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Do all engineers have to do hands-on work except PhDs?

  1. Mar 17, 2014 #1

    e15

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    I like using computations/modeling/simulation for many kinds of physical problems, whether it be for molecular dynamics simulations, CFD, DFT, thermal analysis, etc. However, I always did poorly in school with the experiments in labs and hands-on work. For example, I hated putting together circuits. However, I want to work in industry not academia, so engineering sounds appealing to me.

    However, some people have told me all engineers, even if they have Master's, have to do at least some hands-on work in their jobs, unless they have PhDs. Is that true? Or is it different for certain fields, like maybe CFD and thermal analysis, where BS and/or MS degree holders can avoid doing hands-on work?

    If all engineers have to do hands-on work except phDs, then maybe I'm better off working as a programmer/software engineer..
     
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  3. Mar 17, 2014 #2

    SteamKing

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    It depends on what you mean by 'doing hands-on work'. Certainly, familiarity with the things you would be engineering is a big advantage in understanding what it is you are doing. Obviously, some types of engineering involve much more than just the design work. However, aeronautical engineers generally do not build an aircraft by themselves, just like rocket scientists do not build rockets. It takes the work of many different skilled people to construct most things.

    One example which has been used to illustrate this point is to consider what it takes to make even simple ordinary objects, like a wooden pencil for instance. A pencil is a piece of wood which holds a bit of graphite, it might be painted on the outside and it might have an erase attached at one end. Pencils are manufactured in bulk lots, with the various components coming together at the pencil factory to make the finished product. No single person sits down to hand craft individual pencils, but a lot of people with very different skills mine the graphite, make it into a cylinder, cut and prepare the wood which surrounds the graphite, harvest the rubber for the eraser, stamp the little metal thingy which holds the eraser, and so on.
     
  4. Mar 17, 2014 #3

    psparky

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    From my experience in the power factory industry, we do ZERO hands on work as an engineer. Whether you are a non engineer, engineer, PE, Masters or PHD, there is still ZERO hands on work. We design electric drawings that go to electrical contractors. The electrical contractors do all the installing.

    However, you will need to do some light labs in school. I'm guessing you don't like wiring circuits, you simply didn't understand what you were doing. Labs in general are tough when you don't know what you are doing. However, when you do understand the big picture, they are typically on the fun side.

    Nothing worse in my opinion than an engineer that doesn't have real world hands on experience.
    They can do some design, but are handcuffed in my opinion. Tough to get respect as a paper pusher as well. A guy who has worked in the field tends to get more respect.

    You may get sent to the factories from time to time, but even then you are just documenting. That last engineer I know who tried to help out a contractor in the field, got 2,400 volts up his arm. Year off work....multiple painful skin graphs....etc.

    I reccomend you get your hands dirty. Being an apprentice at "house wiring" is a great start. (low voltage sidework). In other words, get your hands on experience before graduating college....or even doing sidework after is fine.

    Assuming you are talking about electrical. Big demand for electrical....almost everything we use is electrical!

    Just one man's opinion.
     
  5. Mar 17, 2014 #4

    e15

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    I already graduated college. I heard that pretty much all EEs do at least some hands-on work, so thats why I want to know if MechE's or materials engineers don't all have to do hands-on work
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2014
  6. Mar 17, 2014 #5

    psparky

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    From my experience, engineers do design work on paper, then licensed union contractors install the work. I suppose it would vary from company to company....but what I'm talking about is from my own personal experience.
     
  7. Mar 17, 2014 #6

    psparky

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    I suppose if you are talking electronics, there would be hands on wiring.

    You don't like wiring circuits as an EE? Wow......never heard that one before.
     
  8. Mar 17, 2014 #7

    analogdesign

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    I have a Ph.D. in electronic circuits and I don't like wiring. In fact, I try to spend as little time in the lab as possible and only then to debug circuits. As for wiring itself, we have technicians for that whodo far better work than I could. The only wiring I'll do is soldering in a different cap or something if I'm in debug mode.

    In my experience the majority of circuit design engineers rarely if ever go into a lab. I work in a small organization so we aren't as specialized but when I was working in a big company only the applications, test, and product engineers would typically do hands-on work. The design, layout, and verification engineers did the vast majority of their work on the computer. The design engineers would go into the lab when the product or test engineers couldn't make something work but it wasn't that often. Design engineers are too expensive to let them spend their days playing around with wiring. Do you know any architects who frame up buildings?
     
  9. Mar 17, 2014 #8

    AlephZero

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    I think the important thing is why you didn't like labs.

    If the problem was just that you seemed to have more thumbs than fingers, as others have said that is no big deal. There are plenty of engineering jobs at all levels where you don't have to do any hands-on work.

    On the other hand if the problem was that you found "the real world" too messy and confusing compared with the theory, that's a big no-no for an engineering career. Engineering is 100% about dealing with the real world, not nice tidy theoretical models of it. Of course many engineers spend most of their time using theoretical models, but that's just a tool, not an end in itself.
     
  10. Mar 17, 2014 #9

    D H

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    On the flip side, experimentalists and field scientists tend to love getting their hands dirty. A PhD experimental physicist who requisitions some brand new toy but then doesn't play with it isn't much of an experimental physicist.

    Just because you have a PhD doesn't mean you don't get your hands dirty, and just because you don't have a PhD doesn't mean that you do have to get your hands dirty.
     
  11. Mar 17, 2014 #10

    e15

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    I don't mind working on real world problems.

    In materials engineering as well? Yes, I heard CFD analysts don't have to hands-on work. But I was informed that materials/solid-state engineers need to have PhDs to do solely modeling/simulation work
     
  12. Mar 17, 2014 #11
    5 practicing engineers that work in telecom I know haven't touched a breadboard or soldered a connection at their jobs for the past decade, they're not phd's but one does have a mba. I think if you want to move away from hands-on work you'll definitely be able to without much resistance.

    But you're not getting away from it at the undergrad or grad level. If even I can't get away from building circuits in physics, there's no way you're getting through engineering without doing it extensively. Doing it sucks if you have poor fine motor skills like me, but it's a good skill to have. Take it as a personal challenge.
     
  13. Mar 17, 2014 #12
    Howard Roark. Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.
     
  14. Mar 17, 2014 #13
    A prudent answer to your question might be, it depends. I'm going to assume your informant was engaging in hyperbole, because all is a very strong word. What is more useful to know is how often and to what degree various positions in various places require hands-on work of engineers. There have been a number of reasonable points of view, and I'm just here to give you the flavor of my experience.

    By way of introduction, I work as a process engineer in the medical device field. I entered this field with a B.S. in Physics. In my role, I do hands-on work on a daily basis. IMO the specialty of process engineering requires hands-on work to validate assumptions and test new ideas, and my company encourages this behavior.

    However, that doesn't answer your questions, which were:
    1. However, some people have told me all engineers, even if they have Master's, have to do at least some hands-on work in their jobs, unless they have PhDs. Is that true?
    2. Or is it different for certain fields, like maybe CFD and thermal analysis, where BS and/or MS degree holders can avoid doing hands-on work?

    It is likely that many engineers are expected to do some amount of hands-on work. This varies by both specialty and company. I think it is reasonable to suspect that the amount decreases with both education and experience. Exceptions of course exist, but I think the trend is there.

    Another element to this is contained in your second question. Engineers who work in analysis and simulation roles may never lay hands on a physical object of any sort. In my experience, this is a relatively rare role. One may specialize in CFD or other numerical techniques, but oftentimes this sort of thing is concentrated within a small group of specialists in an organization, and also at the same time a technique that is used by many non-specialists with varying degrees of sophistication. This means the analyst role is harder to get because of numbers.
     
  15. Mar 18, 2014 #14

    AlephZero

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    Maybe I'm reading too much into this (and/or I've spent too long trying to read people's minds when interviewing them for jobs), but that doesn't sound a very positive reason to spend the rest of your working life doing something.

    But to repeat what others have said, there is no correlation between degree-level and amount of hands-on activity in the (mechanical) engineering company I work for. Some jobs like product testing are by definition almost 100% hands-on, but most of the engineers never get to play with the hardware "hands on" themselves, because it is way too expensive, and too unforgiving of mistakes building and operating it, to let a bunch of graduates with minimal workshop training mess about with it. Most of the people who do the hands-on work have done craft apprenticeships, which means they spent as many years doing practical training as the engineers spent getting their BS degrees.
     
  16. Mar 18, 2014 #15

    jbunniii

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    What do you mean by "hands on"? I work as a software engineer, and aside from typing on a keyboard and walking to the coffee station, the extent of my physical labor consists of occasionally connecting or disconnecting a USB or antenna cable.

    I have a few co-workers for whom "hands on" would mean having to program in a real programming language instead of Matlab, but I'm not quite that ivory-tower.
     
  17. Mar 18, 2014 #16

    ChristinaJ

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    Not being a phd engineer I may be wrong, but won't you have to do lots of hands on work to get the PhD in the first place?
     
  18. Mar 18, 2014 #17
    Your skills at construction are not the issue. Some people are good at working with their hands, and some aren't. Nevertheless, you MUST know every detail of how they do their work. I'm not a skilled welder; but I do know some basics about the various techniques to weld metals together.

    That said: I think that those who call themselves Engineers, but pride themselves at never leaving an office are a disgrace to the profession. IF YOU DON'T KNOW EVERY LAST DETAIL OF HOW THE JOB WILL DONE YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS TELLING SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT!

    Sorry, that pushed a rant button for me. I have spent too much of my career cleaning up the messes made by engineers who thought they knew more than they did. Models are great, until they fall apart --and believe me, they all have limits. Sitting around modeling the world from your desk is no way to become a good engineer. If you really love desk work that much, find another field of employment.
     
  19. Mar 21, 2014 #18
    I'm a little confused as to your major. Are you EE or MechE?

    I have my Bachelor's in MechE, and have worked for my current employer for almost 4.5 years now. My first 3 I spent in a repair facility as a shop engineer, which was a fancy term for 'walking Swiss Army knife', but I spent many hours getting my hands covered in oil, grease, and God only knows what else that came out of some of those refineries/chem plants. Then I transferred to one of our design centers. I now sit at a desk and design, run rotordynamic analyses, FEAs, CFDs, some thermal analysis (not much), and structural analyses. Which is what I wanted to do in the first place.

    That being said, I wouldn't trade my 3 years in that shop for the world. Without a doubt, it has made me a MUCH better engineer. I'm surrounded by guys who have master's degrees, maybe a few more years experience than me, and they are CONSTANTLY asking me how something fits together, or if something would actually work in real life. The knowledge I gained from the mechanics, machinists, and welders in that shop, plus seeing what it looks like when something actually breaks from real usage, is invaluable.

    So yeah, sometimes hands-on can suck, but don't sell it short. It can (and probably will) make you a better engineer.
     
  20. Mar 26, 2014 #19
    I think from a Product Engineer perspective EEs should know their way around a Lab. Say for instance you have pressure gauges by company X and you work for company Y and the contractor works at company Z. The contractor is not going to figure out company X's configuration. Heck i spent the better part of thirty minutes trying to explain the difference between RS485 2 wire vs 4 wire to a services contractor. If you are selling electronic components to utilities you should at least have a lab with those components wired. Its just good business. It will save you a lot of time especially if the problem is not a matter of your product but faulty wiring on the contractors side. Medium voltage labs and up may require a bit more logistics and not having one is understandable.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014
  21. Mar 26, 2014 #20
    I'm an EE major and have an internship at a pretty big electrical company. The engineers just check to make sure circuits are stable, but sometimes they do go out and check if the equipment (fuses, reclosers, etc.) are the correctly displayed on our maps. But even this is like 5% of the work they do (if that) and most of the time they'll get an intern to do it for them. So in my experience, they don't really have to do hands on work.
     
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