Thoughts from an aspiring engineer.

So, I’m on the road to becoming an engineer. After a long hiatus from SDMB, I’m back (or, at least until my subscription expires!) (As an aside, is it possible to pay for a subscription with cash? I don’t have a bank account or credit card (well, no credit debt either :D) and thus have no access to online-payment options.)

Perhaps I’m missing the big picture, but I still feel that alot of what I’m currently learning is not very applicable to an engineer. I don’t foresee me ever using Boltzman’s constant again. I suppose it depends on the engineering discipline.

Which area of study am I interested in? Civil (Structural) or Mining. The prospect of a $65-85k starting salary as a site-based mining engineer is very tempting, but then I do “enjoy” engineering statics. 10 more months to decide.

So, this is a call out to all the engineers on SDMB; How was undergraduate (or postgraduate) study for you and how do you like being an engineer? Right now I’m finding that I probably should have studied a lot more than I currently have so far this year…

But hey, I’m studying what I’ve pretty much always wanted to, so I’m content, for the time being. :smiley:

I apologize in advance for any incorrect grammar and/or spelling. If I was competent in the English language I probably wouldn’t be doing engineering!

I just used Boltzman’s constant yestarday afternoon, and I’ve been working full time over 30 years now. 'Course, I’m a physicist, but I’m actually doing heat transfer and thermal design work that could be called engineering.

Ya gotta do what you love.

Tell you what else - I studied Laplace transforms way back when and I didn’t think I’d ever care again, and it just wafted over the transom of my mind and drifted away. Crap, I wish I’d absorbed it and played thoroughly with it then. I could learn math so much more easily then. I have a genuine need for it now, and wading back through it is a pretty big job to fit in with all the other pretty flowers I flit between.

I’m a civil/geotechnical engineer, and I love it. The way I look at it, college taught me the analytical skills that I need to be a good engineer. When I’m out in the field, I’m not using any of my schooling. Instead, I’m using the skills that it forced me to develop. When I’m inside, I am mostly using common sense, with about 10% information that can be found inside one of my textbooks. Not once have I had to design and size a triangular concrete beam with four circular cutouts for a structure, as I had to in school.

If your school has a course on technical writing, take it if you haven’t already. Most of what I do now as an engineer involves documentation. I’m almost always doing some form of testing or requirements definition, and it all involves writing. Either I’m writing up a test report or a requirements document that’s supposed to tell a contractor or programmer what I need.

I don’t use most of what I learned in school directly, but it did give me the background to understand the context in which I’m working. I would be of much less use in my current job if I didn’t have the background I have in orbital mechanics and spacecraft systems.

I’m an ME and here’s my advice…

What you do your first few years out of school is what you’ll be expected to do the rest of your life. If your first job is in construction, you’ll be expected to work in construction for the rest of your career. It could even be a specific type of construction, but I’ve never worked in that field to know how specialized you’re expected to be. MAKE SURE it’s a job in an area you enjoy, and it’s in a field will allow you the life experiences you want (ex. most manufacturing jobs are in smaller towns, so someone who wants to live in big cities his whole life should not take a manufacturing job right out of school. I know CE’s don’t go into manufacturing, it’s just an example).

Expect long hours, so again make sure it’s something you enjoy doing. My first job expected their engineers to work 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. Avoid those places unless that’s your idea of heaven. In my experience, engineers have a good starting salary but don’t move up too much from there unless they move into management or start their own business or consulting firm.

For some reason lots of professional/post-graduate schools like engineers, so that is also open to you should you find that your career is taking you places you don’t want to go, you want to make more money, or you’re stuck in a field you don’t enjoy.

Good luck. Hope this helps…

runs in


lobs balloons full of purple paint at engineers

runs back out again

I second all of the above. I’m a MechEng doing structural design and analysis. I started out in construction and off-road/ag equipment and have since moved into aerospace, and grow to loathe it more every day. Part of the problem (for me) is that my current job, which is with a big military contractor (“Making things to do things to other people with!”), much of the work is documentation and paperwork that I have to get out of the way in order to do technical work. Then, I’ll come up with a good solution to a problem but it treads on someone’s political pasture, or I’ll be instructed to do a task that makes no sense whatsoever. I find this incredibly frustrating.

ryanbobo is dead on about your experience leading to a career expectation–I’m constantly amazed at how people in marketing or management can flit from one industry to another–and while employers like to give you the song-and-dance routine about how they have two career ladders–one for management and one for technical work–the fact is that unless you are fortunate to find a niche where you are the leading authority in a vital field, you’re either going to be pushed into a management role or find yourself at a dead end.

It doesn’t help that companies have fallen out from under me left and right, either. You’re not going into manufacturing, fortunately, but still beware that anything that can be done cheaper offshore (regardless of the resultant quality or communications difficulty) will be sent overseas.

As for the application of your school learning to a real world engineering job–it depends. I’ve used quite a lot of what I learned in school, actually (which on occasion has worked against me, in that I’m not fumbling around blindly for a solution “the way it’s always been done”) but it almost goes without saying that there are plenty of things you are going to learn on the job that won’t be covered in school. If you go into mining, for instance, you’re going to discover the joy that is EPA and OSHA regulations writ large, which they’ll have covered in school only briefly if at all. Ditto for dealing with unions (and miners…I don’t envy you here), handling budgets and schedules, logistics, and so forth. The least part of your job will be running calculations, most likely.

Some people really do love it. A lot of the engineers I work with just slog through it out of resignation, it seems. Personally, I think I should have stuck with physics and math, and keep trying to extract myself, but the paycheck is big enough to be appealing, but not enough to sock away living expenses for the next six or seven years.

I don’t know if that rambling passage “helped” but there it is, anyway.