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Reversible/Carnot cycles in heat engines are a theoretical model that describe a system with perfect efficiency within each of the cycles. The Carnot heat engine is a model used in Thermodynamics 1 to introduce heat engines to students. The point of this is to allow students to focus on the four constituent cycles of the heat engine without worrying about tracking inefficiencies. It is, of course, impossible to design a heat engine that is operating at perfect efficiency with perfect reversibility. 

 

Your are correct in your assumption that the Carnot cycle is just a distillation of the core principles of heat engines. Because of this, the Carnot model also helps at a higher level by helping students understand that: 

  1. The efficiency of a reversible heat engine is always greater than that of an irreversible one
  2. Any reversible heat engines operating on the same two reservoirs have the same efficiency

The violation of either of these statements violates the second law, since order cannot be restored to a system, the only possible movement is an increase in disorder and subsequent lower of efficiency.

I believe that you are correct in your observations regarding graduate level education. Allow me to offer my experiences in undergrad engineering:

In my undergraduate experience, I was of the opinion that a lot of professors simply didn't bother to put in any effort. Countless times I would visit a professor's office to be met with the physical manifestation of executive functioning deficits. Frankly, I expected better from professors who required that their students stay on top of 18 credit hours of engineering courses every semester. I sometimes would hope that this double standard was, in fact, malicious. At lest then I could still maintain that these professors were intelligent, albeit aloof (a phenomenon which I may discuss in a future post.) Unfortunately, I don't think this is the case. I eventually settled on an approach of attending lectures, not to listen, but rather to study and complete homework on a fixed schedule. As somebody with diagnosed (mostly) non-social ASD, I eventually adapted to this environment by developing strategies to overcome my own executive functioning difficulties, so why couldn't professors do the same? In several STEM courses, it took 3-6 weeks for professors to return graded exams, at which point it was far too late to actually implement fixes for my shortcomings on that particular exam. 

-            I might add that a lot of these experiences were relegated only to the engineering department. I took several elective courses in political science and international affairs. Much to my confusion, these courses offered everything that I was hoping to experience in the engineering program. I won't bother to speculate as to why these areas of study had competent, kind, and intelligent professors. Perhaps somebody else (a liberal arts STEM double major?) could shed some light on this phenomenon.

 

It seems as though undergraduate professors claim to do two things: teach courses and publish research. When I looked into the latter, I found that most (all but one) of the faculty in my department hadn't published anything since their dissertation (with one exception, a professor who "co-wrote" some 15 papers a year - with no obvious contributions, I might add.) So if STEM professors aren't spending significant time on lectures (it seems to be common practice to recycle lecture slides that were concocted circa 2000, usually by other professors) and aren't publishing research, what the hell are they doing? I think that your post makes a very good analogy for this "coasting" phenomenon that is so prevalent in academia. Imagine my shock when 90% of undergraduate professors were previous graduates of my university who floundered in a professional environment and decided to phone it in for the rest of their careers as tenured faculty...

 

Frankly, I'm not sure how to remedy this state of affairs. I am now of the opinion that professorship (in STEM, at any rate) is reserved for washed up and failed academics, a complete waste. I don't necessarily think that this is a wholly systemic failure, mostly because I had some good experiences with professors. Is this a case of some bad apples that clutter the university system? If so, what hiring practices could dissuade these bad apples from joining the system? I hold the opinion that tenure is severely detrimental to the university system, since the safety that it provides does the opposite of encouraging professors to excel, not to mention how it is held over the heads of non-tenured faculty and used to take advantage of adjunct faculty.

 

This reply has turned into a bit of an off-the-rails rant, but perhaps it could be of use to students who are currently in or considering engineering or STEM as a course of study. My advice? talk to students at your prospective institutions and scour ratemyprof (or whatever the modern iteration is called) to get a general impression of your departments faculty (its a lot more accurate than professors would lead you to believe.)

I could see this working in a joint venture type of situation, but it fundamentally conflicts with the "work to live" philosophy. If I was a member of a research team in my profession (Mechanical Engineering) and this situation was proposed for a R&D group, I would adamantly oppose it. Collaborative working, in my experience, is inefficient. It makes much more sense to compartmentalize work, then upon completion, combine modules into a finished product. A certain amount of communication is required, but the process in not encumbered with meetings and group discussions. A fully collaborative organization, to me, presents a clear end-of-line scenario for my employment with any company. 

I have noticed that, even on a rationalist forum, a lot of ideas like this aren't very realistic. A vanishingly small minority of people associate so strongly with their work that they would be willing to completely forfeit their personal life in order to further a business which they essentially have no stake in.

When I show up to work, I am there to get a job done. I don't subscribe to the culture of going out to drinks with co-workers and I certainly don't sacrifice my personal time and work-life balance in order to make my boss more money.

On the internet, I think that people hold the (incorrect) notion that there are groups of people profiting from noble and exciting business ventures of their own creation. In reality, there is no market for the betterment of mankind.