Sunday, December 28, 2008

Becoming an Engineer--Just the Facts

The first thing any young person should know about engineering is that it is an applied science. Scientists are in the business of finding laws of nature. Engineers are in the business of using those laws and making products.

There are a number of different engineering fields available. I became a mechanical engineer. With a mechanical engineering background I could choose to be a manufacturing engineer, an aerospace engineer, heating, ventilation and cooling, or a robotics engineer. Other types of engineering careers include chemical, biomedical, packaging, civil, computer, electrical, industrial, material, and nuclear.

Every engineer will learn a little bit about different sciences. As part of my mechanical engineering courses, I took two semesters of chemistry, four semesters of engineering physics, a materials science course, and an Electrical engineering including some digital signal processing. There is a lot of math involved in engineering. I took five semesters of math--integral calculus, differential calculus, multivariable calculus, partial differential equations with linear algebra, and advanced calculus. Because engineering is involved with production, we also needed a semester Of engineering economics.

My school, which I believe is typical of many engineering schools that offer a broad range of majors, did not expect a matriculation into a specific field of engineering until the second year of school. One of our required courses was an engineering overview where we heard from seniors or grad students in each specialty. Engineering is a tough course of study in four years. A full time college student needs to take 4 classes per semester. Schools limit the class load to 6. Engineering students have to take at least 5 classes a semester and half the time they need to take 6. And these 6 classes are intense with homework, projects, papers, and labs. I took an additional semester to finish up my degree.

Kids need to be prepared for college level math and science classes. That means high school must include algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and precalculus. If you get through calculus in senior year, even better. The science classes must include biology, physics, and chemistry. A good SAT score is important. Even better is a desire to solve problems.

The bureau of labor statistics at the U.S. Dept of labor has a great summary of engineering types available and also job outlooks and projections as well as earnings information.


christinemm said...


Thank you!

Kim said...

I think your original hope was to see some additional information about things to do to encourage engineering thinking and interests. And also to get some ideas for exploring engineering to see if it is a field to consider for a career. I plan on one other post which might summarize some of the things I enjoyed that helped me to be a good engineer and what my personal areas of ill-preparedness were. I also think that there are some peripheral skills that help with an engineering career.

I hope you found it interesting to know which areas to concentrate on for future school work.

It was my decision to become an engineer that makes me so angry about how math is taught in our public schools and some of the education professional's attitudes toward math.