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Advice for a mechanical engineer wanting to be an electrical engineer

  1. Sep 6, 2014 #1

    I'm a first year student going into mechanical engineering at the university of Waterloo in Canada. I initially chose this because I really wanted to work either with satellites or nuclear power plants and my teachers advised that a mechanical engineering degree would net me easy access to either of those two different fields. However, after a lot of decisions and experience I found that I liked circuitry and electrodynamics a lot more compared to mechanics and thermodynamics. More specifically I like electrical engineering compared to mechanical engineering now. However the university told me that, due to specialization off the bat, I won't be able to switch easily and will have to retake another year in the future if I want to switch but, due to financial problems, I cannot invest the extra money. So currently I'm in this spot where I just have to keep on going with my major. What can I do from this point onwards?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2014 #2
    Specialization off the bat seems a bit weird, because in most universities the first year for any engineering is pretty generic (in my school, the first semester starts with calc 1, chemistry for engineers, comp 101, a humanities elective, and an introductory engineering). I don't see how the first year curriculum can differ so much that you might have to take a whole extra year to switch to EE. What I would do is switch to EE next semester and take the missed EE courses in summer at Waterloo or at a local community college.

    As I finished writing, I just remembered that you are in Canada, not in the US. I am completely unknowledgeable about its system, so I wrote about as much as I can. I hope things work out for you.
  4. Sep 7, 2014 #3
    I agree with playoff, it sounds odd that you're already in the specifics of your ME specialization. I didn't take any engineering classes until my 2nd year.

    I would just take what the university says with a grain of salt. They might just be telling you what happens to the aggregate of students that go to the university, and they may just want you to stay an extra year to give them more money. Universities are expensive and they like when students pay up. It's also tough to say much without knowing your particular degree curriculum and your university's policies.

    If you do have to take extra classes as a result of your specialization, could you just increase your average course load per semester until graduation (or does that cost extra money?) ? If you can do that (something I did to fit in a math minor), then you can pack on on on-average easier classes for those semesters with a heavy course-load.

    Anyway, I do have regrets about my undergrad in certain ways because you have 4 years, 8 semesters, to deal with making sure you can graduate on time, etc. You can probably work as an intern at a company for a while if you really need to make ends meet.
  5. Sep 8, 2014 #4
    I've been getting a lot of mixed answers from both the undergraduate office and senior years where the latter says switches happen constantly and the former who won't comment on it as they can't recall. So you might be right there but unfortunately I don't really know who to ask for assistance.

    Just a general question to mechanical engineers but how do you cope with the increasing dependence on technology?
  6. Sep 8, 2014 #5
    at the school where I went, everything is you need to graduate is laid out for you in "recommended action plans" or some other lame name for degree requirements, in pdf's. they shows what courses you need for a specific degree offered by the school, course sequencing, which ones you can choose as electives etc. I would just start taking those courses.

    Since everything was online when I was in school, I had full control over my schedule and course selection. And I think at some point I either formally handed in a statement to my ugrad advisor that said I was going to switch from ME to EE, or I did it online (can't remember which) , but I just started taking courses I thought were interesting or required for the EE degree. I simply didn't need an advisor's help other than to make sure everything was in line for me to graduate on time (well, also for other kind of dumb administrivia stuff), which i was discussing my senior year.

    Make sure though you try to formally declare your switch soon though as you may get priority choice selection for those related courses in the EE department ( particularly the ones required for you to graduate ).
  7. Sep 9, 2014 #6
    Well, I still find that odd but I'll accept what they are telling you and just accept you've decided to take a year off.

    Given this, I'd work for a year and take it easy. Just chill out with friends honestly, maybe get a part time or full time job. I'd recommend one that isn't stressful (maybe 30 hours a week) but isn't something you'd want to do long term so you don't forget your main plan and priority is to do well in school a year from now, and of course the cash is nice. Either save it or spend it on things you need ( Hopefully your parents don't mind if you come back?). And just generally make the most of the time you have off. ( well rounded self-learning + job + relaxation)

    Also, and this might be just advice I wish i gave myself, but part of what keeps you interested in electronics is working on your own projects. If you're EE and you want a circuit design / electronics hardware job, I'd learn C/Arduino programming. Try to get some physical intuition for this stuff. Try building a jacob's ladder or a tesla coil and other stuff. This might incline you to want to get some serious electronic tools ( oscilloscope, various DMM's, etc. there's tons of stuff. Subscribe to Dave's EE Vlog on youtube for some project ideas and tips and tricks. etc ). But these cost $$$ and the earlier you get them, the earlier you can start learning and getting inuition about these things. You'll be ahead of the curve and be able to make working projects really early.
  8. Sep 12, 2014 #7
    Unfortunately yes my school won't allow me to switch due to the abundance of people so I can only hope for another person to drop out before I leave. I still haven't talked it over with my parents because I'm worried they won't understand my frustration. I have until the 26th to make my decision however.
    Are there any meaningful jobs that a person can take for just a year? I've already gone ahead and built a PC for hardware experience and I started learning some Java and Python to help me get started with programming so I believe I may have the intuition. A tesla coil sounds very interesting though. I'm more worried about the deterioration of my knowledge and the lack of people I'll know if I defer. I've finished my first week of university and I don't even know how to do the first four questions of math on my own.
  9. Sep 13, 2014 #8
    By learning programming and hobby / professional electronics (i.e., actually building electronics instead of studying the math behind them), you will be getting *AHEAD* of your classmates. I doubt too much knowledge will deteriorate given that you're only leaving high school, although you may be naturally worried about this but I don't think that much is crucial in high school for an engineering program.

    The only main skills that should noticeably deteriorate are some skills in calculus assuming you had that in high school, which i would hone the month ( say 20 hours / week for 3-4 weeks? ) before starting the next semester, but not much more should be required. If you're worried about writing skills, keep a journal for the next year. If you're worried about reading skills, read novels for the next year. But I see this is more of an opportunity to get ahead in some ways, because you can become very advanced in electronics just by getting interested in building them. This is EVEN MORE TRUE for programming. The java and python are perfect.

    The building a PC is great, but doesn't really have much to do with engineering unfortunately. Engineering is about the details, transistor by transistor.

    Lack of people you know if you defer? Can't really get that one. There will a new set of freshman when you return, yes?

    " I've finished my first week of university and I don't even know how to do the first four questions of math on my own." A lot of learning in college is self-taught outside of the classroom, and merely organizing friends to do homework together is exhausting and often less productive than just doing it on your own. This will be true regardless of if you wait a year or not, and I doubt you will notice a difference. It's a grind. I hope you find it interesting.

    Find a meaningful job? Good luck dude, but if you can't don't sweat it. A high school degree with a few weeks of college won't get you much. I knew someone that had done a real internship at J Craig Venture Institute between 11th and 12th grade, but he graduated from Cornell's engineering program in 3 years with research experience to boot. He had like 30-40 AP credits out of high school. 99% of students don't get jack with a high school degree, so don't worry about it. Your best option is to just get a dumb job you can tolerate for at least a year and teach yourself things.
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