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Do engineers consistently change fields?

  1. Mar 15, 2014 #1


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    This is something that has bothered me alot since I tend to overanalyze and worry alot. In college, I studied physics and math, but decided that I wanted to get into engineering, so I applied and got a job at a defense contractor. However, I was terminated quickly because I was unable to get an interim clearance. I then enrolled in a Physics PhD program but am thinking about ending it early and getting the Masters (so I can maybe work as an EE or materials engineer using computations? I hate experiments)

    I have also worked for a year as a programmer because it was much easier for me to get interviews immediately for programmer jobs (at smaller companies) than other engineering positions. I don't mind programming, but I feel like I made a mistake and that I have a greater interest in physics and engineering since I'm not enthusiastic about learning new programming languages, don't want to spend a large chunk of my free time working on personal programming projects and reading up on the latest technologies.

    I could go back and get my MS in mechanical engineering, but I already feel old (approaching my late-20s) and have many gaps in my resume and have just a year of full-time work experience, so I feel like I better just take any job I can get. My peers from college are getting their PhDs or have built up plenty of work experience by now. I also don't have much interest in ME/AE that is non-defense related (such as manufacturing, cars, commerical airplanes, etc)

    Am I being stupid for keep changing my interests instead of just staying consistent with the same career path and interests? Or is it fairly normal for engineers to consistently change their interests and work in completely different fields? Should I just stick with programming as it offers a better career than EE, ME, or Mat Sci?

    If you guys suggest I get into engineering instead of programming, I can't even start an MS program until spring or fall 2015, so that'll leave me with nothing to do until then
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2014 #2


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    I'm finding it hard to put all that together and give any positive advice, but there are a couple of reality checks:

    1. There is probably nothing much that you can do personally, to influence whether you can get security clearance. If you failed to get it, thinking about a defence-industry-related career isn't realistic.

    2. What you do in your free time is fairly irrelevant, but if you are "not enthusiastic" about "learning new stuff and reading up on the latest technologies", in the long term your career won't go anywhere whatever option you choose.

    On a more positive note, late 20s isn't "old". Comparing yourself with people who have gone along a "straight-line" path in their education and career so far isn't helpful. The important thing is to figure out the positives about what you want to do with your own life, not the negatives.
  4. Mar 15, 2014 #3
    Nobody's career goes in a straight line. The other way to look at it is someone who is in a dead-end career. Very few like doing the same things year after year. There is nothing wrong with investigating other endeavors. Sometimes you do it more formally than others.

    Also, I'll second AlephZero's advice. Late 20s is not "old." You're only "old" when you stop learning. I'm over 50 years old and I'm still learning new things at every opportunity.

    One thing I can confirm is that the real developments in the non-academic world are usually the result of an intersection of two interests. So a change in direction is actually a good thing for most people.

    I can't tell you whether earning an MS in Engineering is the right move for you personally. That depends on what you feel is right for you. It also depends on whether you want to be an employee or whether you feel confident and well rounded enough to build a business of your own. From the sorts of questions you ask I get the impression that you may not be well suited for the latter.

    In any case, good luck!
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