Female Engineers

by L

How to Attract Female Engineers



319 thoughts on “Female Engineers

  1. It may be about reframing the goals of engineering research and curriculums to be more relevant to societal needs.

    Hogwash. This is the premise of the article, but it’s really just a softer way of saying that women will be more likely to be engineers if the specific work allows them to be more nurturing and caring. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. But don’t dismiss all the more-mascilune engineering work with the implication that it’s somehow irrelevant to society’s needs. Society needs energy, chemicals, and heavy manufacturing, too..

  2. Women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.

    It’s from the Onion, right?

  3. I agree with Milo–this article seemed sexist. If people hiring engineers read this article, it will be very easy for them to say “I don’t need to hire more female engineers at Google, Exxon, or Apple because women don’t really want these interesting and high-paying jobs–women engineers really want do-good projects at non-profits.”

  4. women engineers really want do-good projects at non-profits.

    Is it true? To the degree it is true, how much of it is due to socialization?

  5. Totebag kids have connected, involved and intelligent parents to help guide them in making decisions. As I am guiding my DDs, I am always suggesting they attend events that give some hands on experience of what various professions do. Often engineering is discussed in a very high level way where it is hard to get an idea of what those folks do. I speculate that some of these courses, while I dislike the premise as Milo points out, are giving more concrete examples of how engineering can be applied. I think you would also get good turnout if courses offered more concrete examples of the energy, chemicals and heavy manufacturing, etc.

  6. There was a an article by Paul Krugman about teaching economics at Princeton. He said that all the kids were taking economics because they wanted to make a ton of money. But, they went to great lengths to pretend that wasn’t what they were doing. I get the impression that men may pretend to go along with SJWs to fit in, but they know it’s bullshit. Women tend to actually buy into it.

  7. From the one science fair I attended I noticed that the girls had more projects around life/earth/memory (plants, insects) and the boys tended towards more mechanical type projects (rocket cars, planes). This was not mostly though not 100% true. The range and uniqueness of projects impressed me. My DD for instance would be very interested in building different structures and see how they can withstand natural forces. Rocket cars, how planes fly etc. have no appeal for her.

  8. I don’t like the “pinkification” of selling to women — it reduces 150MM+ Americans to the simplest stereotype of “women don’t care about money, they just want to help people.” And it’s equally insulting to the other 150MM+ Americans, as it implies that men are all about money/prestige/power and really don’t give a hoot about helping people or making the world a better place. But the reality is that, whatever these guys are doing, it is working to attract women who want to be engineers.

    AustinMom hit on what I was going to say: I’m not sure it’s because they are telling stories about helping people; I think it’s more that they’re bothering to tell a story, period.

    Much tech stuff is extremely abstract (I still for the life of me have zero clue what Cisco actually does). Ergo, it naturally draws a limited universe of people who gravitate to it — e.g., the guys who spent their weekends in the garage taking apart and rebuilding their computers. And that makes most enrollment figures the direct result of selection bias. But if you’re one of the other 99.9% of the population for whom that is not your idea of a rocking Saturday, wtf would you be remotely interested in EE — especially if your perception is that all of your classmates and future work buddies will be those same guys who spent HS geeking out in the garage?

    OTOH, if you put together stories of how your grads are building power modules for a Mars expedition (oops, no NASA budget), or developing newer battery packs that are so light and portable and long-lasting they will support electric cars in Africa, or whatever your story may be — then you get a whole bunch of generic undecided teens thinking, wow, that sounds like a pretty cool job, maybe I should study that. So maybe it starts with better marketing.

  9. When I went to local accounting school for my re-entry degree, my professors (all but my advisor) wanted to steer me to a PhD so I could be a professor. My neighbors all assumed I would use the degree to do the books for non profits. Nobody thought that I would want to work in the hugely sexist Big 6 milieu of the time. I did get a job (the advisor called in a favor to get me a non screening interview). When I got there they assigned me to the girl’s work – compliance and non profits, but I chose the hardest most male dominated specialty. I ran into overt sexism – not harassment type, but dismissive or exclusionary type – all of the time, although I think that my eventual plateau level was more the result of age at entry, lower EQ and the never ending pressure of domestic issues that sapped my focus, if not my face time.

    I liked being in the vanguard. My generation anticipated hostility and tradeoffs – we were mostly trying to make a life for ourselves and a decent living for our families, but we also accepted a lot of the bumps and bruises as part of the good fight for those who would come after us. Seeking balance or meaningful work or doing good was not part of the deal – we were just trying to get in the professional door and get paid. I think that the next generation is not committed to the struggle for its own sake – they are more interested in a functional balanced life – if certain programs or subspecialties gain a critical mass number of congenial individuals “like us”, they will flock to those.

  10. “(I still for the life of me have zero clue what Cisco actually does). Ergo, it naturally draws a limited universe of people who gravitate to it — e.g., the guys who spent their weekends in the garage taking apart and rebuilding their computers.”

    Is that so bad? On other topics, you’ve said that you like to step back and ask “why, in the first place, is this a good idea?” Is Cisco (or society) suffering from having engineers who are disproportionately male?

    How many people are asking what can be done to get more men interested in studying early education?

  11. In my early career, my boss tended to “test” you (male and female) and then start assigning your projects based on the results. The test included assigning you a variety of tasks to see if, when and/or what you complained about. And, yes he would keep pushing until you complained about something!

    Many of the females complained early on when assigned projects that would stereotypically be considered “male” projects. Those “male” projects were usually more complicated, but gave you more opportunity to learn, show off your abilities, and fail. Those who complained got fewer of those assignements, those who did not got more. Those of us on those projects usually moved up faster. In hindsight, some of the complainers (male and female) realized that by staying in their comfort zones, they lost out on growth; others saw it as protecting their jobs because they limited their exposure to potential failure; some females chalked it up to sexism.

    I also agree with Meme – At times it was really just about being employed at a level that allowed you to meet your/your family’s needs. You expected to face sexism and did your best to prove yourself and move ahead in spite of it.

  12. I saw computer science go from close to 40% female in the 80’s when I was in college, to today’s abyssmal rate of 12%. Clearly it isn’t that women have no interest or ability in computer science, because in the 70’s and 80’s, they did have the interest. What happened?
    I think a lot of people who have studied this question think that the advent of PCs and gaming had a lot to do with it. Games and the development of PCs went hand in hand, and so did the advertising, which was entirely aimed at young guys. So a whole generation of girls quickly got the idea that computers were not for them. And then another generation, and now it is firmly entrenched. At this point, it is very hard to undo because our idea of the norm world in computing is totally male.

    Using humanitiarn projects has been pitched for the last 15 or so years as a way to attract more women, and minorities. There are lots of humanitarian open source projects out there. I’ve been involved myself. The ironic thing is, the kids most likely to want to work on the humanitarian open source projects are white males!! They see the projects as resume builders. The kids from disadvantages backgrounds scoff at these projects, saying “why do I want to work for free?”. And as for women, we have so few that we can’t tell if they are interested or not.

    I think the solution is to get women and kids from poor backgrounds in early. Boys from upper middle class backgrounds are enrolled in Lego classes and then robotics and Young Engineers classes afterschool almost as soon as they can walk. These classes are almost always completely boys. My daughter takes them, but she is always the sole girl and she often complains that the boys shove her off the computer and only want to work on shooter games. The afterschools clubs need to be made more welcoming for girls – NOT by making them pink and frilly (my daughter would probably refuse to take a Scratch class if it were pink and frilly!) but by making them more gender neutral. I know some people are having good success with middle schoolers by doing wearable projects, which attract both boys and girls.

    At the college and employer level, we also need to make the environment conducive to everyone. Right now, the culture of computing is so male that no one even notices it- kind of like how white people don’t think about being white unless specifically asked to. The norm is to be a white/Asian geek male, and anybody, or any interest, outside of that norm is to be “other”. There are very few other fields that are so resolutely male – perhaps traders, and petroleum engineers.

  13. If anyone here has insight into Healthcare policy or Healthcare administration type of careers, could you please email me at “delltotebag” at the address gmail please? I have a few questions and would love to talk to someone who knows the work.

  14. The women to ask are the ones who have the academic qualifications but choose to do something else.

    I went to an engineering honors program in high school and it put me off being an engineering major. The program itself was excellent and these work interested me, but many of my fellow students made it clear that they thought women were idiots who couldn’t master the subject.

    At the time I was too young to realize that my personality was suited to a male dominated field, and I decided to switch to law and business, where I imagined women were more welcome.

    Also, although the starting salaries were high, I thought the salaries topped out quickly relative to BigLaw and I had several friends whose engineer fathers had been unemployed.

    I’m trying to get my DD interested because I think comfort with science and math opens a lot of doors. Even in BigLaw, attorneys who can cope with complex math and science are relatively rare.

  15. Mooshi, I see a lot of women computer engineers from India. Not many (women) who are born in here seem to pursue the degree.

  16. This article made me think about GoldieBlox. Through research, the founder discovered that boys and girls responded differently to a box of blocks or legos. The boys would just go and build whatever, where the girls liked a story or directions with the box. GoldieBlox does that – it’s a story where you build the item as you go. But it’s not the girl-driven legos. The sets are working machines, not stages for dollhouse-style imaginative play. The founder wanted to get young girls interested in engineering and STEM.

    While I disagree with the article entirely, the idea of giving examples and taking the “scariness” out of the word is enticing. Even the founder of GoldieBlox didn’t know what an engineer did (she thought train conductor) until she took a class at Stanford. I’m pretty sure there are women out there who want to be manufacturer and chemical engineers.

  17. Yes, and I am friends with several female software engineers from India, as well as China. What they tell me is that computing is not seen as male or female in those countries – it is just seen as a good practical job category suitable for anyone who is good at it. In a funny way, that is how computer sciene was seen when I went into it, back when women were 37% of the CS majors. The ideas that computer science had anything to do with wizards or Doom, or 20-somethings with weird facial hair chasing crazed Silicon Valley venture capitalists was way in the future at that time.

    My summer programming job when I was in college was in a development group of 6 programmers: 5 women and 1 man. Imagine that today.

  18. Mooshi, very interesting. Growing up I had no awareness that there was such a thing as CS, and only a vague awareness of careers in the sciences other than medicine. DH, OTOH, grew up wanting to be some type of engineer, building his first doorbell at the age of 4, etc. etc. (and perhaps coincidentally, had lots of video games growing up).

  19. All three of my kids have learned Scratch now, and I also have taught a number of Scratch workshops to middle schoolers. It is interesting to see how kids vary in what they do . My oldest quickly became very interested in traditional computer science. He had figured out parallel arrays within a week for a quiz game he built, and got heavily into path finding algorithms, physics for games, etc. He is very good at finding out information on his own by searching the web for resources. My second kid tends to use Scratch to build stories, almost like little films. They are very quirky, which is typical of that kid. My youngest just started doing Scratch this year. She has tended to take established projects, do them step by step to the end, and then start making variations. She learned to make a spot the clue game and then turned it into into something involving ninja kittens. She tends to be a very step-by-step, finish the project kind of kid for all kinds of things, from cooking to Legos to her snap circuits set. My oldest tends to scour the web for ideas and solutions, and my middle kid just keeps trying things on his own, sometimes abandoning it in frustration, and sometimes coming up with something breathtakingly original.

  20. “Totebag kids have connected, involved and intelligent parents to help guide them in making decisions.”

    You are delusional.

  21. But if you’re one of the other 99.9% of the population for whom that is not your idea of a rocking Saturday, wtf would you be remotely interested in EE — especially if your perception is that all of your classmates and future work buddies will be those same guys who spent HS geeking out in the garage?

    That doesn’t explain the brogrammer though, does it?

    I think part of this is men tend to be drawn to the highest status occupations in a way that women aren’t. So, c. 198X when Mooshi was at BU, CS was several levels down the status hierarchy compared to finance, medicine, law, etc. As CS has risen to the top of the status hierarchy, beating out even finance, men have driven women out of these jobs.

  22. When I first saw today’s topic, and the headline for the subject article, I initially thought it was related to the point I’d made here in the past, that females who go into engineering find themselves with a very favorable dating ratio, and would provide tips to the male engineers trying to attract a female engineer.

  23. I think pepole fall in two categories (1) what others think or say about my choices makes little to no difference in what I choose and (2) what others think or say about my choices makes a big impact on my choices. IMLE more girls fit into the second category than boys do. This makes a difference in the choices you make in life.

  24. Rhett, your hypothesis doesn’t work at all. After 2000, there was an incredible crash in the number of kids majoring in computer science. Enrollment went down by something like 25% nationwide. It was the era of offshoring, and CS was seen as a Dilbertesque, lowbrow field that was prone to layoffs. It was NOT high status at all during that time, especially compared to finance. And yet, while the number of men enrolling in CS was declining, the number of women declined even faster. More men than women were still attracted even though it was considered low status in that period.

  25. AustinMom, I think guys are just as influenced by what others think. That is why so few guys go into nursing, which is as female dominated, and culturally female, as CS is male.

  26. MM – IME, I see parents coaching boys to be “independent” and girls to be “more considerate of others”. This seems to allow the boys to shrug off more, not all, of what others think. I also think more parents advise boys than girls to take a more lucrative job and advise more girls than boys to look for balance.

  27. “Is that so bad? On other topics, you’ve said that you like to step back and ask “why, in the first place, is this a good idea?” Is Cisco (or society) suffering from having engineers who are disproportionately male?

    How many people are asking what can be done to get more men interested in studying early education?”

    ?? I thought I basically agreed with everything you said, so not sure where that came from. I think it’s interesting that their numbers *are* so different, but it pisses me off that the immediate knee-jerk reaction is that, “oh, it must be because we’re appealing to women’s inner mommy.”

    The kid of sexism I worry about is the stuff that Mooshi mentions, about the environment that chases women away, but most schools aren’t even getting them in the door to be chased away later. If it was general lack of interest, that’s one thing. But these results suggest that the interest is there, if the career path is presented the right way.

    Why does that matter? On an individual basis, it doesn’t. But current brain science shows that homogeneous groups make worse decisions than heterogeneous ones; any field that is too heavily slanted to one gender is likely to limit itself. Think of our past discussions on how teachers reward neatness and behavior, all “good girl” traits (personally, I would *love* to attract more men/non-box-checkers into that role). Or how it drives me nucking futz that hotel designers are happy to provide an extra plug by the sink for the electric shavers that no men I know have used since the 1960s, yet they still can’t stick a bench in the shower so the other 50% of their customer base can shave their legs.

    And then, from the more philosophical/less annoyed files, I do think our society needs more engineers, who actually create useful stuff, and fewer lawyers and finance types, who basically move/protect/follow money and serve as grease in the wheels but don’t actually add anything useful. So we *should* be trying to attract the best and the brightest of all stripes into that kind of a useful, productive career path. But we can’t do that effectively if we take the wrong lesson from the data we have.

  28. Sky – one of my girls was recruited by a major uni as a physics major, had grants and publications, and by junior year knew that it was not for her (she finished the major, but no thesis/final project). She might have become a happy engineer, but went in another direction. It wasn’t particularly about sexism, although some of her fellow researchers (and their wives) were not all that comfortable dealing with young women as constant colleagues. It was about the years of training, the 24-7 research culture and the fact that the switch did not click for her – she did not find a passion to follow in that particular area with those particular people. She ended up in high end finance, but it was 1999, the money and the perks at entry level were irresistible to a 20 year old, and she really liked it, despite the hours and the work culture.

  29. I found interesting the implication that up until now, the goals of engineering research and curriculums have not been relevant to societal needs.

  30. @Mooshi – I think many kids taking computer science at brand name universities want to found a start up that will sell for mega cash. To a lesser extent they will consent to work for brand name Silicon Valley companies. I don’t think they are looking at it the same way as women computer science engineers from overseas – a good practical job.

  31. “How many people are asking what can be done to get more men interested in studying early education?”
    I think this question does get asked, because there is some amount of concern that boys don’t get male role models in elementary school, and may get turned off from school as a result.

  32. “How many people are asking what can be done to get more men interested in studying early education?”

    Or nursing?

    I’ve discussed here before how, IME, males who major in engineering mostly do so because they want to be engineers. Females who major in engineering often do so because they are good in math and science and are encouraged to major in engineering because of that.

    So I can sort of see the point the author is trying to make, albeit very clumsily. If you want more female engineers, you need to more females to want to be engineers.

  33. I don’t disagree with what anyone has said here. The question has several parts, in my opinion.

    1) Why don’t more women choose to major in engineering? I think lack of emphasis on making money compared to men, harder courses with a higher chance of failure, lower GPA’s (average elementary education GPA at my undergrad was 3.7, with almost everyone who wanted to be in the program in the program, compared to 2.7 average GPA for mechanical engineering, with only about half the people who originally wanted to get in the program getting in). Very few women engineers were (are?) in the lower half of their class academically. Half the engineers in Tau Beta Pi (engineering honor society for top 1/8-1/5 of class) were female, compared to ~15% of the engineering college. Engineering courses weed people out based on raw intelligence and work ethic. This weeding out process has decreased since I was an undergrad, and I think that’s part of why there’s more emphasis on having a MS to do routine level engineering work.

    2) Why don’t women stay in engineering? They get better jobs, or they have family obligations or the family decides to move for the husband’s job rather than the wife’s job. Engineering jobs are not very stable, a fact I wish I had understood better when I chose the field. I wasn’t aware of the unemployment issues someone referred to above. I mostly looked at the expected salary for an engineer and compared it to the assistant district attorney salary published in our local newspaper and thought I would rather troubleshoot equipment than prosecute/defend DUI’s and facilitate divorces. The Internet provides dramatically better career information than I had.

    In terms of dating, my sister is a single chemical engineer who is in South America this week. She would have liked to marry, but at least she’s not broke. She is tall, blond and athletic. No guy I knew ever thought, “She has a decently paying job and isn’t ugly. I’d like to date her.” Whereas lots of girls wanted to date male engineers based on their boringness and financial stability. Men value “hotness” in a spouse more than women do.

    3) One area of engineering women excel is in management, projects or people. I think it’s because we tend to be good at multitasking. I’d like to get into this area when I return to work full-time. Mr WCE has had about 20 managers and agrees that in general, women are better than men.

    4) The US undervalues engineers and overvalues medicine, IMHO. Many medical dollars are spent with a low ROI. In contrast, the US is spending 5% of GDP on infrastructure compared to ~10% in Europe. I don’t work in the field of infrastructure, so I don’t have a dog in that fight, but I think there will be long-term consequences because our political parties can’t prioritize bridge and road maintenance, for example. We allow railroad optimizations and utility grid upgrades to be hung up in environmental lawsuits forever, instead of deciding on guidelines that everyone has to follow. I think Germany and China handle this better than the US.

    I think Meme is right that women my age take for granted the opportunities that are open to us. I also think the returns to a professional career are less for people under, say 40, than they were for people over 40. Medicine pays less and education is more expensive, law is harder to rise in and the stock options that Finn has mentioned have dramatically decreased for the rank and file now that companies are forced to account for them.

    Sorry for the lack of organization, but I need to post and go grocery shop.

  34. Geology, the field I studied in college, may fit the pattern demonstrated by the study in the article. Back when I was in college, about 80-90% of geology students were male. At the time, most jobs available after college were in petroleum or mining. Over time, more jobs in environmental science (“societal good”) have opened up for geologists and coincidentally women now make up about 40% of geology students. Also, more of the environmental jobs are in government or other areas with work conditions that are more genteel than in petroleum or mining.

  35. At my school, the students are not looking to found start ups. They just want a job. But we still don’t attract women. You can go to any school with a CS major, from the top schools like CMU, to Podunk Valley Community College, and see the same pattern. And it is a pattern that has persisted since about 1985, through extreme ups and downs in the status of computer science. I honestly think that it is because computing has turned into the mirror image of nursing, resolutely male just as nursing is resolutely female. Yes, I know that Denver Dad is now a NP, and Rhett argues constantly that nursing is the career to have. But overall, men don’t feel welcomed in nursing, and women don’t feel welcome in computing.

  36. And apropos of nothing, I offer a link on the Syriac Galen Palimpsest – the sort of thing that I studied and that floated my boat when I was 22 – left behind when I left the public sphere for fifteen years. Tax was my second chance for the workforce job, and I really liked it and was good at it, but if I had been able to follow my heart without regard to money or family issues this is what I would have done, more or less.


  37. “But current brain science shows that homogeneous groups make worse decisions than heterogeneous ones; any field that is too heavily slanted to one gender is likely to limit itself.”

    I just started “The Wisdom of Crowds,” about 11 years late.

    “Or how it drives me nucking futz that hotel designers are happy to provide an extra plug by the sink”

    Isn’t that more likely the building code?

  38. Two first paragraphs from two websites – search = what do engineers do. See the difference in the approaches?

    Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.

    By becoming an engineer, you can help solve problems that are important to society. You could be controlling and preventing pollution, developing new medicines, creating advanced technologies, even exploring new worlds.

  39. Coc, back when I was a kid, it seemed like a lot of the environmental jobs were handled by “environmental engineers”, people with engineering degrees. My parents had a couple of friends in that field, both women. What happened to that field?

  40. women don’t feel welcome in computing.

    I totally agree. The question is why?

  41. Take a look at this graph

    One of the interesting things, something I have known for a while, is the relatively high number of women who major in math. This graph shows the number as being consistently above 40% since 1970, though the numbers do seem to be declining now. One explanation I have heard is that women major in math to be math teachers – but at the schools where I have taught, there is usually a special math track within the education degree for students who plan to teach math. I have never taught math majors so I have little direct experience, but when my DH was teaching, he did teach lots of math majors (he was in a math/CS department at an elite SLAC). In his department, more than 50% of the math majors were women ( and very few were CS majors!!!). He said that none of them were going into teaching. Most aimed at careers at one of those fancy consulting companies, like Deloitte, or were planning to do a finance MBA. In any case, the high numbers of women getting math degrees suggests that math ability is not the problem.

  42. Oh, I wish I had more time today! I don’t know the answer, but I do my best to tell little girls about what I did as an engineer. One cool thing about my field (civil) is that I can point to things they can see and experience and tell them about how it works – neighborhoods, school buildings, parks, stormwater management ponds, etc. A mentor once encouraged me to go into the field because there will always be jobs because humans will always need water and ways to get rid of it.

    When I was in school 20+ years ago, the study of environmental engineering focused on water & wastewater treatment, air pollution, and hazardous waste management. It’s a lot broader these days, and incorporated throughout the civil disciplines. My school even calls the department “CEE” for civil and environmental engineering. But there is a lot of crossover between CEE, environmental science, geosciences, landscape architecture, and urban planning. And there’s even a new interdisciplinary major – a B.S. degree in Water: Resources, Policy, and Management.

  43. CoC, then why are there so many women successfully majoring in math?

  44. @Mooshi – I think the math majors are smart girls but somewhat undecided on their future careers. They don’t want to take engineering, otherwise they would have gone that route. With a math major you are likely to get hired in a first job in many different areas.

  45. SWVA “B.S. degree in Water: Resources, Policy, and Management” looks like the type of degree that will get you some funny looks now, but in 10-20 years will be a hot degree.

  46. Louise, you may be right – but CoC is arguing that it is lack of innate math ability that keeps women out of engineering. If that were true, I would not expect to see many as math majors either

  47. @Milo — I was talking about the specially-shaped plug that is usable only by an electric razor: http://blog.fosketts.net/2013/02/03/shavers-electrical-outlet/

    Along the lines of both Meme’s and Mooshi’s comments, I wonder also if some of the shift is just that women have so many more viable, easier paths now. When Meme was coming up, unless you wanted to be a teacher/nurse/secretary (and quit when you had babies), you were going to have to fight your way through any job. It just came with the territory, and it was something you knew and expected. My generation had a bunch of those doors open for me, but still a residual chip from having seen our moms deal with outright sexism and discrimination; we had many more opportunities and faced much less sexism, but we still saw it and knew it was there.

    The current generation is now two generations removed, though, and all that seems like ancient history; they take it as their right that they can do any job they want and deserve equal treatment, without needing to fight or make a political stand, and “feminist” means some old man-hater battle-axe who could really use a bra by now. But that world view also makes it easier to be unprepared when you run into a very macho kind of environment (regardless of whether that’s macho-geek or macho-finance). And unlike Meme, they have many more career options open in environments where they don’t need to suck it up. So I think it’s just much, much easier today to be Eric Cartman and say “screw you guys, I’m going home” and go into another field with a (perceived) more accepting environment. It’s basically self-segregation.

    Makes me wonder, because that’s basically why I ended up in law instead of science. As many battles as I was happy to take on in jr high and HS, all it took was one science prof who thought women couldn’t do chemistry, at the same time as one English prof was telling me how awesome I was. Today, if you are smart and well-educated and female, there is *always* another, easier option.

  48. It’s possible that engineering requires higher math abilities than that typically required by the average math major, which, anecdotes aside, may actually include many students on the education track.

  49. LfB – right on. The “fuzzy” sexism is really hard to deal with, particularly when you are unprepared. Also, YES, it only takes one. Especially when you aren’t aware of other careers – the math teachers I had in HS were, to a person, People Who Were Even Dorkier Than I Was, and that certainly helped to steer me away from more math.

  50. Hoping not to be an lol, as autocorrect tried to rename me. But I have one more dumb question. Roth IRAs are tax deductible, I know. What taxes do they avoid? I paid income tax as appropriate when I got the money (some of it is insurance settlements and child support, so no tax required). Is it a tax on the earnings or on whatever I withdraw?

    Here is an article related to today’s topic. http://jezebel.com/science-advice-columnist-just-let-your-adviser-stare-a-1708173908

  51. CoC, most math professors consider engineering students to be woeful at True Mathematics.

  52. LfB – Interesting, I’ve never seen those, or at least that I can remember. That article has the answer, though. Absent a GFCI circuit, it’s to provide a safer, lower voltage for the shaver.

    A bench in the shower could add a lot more hassle for the maid, reducing efficiency.

  53. “What taxes do they avoid?”

    They are exempt from the taxes on the earnings that the investments will generate.

  54. I wonder if women are more interested in Rhett’s “cost/unit of effort” metric than men.

    In general, I think that anyone bright enough to complete an engineering degree is smart enough to pursue a number of other paths, whether it’s accounting, finance, law, medicine, etc. While starting salaries in engineering are attractive, it seems like upside is limited, and there’s significantly less flexibility in career path than a lot of other professions. For this reason, I’m not sure I’d recommend engineering to my child (male or female).

    So in my view, an equally interesting question might be why so many highly capable men choose engineering as a career path when seemingly more attractive options exist? :)

  55. Roth IRAs are tax deductible, I know.

    No, that’s a regular IRA. If you put $5,000 in an regular IRA that reduces your taxable income by $5,000 which would, depending on your tax rate, result in a $1,250 larger refund. However, when you take the money out you owe income taxes on it. With a ROTH, your taxable income isn’t reduced. However, when you take the money out there are no taxes.

    Regular IRA – You put in $5,000 and you save $1,250 in taxes. In 30 years at 6% you’ll have $28,717. But, when you take that money out you’ll have to pay regular income taxes on it. Say, $5k.

    Roth IRA – You put in $5,00 and you don’t save any current year taxes. However, in 30 years you have $28,717 that you can take out and spend with no tax penalty.

  56. @LL — Roths are NOT tax-deductible. You put in after-tax money, and it grows, and then you get to take everything out tax-free at retirement.

    It’s the regular IRAs/401(k)s that are tax-deductible. There, you put in pre-tax money, and the money grows over time, and then when you take it out you pay ordinary income taxes on everything (contributions + growth).

    Note that “pre-tax $” just means that that $$ isn’t listed as income on your tax return. So if you make $50K, and you have 10% sent to a 401(k), your W-2 at the end of the year will show $45K in the box for taxable income, and $5K in a separate box for 401(k) contributions. If this isn’t an account you’re doing through work, I assume that there’s some line on your tax form to note that you sent $5K to a regular IRA, which would knock that $5K off your taxable income.

  57. I almost majored in engineering. I decided against it because I was leaning toward medicine as a career path, and it seemed too risky from a GPA perspective. I think I would have been happier in engineering than what I ultimately ended up doing as a career (not medicine), so it’s a bit of a regret.

  58. I also think girls, particularly those with the aptitude for engineering, tend to be more perfectionist and concerned with their grades and pleasing teachers and parents vs boys. So seeing an average major of 2.75 or so for engineers can be enough to scare them away. I know it scared me.

    My uncle, by contrast, almost failed out of his large state U’s engineering program despite being high school valedictorian, as his high school preparation wasn’t rigorous enough. I think most girls who were used to being academic superstars would change majors after a semester of that, due to being risk averse. He shrugged it off, got some tutoring, and successfully completed the program, unashamed of his rough start.

  59. So if I do an IRA, it sounds like I should do the regular kind. (Last week I had the impression that Roth would be better) I am starting to think that I should just invest the money outright. Please remind me of the benefits of the IRA “bucket”.

  60. “While starting salaries in engineering are attractive, it seems like upside is limited”

    Common theme on this board.

    A dollar earned at the age of 22 is worth a lot more than a dollar earned at 35 or 45 (time value of money). Additionally, $1,000,000 spread evenly over ten years is worth more than $1,000,000 concentrated over two years (progressive taxation). Finally, the very high salaries in finance and law are 1) not quite so guaranteed; 2) typically seem to be concentrated in very high-COL areas; 3) seem to require a partner who is a dedicated SAHP, unless you’re going to go the daytime nanny/night-time nanny route; 4) seem to have made a lot of people miserable and unhappy.

  61. This is not going through work at all. It is money I already have (theoretically, anyway–in reality I have the checks on my desk and have to have some reissued. It want to set up the bucket first so they can just go right in.

  62. I also think girls, particularly those with the aptitude for engineering, tend to be more perfectionist and concerned with their grades and pleasing teachers and parents vs boys.

    That sounds right to me. I’d love to see a study that measures SAT/GPA discordance by gender. I bet you’d find that males have more discordance than females.

  63. I was a math major. I never considered majoring in engineering. It just didn’t appeal to me at all.

  64. It is money I already have

    That doesn’t matter. If you put $5k of those checks in an regular IRA you set up today come February or March 2016, when you get your tax refund, it will be $1,250 higher. If you put that same check in a ROTH IRA – then it will grow tax free until you withdraw it with no taxes.

  65. Last week – If you put it in a traditional IRA, then you would get that as a tax deduction next year, but when you’re old and withdraw it, you will pay income taxes on the distribution.

    If you put it in a Roth now, you will not get the tax deduction next year for the contribution, but you will not owe any money when you withdraw it when you’re old.

    Farmer Traditional and Farmer Roth each have four bags of seed. Farmer Traditional plants all four bags of seed and gets four fields of crops. When he harvests the crops, he gives 25% of the crops to the government in taxes, and he has three fields of crops left over.

    Farmer Roth gives 25% of his seed to the government, and plants three fields of crops. When it’s time to harvest, he keeps all three fields for himself.

    That’s the basic idea. It doesn’t matter so much if you pay the taxes now or later, assuming the taxes would be the same now as in retirement.

  66. In regards to effort – lots of women go into medicine. Is it really less effort to become an MD than to go into engineering??

  67. But Milo – it seems like the engineers need a SAHP (or spouse with a ton of flexibility) themselves.

    In contrast, Rhett and Meme have aptly pointed out that there are plenty of jobs in corporate America where a competent accountant / finance professional can make good money while leaving at 4 PM to pick up their kids.

  68. Is it really less effort to become an MD than to go into engineering??

    That would depend on your skill set. Ada can chime in by I think med school involves a huge amount of memorization but not as much abstraction. I’m not sure about engineering but I think it may be different. A friend’s daughter has an eidetic memory so she didn’t think med school was all that hard.

  69. Mooshi – not less effort to become a doc, but more flexible.

    Pretty much every pediatrician at the practice I take my kids to works <5 days / week (including the men).

  70. “it seems like the engineers need a SAHP (or spouse with a ton of flexibility) themselves”

    The only one I’ve ever heard that from is WCE. IRL, I’ve seen countless examples that would indicate the opposite, and they can also leave at 4pm (assuming they don’t work from home already).

  71. How about all those years of internship/residency? That never sounded very flexible!

  72. “I think most girls who were used to being academic superstars would change majors after a semester of that, due to being risk averse.” ITA. DH laughs about the D he got first year at RPI; I got a B in Inorganic Chem and became a lawyer. :-)

    @LL: The benefit of a regular IRA or Roth is that you get a tax benefit from either account. But just investing the money in Vanguard will be fine, too. Assuming my same $50K overall salary and $5K contribution, here are three scenarios:

    Roth: You put $5K in in 2015. Your 2015 taxes will be based on your $50K in income. Your $5K grows, untaxed, every year. You withdraw it in say 2045, and it’s worth Rhett’s $28K. You now pay no taxes on that whole $28K.

    Regular IRA: You put $5K in in 2015. You get a tax deduction for that contribution, so your 2015 taxes will be based on $45K in income. Your $5K grows, untaxed, every year. You withdraw it in 2045. You now pay regular income taxes on the whole $28K. So you get the tax deduction for the $5K the year you put it in, but you then pay 28%-33%-whatever-income-tax-rates-are-then on the *entire* amount (original contributions + earnings).

    Regular investments: You put $5K in in 2015. You get no tax deduction, so your 2015 taxes are based on $50K in income. Every year, you will pay a little bit of capital gains taxes as your fund distributes dividends and income — the good news is those rates are lower than income tax rates (0-20%, depending on your income bracket). If you pay those taxes out of the investments, it means that the $ won’t grow as fast, because some of the earnings are being used to pay taxes instead of sitting there and buying more shares (if you don’t pay those taxes out of the investments, you will still need to find that $ from somewhere else). So assuming you pay out of the investments, maybe in 2045 it is now worth $25K instead of $28K. Assume you withdraw the whole $25K. Now you will owe capital gains taxes, but only on your earnings — you already paid taxes on your $5K before you invested it, and you also paid those taxes on an ongoing basis (assume that is a total of $3K over the 30 years), so that’s $8K that has already been taxed — so that means you will need to pay capital gains taxes on the remaining $17K.

    So another reason to choose either an IRA or a Roth is it simplifies the annual tax reporting — you don’t have to worry about capital gains every year, you just put it in at the beginning and take it out in the end and forget about it in-between.

  73. Medicine entails 4 years of being a premed, taking lots of the same science and math that the engineers take. Then you have to go to med school, then do a residency. Finally you get to be a real doctor with flexibility. Whereas, an engineer has 4 years of science, math and engineering courses, and then he or she gets to be a real engineer. To me, medicine seems like a lot more effort. Yet, women are flocking in

  74. Green Eyes – The other consideration, just looking at BigLaw, is that we seem to have a lot of people who are burned out refugees of it for one reason or another. So you really have to consider the likelihood of 1) ever making the huge salary and, 2) making it for enough years to compensate (after tax) to cover the tuition and opportunity costs of law school, 3) whether you can stomach that lifestyle long enough to actually get rich.

    It’s not enough just to say that the “potential” is higher.

  75. “I bet you’d find that males have more discordance than females.”

    Based on my personal experience and the myriad notes home re my 3 sons that included the phrase “not working up to potential”, I’d agree. We 4 all test(ed) very well, but could/can not be bothered to be perfectionist in ongoing schoolwork. There are so many other interesting things to spend time on.

  76. An engineering undergrad from a state university is fairly inexpensive so if you don’t like engineering, there are lots of other options. The TBP laureates from Iowa Alpha are in law and medicine. Milo, one of my former female engineering partners is married to a career submarine officer. Job flexibility depends heavily on the specialty and local job market. Part of my challenge is that Mr WCE is dedicated to his work, which makes him slow to tell incompetent managers to screw it vs. working long hours to meet a project deadline.

  77. But overall, men don’t feel welcomed in nursing, and women don’t feel welcome in computing.

    and this

    In regards to effort – lots of women go into medicine. Is it really less effort to become an MD than to go into engineering??

    tie together. They both go back to the generalization that women tend to be more social or people-oriented than men. They see engineering and CS as more solitary jobs – sitting in front of a computer all day. They see medicine as a social job where they can directly help people, so it is more appealign to them. Again, this is a generalization and does not apply to all women.

    The nursing profession promotes the “compassion and caring” aspects of the job rather than the analytical and medical side of it. And as a generalization again, men tend to be more interested in hands-on stuff than touchy-feely social stuff.

  78. As CS has risen to the top of the status hierarchy, beating out even finance, men have driven women out of these jobs.

    Rhett, you know there’s pretty good evidence that the causality flows the other way. When women go into a field, prestige and wages go down.

  79. To me, medicine seems like a lot more effort. Yet, women are flocking in

    Again, it’s not the effort involved in getting to the career, it’s what the career entails. Women find medicine to be more appealing to than engineering because of what they perceive the actual jobs to be like.

  80. RMS,

    I think you need to follow the money. As money and prestige increase it draws in more men and as money and prestige decrease more women enter a given field.

  81. Rhett, you know there’s pretty good evidence that the causality flows the other way. When women go into a field, prestige and wages go down.

    This is a big reason nursing is trying to attract more men. A lot of nurses feel that if there are more men, the profession will get more respect.

  82. Random complaint of the day. I recently sold a DVD player on Craigslist and I was amazed at how many people wanted to know if I’d deliver it for them. They seriously thought I’d drive across town during rush hour to sell a $25 item. Today a put a dresser on craigslist on the “free stuff” (we got DD a new one and just want to get rid of the old one). I just got this response:

    “I really like this dresser. I was wondering if you deliver?”

    It’s a freaking free dresser and you think I’ll deliver it to you? People are idiots.

  83. I read this article when it first came out – my mom sent it to me. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before that I’m a female engineer.

    When I read, “if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves,” I thought, DUH. It doesn’t have to be goody-goody do-good work, but women do go into engineering because they want to do work that will make the world a better place. That can be a more efficient water treatment system, a stronger carbon fiber material, cleaner energy, etc.

    The problem is that engineers do everything so it is hard to explain to a 7th grader what engineering is. Concrete examples are really helpful.

  84. Growing up, being a doctor was considered a *very* acceptable job for a woman, an engineer not so much, until computer engineering became more of an option. You could take engineering in college but actually working in a manufacturing facility, chemical plant etc. were not seen as workplaces for women where I grew up.

  85. Since we’re veering into investment stuff a little, here’s my story about meeting with the TIAA-CREF investment advisor. He gets a salary only, so no bonuses for steering us into one fund or another. Anyway, it was totally worth the price of admission (free), because I learned some very useful stuff about consolidating my retirement accounts, both the TIAA ones and the outside ones. Turns out that because I have a TIAA annuity account from The Before-Time when I worked at Cal State, I can move all my cash-equivalent retirement stuff into that annuity and it pays a guaranteed 3% minimum. I mean, for cash, that’s awesome. He also soothed DH by running a zillion Monte Carlo simulations and demonstrating that if we live to 105 we still have 100% likelihood of having “enough” (as defined by me — an annual dollar amount that will cover our expenses plus gifts for the kids and travel and housecleaners, etc.). I of course don’t believe that because I’m sure Luxembourg will rise up and destroy all Western democracies and I’ll be in the basement with my guns and Costco survivalist food barrel. But DH was considerably mollified.

  86. “females who go into engineering find themselves with a very favorable dating ratio”

    Reminds me of the saying – the odds are good, but the goods are odd. :)

  87. “I really like this dresser. I was wondering if you deliver?”

    It’s a freaking free dresser and you think I’ll deliver it to you? People are idiots.

    The answer to the question you don’t ask is always no. If retired Milo was selling the dresser I bet he’d love to load it into the back of his F150 and drive it across town.

  88. I wonder if they could get more men interested in nursing by changing the title. “Nurse” has a strong female connotation (as in “wet nurse”) beyond other stereotypically female job titles like “teacher” or “secretary.” It also seems to imply that nurses’ job is to hold the patient’s hand and comfort them, not the more technical work that most modern nurses actually do. I think a lot of men would find themselves drawn to the job description and career path of a nurse, but never even considered it because of the stereotype.

    Though my most stereotypically masculine cousin (kid who was obsessed with trucks, snakes, and sports) has decided to become a nurse, so maybe guys who are called to the field have a thick skin.

  89. OK. I brought this up in a sideways fashion before… what about grabbing girls when they are before that magic age of 7th grade (where apparently their hatred of all things science/math takes over)? Everyone seems to agree that the word “engineer” evokes such a response, but I want to know about people’s opinions on methods to change that response.

    I mentioned GoldieBlox before – lego-style toys geared directly towards girls (http://www.goldieblox.com/pages/about). These toys show girls that engineers build things. Has anyone found any other programs, or toys that demystify engineering?

  90. Rio, my cousin’s techie husband heads an ICU. He loves figuring out and teaching his colleagues about new equipment. Since his patients are often incommunicative, his bedside manner is perfectly adequate

  91. “How to attract female engineers?” I would suggest using some combination of musk and chocolate.

    Other than a lame joke, i have nothing to contribute here but am enjoying the discussion.

  92. I got another reply asking to have it delivered, but he offered to pay $10 for the service, so I can respect. Someone came and picked it up already. You have to be impressed – I got rid of it in less than an hour from the time I posted it.

  93. “If retired Milo was selling the dresser I bet he’d love to load it into the back of his F150 and drive it across town.”

    That’s probably true.

    I’m wondering what we should do with our old bedroom set once our new stuff comes in. It’s in good shape, just not really DW’s style (it was my bachelor set). I don’t know if I should try to sell it, or ask AmVets or someone to pick it up and take a tax deduction.

  94. Milo – you’ll probably get more selling it than taking the tax deduction. The question is how much is your time worth – would you find it a hassle to sell the set? (I’m wrestling with the same question – we are replacing our living room furniture).

  95. “why so many highly capable men choose engineering as a career path when seemingly more attractive options exist?”

    Real engineering, which is not necessarily what engineering grads actually do in their jobs, is fun and intellectually stimulating.

    Most of the male engineering majors I know are guys who like figuring out how to solve physical problems and get things to work. The engineering colleges weeded out those who don’t have the math/science/organizational abilities necessary to pass the classes.

    So I think the question is more along the lines of, do girls, as a group, enjoy figuring out how to solve problems and get things to work less than boys? If so, why?

  96. Rhode, that’s the tradeoff. How much would you get for it to make it worth your time trying to sell it, waiting for people who don’t show, etc.

  97. HM – I don’t know much about Minecraft, but is it something that girls like to play?

  98. “It also seems to imply that nurses’ job is to hold the patient’s hand and comfort them”

    Thus, perhaps, the growing appeal of the NP title, which emphasizes the “doing stuff” part of the job, with just the slightest hint of “it’s a profession, not a job” (because doctor’s “practice,” after all).

  99. “what about grabbing girls when they are before that magic age of 7th grade (where apparently their hatred of all things science/math takes over)?”

    @Rhode: This — and the stuff in the article — is the reason we signed DD up for “Project Lead the Way” starting next year. I know she is frustrated in math this year. A fair bit of that is the teacher, who seems to be following the college testing format (ask super-hard questions on tests to create a curve), but then not applying a curve and grading on a standard 100% scale. But she is more fundamentally a do-er, not an abstract thinker, and I just think she would much prefer making stuff and figuring out how to put things together instead of another class of reading a book and completing worksheets. The thing I like about PLTW is that it is four solid years of different types/varieties of engineering, which seems like a great way to get a sense of the kinds of thing that engineers actually do and see if it’s something she might enjoy later on (at least enough to make it through the freshman year weed-out at Giant State U).

  100. I totally forgot to pay last month’s credit card bill, and I didn’t notice anything was wrong until I was surprised at how high my checking account balance was. Fortunately, the “minimum payment” is always $0, so there’s no penalty charges for missing one. But they did assess interest charges of $70. So I called and let the rep look at my file, and I asked if they could refund the finance charges. At first she said “no,” and I said that I’ve been a loyal customer for years, this was clearly an administrative mistake on my part, and if she wasn’t authorized to make that refund, I totally understand, but I would need to be put in touch with someone who would be able to review this. She put me on hold, then came back with her supervisor (I could hear him over her shoulder showing her how to do that on her computer) and she said that they could make an exception this one time. Then I paid last month’s statement balance along with this upcoming statement balance well early, so hopefully their formulas won’t have calculated any more days of interest accrual.

    Anyway, it never hurts to ask.

  101. Rhode – my DD loves Minecraft. She is 7 and likes to build all sorts of things – towers with waterfalls, glass walls built out over oceans in line with where the sun sets, cave hideouts with lanterns, etc.

    DS’s (5) idea of a good idea in Minecraft, OTOH, is to blow up a bunch of animals with artfully-placed TNT.

  102. “When women go into a field, prestige and wages go down.”

    Supply and demand.

  103. Quoting WCE on the answer to the question posed by the title of the referenced article:

    Be “boring and stable. ”

    That is something at which many male engineers excel.

  104. Rhode, the one in my house does. She doesn’t spend as much time on it as her brothers do, though.

  105. Honest question – what do engineers do? Somebody mentioned providing concrete examples, and I realized that I have no idea what engineers do. I know there are many different types of engineering but I guess I don’t really know what the job entails. Guess that’s why I never considered it as a career…

  106. “I am starting to think that I should just invest the money outright.”

    I strongly suggest you do not do this.

    If you want to increase current cash flow while still putting away your $20k, then put the max in a regular IRA (I suggest also investing the tax savings, perhaps as part of your rainy day fund).

    If your current cash flow is OK, putting the money in a Roth IRA gives you not just down the road tax benefits, but as LfB pointed out, reduces the bookkeeping and tax filing requirements along the way. And your principal is still available for withdrawal without penalty for a true rainy day.

    As you financial situation improves, you’re going to want to put money in an IRA anyway. You may as well do it now; once you go through the process and the learning curve, it’ll be easy in the future.

  107. “They see engineering and CS as more solitary jobs – sitting in front of a computer all day.”

    I don’t think most guys go into engineering because they want to sit in front of a computer all day. Most of the male engineers I know like to get away from their desk and go into the lab or fab or wherever they can deal with real stuff, not just simulations.

  108. “But she is more fundamentally a do-er, not an abstract thinker”

    IMO, do-ers are attracted to engineering, but do-ers who are not capable of abstract thought will often struggle with their coursework.

  109. @Rhode – When the BS in Water gets hot, my school should be the best place to go because they will have had it the longest!

  110. Milo and Rhode, if you want to donate, Habitat for Humanity will pick up and sell in their store. Check them out.

  111. I think there’s a lot in the way of cultural forces pushing women to channel their tinkering urges into Pinterest stuff — crafts, baking, sewing — rather than into electronics, model rockets, drones.

  112. “what do engineers do?”

    The most common examples I can remember hearing when I was a kid were the design of large structures (e.g., bridges, buildings, and the calculation of stresses and making sure the materials were strong enough to withstand them), and airplanes, calculating things like how much lift they had and thus max payloads.

    I’ve mentioned before that one attraction for me was the analysis and design of amplifiers.

    But in general, engineers design and develop all sorts of things from phones to refrigerators to washing machines to cars to planes to rocket ships (I did get multiple offers to be a rocket scientist, and many rocket scientists have engineering degrees) to toilets to bridges to buildings to photovoltaic panels. Engineers also develop and maintain manufacturing capabilities for all these things and, in some companies, also sell them.

  113. Milo, Rhode, another option to consider is Freecycle. I’ve found it a good way to quickly and easily get rid of things, albeit with no compensation beyond the personal satisfaction of not letting something with a lot of mileage left end up in the landfill.

  114. “I was leaning toward medicine as a career path, and it seemed too risky from a GPA perspective.”

    This reminds me of an MD friend who regularly hires undergrad MD wannabes as interns, and counsels them against going to highly competitive colleges for undergrad and taking overly arduous course loads, because (according to her) GPA is the most important single factor in med school admission.

    Is that really true? I’m also thinking that at some very competitive schools, average GPAs are high, perhaps higher than at directional U?

  115. Finn did a great job of explaining what engineers do. From my current professional perspective, I’ll add this: Engineers take the really cool stuff that research scientists come up with and make it work for some practical application in the real world.

  116. “IMO, do-ers are attracted to engineering, but do-ers who are not capable of abstract thought will often struggle with their coursework.”

    Oh, yah, no question there’s still that — she has the ability, not even remotely sure about the will. But realize her current career goal is MD. And all I hear is how she hates this class and that class etc. — yet she has signed herself up for a path that will require a minimum of 7 years of post-HS torture. So I am crossing my fingers that she finds something that is interesting enough that it makes the dreaded schoolwork to get there tolerable. (Huge grain of salt for normal teenage whining, of course).

    On a completely unrelated front, the freecycle etc. info is timely, because we finally pulled the trigger on a new couch and chair – am looking forward to furniture without active holes (where are the furniture repair fairies when you need them?).

  117. LfB – if it makes you (or your DD) feel better – I pretty much hated every class in HS. Even my science courses. I loved college, and then signed up for 8 additional years (arguably, I’d say 3-4 years worth of classwork and 4-5 of research)… so there is light at the end of that tunnel.

  118. But in general, engineers design and develop all sorts of things from phones to refrigerators to washing machines to cars to planes to rocket ships

    Wouldn’t a rocket engineer typically be part of a team developing a rocket component?

    I’m curious to know the details of day to day. It’s sort of like Mooshi describing CS vs. the reality of parsing X12 billing files.

  119. I always love the stereotype that software developers spend all day in front of a computer, because my experience in industry, and my husband’s, is of endless meetings. There was far more face to face time than you can imagine, because you are building something that other PEOPLE are interested in.

    Now, accountants – I bet they spend all day in front of a computer :-)

  120. My DH was a mechanical engineer who worked in that field for a number of years before moving on to CS. He said that mechanical engineers at his company mainly looked up parts like screws in a giant book of some sort, figuring out which ones fit some specs. This was at a large defense contractor. He started moving into programming roles pretty quickly, and found it more interesting, more varied, and more people oriented than mechanical engineering at his company. Eventually, though, he realized he needed to know some actual computer science to be good at it, so he went back to school.

  121. Last week – I am actually a tax accountant, so while my opinions about the best way to deal with your money carry no more weight than anyone else’s, I also have relevant information about the rules.

    Rules – I believe from your prior statements you have a 401k at work. If that is true for any day in 2015 and you getting a W-2 – the retirement box at work box is checked. You are limited as to the amount you can put in any IRA, regular or Roth. If you are single, if you make more than 71,000 modified adjusted gross income in 2015 (basically your W-2 plus investment income including cap gains and tax free interest plus any other side income), you can’t contribute to a deductible regular IRA. Married filing joint the figure is 118,000. Roth contributions are limited under different rules. Single you can’t contribute if your income is over 131,000. Married filing joint, 193,000. It does not matter for Roth if you have a 401k at work. The annual contribution limit to either Roth or regular for an under 50 is 5,500 – far less than your 20K, so you will need a second investment account for now, anyway.

    Opinion – If your family adjusted gross income is actually 50K per year (and the above statement was not just a hypothetical), I would choose a Roth for the 5500, an investment account for the amount of money you feel comfortable for the long term “pot” (other than the everyday savings account you maintain for short term cash flow), and add to both the savings account and the investment account regularly from you income. Each year put as much as you get a match for into the 401k, and transfer up to the limit what you can from the investment account to the Roth.

    The comment that Roth reduces paperwork is nonsense. Whenever you take money out before the age of 59 1/2 from any retirement plan you have to fill out a tax form. That is true of a Roth as well as any other plan. You get a 1099-R from the account and have to figure out whether it qualifies for certain exceptions and tick all the right boxes in Turbotax. The only accounts that have serious recordkeeping headaches are old accounts that include both pretax and after tax (nondeductible) contributions, but now we usually use separate accounts for the two types and electronic records make everything smooth.

  122. “mechanical engineers at his company mainly looked up parts like screws in a giant book of some sort, figuring out which ones fit some specs. This was at a large defense contractor.”

    In that environment, a lot of engineers don’t do a lot of real engineering.

  123. I’m grumpy because I forgot it’s the first day of the month. so the grocery store was crowded with people who can’t figure out how to use their food stamp cards, pick the [labeled] WIC-eligible items, etc. It stinks to stand in line behind someone for 10+ minutes while Baby WCE fusses and the twins exercise their non-functional ability to leave each other alone while standing in line. [end rant]

    I have local acquaintances working in energy (small scale nuclear, wave research, solar cell optimization). My sister works for a big chemical company and she has made road salt, diaper polymer and agricultural chemicals. My brother does design/failure analysis for artificial hips and knees. His wife works in regulatory compliance (part-time, contract) for same. My other brother works in anti-missile defense, and it’s about as dull as Mooshi’s husband’s job, I think. The tests are fun, though. My uncle worked on optimizing long distance phone telephone signals across the Rocky Mountains before there were satellites. Mr WCE’s uncle moved on to be a corporate finance VP after deciding he didn’t like manufacturing. My FIL helped build, support and then manage a large nuclear power plant. Mr WCE’s other uncle did air and water quality studies for mining companies. Mr WCE’s brother is a network administrator.

    A day in my life: Go to work, stop by technician aisle to learn what equipment is down and where the bottlenecks in the line are. Go to desk and read e-mails and respond as appropriate. Possibly look at various data systems and measurements. Download data to Excel and look at data in Excel. Decide JMP statistical package might be better and look at data in JMP. Save best three graphs, write a few paragraphs about my conclusions and e-mail the graphs and conclusion to other engineers on my qualification of change team. Read e-mail from technician about status of qualification lot and decide to schedule meeting with qualification team for next week. Go to Outlook and book meeting and conference room. Go to staff/team meeting. Discuss what other information we need to convince management to spend $50 million on new equipment. Talk about what equipment is available and in what ways it would/would not meet our needs. Talk about what equipment X, Y and Z would need to be purchased if we bought A, B and C. Identify who will follow up with vendors of A, B and C. Respond to e-mail from finance who thought C was an American company and is concerned that we will be committing $30 million to a firm that her database says has only two employees. Tell finance person that C is a Japanese company and that their Portland office only employs their two local field service engineers. Look at equipment website to observe that equipment I want is free, call and request time from the factory floor. Work on equipment until I get done and/or it’s needed by production, possibly with success and possibly without. Go home.

    Mr WCE’s life is similar, except he uses his oscilloscope a lot and writes code for both computers and FPGA’s. He is also higher level, so he has to manage projects and decide who should do what.

  124. “Medicine entails 4 years of being a premed, taking lots of the same science and math that the engineers take.”

    My freshman chem class had a lot of pre-meds, but after that all my sciences were physics, and the students were mostly engineering majors, with a small %age of physics majors.

    The early calculus classes had all sorts of majors, but in the later calc classes, the majority of the students were engineering majors, with some math majors, as was the case for most of my other math classes. One exception was a class I took at the behest of an engineering classmate, where we and a bunch of math grad students comprised the class.

    OTOH, the pre-meds took a bunch of organic chem classes, along with the nursing and medtech students.

  125. Chemical engineers take organic chemistry with the premeds, as do some biomedical engineers. Some civil engineers take organic chemistry- maybe those with an environmental/waste emphasis?

  126. WCE,

    Your days are so much like mine it’s scary. Like exactly 100% the same.

  127. At my university, premeds took an entirely different organic chem sequence from the nursing students. And, the physics majors took a different sequence than the physics taken by engineering and CS. There were actually 3 physics sequences: physics for poets, physics for engineers, and physics for physics and math majors. This was also true of the department in which my father taught.

  128. This discussion is very interesting for me. DS would like to study engineering and I don’t know many engineers. I’m learning a lot.

  129. WCE’s description of “a day in the life” makes me want to get a post up asking for everyone write something similar about their jobs, or days.

  130. “he uses his oscilloscope a lot ”

    Good to hear that’s still a usable skill. I haven’t used one since college.

    Do people use curve tracers where you work?

  131. Houston, one big advantage of an engineering undergrad (for those who can’t afford a SLAC, which I agree may be better) is that you aren’t locked into engineering. Law schools, medical schools and MBA programs like engineers, too. The area of law that most appeals to me (patent law) almost requires an undergrad engineering/science degree.

    I will also concur with Milo that a dollar at 22 is worth more than a dollar at 35 and the associated loans at (in the early ’90’s) 8% interest. Low interest rates during most of my adult life have done me no favors, but starting full-time work at 21 and attending employer-paid graduate school before having children was very logical. In addition, had I not met Mr WCE before I started graduate school, I would have increased my pool of marriageable candidates. Given my relative lack of interest in fashion and beauty, physics lecture is about the only place where I am in the most sexually attractive decile of the population.

  132. Neither of my kids seem interested in the medical fields. One wants to be an engineer, the other a lawyer. I think their innate skills and personalities seem to be in line with these professions.

  133. “Your days are so much like mine it’s scary. Like exactly 100% the same.”

    This is true for DW and me, also, but if you just asked us what we did, they would seem very different, and we arrived at them from very different backgrounds.

    An engineering degree can simply be a signaling credential, indicating that you have a reasonable level of competence. I’m not sure why people seem to think it has to limit anyone to engineering.

  134. “Wouldn’t a rocket engineer typically be part of a team developing a rocket component?”

    You’d think, right? From what I hear that appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

    DH does the small bits that go into the big things. Recent all-hands update meeting with his boss: DH presents, his boss gives him the “you need to get your stuff more integrated into the other programs,” synergy, integration, etc. Next guy gets up to present — he does the bigger stuff, same part of the org, same boss. On about slide 3 he notes that they’ve ordered Component XYZ from an outside vendor, schedule is blah-blah, cost is etc. Except XYZ is exactly what DH’s group produces. Didn’t even occur to this guy to call for a quote, and DH had no idea this other project was going on to go sell to. Dude.

    The bigger the org, the more compartmentalized everything is, and the more man-hours you need just to manage information flow.

  135. “There were actually 3 physics sequences: physics for poets, physics for engineers, and physics for physics and math majors.”

    I remember there was an easier sequence of physics classes that didn’t meet the CoE requirements, and was also shorter than what we took. It seemed that as the course numbers got higher, so did the %age of physics majors.

  136. Finn, I think the number of physics majors who want to do physics has decreased a lot since you were an undergrad. Now, the majority of physics majors want to be physics teachers, kind of like the majority of math majors want to be math teachers. Did you notice in Rhett’s NY Times Totebag post yesterday that the father of the groom was a physicist at Lawrence Livermore, from a suburb in which we have family? It made me feel like a real Totebagger…

  137. CofC,

    makes me want to get a post up asking for everyone write something similar about their jobs, or days.

    Great idea. And not you best day, your average day.

  138. Judging from the high numbers of physics majors who come to my department for their minors, I suspect most of our physics majors aspire to become software engineers. Many of them also minor in mathematics, so I think they are targeting the financial companies. They are some of our best students

  139. Lots of physics PhD’s in the past decade or two have gone to work in finance. It’s also a good place for math PhD’s. If I had realized that was an option, I might have pursued that field.

    Mooshi, I had a Com Sci minor and those were some of my favorite courses. Algorithms and software design were intuitive to me.

  140. I’m not sure why people seem to think it has to limit anyone to engineering.

    I thought it was all calculus all the time.

    Let me guess at the reality. You ran a test and the pressure vessel deformed at 248psi. The vendor insists it was built to spec. You point out that the spec you sent called for 23 bar or 333psi and the vessel looks like it was designed for 230 psi.

  141. Rhett, when you were concerned about my colleague’s son, who wants to be a civil engineer and has a ~1150 M+V SAT, I thought, “You think he can’t handle an internship where he drives around hitting the “Log” button on the GPS when he spots a pothole needing repair, followed by a long and illustrious career updating the status reports for Oregon’s thousands of wetlands every five years”?

  142. followed by a long and illustrious career updating the status reports for Oregon’s thousands of wetlands every five years”?

    A solid upper middle class living. So, why the resistance to the idea that someone with one standard deviation more G couldn’t earn one standard deviation more $?

  143. MD hours are flexible, the job is not. So if you train to be a pediatrician, you can probably find a job working between 20-60 hour a week. However, it is very difficult to find anything that does not entail delivering health care to children. (Contrast that with law or engineering – I think that people find all kinds of jobs with varying degrees of interaction, calculation, supervision, etc.). Ability to work part time is less true for some specialties; a friend who is a cardiologist would really like to work <50 hours a week, but finds it impossible, while living in the same state as her parents. There is really only one practice she can work for, and going out on her own would be impossible at part time.

    I think a big distinction about the path to an MD is that if you make it over the first big hurdle, you are all done with the weed out. Nearly everyone who gets into medical school will go on to practice medicine, unless they choose to drop out. There is no difficult to pass exam that prevents onward progress, nearly 100% can get a residency (if coming from an American school). Nearly all residents can get jobs in their fields (though they may need to be willing to move). Not every student at middle of the pack medical school can be a dermatologist. However, they can all make a six figure income.

    I never knew any engineers until I married one (and he didn't do any engineering until after we were married). Every child has met a doctor – which I think is why it is such an aspiration for so many kids who come from low middle class backgrounds. It is the fanciest, most successful person they can imagine. At least it was for me.

  144. The most g-loaded jobs don’t pay very well. I’m doing better than most of my math camp friends, because I like people more.

  145. Rhode,
    For my DD, I’ve bought:
    -GoldieBlox (2 sets so far)
    -Snap Circuits
    -Lego Friends
    -Oots Woodmobiel
    -Erector Sets
    -marbłe Race set
    -Gear construction set

    I keep looking at citiblocks but haven’t gotten them yet.

    She’s also signed up for an inventors class and we will go to the next local Maker Faire. I have a 3Doodler but I think she is too young for it still, and it really smells.

    Considering doing a Rube Goldberg machine over summer vacation, and building our own water park in the backyard. 12 weeks to fill….

  146. The most g-loaded jobs don’t pay very well.

    I disagree. To think that you have to assume that G is inversely proportional to EQ. Which isn’t the case.

  147. Sky, my DD loved her SnapCIrcuits sets. I didn’t have to interact with her at all – she grabbed the project booklet and started making them, as fast as she could. She especially loved the projects that made annoying noises. She also loves Legos (but not Lego friends) and anything else that is project oriented. She has been through Rainbow Loom, done several simple sewing projects, and just did a terrarium project.

    We do Maker Faire NYC evey year. It is a total blast.

  148. For law school – what do schools look at LSAT score and what else ? How long does law school take ? Can you take any undergrad major ?

  149. Law schools look at LSAT and grades. Yeah, you can major in anything. It takes 3 years.

  150. Louise, law schools focus on LSAT and GPA. There is some effort to consider how difficult the major was when evaluating GPA, especially at the top law schools which rely less on algorithms for a first cut.

    Law school is three years.

    Personally I would not pay to send my own kids now, because the ROI isn’t there unless your child is attending a top ten school. I knew a lot of staff attorneys who went $150k in debt (pre-2005, when tuition was lower) for schools ranked in the third tier, and then could only find jobs as document reviewers (reading tens of thousands of documents located in a computer word search to see if they were relevant to litigation). Most of those jobs have been taken over by the software or outsourced to India, anyway.

    Patent lawyers must have undergrad science or engineering degrees to take the patent bar, iirc.

  151. So, what if you have a student going to a law school that is not top 10 – maybe top 25? And he will graduate with minimal debt thanks to savings, parental help and some merit aid?

    I would hope that if he graduates near the top (tenth, quarter??) of his class, he will be able to get a job practicing law.

    I would love to the thoughts/advice of the lawyers here!

  152. Not a lawyer, but lived thru law school and job search as a spouse. It will help if your student is on law review. It will help if he goes to a regional school where he has connections to the area.

  153. On what engineers do, I have an acquaintance who was a Chem E who worked for companies like Neutrogena, Dove, and some well known shampoo and beauty products manufacturers. She told me the specific products she worked on, and that helped me conceptualize because I was familiar with the output. (I don’t know if I thought they just appeared by magic in stores prior to that – I guess I just never thought about it at all.)

    Math was far and away my strongest subject in high school, but in the pre-internet days, I didn’t know what you could do with a math major besides teach, and I didn’t want to teach. The only one I could ask about it was my math teacher, and I didn’t want to insult him by saying I didn’t want to teach, so I decided to go into engineering. When I went to enroll at the school I was going to my freshman year, I rode with a friend. Because of campus construction, the engineering college was way on the north side of town, and she said there was no way she was driving me up there. (In reality, like 2-3 miles?) So – I went to the business college with her and enrolled as “undecided”, and me being me, stuck with the business college degree sheet even when I transferred schools, taking not one extraneous course, so ended up in Accounting. After a couple of summer internships, I panicked and thought I did not want to be an accountant, so went straight into an MBA program to expand my options. It turns out the job I liked most was Public Accounting. I’ve done a wide variety of things with my degree, but agree with the sentiment that it allows flexibility. I created a niche for myself and worked for a director who valued my contributions, and got to work from home years before it became an accepted benefit in my company (and that was only because we were taken over by a company that offered a great deal more flexibility). I didn’t know to value flexibility when I was picking a major, but it remains the number one most important thing to me.

  154. I was on our hiring committee in a biglaw firm. As a general rule for OCI, we would interview top third of top 10 schools and top 10-15% of 11-25 ranked schools.

  155. Thank you all for the information and advice! Laura, thank you for outlining all three options. Your assumptions about my earnings and time horizon are spot-on. Rocky, the TIAA-CREF tidbit is more useful than you realized because that is where an old 401k-like account of mine resides. The other is with Vanguard. Finn, thanks for your comments. Meme, thank you for the advice from a (former) pro. I have one question about the max contributions. Can I put 5500 into each of those two accounts? Maybe that’s what I’ll do then my only remaining question (I think) is what to do with the rest of the money. I have done a CD ladder before, and could easily do that again. Or I could open a third retirement account, a Roth this time, and eventually fold the other two into it. Or maybe I should just put it in a savings account for now and then next year split it up between the two accounts. I’m sure there are points and pitfalls to each of these ideas that I do not know about. If I haven’t worn out your willingness to give advice on this, please do.
    Thanks again!

  156. “Can I put 5500 into each of those two accounts?”

    Which two accounts? You can’t put more than a total of $5500/year into any IRA accounts ($6500 if you’re at least 50), subject to income limitations. You can split that between traditional and Roth IRAs.

    You can put the full amount into your IRAs independent of whether you contribute to your 401k.

    Feel free to keep asking.

  157. In my recent rounds of interviewing, with the goal of changing careers, I have had to sell my engineering background as preparation for other business. Here’s the spiel:

    I know how to break problems down into manageable pieces and solve them. I know how to communicate technical information to a variety of different audiences, from technical peers to the general public. I know how to handle clients, from managing their expectations to getting berated for a problem that’s not my fault. The wide variety of software (and periodic significant upgrades) prepared me to adopt and adapt to new & revamped applications and processes.

    Of course, that all came after a good 8-10 years of practicing the profession. Learning to do the design work (mostly drawings and calculations) gave me the expertise to be able to speak with authority. I always watch for opportunities to encourage little girls who like to build things with legos, tinker toys, etc. that don’t follow a “set” or the pattern shown on the box. And for those who like to play in the dirt or build sandcastles with water features. My DD, on the other hand, liked to watch her parents build elaborate foam-block castles so she could then knock them down.

  158. I always love the stereotype that software developers spend all day in front of a computer, because my experience in industry, and my husband’s, is of endless meetings. There was far more face to face time than you can imagine, because you are building something that other PEOPLE are interested in.

    In my previous life as a software developer, I went to my share of meetings, but I also had many days, at least 1 or 2 a week, where I literally did not talk to anyone unless I made an effor to find someone to chat with. There would usually be some IMing and emailing on those days, but no face-to-face conversations.

  159. Milo, if Saac was here, she would say you called the CC company to get the interest refunded because of your sense of entitlement. It’s the same sense of entitlement that I used to get an overdraft fee refunded last month.

  160. DD – oh, I know, that thought crossed my mind at the time I was asking for it, too. OTOH, I have every right to expect a courtesy refund from them every now and then. I’ve been with them for over a decade, cause no administrative hassles, charge everything, pay my bill electronically every single month, and I haven’t bothered to switch cards when I get offers for an extra 0.5% cash back.

    It was high time for a little loyalty in the other direction. This is USAA. Their web site now displays our credit score whenever we log in. Yesterday, ours was at 828. I’m a customer whom they want to keep happy.

  161. I’ve found that in general for people who were smart but undecided as to career path (and not wanting to go into specialized fields) – majoring in math, economics, accounting, statistics got them their first jobs without much of a problem. After being in the workforce for a year or so, they are able to get a better sense of what different departments actually do and plan their transitions accordingly.
    A former colleague was a math teacher. She wanted to teach math and did so for a few years. However, when she went on maternity leave she found that the substitute hadn’t taught her class much in the way of math and she had an awful rest of the year. Also, dealing with middle schoolers proved too much of a challenge so she decamped to a corporate job.

  162. “Anyway, it never hurts to ask.”

    A young college graduate I know just started a job at a salary higher than what he told them he was expecting, and he asked me if I thought it would be appropriate to ask for a raise after six months. I said I thought that was a bit soon, but play it by ear. Then he told me “it never hurts to ask”, and what are they going to do, fire him? He also reminded me of recent studies about women working longer hours and getting paid less. That white male privilege attitude is awesome. ;)

  163. DD is enrolled in this summer engineering program for rising high school juniors and seniors. http://www.wpi.edu/academics/k12/frontiers1.html
    I just assumed that it would be split evenly between girls and boys, but after reading all the comments from yesterday, I am not so sure. It will be interesting to see the breakdown when we drop her off.
    DD is super excited about the program.

  164. “That white male privilege attitude is awesome. ;)”

    Thinking of the credit card scenario, DW and my Mom are far more likely to expect certain concessions or favors from businesses than my Dad or I are.

  165. Even those Americans worth $5 million or more—among the wealthiest 5%—still think of themselves as more middle class than wealthy. According to the survey, 49% of those worth $5 million or more define themselves as upper middle class, while 23% define themselves as middle class. Only 11% of the $5-million-plus millionaires define themselves as rich or wealthy.


  166. I used to not ask, now I do. I have to remind my kids to ask too. I don’t think of asking as a white male privilege, entitlement or anything of the sort. Just another life skill which may come naturally to some but not to all. Many times, even with a “no”, I have gotten useful information which I file in my mental file and use later.

  167. Milo,

    3% of $5 million is $150k. That is middle class. Feeling rich would entirely depend on the cash flow.

  168. “3% of $5 million is $150k. That is middle class.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

  169. I know I have been guilty of saying that I feel middle class in my county. After this cruise experience, I will take upper class label. I ride shoulder to shoulder with people of every race and economic class on a subway several times a week. I’m fully aware of poverty since I grew up in one of the poorest counties, but this middle/upper class in US was very clear on this ship.

  170. Rhett and Milo –

    150K a year with two adults working (maybe one part time or mostly in the domestic sphere) is bicoastal middle class or heartland upper middle class. 150K annually for life entirely from “rents”, with no worry of financial destitution from an emergency, is not middle class.

  171. @Law school: basically what Cat said. Top 25 should be fine; to have a shot at a big national firm, you will need to be pretty close to the top of the class than if you’re at one of the top 5 or so, but there should be plenty of opportunities at smaller regional firms. Hiring in our profession is very parochial, with a strong preference for the local schools (frequently over anything but HYS). So a second-tier school that is big in the region can lead to some really good jobs in that area; it just leaves you with fewer opportunities if you want to go somewhere else.

    @LL: Sorry, didn’t follow the last bit — I think you were asking what to do with the rest of the money outside of the IRA/Roth IRA (the emergency fund part)? Just for ease of management, I would put it into a bank savings account or a money market fund at whatever investment company you decide to use for the IRA/Roth IRA. Your primary priority with that $ is cash on hand if you need it. CDs will lock up that money for anywhere from 3 months to 5 years. The reason people choose CDs is that you can get a higher interest rate than in a savings account or money market — the longer you lock it up, the higher the interest rate. But interest rates suck now — you’d have to lock up your money for 5 years to earn even 2%!! Which is just stupid for an emergency fund, where you need to be able to access the $.

    Exs: Ally bank (online) is offering 1% on a savings account. Ally also offers CDs; the rate on a 3-month CD is about 0.3%, and for a year it’s 1.05%. So you need to agree to lock up your money for a year to “beat” the rate on their savings account. If you invest $10K in there, that’s a difference of $5 ($100 vs. 105) — IMO, not worth the risk of locking up the money for a year if you might need it.

    Here’s another data point: I assume you’ve had this money sitting around for 6 months or so, figuring out what to do with it, correct? In a savings account or something making maybe 1% or less? Since Jan. 1, the overall stock market index has gone up 3.92%. If you had invested the $5500 in a Roth on Jan. 1, you’d have earned $ 215 on that money by now. That same $5500 in savings at 1% has earned you about $23. So, best-case, you’ve lost the opportunity to earn $190, because you’re debating a $5 difference on the part of it that you’re not investing.

    FWIW, I think this is an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. You’re spending a lot of mental energy trying to figure how much to invest in what and what the best investment option is for each of those allocations, where for the bulk of the $, the difference is $5-10/yr. Meanwhile, the whole amount is just sitting there earning nothing. So make it simpler on yourself — stop thinking about it and just do something. Call Vanguard, tell them you want to open a Roth IRA, and put $5500 of that money into either a total stock market index or a target date fund. Put the rest into a generic savings account wherever you bank to help your emergency fund. If you think that is more than you need in your emergency fund, then you can always use the extra next year to fund your 2016 Roth IRA.

    (And, yeah, I recognize the analysis paralysis because I live there too much of the time — I did just take a year to commit to a sofa, after all).

  172. Meme – I agree with that, too.

    I wonder if the survey criteria included primary residence equity.

  173. I agree with Meme. $150K in Texas is UMC.

    Regarding cruises: It depends on the cruise. I took a Carnival cruise once and it was VERY middle class. The Disney cruise we went on was very UMC/rich. That made sense as the Disney cruise was 2-3x the price of the Carnival cruise.

  174. Houston – As one who aspires to someday take a cruise, I’m curious if the Disney cruise was objectively nicer in a way to justify the price premium, or is the premium mostly based on character capital (i.e. kids get to hug Mickey)?

  175. So if that’s not middle-class, then what is it when you have your own helicopter to get to your mansion in the Hamptons? What is it when you have your own nicely retrofitted 707 with private bedrooms, a la John Travolta? (Sorry, my recent travel woes and flight cancellations are making me feel pretty damn middle class).

  176. “Wealth experts say the findings stem partly from the psychology of today’s wealthy and partly from the growing economic divide between the super rich and the merely wealthy.”

    See, this is where I think the “experts” get it wrong. I think it’s what Rhett said above: $150K/yr is a standard UMC family income. ITA with Meme that it *is* wealthy because not having to worry about losing a job or working every day is a huge, huge privilege. But it doesn’t “feel” rich because it basically covers a UMC lifestyle, not a “wealthy” one — you could basically have either a $700K house *or* private school *or* a fancy car.

    Again, not that any of that sucks. I just think that folks with $5MM nest eggs do a better job than these experts at thinking through what kind of income stream that $ will throw off, and what kind of lifestyle that income gets you.

  177. Oh yes. I’m known in my family as being the “cheap one”. I nearly passed out at the price of our Disney cruise, but it was worth every penny. Everything was very well done. FWIW, my kids were 14 and 11 when we went and were not into the characters. They loved the teen clubs, video games, Marvel movies, etc. I highly recommend it.

    I also loved the fact that once I got on the cruise ship, I didn’t have to plan anything. Everyone could hang out together or do their own thing.

    The main difference was that the Disney cruise was for rich families with kids, while the Carnival cruise was for mainly people who wanted to drink, party, and gamble. The food was better on Carnival, but everything else was better on Disney.

    I’d love to go on another cruise this Christmas, but am finding a hard time justifying the price.

  178. @LfB – to your list, I’d add (from observations in my area) the ability for one spouse to stay home (with an average of three kids) and the family to still have quite a comfortable life.

  179. We sailed on a Disney cruise. It was our fist cruise, so I can’t compare it to other cruise ships. I have stayed at all inclusive resorts in the US, Mexico and Caribbean. I didn’t find the people on this ship to be rich or upper class.

    This links the post on brands, but I can spot designer stuff with/without logos since I am surrounded by this stuff 24/7. I barely saw this on the cruise. We were delayed for a long time in the airport and as soon as I stepped into the Delta lounge, I saw the wealth on display. The money was oozing off some of these people in the Delta lounge, and I didn’t really see this on the ship except for the ship concierge lounge.

    The families we met on the ship were friendly, polite and really nice. It was interesting to get away while the northern half of the country is still in school. Our trip was originally scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, but we had to postpone by one week. Our DD missed school for two days. There were plenty of kids her age in the kids and tween clubs, but they were 100% from south, southeast and Texas. All states that already completed school. I didn’t met a single child or adult from NY, NJ, CT, VA, CA, MA for the entire week. We usually have the opposite experience when we are on vacation since we share vacation weeks with other states.

  180. By the way, for the price of a Disney cruise – we could have been in a Four Seasons hotel and paid for all of our meals in the hotel. There are few bargains on Disney vs. the other cruise lines since they only have four ships. The quality of the ship, entertainment for all ages, and cleanliness was great. It is just really, really crowded.

  181. Anybody done one of those Viking River Cruises that I get spammed about daily? They look nice.

  182. Lauren – I would guess that the families from TX and GA who can afford the Disney cruise have less of a need in their regular lives to signal their affluence with brand names.

  183. Cat and LfB are correct. In Boston you will get a job if you go to Harvard. You will be OK if you do pretty well at BC or BU. If you go to Northeastern or Suffolk or “New England School of Law and Crap” you will have to be in the top of your class to get a job, and/or hustle and take unpaid internships for a while before parlaying that into a state govt job (as a relative of mine did). The biglaw firms in Boston used to take one student per year from Northeastern and Suffolk–say, the #1 through #5 students in the class–but they may not do that any more.

    There is also a big difference in loans vs. your starting salary. If you have 150K in loans from Harvard and go work at Goodwin, you will have a starting salary of 160K and can pay it off pretty fast, before they start laying people off around 4th year or so. BUT if you have 150K in loans from Northeastern and get a job at a small firm, you may make $50 or $60K coming out of school, and that is assuming you are able to get a job at all! So before you go to a lower-ranked law school, ask yourself what will you be making in 3 years if you don’t go? And do you really want to be a lawyer?

  184. I don’t know Milo. Texas and Atlanta aren’t generally known for being quiet about their money.

  185. RMS – anecdotally from friends of my parents who have gone, the median age on the Viking cruises is around 80.

    For those of you who travel with kids (everyone except us!), do you budget for trips? How much do you spend on travel per year? Since DH doesn’t like traveling, I may have to start segregating funds in a separate travel account if we are ever going to take the kids anywhere, like on a plane.

  186. Milo, it is not the brand names or the logos. It is something you can sense…I think. I didn’t see brand names and logos in the Delta lounge. The wealth is just present, and I didn’t see much of that on the ship. It might be there, and it has NOTHING to do with where the people are from in the US. I am well aware that there is wealth in ever state, but I am telling you that it isn’t the same kind of wealth that I see all of the time in your metro area, or the NY metro area.

  187. “You’ve never been to Atlanta – have you?”

    Oh, I have. Many times. I get what you and Cat are saying, but I think that brand names are less of a need there. It’s like Cat said about cars in McLean–nobody with families there actually drives minivans, the baseline is an Mercedes GL. You can drive an Odyssey in Atlanta.

  188. You can drive an Odyssey in Atlanta.

    If you’re poor. Folks in Buckhead don’t drive Odyssey’s.

  189. Lauren: Our cruise had some international people–mainly Europe and China. It was truly a mix of geographies.

    “And Houston – you’d consider this upper-middle class?”
    Rhett: I’m not very familiar with the area, but the house you selected seems to be a few blocks from the Lakeside Country Club, is near the “Energy Corridor” where all the big energy companies are located, and is adjacent to one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Houston. So yes, it would be upper middle class.

  190. “Folks in Buckhead don’t drive Odyssey’s.”

    We have one of them right here!

  191. “Looking at those homes, prices in Houston don’t seem all that low. ”

    Those prices are terrible. Look at that dining room! It looks like they set up a dining table in the windowless trailer of an eighteen-wheeler!

    Is there something wrong with that $459k house with the 20 imported palm trees? It seems like a much better deal.

  192. Houston is all about location. The W side has historically been the most desirable, with inside Loop 8 being the most desirable — there are a ton of major companies between Dairy Ashford and downtown, that whole area is like ground zero for jobs. Although there’s been a ton of growth down to the SW (Sugarland) as 59 is basically the route to a lot of the energy and chemical stuff a little farther west. The NW area has historically been more affordable (that’s where my brother lives), but the commute up and down 290 to get in and out of the city is horrendous.

  193. Milo,

    The nice one looks to be an hour from downtown while the not so nice one is 15 min.

  194. The Essex Lane house–Within 5-10 minute drive of two major business districts and a 15 minute drive to downtown. A few blocks from River Oaks–one of the richest neighborhoods in Houston and within a 5 minute drive of the most exclusive country club in Houston.

    You sure can pick ’em, Rhett!

  195. Re: Disney Cruise and class. I think we are talking about 2 things – wealth v class. There probably weren’t many upper class people on the Disney Cruise. There were probably plenty of upper income people there (those in the top 10%). Fwiw, everyone I know who has gone on one says it is fun and the only kind of cruise they will do.

  196. Houston,

    I don’t know if you remember towns in the Boston area but would that Essex Lane house be similar to Belmont? It looks like it’s the same distance to downtown.

  197. I haven’t read through all the comments, but I’ll throw in what I know about engineering. A family member was an engineer in the car industry. He designed assembly plant layouts. He would get the top secret specs of a new car/truck that was 5+ years way from production and have to figure out how to design the assembly layout, working with the car designers, the suppliers, the supply chain guys (Just In Time receivables of parts), and a hundred other departments.

  198. Signal of the money in town: We wanted to test drive an A4 when we were shopping for our latest car–the Audi dealership is all glass, chrome, and steel with a 5 story car elevator. They refused to let us test drive a car unless we were willing to buy–they had so many buyers lined up that day that they were not interested in helping just “lookers”.

  199. Okay, those prices confirm why I live in the suburbs. LfB – I live in the same direction as your brother, and that is the same area as the $459K palm tree house. Because Houston is so spread out, there are pockets of employers everywhere. That $459K house is a short drive from a couple of hospitals, so those neighborhoods get medical people, and also near some pretty large employers in manufacturing, O&G, and any number of the smaller O&G-related suppliers that populate the northwest. The houses are much more affordable, but as LfB mentioned, if you work in town, the commute sucks, and the restaurants are not quite as good, and it’s a longer drive if you like the clubs, etc in town. But if you work out this way, your housing dollar certainly goes a lot further.

  200. Houston, so you say you are willing to buy. Until you sign on the dotted line you’re not committed. I’m sure one of the three local dealers would have been happy to just have you take a test drive, also.

  201. “They refused to let us test drive a car unless we were willing to buy”

    What is considered proof of willingness to buy?

  202. Yes, we could have finessed it. However, we felt out of place at the Audi dealership. Too rich for our blood. We went to a Honda dealership and ended up buying an Accord.

  203. I keep seeing this auction advertised on TV – the minimum bid is what I’m looking to spend to downsize to a smaller 3-BR home for DD, puppy & me. Of course, it’s way out there in the mountains.

  204. Rhett – yep, that’s the discussion I was just having with my sister. She visited last week and was envious of what house I could get for the money here, but she lives in Hyde Park area of Chicago. I made the argument that if she was willing to move 30 miles out of town, she could easily get comparable pricing and neighborhood amenities. If I required a ten minute walking commute in Houston, I would be paying much, much more than I am now.

  205. I don’t think of asking as a white male privilege, entitlement or anything of the sort. Just another life skill which may come naturally to some but not to all.

    But Saac would argue that it only occurs to us to ask because of our socioeconomic class. People of lower classes or minorities wouldn’t dare ask.

  206. RMS, my in-laws did a viking cruise in China a few years ago and loved it.

  207. “People of lower classes or minorities wouldn’t dare ask.”

    Having worked for the McDonald’s Corporation when I was 14, I would tell saac that she is wrong about that. Minorities and lower-class customers demand special consideration all the time. I remember when I would work at the drive-thru, and customers weren’t happy with the ketchup packets, so they would hold up the line to demand that I go to the condiment station in the dining room to pump their ketchup into individual dipping containers.

    I don’t imagine a lot of Totebaggers (of any race) do that. But perhaps it’s also a function of where a person is comfortable and confident. You and I wouldn’t dream of holding up a drive thru line for ketchup in a cup, but we possibly have a better understanding of how a bank works. Poor people might be more intimidated by banks, but they know from working in the service industry that they can make certain requests and they will be fulfilled.

  208. I was raised to ask, and I was not raised upper middle class. I was always taught you don’t get what you don’t ask for, ask politely, ask for a manager if need be, and it can’t hurt. I definitely think it’s a skill and it’s hard for people to do at first sometimes.

    We also happily drive Honda in the bay area, even though there is plenty of money (and Audi, BMW, and Tesla) around here.

  209. L — now bear in mind that we have to pay $3000 just to get our family to the West Coast, and a bit north of $5000 to get to the East Coast in summer. And then once we’re there we want to make it worthwhile, spend some time, do cool stuff.

    This summer we’re spending about $15,000 all told for a multi-week trip with lots of special excursions, hotel every night (suites or 2 rooms for the most part because 3 kids), large rental vehicle. It is a Big Deal Trip as our kids are at the age for it and the oldest will be out of high school in a few years, and it has been the excuse whenever we don’t want to spend money on (takeout, stuff, whatever) for the last six months. If we cut out the special excursions and stuck to the free/inexpensive, camped instead of going to hotels, and figured to cook out of a cooler or get fast food rather than doing a range that will be mostly eating out and include some nicer meals, we could have just about cut that figure in half (with airfare being about $4000 of it).

  210. Rocky – I was totally joking. I have no idea–there’s such a wide range. I’m assuming you would want some kind of motorhome rather than a trailer that you tow. The basic categories are Class A (look like a bus) and Class C (like an oversized ambulance).

    Go to some shows and see what you like when you climb in and walk around. Then rent one for a week.

    But, if I just had to give a quick answer to your question, I would say a Class C with a Mercedes/Dodge Sprinter diesel engine for the torque, efficiency, and longevity.

  211. And you’re welcome to e-mail me if you want more detail about where we’re going or what are the more expensive parts.

  212. RMS, my in-laws just got back from a Danube – Rhine tour on Viking. They enjoyed it. Of course they are curious, enjoy meeting people, and aren’t at all difficult to please regarding meals and accommodations, so they pretty much enjoy all travel.

  213. HM, I never think about how expensive it is all of the time for your family to leave Hawaii. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the reverse – the cost to get my family from the east coast to Hawaii! I’ve visited 40 states, but Hawaii is one place that I haven’t been able to visit yet. Everyone in my family really wants to visit, so we have to find the time for the trip because a week would probably feel very rushed with the cross country flights. My DD loves sleepaway camp, and I don’t think she will give it up unless some girl drama arises there one summer. That leaves me with one 10 – 14 day period at the end of August because it is too dofficult to pull from school as she gets into the higher grades. I have to see if I can possibly plan this for late summer 2016 unless something else pops up.

  214. We just visited The Kids in Seattle and they wanted to go out to their fave restaurant. We went with them and the girl’s parents. $1,200 for dinner for six. At least the girl’s parents split it with us. I was a trifle annoyed. Next time they come to our house I’m going to teach them some thrifty Mennonite soup recipes.

  215. @Rocky — Well, no wonder they wanted to go when y’all were out there — they can’t afford it on their own! :-) Reminds me of when my SIL arranged her own birthday dinner — at the chef’s table at a famous DC restaurant. She arranged the menu and basically ordered everything for everyone — and then presented us with our share of the check.

    OTOH, this is actually my new go-to gift for my brother (the unemployed foodie who just signed up for culinary school to become a pastry chef). Whenever he comes out, we always treat him to a really upscale dinner. And since we get to enjoy both the food and his company, it’s a win-win. But totally different when it’s freely offered vs. expected.

  216. HM, thanks for the suggestion. I will share it with her, but I am not sure if she will give up her experience.

  217. HM – I’m doing the same math in reverse and airfare is ~$6k; the total ~$18-$20k for the 5 of us. Just can’t wrap our heads around spending that much for a couple of weeks, as much as I really want to go to Hawaii again.

  218. Fred — 1 week in one of these http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/hawaii/big-island/kona-coast/captain-cook and swim, pick up some estate Kona coffee, eat out in Kailua-Kona, visit City of Refuge. Looks like ~$1000 for a rental large enough for five. Then a week in one of these http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/hawaii/big-island/puna-district/mountain-view while you hike around in Volcanoes National Park, see what’s up with the eruption, look at where the flow goes into the ocean in Puna, drive down to Hilo for the farmer’s market, eat out in Hilo or Volcano Village. Another $1000 for the week’s rental, hit Costco and the KTA for groceries.

  219. Also, while I was looking — omfg. This is my grandparents’ old house: http://www.vrbo.com/78104 . I had heard that a buyer fixed it up fancy. It looks like they tore down the dilapidated gazebo on the island and built an enclosed structure, probably fixed up the bridge, and added another structure to bring it up to four. The round house (had the kitchen and living room) and the bedroom (had the cane spiders that crawled around the ceiling while you slept) were always there. Presumably there’s some interior spiffing up too, although I doubt you could really get rid of the cane spiders.

    I can almost hear my grandmother’s Mitch Miller records playing . . .

  220. The lagoon was never crystal clear before. It’s a brackish tidal lagoon in a wet jungly area. Unless they cleared out all the fish and started chlorinating I really doubt it’s crystal clear now.

  221. Last summer our family took a trip to the east coast, and the cost was similar to what HM is looking at for this summer, but obviously a bit less due to a smaller family. We also stayed in hotels all nights, and given that we stayed in places like Manhattan and Boston, that wasn’t cheap.

    We did avoid restaurants like RMS’ kids’ favorite, and sought out recommended fast food places without outlets here (Shake Shack was a big favorite; Chipotle was also well liked), and also sampled some food trucks, all of which helped keep the costs from getting out of hand.

  222. HM – Thank you! I will look into it. We’ve done vrbo before abroad and it’s always worked well.

  223. I guess for vacations we do a mix. As my mom is the budding real estate magnate, we do some trips to Rehoboth and St. Pete for no more than the cost of travel and food (and with Southwest, it’s really affordable even for all 4 of us). I love the Rehoboth trip when we can hook up with DH’s sisters and the cousins and generally have the big pack of self-entertaining kids.

    We also have relatives who do the command performance events, where they basically rent a place and we get there and back and we split the food costs. So this summer will be the NC beach for my dad’s 70th; we’ll probably fly the kids down SW ($200), and then drive down ourselves and drive back with them. Those don’t suck either.

    But then we also do stuff I consider ridiculously expensive — Italy was not even remotely cheap. The big bday/anniversary trip I am planning for next year, when we take the kids back there with us, will probably be in the $20K range.

    Wow, this is making me appreciate my ability to get time off — and to send my kids places when I can’t. :-)

  224. HM, does the Big Island have the same sort of problem with illegal rentals that as O’ahu (especially Kailua)? I’m wondering if those VRBOs are legal.

  225. Lauren’s comments on recognizing brands on cruises remind me of a manager’s response to a question about where her daughter was going to college.
    Q: Where is [daughter] going to college?
    A: Brown.
    Q: Where is that?
    A: It’s a small liberal arts school in Rhode Island.

  226. Legality of vacation rentals is a matter of county law and AFAIK Hawaii County (aka Big Island) is much more open with the permits.

    I just found a S-A data thing on vacation rentals by county and for the Big Island it says this:

    Hawaii County Vacation Rental Rules

    Operating a transient vacation unit or a bed and breakfast is considered a permitted use of a single family home so there are only a few restrictions, including:
    The vacation rental must be in a single-family home
    The vacation rental owner may rent to a maximum of five unrelated people at a time
    If the vacation rental is in an agricultural zone, a special permit is required
    A vacation rental may not have more than one kitchen
    The Department of Health typically requires two cesspools if the home that the vacation rental is in has five bedrooms or more.
    Vacation rental owners must have a business license.
    Vacation rental owners must pay appropriate taxes, including GET, TAT and state and federal

  227. L, we don’t have a travel budget. We pretty much just look at our bank balance, project known costs and some contingency, and see how much would be available at the time of a trip we’re considering. If we can’t pay for it out of cash flow, it’s too expensive.

    We haven’t done a whole lot of travel out of state with the kids, and our first trip was when DD was 4. We’ve been to the continental US 4x (3 of those involved Disney), and out of the country 3x.

    No travel planned for this summer. The break between the end of the school year and the start of summer school was too short, and DW’s office has a big crunch coming in July/August so she can’t travel then. We’ll just do a staycation here in the few days between DW’s office’s deadline and the start of school.

    Next summer, we’ll probably do a trip that includes visits to the school on the top of DS’ list.

  228. L – I think I’ve already shared my vacation plans, but if you want to hear more, I’ll tell you.

  229. ” I’m assuming you would want some kind of motorhome rather than a trailer that you tow.”

    I think you should first consider how you plan to travel with the RV. If you plan to stay more than just short time at a given location (e.g., stay for much of the season), then it might make more sense to have a trailer that you can park, and use the towing vehicle without the trailer and thus not have to take your home with you to run errands.

    Another option if you plan long stays is to get a huge motorhome, and tow a tiny car, or pack a moped or some bikes to run errands.

    My guess is the trailer approach will cost less.

    OTOH, if you’re planning to use it on trips that involve a lot more driving, then a smaller motorhome might make more sense.

    Has anyone here penciled out renting a motor home?

  230. Finn, I think renting a motor home is for occasions when you want to visit a national park with limited lodging during the high season.

    We got our first camper (used, of course) for a trip to Banff/Lake Louise/Jasper during the high season. It paid for itself that week.

  231. “My guess is the trailer approach will cost less.”

    It depends whether your household considers a full-size pickup to be a sunk cost.

    I’ve been to an RV show where some RV dealers have a couple used F-250s with reasonably low miles and tow packages all waxed up and ready for sale, just to make the whole process seem easier to manage, if that’s the route a customer is inclined to go.

  232. “renting a motor home is for occasions when you want to visit a national park with limited lodging during the high season.”

    Or when you can’t drive it from your home to your destination. Or perhaps more relevant, you can’t drive it home at the end of the vacation.

    I suppose you did not stay at the Chateau Lake Louise, but did you have a chance to visit it? I assume that high season is summer; I’m wondering if it is as idyllic then as it is in winter.

  233. “It depends whether your household considers a full-size pickup to be a sunk cost.”

    Or if the pickup can obviate the need for another vehicle.

    I’m wondering if it still might pencil out better even if one were to compare one of those truck with trailer packages to a comparably sized motorhome.

  234. Finn, we did not visit Chateau Lake Louise but saw it from another part of the lake. I know there are lots of people who don’t like camping on here, but I’ll tell you why I like camping at national parks and would rent an RV to do so even if it’s break-even with lodging.
    1) Minimal packing/unpacking. There is always a warm place for diaper changes or to rest if someone gets sick.
    2) Motels near national parks tend to be mildewy and last had their bedspreads replaced soon after I was born.
    3) Better hotels tend to book up really early and we don’t plan ahead that far. We’re also cheap and have a large family.
    4) In-camper refrigerator makes lunch and dinner easy. I cut fruit and groceries in advance so we don’t have to worry about the hours the stores in the park are open or what they stock. We dine on Van de Kamp’s fish filets, pork and beans with hot dogs, Birdseye Garlic Chicken Voila, clam chowder or chili I’ve made in advance, tacos, frozen burritos and other ready-in-under 30 minute options. We do not have to wait for a table in a restaurant, which is often very busy and understaffed.
    5) I do not enjoy the traffic in and out of West Yellowstone (or similar towns) in the morning or at sundown. We see more animals around dusk by being in the park when it’s less busy.

  235. Minimal packing/unpacking. There is always a warm place for diaper changes or to rest if someone gets sick

    This made me blink and read it again, before I realized that by “camping” you meant RVing. I think of camping as involving tents, sleeping bags, and a campfire.

  236. HM, good point. Tents, sleeping bags, a campfire and backpacks mean “backpacking” for us. Banff/Lake Louise at least didn’t used to allow people to camp in tents, due to bears, and that pushed us over the edge for a hard-sided camper.

  237. For me “backpacking” means you’re hiking for at least half a day to reach the campsite, and may be doing a multi-day trip where you carry all the gear as you go. Funny. It makes me curious about how variable definitions of these terms can be.

  238. Before children, that’s what backpacking meant to me. We did a 70 mi trip along the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall wilderness.

    After children, backpacking has meant a 2-3 mile hike over not-too-steep ground, (once I was 16 weeks pregnant), putting up tents and pumping water out of a lake located right next to the campsite, and realizing my children will subsist mostly on M&M’s for the duration of the trip.

  239. DW and her friend used to talk about “camping” and mean renting a beach house.

    “Camping” is a pretty broad term. There are several subsets which come to mind:

    Car camping. Tents, stoves, sleeping bags, etc. are loaded into a car, driven to campsite, unloaded and set up.

    Backpacking: What HM said. You carry what you use on your back. There are subsets here too, e.g., in some cases you hike from cabin to cabin, so you don’t need to carry a tent, and perhaps some other stuff like cooking gear.

    RV camping.

    Beach house camping.

    I’ve also heard that Hearst family camping trips were quite a bit different than what most of us think of.

    And then there are the blends, e.g., car camping with a pop-up trailer, or combining RVing and car camping when there’s not enough room in the RV for everyone to sleep.

  240. Regarding vacations–I appreciate everyone sharing their budgets, as this makes me feel better about our vacation spending. Last year we spent $16,000 on a Disney cruise and a trip to Asia. This year, we are spending ~$7,000 to visit NYC and surrounding areas and to go skiing most likely. Next year will most likely be another big trip–I’d like to visit London or the Galapagos. DH wants to go to Singapore/Bali. We’ll see.

    We’re accelerating our vacations, as DS1 has only 2 years until he goes to college. Travelling with our family is so much fun that I want to do as much of it as I can while the family is still together.

    Similar to other posters, if we can’t pay cash, we don’t go.

  241. PS: I would also *love* to go on another cruise, but there are so many other places that are calling our name right now…

  242. Finn: I wanted to report to you that we are taking our first college tour–Rice’s College of Engineering–on June 8th. On our list for the summer is UT Austin, Texas A&M, SMU, UT Dallas, USNA and Johns Hopkins. University of Alabama and Vandy will most likely be put off until winter or spring break.

  243. HM, I think Harvard is an excellent school but don’t think my family is of the right demographic. The backpacking trips look awesome and the comments are very positive. My children’s response would be something like, “We walked uphill for a long time before Mom and Dad finally let us stop walking near a lake. We had to dig holes for our poop with folding shovels. DS1 picked at his mosquito bites until they bled and Mom put started putting Band-Aids on them. All of the backpacking food was awful. Twin1 had diarrhea but no one threw up.”

  244. WCE – probably a stupid question, but I guess the western national parks don’t have cabins for rent? Or they rent out very quickly? I wonder why that is? Why not have more?

    I was turned off by the motorhome rental because the daily cost was similar to a nice hotel (fair enough), but that only included 100 miles per day. Additional miles were $0.33 per mile. And mileage was about 8 mpg (and gasoline was selling around $4 per gallon at the time). If I rent one, I want to do a real road trip.

    It’s still one of those things I want to do just because, but it sounds like it may be something to save for our trip out west.

    This weekend is our Williamsburg pop-up camping trip, for Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg.

  245. Milo, they do — some grand old lodges, some newer ones, many with detached cabins as part of the property — but they sell out quickly. My understanding is that there’s a lot of controversy attached to building a new one because of the desire to keep the parks relatively non-commercial, so just the fact that there’s demand isn’t enough to justify building a new lodge.

    I think for Jenny Lake Lodge you have to call on the day reservations open a year or more in advance to get anything. It’s supposed to be worth it, though.

  246. Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Crater Lake have cabins from when development in the national parks was allowed. They have 1 or 2 queen beds and, like the lodges, I think they book well in advance. Yosemite has some cabins for you to sleep in while backpacking. They are available by lottery. My sister did one of these trips because she had a friend who won the lottery and invited her along. She said it was much nicer than hauling all your stuff.

    I am not aware of cabins in Olympic, Sequoia, Death Valley, Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands or Glacier, though I wasn’t looking. The 4 person limit, availability during high season and the fact that we have a camper mean I haven’t looked into cabins in the parks much. I think kaleberg has a VRBO in/near Olympic.

  247. Milo, in the popular western NP, everything rents out quickly. I remember calling at the exact time the reservations office opened for campsites on the first day reservations were taken for the days I wanted to camp. If I was an hour or so late, too bad.

    There is just so much more demand than supply. An economist would tell you that they are underpriced, but rationing by extremely high pricing would not be popular. OTOH, I could see setting aside a small %age at a very high price to subsidize the parks.

    I’ve never done a road trip in the eastern US, but in the west, 100 miles/day is not much; many of the attractions are separated by much more than that. I suppose if you stayed more than one night as several places, you could get your average down below that, especially if you didn’t use the motorhome to run errands.

    Are you and WCE the only RVers left here? Ilengr hasn’t posted for awhile, and I forgot her handle, but IIRC there was the lawyer from SD who also hasn’t posted lately.

  248. I know Bryce has a lodge, and Glacier has several, some with cabins. Olympic has Lake Quinault Lodge. IDK about the others.

  249. The last time I was at Yosemite, they had the Ahwahnee (old, grand, expensive), the Lodge, the Curry tent cabins (now gone), and the Wawona (old, not as grand and expensive as the Ahwahnee). Outside of summer, it was possible to make reservations after the first day available. E.g.,DW and I stayed in the Lodge a few times during winter and spring.

    I’ve stayed in cabins in Sequoia, Yellowstone (along with some rodents), and the north rim of Grand Canyon, and at the lodge at the south rim. We didn’t stay there (too late to get reservations), but there were some cabins in Zion that looked great from the outside..

  250. Milo,
    If you are looking for something free to do this weekend and your kids will think is really fun, get a loaf of bread and take the free ferry across the James river. Stand on the back of the boat and let your kids feed the gulls. Parents and in-laws both live in Williamsburg so we have spent lots of time there. DD used to love to feed the gulls when she was younger, and I admit that I like to feed them as well. We like to go to Anna’s Pizza and Subs, located just a few miles down the road from the ferry stop on the south side of the river. The restaurant is nothing fancy; going there just gives me an excuse to take the ferry.
    Finn-we too are looking at colleges this summer. DD is interested in engineering. Close to home, we are checking out Virginia Tech and UVA. She is also interested in checking out Carnegie Mellon, RPI in New York, and WPI in Mass, and maybe Johns-Hopkins and the Naval Academy.

  251. Houston, please share your impressions of those colleges.

    I’ve worked with a bunch of Rice grads. At a former job, the R&D manager was an alum who regularly recruited there. For some reason, there was a seemingly disproportionate number of redheaded white female engineers and that group.

    The reason I’m asking about RV travel is that we’re probably going to visit some colleges next summer, and possibly integrate that into a national parks road trip, especially if DS wants to visit ASU, from where we could go to Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Arches, etc.

    Hmm, perhaps we need to start making our reservations now for next summer.

  252. Yosemite is on my bucket list. I went to a lot of national parks with some college friends. We managed to go to so many beautiful parks, but we ran out of time for Yosemite because a few people had to start their jobs. I would love to go back to some of these other parks with my family.

  253. Milo, I know your wife probably has this all planned, but be aware that there are some interesting events/activities at CW (including the coach ride) that you need a special ticket to attend, which for most events is free with your cost of CW admission. You should check the weekend calendar ahead of time so you can ask for tickets to anything that looks especially interesting while you’re buying your general CW passes.

  254. “I think for Jenny Lake Lodge you have to call on the day reservations open a year or more in advance to get anything. It’s supposed to be worth it, though.”

    If you’re going to Grand Teton during the summer, I suggest checking into lodging at Jackson Hole. When we went, we got a very nice condo at the base of the ski area for a very good price, because it was their off-season. IIRC, I think we paid about a third of what it cost during ski season.

    We rented a ski boat, even though we don’t water ski, and went zooming around the lake.

  255. If anyone ever comes to Oregon, I recommend the old fire lookouts that are available for rent and the yurts in the state campgrounds for a quasi-camping experience.

  256. Sheep, you and Houston can compare notes on Johns Hopkins and USNA, and Milo can chime in or answer questions about USNA.

    If your DD is considering colleges as selective as CMU, and you’re going to Boston for WPI, you might want to make the trip to MIT too.

    A couple of my college classmates started at RPI, but transferred back home to flagship U. RPI was too cold for them.

  257. Thanks Sheep. I’ve taken that ferry before, but not for the pizza. HM, I’ll check on the carriage. I bought Va. Resident passes, for the price of regular admission, on a special that allows unlimited return trips for the rest of the calendar year. The plan is to at least do it again bw Xmas and New Year’s.

    Sheep – If your DD and/or Houston Jr. go to USNA, I’ll have to find an excuse to go to their Induction ceremony.

    Finn – if you don’t waterski, there’s always tubing for next time. Although if my mid-60’s father can still slalom, you can’t use age as an excuse for not skiing.

  258. “RPI was too cold for them.”

    “Nobody’s Fool,” starring Paul Newman, is a good portrayal of Troy, NY. I moved there in January (to Saratoga). I’d never known anything quite so cold in my life.

  259. Our first excuse for not waterskiing is that we don’t know how.

    The second excuse was that it was really cold. It had snowed the day before. It was the middle of June.

  260. “RPI was too cold for them.”
    This may be the case with my kids as well. However, if they were in a college in the midst of a big city, with lots to do on a weekend, the cold wouldn’t matter as much. Smaller colleges which draw heavily from the surrounding local areas may have students going home on many weekends.

  261. RPI is very cold, not in a big city with lots to do. While a good education, I am sure, I am about equally sure the student has to really want to be there.

  262. Thanks to Mémé’s advice, we are doing this trip:


    You can read the cost online. It’s not cheap. But we will stay at lodges the whole time and it’s the only way I could see for DH and me to each get part of what we want out of a vacation. I don’t sleep on the ground or eliminate in the woods. DH likes outdoors and backpacking and no cell reception. We’ll see how it goes.

  263. Curious to know why Johns Hopkins and USNA appear on both college lists…..

  264. Most of the rooms inside the National Park Lodges or cabins are reserved by organized tours. Some of the lodges and cabins are very rustic. Most travelers stay outside the parks in motels. If you get an opportunity to rent a grandfathered privately owned in-hold cabin (such as our PNW former regular’s cottage) grab it. Usually , however, those are taken by returning visitors year after year. Our Yellowstone/Grand Teton trip last year had a very nice motel in Jackson Hole, in park Lodge rooms and a very basic motel in Cooke City. The lodge dining rooms require reservations because of all the tours that pass through. The food varies widely by location.
    Don’t confuse the level of US national park accommodations with the Canadian Pacific (now Fairmont) Hotels in Western Canada. Those are luxury properties.

    RMS – If you are going on one of the first two departures of that tour, you will get Melissa Scott as your guide. She is your kind of person with a salty sense of humor. Glacier Park Lodges are historic and on the rustic side. Bring warm pjs. But they do have bars and serve some local whiskeys. Also, DH often skips an activity now and then when we are on tour to nap or just give his legs a rest, but really, there is nothing else to do except sit on the porch and admire the scenery or read your Kindle. Cell service improves yearly in the parks, especially right at the lodges.

  265. Milo: Unfortunately, DS is disqualified for medical reasons to USNA. He is participating in a summer program there, and an admissions tour is part of the program. I need to tell him before he goes. Not looking forward to it, as he is very excited.

  266. Sheep Farmer – CoC has my name & email if you’d like to meet up on your VT visit.

  267. “Curious to know why Johns Hopkins and USNA appear on both college lists..”

    I’m guessing geographic proximity.

  268. Milo, do you think that used 2015 Minnie Winnie was bought by someone who bought it just for one vacation in lieu of renting? It would seem ideal for someone wanting a pretty new RV for a long trip this summer.

    I wonder if RV dealers see that sort of thing a lot.

  269. Finn – To keep it all above board, at least here in the Commonwealth, you would need to register it, which would trigger sales tax. It would also incur annual property tax, although I’m not sure if that’s somehow pro-rated or exempted if you only own it for a month. In any state, selling it to a dealer is not going to get you a great price, either.

    I think a lot of people buy them and just don’t drive them very far. It’s not uncommon to see eight-year-old motorhomes with less than 20,000 miles. Also, people might buy one and then decide that a different type better suits their needs.

  270. I can see where the taxes could be a big hit, although the sales tax might be avoided by buying somewhere like Oregon. Another cost would be insurance.

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