Feb 19, 2010

NEW BLOG FEATURE! Lots of you seem to be interested in Engineering-Related things for the blog. Being only one person (and a young one at that!) I have a limited view of the profession. So I asked my dad and my friend Trian if they'd be willing to help me out. My dad replied "I have no shortage of opinions."


NEW BLOG FEATURE! Lots of you seem to be interested in Engineering-Related things for the blog. Being only one person (and a young one at that!) I have a limited view of the profession. So I asked my dad and my friend Trian if they'd be willing to help me out. My dad replied "I have no shortage of opinions."



Every month our panel will answer a reader question. If you have a question for the panel, please send an email to JAM at Wastedtalent DOT ca with "Ask an Engineer" in the subject!

Our first question is from Paul, a college student trying to decide a major. He asks "How did you decide on Engineering? And what are some things to consider before throwing myself to the flame?"

JIM: Eng. Phys, Cement Industry, USA

Dear Paul,

Your question sounds simple, but it's profound. "What shall I do with my life?"

Just asking the question the way you did is a sign that you're curious and analytical. These are about the only characteristics that all successful engineers have in common. It's such a diverse field, there's a niche for every interest and every personality.

Of course you have to be fairly good at math and science. Not everybody can handle differential equations and thermodynamics, and you have to pass those courses to get the degree, even if you end up not using them in your career. An engineering degree can open all kinds of doors for you. With your degree you can go into sales, finance, management, science, business, and engineering too. With a few years of experience, you could be making multi-million-dollar decisions. Or you could go on to graduate school in almost any field.

One of the big challenges will be finding the right career once you have your bachelor's degree. Because it is such a diverse field, made up of so many specialized activities, it can be hard to get started and you might have to change jobs more than once to find the perfect path. That can be scary to some people.

What I've seen, though, is that people with engineering degrees are generally able to follow their dreams. We seem not to "burn out" the way people do in some other fields. I've been out of school for more than twenty years and so I know a lot of engineering grads of similar vintage.
They are almost all doing what they like to do, and making enough money to support their chosen lifestyles. Many of them aren't, strictly speaking, using their engineering training, but the training has helped them organize and strategize their ways to successful careers.

So there are plenty of things to think about in terms of how to launch and manage an engineering career, but that comes later. If it sounds interesting to you and you think you can do the work it takes to pass the courses (and my guess is that you can), then I can't think of a single reason not to pursue an engineering major.

Good luck and best regards,


Angela: Mech, Energy Efficiency Industry, CAN

It was a tough choice for me; I'm interested in a lot of different things! In the end, I chose engineering because it was the most challenging, intellectually, and I like a challenge. I was also thinking of the endgame - you have to focus on the job you want after University. Uni is just four years-- your career is FORTY years!

I was drawn to the fact that with an engineering degree I could go pretty much anywhere (both geographically and career-wise). I liked that my job would be to solve problems and work in a team, and I liked that I would get the chance to go work "in the field” if I wanted to. It’s nice to get out of cubicle-land!

Before you go into engineering you should know:

- It’s challenging. Keep in mind that most of your classmates were straight-A students in high school. Now they have to make a bell curve out of those students, not everyone can be an A. It’s a big emotional adjustment to see B’s and C’s and sometimes even F’s. It will take some time to find the right mix of study habits to get you the grades you want. (You WILL see A’s again, as long as you’re willing to put in the work! :) )

- It’s so so so much fun. Exhausting, draining, crazy fun. If you’re meant to be an engineer, you will know right away because you will instantly click with the people around you, I’ve been so blessed to make so many friends. Even when I was completely overwhelmed with stress, it was okay because I was in the good company of people who understood, and were in the same boat. Engineers play as hard as they work and you should remember that a straight-A report card is nice, but it’s also important to have some stories to tell.

Good Luck!!

Trian: Mech, Carbon Sequestration Industry, CAN

For me, I had decided on engineering quite early on. Maybe it started when I dismantled all my toys as a child to see how they worked. I had always liked the sciences and math, but also really enjoyed physical work, tinkering, and making things. In high school several people told me to look into engineering because I was good in school and good with tools. At the time I wanted to be a jet fighter pilot or astronaut and I knew several of them had engineering degrees so this also influenced me a bit. I wanted a way to create cool machines and devices and understand how everything worked at the same time. The combination of practical and theoretical knowledge as well as the ability to create is what drew me to engineering. I had also heard how the engineering program at the local university was very good and that the engineers were a really tight-knit group that did crazy stunts together so that social aspect sealed the deal.

If you decide on engineering, it will be a little tough. There is a lot of course work and they pile it on. Anybody thinking about engineering is usually sort of academically minded to begin with so it's all fun. Work hard, play hard. Focus, perseverance, initiative, and organizational skills are good qualities to have. I learned them along the way. Communication skills are also pretty important as presentations and reports will make up a decent portion of your work. If you can keep a cool head under pressure and still laugh even on the verge of failure, you'll do fine. Remember also that you will be surrounded by others going through the same thing as you and, as cheesy and it sounds, they will keep you going. Another thing to consider that I didn't find out until later is that you will probably make some lifelong friends and you'll share some awesome experiences. So yeah, it will be tough but it will be fun as well.


On a parting note, February 18th is Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day! I consider myself so lucky to have found engineering thanks to my family. A lot of my female friends had a harder time discovering the career. "Engineering was perfect for me... but no one ever took the time to explain to me what it was, so I never even knew it was an option!"

As Dr. AnneMarie Thomas wrote in this recent editorial for Make magazine...


Dr. Thomas, University of St. Thomas wrote:

If we can get to the point where all students, male or female, feel that engineering is an option for them, even if it's one they choose not to pursue, then we have succeeded.

GOT A QUESTION? Email it to me and include "Ask an Engineer" in the subject line!

WE'RE RECRUITING PANELISTS! Ideally I'd like to have a wide range of engineers for this panel, different disciplines (Elec/Mining/Comp Sci), different career levels (Senior, Mid-Level, Junior), and different regions (Europe, USA, Asia). If you're interested, or know someone who might be, email me!