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Engineering Careers That Will Use the Classes I take

  1. May 18, 2014 #1
    I'm aware that a lot of careers may only use one or two upper-level subjects that I study in an Engineering program, which is what I'm essentially in (Applied Physics Bachelor's with a co-terminal Master's in Mechanical Engineering). I doubt that there are any jobs out there that will use a majority of the specific skills I learn in classes, but I was wondering:

    Are there jobs that use a lot of the higher-level math and engineering principles on an often basis? For example, Numerical Linear Algebra, which I'm considering taking as part of a potential Applied Mathematics minor, or a class called "Statistical Tools for Engineers", etc.

    To be honest, it's not really about the classes. It's about having a job where I'll be challenged to use what I know to solve problems. Preferably with a team, preferably something that only someone with my chosen path of education can solve. I don't want to just be a guy who's essentially designing on Solidworks screw bits that other Engineers have already made and just want me to document, nor other things that people with degrees in Design and Drafting could do.

    Stuff like finding out what the best shape for something is (like an airplane wing considering the rest of the plane) may be fine; jobs that I think might fit the bill for 'exciting, challenging, uses some of the higher level education I've gained, work with teams' might be figuring out what a spacecraft will have to endure on a journey somewhere, and preparing for that - or maybe helping with creating new electric cars? - or maybe designing new prosthetics, or new medical devices? .. I'm not really sure, to be honest.

    If I sound unsure, it's because I haven't had a chance to do undergrad research yet and have only been going to college for a year. Should I go to job fairs my college offers and talk to those people about what their engineers mainly do?

    Another couple things: I'm interested in 3d modeling and animation, programming, designing video games, physics, psychology, and improvisation (that last one might not be much use; I mean it in the acting sort of way). Are there jobs out there that involve a majority of those? Perhaps I could work for a video game company, program and check stuff to make sure the in-game physics is right? I would think re-creating a world might involve some physics and engineering knowledge :)

    If I were to change majors, it would probably be to Computer Science or Software engineering or something like that. If I were to stay on the same track, I could get EITHER a triple minor in Applied Math, Artificial Intelligence, and Computational Structures (will only take 8 classes total for those minors, since classes overlap), or a double minor in Human Resources and Psychology.

    What do you guys think of my options? If I were to stay on this major, would I be better off taking the classes that I feel would make me be a better engineer in general, (the triple minor), or take the classes which may make me better suited for managing engineers and potentially get promoted quicker (the psych and human resources minors)?

    And do you think I should change my major? Are there jobs out there that will use and challenge plenty of the skills I have and am going to have? Or if I keep on with Mechanical Engineering, what sorts of jobs will not involve much of the sort of work a Drafting and Design degree-holder could do?

    Thanks so much,

    PS: I tried searching for threads like this, didn't see any - but if you guys know of them, feel free to link!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2014 #2

    I know a good bit of engineers in industry and I hate to break it to you but you won't be sitting there fiddling with higher level math all day. You have two parameters to work with which is time and money. You start using too much of either and you'll likely
  4. May 18, 2014 #3
    Thanks for the reply, caldweab. I think your reply got cut off. Anyways, my thing is, these topics were developed for a reason. For example, apparently quantum computing uses plenty of linear algebra. Would you advise me switching majors then? Would computer science or programming or video game careers use more of what I learn?

    I just don't want to feel like I could've used one year or two less of education to do the same job.
  5. May 18, 2014 #4


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    When you get your first engineering job, it is highly unlikely that they will entrust you with a "mission-critical" task like designing an airplane wing or a next generation electric car. They have no idea what your capabilities are. If you were running your own company and spending your own money, would you give the most important job to the untested kid you just hired from school with no experience, or to the trained engineer with 20 years of experience that you have worked with for years and who has achieved many successful designs? So they will give you an important but mundane task that won't sink the company if you screw it up, and see how you do. If you do it well, over time, they will give you more important tasks, and after many years if you continue to succeed then you will be able to do the really exciting design tasks that you aspire to. Don't expect your first few years to be much more than "learning the ropes". Probably, by the time you get to these more challenging tasks, at least some of what you learned in school will have become obsolete, and you will be using what you have learned on the job rather than what you learned in school. Of course, the basics that you learn in school will continue to apply, but many of the specifics will have changed.

    Sorry, but that is the way the world works.
  6. May 18, 2014 #5
    Hi phyzguy,

    Thanks for the reply! You're definitely right on the mark, I agree; I wouldn't trust the new kid as much either. So I'm not speaking of entry-level jobs. My Linear Algebra professor constantly stresses that all of what we're learning has been created for specific programs; for example, a lot of it is used in computer graphics systems.

    I guess you're right in another way, too. The exciting stuff is for the people they trust most, they've been there longer and/or done better.

    You sound rather pessimistic when you say "Sorry, but that is the way the world works." I mean, no "good luck" either? Thanks, though.

    I think I know what I'll be doing, then. I'll take the CS classes, keep my options open, and smile through the bad parts. Thanks, PF!
  7. May 21, 2014 #6
    Update: I'm considering careers in Computational Physics/Engineering/Biology, because they seem like they'll use a lot of those skills. Any advice or thoughts?
  8. May 21, 2014 #7
    You're thinking awfully abstractly. Look at the job market today. Find a company doing interesting work. Study what makes them tick. Watch their career opportunities and find out what projects they have going. Consider whether you'd like to be a part of that. And then, pursue it.

    But think of real positions. Don't think abstractly in the manner of Gee, I'd like to be a Computational Physicist. Uh, fine. Where do you envision finding the work?
  9. May 21, 2014 #8
    Hi there Jake,
    Thanks for the response. I wasn't saying it willy nilly - I looked into specific jobs, and they looked more interesting to me. :) For example,
    http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/13801096?trk=jobs_search_public_seo_page [Broken]
    http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/9314379?trk=jobs_search_public_seo_page [Broken]
    http://www.linkedin.com/jobs2/view/10878175?trk=jobs_search_public_seo_page [Broken]
    But working for developing the Oculus Rift (and new technologies like it) doesn't seem too bad, to be honest: http://www.oculusvr.com/company/careers/mechanical-engineer-7959/
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. May 22, 2014 #9
    The positions you cited are long term goals. But you need to look for entry level jobs that will get you there. Every one of those positions requires experience. You need to consider where you're going to get that experience. Internships and entry level positions are a good start. Choose a company that might offer the experience you seek. Also note that some of these jobs require a very stiff security clearance.

    These jobs may not be what you think they are. I know I had misconceptions of what regular employment would be like when I got out of school. I expect you'll have at least as many such discoveries about professional life.

    The bottom line: You're aiming high. You have good ideas, but you need to think a bit more pragmatically about how you're going to get there.
  11. May 22, 2014 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    I agree 100% with what Jake said. I clicked on the 1st link, and I can tell you that the person who will get this job will have a PhD in one of the listed domain science fields, and at least one postdoc, most likely doing computational science. The minimum qualification is truly a minimum: an offer simply cannot be generated to a candidate who does not meet the minimum. It doesn't mean you are competitive.
  12. May 22, 2014 #11
    Hi there Jake and Vanadium,

    Thanks for the input. I'm aware they are long-term goals - I'd be much happier in an entry-level position that I am fine with/bored with if I know it's leading somewhere interesting, is all. :) So you would say that should I wish to go into computational science/scientific programming, a Ph.D in it is a necessary route? I'm fine with that, but some of the jobs I've seen list an M.S. minimum, Ph. D preferred.

    I sure will have misconceptions, won't I? I hope to talk to people employed in the fields I'm interested in sometime, to get a clearer idea of what they do. I've talked to Engineers in Boeing, and one spends much more time than expected just answering emails from his team/coworkers, from what I heard.

    I agree with the whole finding internships thing; entry level employment may come from the same place I do internships at, right? If I do well?

    Since you both probably know more about this than me, do you know if internships like these

    (http://www.internmatch.com/internships/sunpower-corporation--2/intern-module-products?i=8&location=166809&s=0.19468558 [Broken]

    http://www.internmatch.com/internships/office-of-naval-research--6/don-pathways-summer-internship-program-physical-sc?i=2&location=182738&s=1.0624644 [Broken]
    http://www.internmatch.com/internships/riverside-research--14/scientific-programmer-intern?i=0&location=172747&s=2.315315 [Broken]

    could/would be good places to gain experience in this field?

    For example, I would be interested in the long term, doing one of the jobs listed in the links above, or maybe something like this, working for Argonne: http://careers.peopleclick.com/careerscp/client_argonnelab/external/jobDetails.do?functionName=getJobDetail&jobPostId=1479&localeCode=en-us [Broken]

    That's one of the positions where it has even Bachelor's degrees listed as eligible, so long as they have the work experience.

    Since it seemed interesting and also potentially entry-level, this also seems like something I'd like doing: https://careers-metsci.icims.com/jobs/1209/computational--analyst---s&a/job

    Above was also me thinking to myself a bit. Do you guys have any advice on education, internships, entry-level positions that would lead to careers in simulating physical environments/expected outcomes of experiments/inventions? That may be a bit generic, but feel free to suggest things specific to what interests you.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. May 22, 2014 #12


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    I want to point out that companies such as ratheon, BAE system, UTC, GE, and lockhead martin all have rotational programs. These programs allow you to rotate either at one plant or multiple locations through different job opportunities. They are typically a good deal of work compared to typical entry level jobs.

    I am in a rotational program now. I have taken a firmware/fpga rotation. I will be moving onto a physics/control systems rotation shortly.

    Some of the rotational programs are slightly more industry/production based where some require a masters degree to enter the program and are all high level theoretical rotations.
  14. May 22, 2014 #13


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    Think of an internship as an extended two-way job interview based on continuous assessment.

    The company gets a few weeks or months to decide if it wants to employ you (not necessarily for the same work as you are doing as an intern). And you get a few weeks or months to decide if you want to work for them, which is just as important.

    I wouldn't worry too much about the specifics listed for an internment position. Find out about the company as a whole, from its company web site or other sources - e.g. have its employees published papers / attended conferences / been awarded patents, etc.
  15. May 22, 2014 #14
    To donpacino,

    I didn't think of that, only hearing about rotational programs once or twice before. Being able to rotate and find what I'm most interested in and/or developing different skills sounds very appealing.
    Also, I looked at the companies you listed. Their rotational programs seem very cool, for the most part; thanks so much!


    I see a lot of companies like to see an applicant have previous internship experience, not necessarily from their own company. So that, to me, makes me think that internships serve something other than letting the internship employer decide if he/she wants to hire you; even if it's just learning how a business works, I figure an internship teaches something worthwhile other than being an extended interview.

    But that's just me. I also think you're right, internships serve that purpose too :) But why find out about the company as a whole? To make sure I want to work for it, see if it's heading places I'm interested in being?
  16. May 22, 2014 #15
    Even our water and sewer utility has had a rotational program for interns.

    We do this because schools can not. We do it because these days it is very hard for students to get the full flavor of what the workplace is like.

    You are focused on the theory and the how-to of a field. But there is much more to the work place than that. There are budgets, bookkeeping, accounting, inventory, procurement, IT, Customers, Schedules, Tests, Deliverables, Training, Documentation, field work, Publications, and publicity. This is what people around you do to make it possible for you to build stuff.

    The other side of this is that if left to your own devices, you'd probably never stop building something. There is an old saying: to get the project out the door, you first have to shoot the engineer. As an engineer, I can not stop tinkering with a project. But at some point I have to freeze it and push it out the door, flaws and all.

    This is why we bring interns in to the company. There is no way a school can simulate the full flavor of the workplace. It is amazing how many people it takes to support what we engineers produce. And in the case of scientists, it's even worse.

    I want you to realize that this is why we talked about internships and understanding what the company does. It takes a lot to keep people like you gainfully employed. You need to understand what it takes and where the money goes to keep a sense of perspective on what the deliverable really is and why it matters. This is why companies look for experience and internships.

    This is why I pointed out that you need to set your sights a bit lower initially. Even once you graduate, you ain't seen nuthin' yet.
  17. May 22, 2014 #16
    Hi Jake,
    That was an informative, enlightening reply. I thank you for the time you took to pull that together.

    I can see myself not wanting to stop building something, you're right. So what your main point is that initial work, both in internships and entry-level work, are more to give the employee perspective on the company and its objectives and survivability and profits and all that. So you're not building things that are plainly impractical for the company to produce as a product, so you can understand your fellow employees better and work better and more seamlessly in the company. Am I on the right track?

    I do have a question, then. If companies initially have employees work for two, three years in less essential tasks that also give them bigger perspective on the business and how to best fit in it, how do companies account for the skills the employee may have lost during this period from his/her schooling that may pertain to the position he/she wants to go into? Is it expected that the employee just maintains these skills?

    Thank you for your time so far, everyone. I hope this thread may help others too, since I've been getting wonderful responses.
  18. May 22, 2014 #17
    Yes. It is easy to lose perspective when you're designing something. The point of the internships and the training is to remind you where the money is.

    Sort of. Yes, certain skills will fade when you leave school. But in return, you gain perspective on how they're applied. For many years after I left school certain subjects that didn't make a lot of sense to me when I first learned them would suddenly click in to place with an Aha! moment. I still get them every now and then.

    That said, it is indeed unlikely that you'll ever directly use most of the things you learn in school. The rule of thumb I use is that you use 90% of what you learned in elementary school. When you get to high school you use maybe 50% of what you learned. By the time you do your undergraduate degree, you're fortunate if you actually use 10% of what you learned in class. Higher level degrees are in the single digits.

    So why do we send people to schools? For the foundation, training, and formal theory. It is so that you know where those shortcuts came from and what their limitations are. We do it so that you have foundation to learn about new things on the job. If you think for one minute that there are no opportunities to learn new things at work, you are gravely mistaken. Even before I was out of school I learned about filter group delay characteristics, the practical significance of antenna voltage and current nodes, stability of systems near poles and zeros of a Laplace transform, and so many more things in math, physics, and chemistry.

    However, we do not derive many equations once we leave school. I think I actually did it just once in a professional capacity to figure out a volumetric flow equation for water filling a large pipe. I ended up using it for a situation where I had level information, but the flow meters were improperly installed and were unable to yield accurate results.

    As I get older, I discover that many things that I thought I had forgotten are still there. My kids are asking me questions from their high school math and I find that the answers actually flow quite easily despite having not used this stuff for decades. The foundations of the theory you learned never goes away. However, unless you study new things all the time, it will dull. I can't remember much about the Schrodinger wave equations solutions because frankly, I don't work on semiconductors enough to ever use it. But I know a lot more practical chemistry than I ever learned in school. Mechanics, materials, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and the like I use all the time.

    Your education shouldn't fade much. But they will grow in new areas. Does that answer your question?
  19. May 22, 2014 #18
    Hi Jake,

    I think you've provided me more help and enlightenment than days scouring through the internet - which by itself can cast a shadow over the truth rather than reveal it. I never thought that way of internships; I heartily thank you.

    I read a couple of your blog posts about a career, and it supplemented your posts in this thread. Education is a foundation for us to learn the rest of what we need to know in the workforce, to contribute to wherever we end up as best we can. I think I am starting to get it now. Thanks so much. (And one day, I'll try and pass on what I've learned to whoever comes next)
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