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Engineering Civil or Mechanical Engineering

  1. May 3, 2012 #1
    I just finished my freshman year in civil and I have an internship at a civil and land surveying firm lined up for the summer, but I’m thinking about switching to mech next year and want some advice. Either way, as far as the summer job goes, I’m sure experience in an engineering firm would be useful regardless of if I choose to be in mechanical when I go back to school because I could use the experience regardless.

    Civil (structural):
    -Closer to architecture (what I originally was going to major in)
    -Diverse enough that if I get sick of structural or find it boring, I can switch to water or highway engineering (even though I don’t know how much I’d like other alternatives)
    -You can work abroad in upcoming countries like Brazil or South Africa developing infrastructure
    -I don’t like how it leads to construction supervising – I’m not big on going into management at the moment (but that’s not to say I wouldn’t when I need money to support family in the future)
    -You don’t get to do innovative design/come up with anything new worth talking about; structural and road design at least are basically rehashing the same workable designs into different scenarios.
    -You don’t get recognition/pride/ownership of your work. Like if all goes well, then the architect did a great job. If it fails, the engineer is to blame.

    -Seems like true engineering compared to civil. Theres constant innovating and designing (call it the wannabe architect side of me, but I like the idea of designing something, following it through, taking pride in the finish product)
    -I’m realizing that I find drawing detention basins and wall sections in AutoCAD really dull. I liked part drawings and object views in my drafting class in high school which seem more mechanical.
    -Potentially work at big companies like Porsche or Boeing and work on some really cool projects that you can take credit for working on.
    -I’ve never planned on being a mechanical engineer and I don’t know how well I’d do, I just like the idea of it. From what I see with my friends in mech do, I feel like I’m able to do what they do with Solidworks
    -Less opportunity to travel?

    Alright, so it probably seems like I’m deadest on hating civil and wanting to go to mech, but understand that even I know that I’m looking at it from the point of wanting to switch so I’m really thinking of the negatives of civil and the positives of mech so I may be getting a jaded picture. If you guys could give me some advice based on your experiences in civil or mechanical engineering and what you’ve done in either (working or in school and how you made your decision to follow on), that would help me get a clearer idea.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 3, 2012 #2
    You've barely begun your engineering degree and I think that your views on what a structural and mechanical engineer do is pretty far off base.

    Please don't take offense as I break down some of your points.

    I don't think that this is realistic. Your degree will be focused on either structural or transportation or construction or water resources, etc. Your choice. You will not be able to simply switch from one to the next later on in life, as you will lack the prerequisite knowledge to do so.

    You will only do construction supervising if you complete your degree along a 'construction' track.

    What leads you to believe that there's more innovation in car and aircraft design than building design?

    Building structures can have walls, braces, or frames. Car structures can be body-on-frame, or unibody. Maybe you can someday come up with some never-before-seen alternative. However, at a minimum, you must understand that all designs have certain advantages. Understanding what these advantages are is an important step in being a competent and imaginative engineer. You do not see it, but innovations are constantly being made by structural and mechanical engineers who work on buildings, vehicles, and aircraft.

    Perhaps a key point that you may not know yet: The structural skeleton is hidden behind the exterior sheathing of a completed building or the exterior sheet metal of a completed vehicle. The new Dreamliner jet is carbon fiber "composite" - you can bet that structural engineers as well as aerospace engineers played a very important role in its design. Still, it is coated and you can't really "see" the carbon fiber, can you?

    Is there another aspect of mechanical/aerospace design that are you thinking about?
    Combustion? Controls?

    Similar ideas apply to these disciplines.

    If you want your innovations to be more obvious to your customers, then perhaps you should consider architecture, as you suggested in your very first bullet in your post.

    I understand that you are just beginning your degree and haven't been exposed to a single engineering class yet, but you should consider that engineering imagination is grounded in principles of physics. The ability to use a particular software is fairly insignificant.

    In other words, the ability to draw in AutoCAD and Solidworks may or may not be a necessary skill, depending on what you want to do, but there are much more important aspects to engineering than this. If you want to be able to draw cool-looking things, then the aforementioned software are inefficient for this purpose, and, again, architecture might be a more appropriate path for you. Architects are experts in artistic creativity, and have more appropriate software that aid them in this process.
  4. May 3, 2012 #3
    Well, I know I've just started and I haven't taken specific engineering courses yet, but I do still have some idea.

    My bachelors will not be focused on any sub-category of civil engineering. I take classes from every sub-discipline and the one I am able to choose from is in my senior year, Geology or City Planning. Call it what you want, but that's how it is for it.

    I understand that construction supervising is more geared towards construction management, but the civil engineers that I have talked to that have said they were making over $100k and working upwards of 70-80 hours a week said they did so in the superintendent/project manager field although they came from civil like many of their friends also did.

    I'm also not considering Architecture anymore, not even just because the job market went to ****. I'm generalizing A LOT in my bullet points to get my point across and what comes to mind when I think of each major, but what I mean is that wherever you go in structural, you essentially deal with beams, girders, frames, concrete, etc. with the common goal of supporting a structure. In mechanical, you can fine tune the design of a car a number of ways to achieve high-torque, horsepower, aerodynamics through body, etc. I understand that civil does this, but I mean there's not much to design on a retention basin other than lack of ground. It's more of a construction, earth-moving, same-goal job, and I'd rather be innovating and coming up with new designs which I don't feel civil does in the same way.

    No, I obviously get that Physics is the big thing here, but I'm saying that I find developing plans to be dull and would rather be doing isometric view of parts for machines which I can actually see get milled and assembled into something cool and modern rather than dull lines and draft work. I'm able to do physics, that's not an issue, or even related.

    Also, this helped me voice a few more things without me actually thinking about them so actually thanks, really nice reply haha.
    Last edited: May 3, 2012
  5. May 3, 2012 #4
    Sounds like you have your mind made up.

    The salary figure you mention is a bit misleading though. I think that most engineers that are paid hourly would make 100k if they work 80 hours a week.
  6. May 4, 2012 #5
    One more thing I've just learned that I may need to consider since I want to do structural engineering. In my school's mech program, I take...

    -Engineering Statics
    -Mechanics of Materials

    In the civil program, I take...

    -Statics and Mechanics I
    -Statics and Mechanics II
    -Structural Analysis

    It doesn't seem like civil would provide any stronger of a background structures-wise that mechanical would and I would have to get a masters in structures if I did want to pursue it. Here's the curriculum by the way...

    http://www.wit.edu/civil-engineering/programs/civil-engineering.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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