point [-]

What languages do you speak well enough to fully benefit from instruction in those languages?

Comment author: Ritalin 23 November 2012 10:57:58PM 0 points [-]

French, English, Spanish, Catalan, German, Arabic, and I can easily understand Portuguese and Italian.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 22 November 2012 06:45:44AM 0 points [-]

How many people are there even going to be here who have spent long enough in several different European technical schools to be able to do a meaningful comparison between them?

This might be a good starting point for how to aim high for an academic career.

Comment author: Ritalin 22 November 2012 09:12:12AM -3 points [-]

I already know about those. They tell me almost nothing. A good starting point, but I want to hear more.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 22 November 2012 12:55:38PM 1 point [-]

They tell me almost nothing. A good starting point, but I want to hear more.

With such an open question, I doubt you're going to, for the reasons I wrote above. People are going to either know about zero European technical schools or about one of them, in either case, they can't contribute much of a comparative analysis. If you want to know about studying to be a transportation engineer in Germany, why not find a German train enthusiast forum or something and see if you can ask there?

Also, I don't see why those tell "almost nothing". In the US, going to MIT seems to be a pretty good recipe for training to be a hardcore engineer, both due to the strict curriculum and the fact that you're going to be surrounded by the sort of people who can get in and successfully study at MIT. From the list, ETH Z├╝rich seems like a quite similar school in German-speaking Europe. You're likely to be surrounded with and socialize with very capable and driven people and get taught a lot of engineering for your degree.

Comment author: Ritalin 22 November 2012 03:17:03PM *  0 points [-]

Schools are not as drastically different in prestige in Europe as they are in the USA, except maybe in France. Even then, you get surprises. My current school is one of the most powerful and dynamic in the country, and even the world, and generates patents out the wazoo, yet our building is crap, and our students and professors don't seem to give a crap about the learning and teaching; it works more like a research laboratory than a teaching institution. Numbers and rankings couldn't have told me that, and I curse the day I set foot here. I'm trying to get out into some place where my fellow students won't call me a nerd for actually taking an interest.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 22 November 2012 04:12:50PM 1 point [-]

Numbers and rankings couldn't have told me that, and I curse the day I set foot here. I'm trying to get out into some place where my fellow students won't call me a nerd for actually taking an interest.

They don't sound like people who worked very hard to get in the school. What was the acceptance rate for incoming students?

I don't actually know if there even are STEM schools that don't have sucky lectures and apathetic students, though. Learning the stuff involves building models in your head that are too complex to do while listening to a guy talk to a hall full of people, so you have to do most of the work by yourself with pen, paper and textbook anyway. The teaching organization is there to give you exams to give you feedback on how well you've learned things.

My current idea for the best way to deal with post-secondary education is to basically think of yourself as an autodidact and do your basic degree as fast as you can with minimal interaction with lectures and other stupid distractions for the magical piece of paper that will show the industry workplaces that you are good for serious business.

It's a bit messed up situation overall. The standard conventions for teaching undergrads are bad enough that you could just as well have the students watch lecture videos off YouTube. There are methods that work, but they are much more costly on the expensive professor labor, like one-on-one tutoring, so I guess only the students who demonstrate that they are good enough to master the undergrad stuff effortlessly without proper instruction are considered promising enough to get that. I remember reading about mathematics education in Oxford or somewhere, which was basically trying to educate people with a good chance of doing novel mathematical research, which involved lots of tutoring with a single tutor working with just one or two students and working on whatever stuff they needed to be doing.

Comment author: Ritalin 23 November 2012 11:11:24PM 0 points [-]

It's very easy to get accepted, it's very hard to survuve the five official years the degree takes, which become eight on average. The dropout rate is fifty percent in the first two years, and thirty percent of what's left after that.

so you have to do most of the work by yourself with pen, paper and textbook anyway.

What's the point of making us go to a building, then?

you could just as well have the students watch lecture videos off YouTube.

And if the videos were well done, it would be a net improvement.

lots of tutoring with a single tutor working with just one or two students and working on whatever stuff they needed to be doing.

That's only for postgrads, though, right?

Comment author: VincentYu 24 November 2012 06:20:45PM 1 point [-]

lots of tutoring with a single tutor working with just one or two students and working on whatever stuff they needed to be doing.

That's only for postgrads, though, right?

It's for undergrads across all subjects. See tutorial system.

Comment author: Ritalin 24 November 2012 11:18:55PM 0 points [-]

Oh. We have those too. In name only. They usually ignore you, or make it clear to you that they are not interested in helping.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 November 2012 09:46:17AM 1 point [-]

What's the point of making us go to a building, then?

As far as my experience went, there isn't much of a one. Thankfully the Finnish university I went to was also very flexible on letting you do most of the courses by just showing up for an exam and doing well on that, no need to attend classes if you don't like them.

That's only for postgrads, though, right?

Found it. It's Cambridge (and he mentions that Oxford has a similar system), and it does seem to be specifically for undergraduates.

A lot of places will start letting you talk with a competent human once you go postgrad, but undergrad students going from high school math to university math are the ones who would probably most need that.

Comment author: Larks 25 November 2012 12:45:19PM 1 point [-]

Yes, both Oxford and Cambridge use the tutorial system. Undergraduates get lectures, classes and tutorials (or supervisions in Cambridge), where the latter would be one lecturer/professor to one to three students.