Peer reviewed research paper SEFI Engineering Education congress 2018
Within higher engineering education, students have to learn to close knowledge gaps that arise in professional assignments, such as capstone projects. These knowledge gaps can be closed through simple inquiry, but can also require more rigorous research. Since professionals work under tight constraints, they face constant trade-offs between quality, risk and efficiency to find answers that are acceptable. This means engineers use pragmatic research tactics that aim for the highest chance to find answers that fit sufficiently to close knowledge gaps in order to solve the problem with optimal use of time and resources. The problem is that research and problem-solving literature richly supplies solid strategies suitable to plan the research in projects as a whole, but hardly supplies flexible tactics to search for information within a project. This paper reports pragmatic tactics that starting bachelor engineering professionals use to acquire sufficiently good answers to questions that arise in the context of their assignments. For this, we conducted semi-structured interviews among computer science engineers with three to five years of work experience. The study reveals three pragmatic tactics: concentric, iterative and probe-response. The ambition level of the project determines when questions are sufficiently answered, and we distinguish tree sufficiency levels: check for viable answer, boost critical demand and change the game. The aim of this research is to add a view that makes pragmatic research choices for novice engineers more open to discussion and realistic.