I'm interested in going into engineering, but I can't figure out which field is right for me, and I don't want to end up studying something in college that I don't like. How do I know which field to choose?
by Alison, New Jersey
on March 29, 2012
It is true than Engineering is a very broad field with different types of engineering jobs ranging from the traditional specialties in electrical, aerospace, mechanical, civil, nuclear and chemical engineering as well as other non-traditional or newer fields of computer, software, biomedical and environmental engineering.
Before you decide whether or not to study engineering at university, you have to develop a good understanding of what engineering actually is. What do engineers do? Do I have a passion for any one field? Where can engineering take you? How is it different to science or mathematics? Will you be able to get a job? And, how much will you get paid?
In college you will find that irrespective of the engineering field you study, the engineering subjects will combine advanced mathematical and scientific knowledge to solve real-world problems. Essentially, engineers are the problem-solvers, innovators and research and developers that make much of modern life possible. The bridges you drive across, the car you drive, kitchen gadgets you use and the GPS system that tell you where to go - all were designed by a team of very skilled civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers.
You can also find out about the different engineering fields by doing a Google search on the web (sites like EngineerGirl have a wealth of information based on different people's experience), ask college administrators for brochures of the different fields, join a student chapter of different engineering bodies, ask to spend a day at work with an engineer in your field of choice and read some scientific or engineering magazines.
To obtain most engineering jobs, individuals must hold at least a bachelors degree from an accredited university. These studies often involve difficult subjects like thermodynamics, soil mechanics, engineering math which involve advanced math principles in calculus, vector analysis, complex algebra, differential equations and a host of other engineering related courses depending on the field of study. Do not be discouraged by perceived difficulties and do not allow these difficulties to stop you from pursuing your studies. As long as you persevere in your studies and maintain your discipline, you should be able to sail through. Going through Engineering school helps you to build character and resilience because you cannot afford to be lazy but have to keep persistent. These attributes later on give you a head start in your career because you are used to working hard and working smart.
Engineering can open up different doors for you, e.g. you could decide to pursue a masters or doctoral degree and go into research and development or teaching in your area of expertise. You can start your career by joining the corporate world where you can work in almost any industry and grow into whatever possibilities are open, planning and design, maintenance, project management, manufacturing, management, etc.
While some branches of engineering require you to work in the field or on building sites, e.g. civil engineering, other branches of engineering especially the newer ones do not require you to go outdoors. You may ask yourself the question, am I an outdoor type of person or do I prefer being indoors. You may however find that at the start of your career you find yourself outdoors more because most engineering career opportunities may start you as an apprentice or trainee engineer to allow you to learn the ropes quickly. These are usually great opportunities for hands-on learning.
I currently work in the telecommunications industry and I started off as an Electrical engineering student. One exciting thing about my field is the way it has evolved in the last ten years. Having been in this field for 17 years now I see that electrical engineers are an important part of many industries. From companies that develop spacecraft to companies that build coffee makers, Electrical engineers are a crucial aspect of creating quality products. In my field jobs generally fall into five classifications, ranging from research and design to testing, project management and systems controls. Each serves a different purpose, but all utilize an electrical engineer's understanding of electrical properties and process and how power flows. These classifications can generally fit into any other engineering field as well.
Research-based engineering jobs mostly take place in laboratories. These jobs require a great deal of creativity and problem-solving ability because researchers often document current products and practices, then use that data to think of improved products. Engineering jobs dealing with design take the ideas created by researchers and break them down into a system that can actually be created and put on the market. These jobs are found in production facilities, but also utility companies like a power company.
Testing jobs are another essential stop in the process of creating a product. In a production setting, these engineers are the main troubleshooters before an item is created. They design programs or physical tests to gauge how an item will withstand everyday use and extreme conditions. Test engineering jobs put a premium on an individual's ability to not only understand a product's limitations, but to find a creative way to measure and improve those limits.
Systems engineers are found more commonly in industrial and utility settings. These engineering jobs are usually done by electrical engineers and require individuals to understand power grids and circuitry providing power to large projects. These engineers are expert planners and problem solvers. When a malfunction happens on a massive scale, these engineering jobs require fast action.
One of the more important jobs in all of engineering is the project manager. These engineers must have a thorough understanding of all the other engineering jobs and duties because they usually oversee those individuals. These engineers must coordinate the research, test, and design engineers to meet deadlines and create a usable product. These jobs require not only engineering knowledge, but excellent communication and managerial skills.
In conclusion, despite possible or foreseeable hurdles, the benefits of studying engineering still outweigh the negative aspects. Not all engineers become technical personnel because some in this career have become top decision makers in organizations, e.g. managers, directors, etc. Whichever engineering field you end up choosing, you will overall have a rewarding career option. Good luck in your quest.
Regards, Ms Tela