Reflections on Canadian Engineers’ Iron Ring Ceremony

It’s 37 years this month since I got my iron ring. The bumpy surface long ago became smooth, and it has made a permanent indentation in my pinky. The ring is symbolic of important aspects of my professional and personal identity. Although my career has evolved, I still wear the ring (alongside a ring that reminds me of my father, who would surely have been an engineer if he’d had the same educational opportunities as I.)

I received the ring in 1980 from a senior member of the professional in a secret ceremony in a darkened room (there was even black paper over the windows in the door to ensure privacy.) At the time, it was a sexist ceremony, in which we repeated a Rudyard Kipling poem as the “sons of Martha.” I seem to recall something about being brothers in a wolf pack. I imagine (hope!) that at least some of that has changed by now.

More importantly, we collectively read an oath of professional responsibility, not to “suffer or pass, or be privy to the passing of, Bad Workmanship or Faulty Material in aught that concerns my works before mankind as an Engineer…” We even got a little wallet sized card of the oath to remind of us our professional responsibility to public safety (…/Ritual_of_the_Calling_of_an_Engi… ).

All these decades later, I wonder how the engineering profession envisions its professional responsibility for public safety. I hope it has evolved beyond the individual responsibility to design safe bridges, though of course that is still essential. At this critical moment in human history, it is essential for the engineering profession in Canada (and elsewhere) to debate whether it is enough to commit to build pipelines that won’t leak or refineries that won’t explode, when the products flowing through those engineering works pose a fundamental threat to humankind. It is timely to debate our collective responsibility as a profession, in addition to our responsibilities as individual professionals.

We wear iron rings to remember the lives of those lost in a bridge collapse, but must also be mindful of the hundreds of millions, or even billions of lives, that are threatened by extreme heat and weather and rising seas.

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