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Can an Engineering graduate work in a field that they did not study?

  1. Mar 28, 2013 #1
    I’m a second year Electronic and Electrical Engineering student, just about to sit my first set of exams for this year.
    I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do after I graduate, and unfortunately I do not think I want to go into EE engineering. I do however definitely want to be an engineer, don’t get me wrong I love my course, I just think that I have chosen the wrong field of engineering.

    I chose EE Engineering because in the first year of unspecialised Engineering I found the digital electronics module fun and the strength and materials module pretty boring, that was enough reason for me to go down the electronics side. However now I’m thinking about careers and I would like a job that is meaningful to me, and I don’t think I can get that with EE Engineering. I would much prefer to go into the green energy business, researching and designing alternative sustainable energy sources, or working on nuclear fission or fusion reactors, the latter being the most tempting to me.

    The problem is that my university actually offers a nuclear engineering course, and a sustainable engineering course, so they obviously would have been better choices for me. However, the nuclear engineers course is not too different from mine. All Engineering students study; Engineering maths, Thermodynamics and heat transfer, Instrumentation and control, power and heat, and Engineering projects. The only difference between EE and nuclear is that they do 20 weeks of a module simply titled “Nuclear Engineering” where as we do the module “electrical circuits and power systems”. We also both study Electro-Magnetics and RF Engineering in the same lectures (This is my new favourite module). Next term they will be studying decommissioning and sustainability where as I will be studying digital electronics part two.

    After these sets of exams I am going to ask if I can study the nuclear module instead of the digital one, although I doubt they will let me as it will mean I do not have a complete degree in one field, I wont be a full EE Engineer or a full Nuclear Engineer.

    So I have two questions, firstly, if by some chance I can change schemes to nuclear do you think I should take this opportunity or do you think having an inconsistent mix of modules is a bad idea? And secondly if I carry on with my EE degree can I still get a job in the nuclear industry or the green energy industry?

    Thanks for reading.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2013 #2
    I've just realised this bit of the question is quite vague. What I meant was; do I have as much chance as those studying nuclear engineering to become successful in the nuclear industry, and do I have as much chance as those studying sustainable engineering to become successful in the energy industry.
  4. Mar 28, 2013 #3

    jim hardy

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    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Nuclear industry is a lot more than just reactor physics.

    I worked in a nuke plant. Now that's a lot less glamorous than research, but it was sure interesting because of the variety.
    A nuke plant is one reactor that works fine because it was designed by geniuses around 1950.
    It's surrounded by thousands of other machines to get the heat moved out to the grid as electricity. So it's a tinkerer's paradise.

    We had just a couple of nuclear engineers onsite but scores of mechanicals and electricals.
    To be a well rounded power plant guy one needs to be conversant in reactor physics, basics of mechanical engineering (strength of materials, pumps), thermo, analog electronics, computers and three phase power.

    So yes, there's plenty of room for semi-nukes in the nuclear industry..
    Don't overspecialize yet.
    Take all the machinery courses you can get plus automatic control theory.

    In these uncertain economic times there will always be work for people who know their way around machinery. Electric generation can't be sent offshore.

    good luck !
  5. Mar 28, 2013 #4
    I can't speak for Nuke E's but as a general rule...employers care about what your past work experiences are as much or more than what you studdied. We have programmers that were trained as Mech E's. Its possible. But it'll be harder to get your foot in the door.
  6. Apr 1, 2013 #5
    I second the comments above. I work in aerospace as a mechanical engineer. The only limitation is really the employer, or more specifically, the HR department of the company.

    Early on in your career, the type of degree means a lot because you don't have very much, if any, practical work experience. They can only judge what you know based on that. However, the more work experience you have, the better they can see what you know and where your strengths are. I would suggest getting an internship with a company that specializes in the type of engineering you want to do. You'd get a better idea on what you need specifically for that kind of job, and it'll also help you get practical experience.

    My personal opinion is that EEs are needed everywhere. I'd pursue it until you are forced to switch.
  7. Apr 1, 2013 #6
    Many Engineers do not work in the field they were not trained in.
    I know several EE's who do mostly computer programing.
    Some of what you are asking may be location dependent, In Texas
    they have something called a P.E. License (Professional Engineer).
    I am not a P.E. but understand a P.E. can sign off on almost any kind of
    engineering project. ( I suspect most P.E's being a conservative lot tend to stick
    to their own areas of expertise).
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