Career change, Engineer to Nutritionist: is my sister crazy?

My sister is a Civil Engineer. She just got her PE (is that what it’s called?) last year. She makes pretty good money, and she’s moving up in her company, but she HATES her job. She’s never liked it. She majored in Engineering in college, and by the end of school, she already didn’t want to do it, but she felt she had no choice.

She loves studying about food and exercise. She’s interested in everything that has to do with keeping the body healthy. Interested perhaps is an understatement. She’s an amateur nutritionist. She reads everything she can get her hands on.

Recently, she finally decided to make the move. She wants to quit her job before the new year and go back to school, and this makes my parents more than a little apprehensive. They are not happy about it.

The thing is, though, that for the first time in a long time, my sister’s excited. As worried as she is about what she’ll do with her house and how she’ll pay her bills, she’s actually got something to look forward to.

I should note that my sister is intensely organized and super practical. She’s not the kind of person who does this kind of thing, and when she decides to do it, she’s going to cover all her bases.

I’m just curious, though, is my sister making a big mistake? Is there any way to know?

I’ve been encouraging her to do this, but I’m hoping that I’m not just supporting her in doing something that makes her happy now, but will eventually cause her huge problems in the future. I just believe that people should be doing what makes them happy, not just what they can do. My parents, who have both had the same job their entire lives and have never “really liked” their jobs, don’t see it this way.

You never know if it’s the right or wrong thing until you’ve done it. My brother switched from nurse to baker, and has never been happier. The first job I think he did because we’re from a family of nurses and doctors, and he felt he “should” do it. The second career is something he actually loves doing. I think your sister is going to be fine - and even if she changes her mind later, she’ll have an engineering degree to fall back on!

She sounds like the type of person who would be successful regardless of the career path she pursues. So I wouldn’t worry about it.

I mentored a young engineer at our company, back in the day. He was a smart and wonderful guy right out of engineering school.

About a year into it we went to lunch, where he confided in me his secret passion for the stock market. Seems he had started investing with friends’ money back in college and was still successful at it now that he was out. He really wanted to quit engineering and do the stock thing full time.

I told him to go for it. I said, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should (meaning the engineering career). He was mostly worried about his parents; he was the first of his family to finish college. He went ahead and quit the company to start his own buisiness.

As far as I know he’s happily playing the market somewhere now.

I think your sister should do what makes her happy.

I’m actually in a very similar situation as the OP’s sister. I’ve got an M.S. in Civil & Environmental Engineering, and just got my P.E. license last year, too.

Until last year, I was working for an engineering consulting firm mainly doing water and wastewater work, along with some environmental site assessment work, and felt like I was going nowhere. Also, my pay had been flat the whole 5+ years I worked there (since I got out of the Navy). Basically, every pay raise had just barely accounted for inflation.

With my PE license in hand, I decided to make a move. I decided I liked environmental work better than civil, so I accepted a position with another consulting firm that specialized in environmental site assessment and remediation. Unfortunately, this work turned out to be only marginally more interesting, and the work/life balance was even worse than at my previous firm. Much of the work that this firm did was out of state, and it involved a great deal of travel. Also, being a consulting firm, I was still doing everything on a billable hour basis–which has the consequence of making it more important to do things quickly rather than well.

I had put in an application for a public water/sewer utility at the same time that I was putting out feelers to the consulting firms, and they called me in for an interview shortly after I started at the new consulting firm. To make a long story short, they offered me a job, and I took it primarily on the basis of the benefits (more pay, more vacation and holidays, a shorter workweek, etc.). Unfortunately, I’m back to water and wastewater work, which I don’t find very interesting.

The job I really liked was teaching chemistry and physics, which I did for the last 7 years that I was in the Navy. However, teaching in a university without a Ph.D. is a part-time gig at best, and teaching in a high school would require getting certified, getting hired, and taking a huge pay cut–and I’ve got a family to support. Also, I hear that teaching in high schools today often leads to burnout, and will likely be completely unlike the military academy I taught at previously.

I also had a couple of Navy friends encourage me to come work at the local nuclear power plant, which sounded really interesting (and I liked when I was in the Navy), but they also worked rotating shifts, worked many weekends, and are averaging 70-80 hours a week of work right now. I did pass along a resume last fall, and they called me for an interview a few months later–but having just switched jobs twice in three months, I declined the interview–besides, I’d concluded that the working hours were not very conducive to family life.

So in summary, I’m staying put for now, but am not really happy about my working situation at this point.

I don’t think your sister should be miserable just because she can make good money. That being said, how is she planning to finance this new venture? If she excpects (as an adult) that your parents are going to support her while she lives the dream, I think that’s being sort of selfish. But if she chooses to sell her home and life off her savings while trying something that will make her happy, that’s a good thing. She may never have the material things that she could have as a civil engineer, but you truly can’t put a price on loving what you do and being happy in your career.


I am in the process of doing something similar. I am an industrial engineer. While I do enjoy what I do, I had a great idea in bath and body products, and started my own business a couple of months ago. I am doing both right now, but I am hoping that the new business takes off so I can quit engineering.

She’s a smart girl, she’ll find a way to have her cake and eat it too. :slight_smile:

Why should she work for years in a job she hates? I hope she is wildly successful and loves every minute of it.

(I’m contemplating a similar move, by the way!)

Your sister will be more successful in the long run doing something she enjoys rather than something she doesn’t enjoy, and it seems pretty obvious she doesn’t enjoy what she’s doing now. And it seems like her dream is perfectly obtainable, it’s not like she’s quitting her job to be a rock star.

Also, your parent’s are entitled to their opinion but your sister can’t live her life based on what they think she should do. She is an adult, she knows her dreams and goals better than they do.

Yes. She is crazy. Very soon, she will be sane.

My own sister got a 2-year degree in botany, or something like that. Basically that qualified her to haul bags of dirt around for minimum wage. After a year of that, she went back to get a 4-year degree in nutrition. She is very happy now, and she makes killer money. For a while over the past few years, she was supporting a family of four by working one day per week.

Also, are you in the US? Make sure your sister knows about the Lifelong Learning tax credit. I’m fairly certain that she can pay her '09 tuition in December and take it off her '08 taxes.

I went back to school after working for a few years – my parents did help me out so I can’t really talk myself, but there were plenty of people in my program getting by on loans and part-time jobs, and this was in New York City. So I know it can be done.

I had a friend who was a chemical engineer. She landed the job with only a chemistry degree. They were desperate for engineers and figured she could learn on the job. (perhaps that should have been a red flag) The pay was great, but the job sucked. She hated it. She never wanted to be an engineer.
She stuck it out for six years, getting her MBA from an online university at the same time. She tried to get a job in pharmaceutical sales but had no sales experience and no one respected the online MBA. She was really miserable.
She entered a pharmacy program and spent 2.5 grueling years working full time and going to school 8hrs per day Saturday and Sunday at a school 1.5hrs from her home, all while raising a preschooler. Her husband worked shifts and had a lanscaping business on the side. I didn’t see much of her for quite a while, understandably.

Last I heard she was finishing up her internship and had job offers left and right. She was 100 times happier than I’ve seen her in years. I don’t know about nutrition as a career, but I do know that the switch is possible. If a person is willing to go to those lengths to change careers, they’re probably pretty serious about it. Good luck to your sister.

This kind of thing seems to happen a lot to engineers. My sister was a petroleum engineer for about 15 years, and was making very good money, when she decided she’d be happier as a programmer. She took a 12K/year training/internship to start, and now has worked her way back up into six figures in IT. She’s a lot happier for it.

I have another friend that worked in IT and quit to become a Vet Tech, and seems to be a lot more content despite making much less.

If you have to spend 8 hours a day doing something, it might as well be something you love, or at least can stand.

Life is too short to spend 1/3 of it doing something you hate.

I’m in a similar position. I’ve been in my current job for 4 years, but actually finally (FINALLY!) put my notice in so I can find what I’m really meant to be doing in this world, because I’m sure it’s not working for an insurance company. I make good money, have great benefits, and I’m tossing it away to find something I actually like.

My parents and live-in girlfriend are very supportive. It would have been much more difficult to make this decision if they hadn’t been.

Me three. Contemplating, and parental apprehension, check. :slight_smile:

Engineering sucks as a profession. Just about everyone I know from engineering school went into banking, management consulting or IT (which also sucks).
I’ve always thought there was a sort of patheticness about people who resign themselves to spend 30+ years in a job or career they really don’t like.

Thank everyone for your answers. I’m still making my way down the list (as I wasn’t getting the email updates, which seems to happen quite often with the SDMB).

I want to clear up what I meant by support: that is, strictly moral. Our parents do not give us very much financial support. But we are a very close family, and our parents play a very active part in our lives. So, I’m just hoping my parents will tell my sister that they believe in her and, even though they don’t agree with her chosen path, they support her in her decision.

I think right now our parents are doing what parents should do, which is worry about the well-being of their children. I just hope they’ll come around to see how much she wants to do this. Everything my sister has ever put her mind to, she has accomplished.

As so many have already said, she should find her way to a career that she enjoys doing, not merely one that pays the bills but leaves her miserable.

I think she needs to find people who have had nutritionist training and gone on to work in the field, so that she can get a head’s up about what her next career would likely be like on a daily basis. Ideally, she’d get to shadow one on the job for a week or so. In my experience (limited), nutritionists / dieticians work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools and sometimes with athletes. Some seem to spend a good amount of time generating educational articles for the lay public or giving courses / presentations. If this sounds like stuff she’d like doing, then this might be a great new career for her. But there is a big difference between being interested in proper nutrition for oneself and being interested in helping other people with their nutrition and health.

Well, I’m in Taiwan, but my sister’s back in the States.

After a google search, I found that they’re actually called “Lifetime Learning” credits, and, no, I’d never heard of them. That could be a big help to my sister, so I passed it on to her.

Another voice of support for making the change. And maybe your sister can bring some rigour to nutrition, where you still seem to get Og-knows-what kind of scams with dietary supplements and all that. Or is she going into hospital-type nutrition?.