1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Brainstorming Career Switch to Engineering

  1. May 2, 2015 #1
    I'm a non-science major who took a few math classes and has a lot of science AP credit. I was wondering what a career switch to engineering might involve (2nd bachelor's? master's?). What are some ways I could find out more about what it's like to work as an engineer (volunteering? where for example?). Lastly, I was curious about what career options exist for people who like working by themselves or as part of a team but remotely. Is there such a thing as "freelance engineer" working on various short-term projects, or what's building one's own engineering company like? I've googled all of that but I feel a little lost in the plethora of sometime contradictory results. Feel free to direct me towards books, articles, etc... that you've found authoritative. I'm especially interested in Electrical, as well as Chemical and Biochemical Engineering.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2015 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    It's not clear what your current academic status is. Are you a non-science major who is still in school? What is (or was) your non-science major?

    Most engineering intern positions go to engineering students. These positions can be part of a work-study program sponsored by their school or it can be a training/evaluation situation where an employer is looking to hire someone full-time once he completes his studies. The employer gets to see if the student/trainee would be a good fit for the organization without incurring the expense of making a full-time hire which later might not work out.

    If you want to start and build an engineering company, you'll need to get some kind of engineering degree from an accredited engineering program and then get a professional engineer's license. This will take a period of apprenticeship/training since the licensing test occurs in two phases: passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and then, after the requisite work experience (usually four years), passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam (PE). These exams are offered on a schedule determined by each (U.S.) state's licensing board.


    If you are not going to practice in the U.S., then you'll have to check with the engineering licensing organization in the country in which you wish to practice.

    As far as "freelance" or "volunteer" work on short-term projects, some companies will do this on a contract basis with individual engineers, but you generally have to know someone who can at least vouch for your qualifications or who is familiar with your work. Unless an organization is swamped with work, or unless you have some unusual experience and qualifications, most firms like to keep their in-house staff busy with work.
  4. May 3, 2015 #3
    Thank you for your reply. I can give you more background. My major was in fine arts. I graduated in 2014 and I'm now pursuing a graduate degree and working (part-time teaching and replacements during the year, full-time summer work) in fine arts, while applying for full-time jobs in that field, which I can reasonably expect to find by the time I finish my degree, based on my program's job placement rates. I feel hopeful about my current career prospects and thoroughly enjoy the work that I do now, though my industry does seriously lack in job advancement possibilities. My training also only qualifies me for a narrow range of marketable skills. My career threatens to be fairly monotonous unless I explore different, unconventional possibilities, which I've seen a number of professionals in my fields do, whether in business, journalism, software development, etc...

    Since I've enjoyed so much taking science classes and reading science and engineering books, and I'm brainstorming ideas about merging my interests, or even potentially switching careers entirely after a number of years. This is the first time I've thought about all of this, and I'm sure that some of the scenarios that currently exist in my hear are highly unlikely or impossible, which is why I'd like to read as much as possible about both life as an engineer and career switches to engineering. Thanks for the link.
  5. May 3, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Your career path is not unknown to me.

    When I went to college, there was an older student enrolled there who had gone all the way and gotten either a BFA or an MFA before he decided to study engineering. Our school was small and didn't work like a regular college; there was a fixed curriculum and the school didn't accept credit for courses taken at other schools, so everybody started as a freshman and went four years to get a degree. This older student applied for and was accepted into the school, and he was at least four years older than the other students in his class. Despite the disparity in age with the other members of his class, he managed to complete the course and go on to become a successful engineer in the field.

    You can make the jump from a liberal arts background to an engineering background, but it is a big jump, and there will be a lot of hard work involved.
  6. May 3, 2015 #5
    Anything is possible, it is just a matter of how much time and money you are willing to spend on it. Even with alot of AP science credit, I imagine there is very little overlap curriculum wise between a fine arts degree and an engineering degree. Engineering degrees also tend to be very vertically stacked, that is to say there are lists of prerequisites for every class. Even if you've already done all of your gen ed classes, it may take three or four years to get an engineering degree because of how vertically stacked the programs are.

    If you want to be an engineer, you will definitely need an engineering degree. Even people with physics degrees have a very hard time getting into engineering jobs, and that is a field that is closely related to engineering. Most companies will only hire people with engineering degrees to fill engineering roles. If they do hire somebody that doesn't have an engineering degree, odds are that person has another technical science degree and got some kind of engineering experience and had contacts to get them in somewhere.

    You can absolutely be an engineer, but you will need to get an engineering degree which will require a significant investment of your time and energy. Before you start investing that time and energy, you should ask yourself if this is just a "grass is greener" sort of situation. Not all engineering jobs are creative and interesting. There are plenty of monotonous engineering jobs where you are just a cubicle dweller staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day. It is a career like any other in that you may get a good job with a good company that you enjoy, or you may get a dull or extremely stressful job that you hate.
  7. May 5, 2015 #6
    Thanks for your replies. I don't necessarily think that the grass is greener. As I said, I'm happy with my current career choices, and given the opportunity would do everything again the same. I just really love science, reading about it, tutoring it, working through problem sets, etc... and would just as happily spend a few more years studying it, and actually I probably will since I don't foresee myself stopping registering for science classes while I'm in grad school for fine arts, and certainly will do my best to fit more into my professional schedule as well. If I wanted to make the switch in a few years, would you recommend that I apply to undergraduate programs as a transfer student, or to professional master's programs that may require me to take a few remedial courses? Would anybody be able to comment on what trying to get temporary contract/project work would be like please?
  8. May 5, 2015 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I would highly recommend getting into a professional master's program and taking remedial courses over applying to undergraduate. I say this because if you start a masters program they can guide you to what remedial courses you will need. There are two many possible undergraduate courses so no undergrad can take them all. I took two undergraduate engineering courses in my Ph.D. program and while I wouldn't call them "remedial" I wasn't able to fit them into my schedule as an undergrad.

    As for getting contract/project work that will be really, really hard without some job experience. The way to go is to get an internship (both part time during school if you can and FOR SURE over the summer). It is hard to overstate the value of a meaningful internship, especially for someone changing careers.

    Good luck!
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook