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Engineering is not what you (they) thought

  1. May 15, 2007 #1
    hello,

    I'm new to the forum.

    I'd like to know, why people major in engineering, and then get out into the job market, and decide that engineering is not for them. I keep hearing people say "it's not what i thought it would be". One of my chem profs had a PhD in Mech engineering and he said it was all about deadlines. He now studies nanotechnology at UK. I'm sure it has to be more than just about deadlines. So what is it about engineering that turns some people off?

    thanks!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2007 #2

    chroot

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    I've actually heard very few people say such things. Engineering educations usually give you a very good idea of what engineering jobs will be like.

    - Warren
     
  4. May 15, 2007 #3

    russ_watters

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    Yeah, and I don't know why someone wouldn't expect there to be deadlines. A lot of engineering is about projects and projects have deadlines. Perhaps in the academic world, there are fewer actual responsibilities...?

    I work in HVAC engineering. Besides designing systems, I do a lot of studies (optomizations, troubleshooting, etc) and write a lot of reports and proposals. Perhaps the most useful skill I learned in school was how to write a good technical paper. Engineering as a profession isn't like going to school, but the skills and the way of thinking transfer very well from the education world to the professional world.
     
  5. May 16, 2007 #4

    FredGarvin

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    I have run into quite a few people that have had that sentiment. Engineering schools do not prepare you for the realities of engineering positions, like endless paperwork and anything else that isn't a replica of the school atmosphere. Combine that with the fact that engineering, in general, has lost much of its stature as a professional position, that it can be a downer for some.

    Engineering schools produce analysts (problem solvers). Depending on the program, you get varying degrees of exposure to other things, but that is essentially it.
     
  6. May 16, 2007 #5

    AlephZero

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    Viewing it from the other side (seeing graduates coming into industry) I think the problem is more general - some students haven't got any idea what "real life" is like ("work" being just one part of "real life").

    The ones that should have been rejected by the hiring process, but were not, can get a very nasty shock (up to and including developing serious medical conditions as a result) but I don't think engineering students are different than students from any other scientific discipline.
     
  7. May 16, 2007 #6

    chroot

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    Interesting. I do essentially no paperwork, and my engineering education gave me a very accurate preview of what my job would be like.

    Out here in Silicon Valley, at least, it's highly-respected.

    - Warren
     
  8. May 16, 2007 #7

    FredGarvin

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    I think it depends on the area you live. Out here in the Detroit area, everyone and their brother is an "engineer." I guess it's bound to happen that engineers get picked to do non-engineering types of jobs and thus the dissatisfaction. I was caught in a job like that for a while. I was glad to leave it. There was no engineering skill required, yet Ford insisted it be manned by "engineers." Ironically, half of the group I worked with were not degreed engineers.

    I think it is exactly because of the gluttony of engineers and wanna-bes that has brought down the stature in this area.
     
  9. May 16, 2007 #8

    chroot

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    Ah, well, all my work is stuff that pretty much requires a master's-level understanding to do. Everyone here -- even the sales people -- have undergraduate engineering degrees. The majority of the designers I work with have graduate engineering degrees.... so I guess I just have a very different environment.

    I am an electrical engineer, working in the hottest engineering job market in the world, though, so I guess things would seem pretty rosy out here. I have no idea what engineering is like as a career elsewhere in the world, or what it's like for other disciplines (mechanical, civil, etc.).

    That's precisely why it seems to command such respect! In my experience, most people view engineering as a difficult job, but one that pays a solid salary, has great benefits, and is almost a guarantee of employment.

    People flock to the engineering majors because they want the stability and opportunity of an engineering career, yet many are turned away because they don't have the aptitude or the work ethic to keep up. This fact alone seems to suggest that engineering commands a great deal of respect.

    - Warren
     
  10. May 16, 2007 #9

    turbo

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    My nephew studied engineering at Orono, got great grades and landed an annual summer internship at a local pulp and paper mill. Since it was local and they paid well, he got to save money by living at home. Best of all, he found out what engineering is all about in a production environment where tiny inefficiencies can kill your margin. That kind of environment is not for everybody.
     
  11. May 17, 2007 #10

    berkeman

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    I'm with chroot on this one (of course, we work about 20 miles apart here in the Valley). I also agree with the point raised that the people who are most likely to end up disliking working as engineers and changing professions are the ones who didn't do well in school, didn't really understand the material at a deep level, and didn't get pertinent job experience early on during their studies. If you've worked at a technical summer job between your years in undergrad, you get a pretty good idea of what a real engineering job is like. Plus you get experience that helps you "ask the right questions" of yourself and your instructors in school, which helps you to understand and internalize the material better as well.
     
  12. May 17, 2007 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    It also depends on where you land - the culture of the company, how the company is doing, and the nature of the work.

    I've been in the offices of engineering companies on the brink or struggling, and they were the most depressing places to work that I've ever been. Also, not all engineering jobs are interesting to all engineers. For example, one of my customers makes food conveyors. How excited can one get about a conveyor? I have to wonder why anyone wouldn't want to slit their throat given a life of engineering vibrating tables? But there are people who enjoy this.

    But most of all, each company has its own culture. All companies have their good and bad points, but some companies are ugly places because they are run by mean and greedy people who don't care about their employees. Other places treat their people like gold and retain a high percentage of their employees for many years; sometimes even twenty or thirty years. Last summer I did a job for a company like this. I doubt that even Boeing can claim the same percentage of long-timers that this place had. Unfortunately, they were sold to a manufacturing company in China a while back.

    A related comment: The head of finance at the conveyor company has a Ph.D. in physics, and another in Mathematics. Gotta wonder about that one, but I think it boils down to the company BMW and the $50K bonuses. :biggrin:
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2007
  13. May 17, 2007 #12

    Astronuc

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    I concur with chroot and berkeman on these points.

    Also - I agree with Ivan Seeking. I've had a company fail right out from underneath me, and it was based on greed and dysfunctional management.

    I have also seen companies downsize or reorganize/re-engineer/re-whatever or sell off engineering divisions, and there is little support of the personnel. That's one reason the number of 'long-timers' is way down from 30 years ago.

    I've enjoyed engineering - it has been exciting, challenging - but it has also been aggrevating, frustrating, and stressful.

    But I wouldn't do anything else :biggrin: - although I'd like to do more R&D and teach part time at university.
     
  14. May 17, 2007 #13

    FredGarvin

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    Don't get me wrong. I love my job. The aerospace industry is the place for me without a doubt. My job is a constant challenge and I never stop learning. I get to do some amazing things in my job.

    My comments are, basically, in regards to my local area which is 99.995% automotive based. IMO, the automotive industry has bastardized the role of the engineer and, around here, that can be a huge source of contention for someone that has an idea of what an engineer should be and do.
     
  15. May 19, 2007 #14
    I have a weird perspective. I majored in engineering for the bizarre reason that I was interested in electronics. In retrospect, that may have been a stupid reason. I detest "difficult jobs". I have a strong work ethic (i.e. I work intently and don't slack off for the 8 hours I'm getting paid for, because I want to deserve my pay), but I'm also lazy, and having to work really hard gives me stress-related sleep problems and stomach problems that can get bad.

    I have oddly inexpensive tastes, and I have no use for money beyond a certain point. Right now I just save most of my overkill salary. Don't know what I'm saving for.

    I'm currently fighting to avoid becoming one of those 60 hr/wk folks. Since I have unusual natural talent and work at a government job, I've been successful at this so far. I don't want respect. I just want at least $1000/mo, free time, and interesting work. The last of those is negotiable. Before I found my current job I seriously considered going back to manual labor, where I had the other two!
     
  16. May 26, 2007 #15
    Wow...this forum is scary to read because I am an engineering student right now. I would like to do a masters. Do you guys think possessing a masters will increase the chance that I can get a job that I enjoy?

    I am doing a summer job at an electrical company, and to be honest, the engineers that work here do not seem like what I had imagined. I really want a job that I will truly look forward to going to work everyday. Before I started working, I only wanted a job that would give me the most money. That is why I picked chemical engineering (and minoring in petroleum, as I live in a petroleum rich area). However, I started working and getting a sense of what it is like to work. Ive had several jobs and I really hate the lack of freedom of being paid by the hour. I go to work and count down the hours until I can go home, only to repeat the cycle over and over until school starts. Maybe its just that I havent found an area which I enjoy?

    I dont mind deadlines, I am pretty good at managing my time. I just hate the lack in freedom of always having to pretend to be doing work to satisfy the employer because I am being paid by the hour.

    I just dont know what to expect when I graduate and come into the real world. Are there any strategies to finding a job that you will like? Or is this just luck and chance?
     
  17. May 27, 2007 #16
    Fred, as you know I am an engineering major and I am also attending your alma mater for my EE degree. I agree completely that the auto industry has really bastardized the engineering profession. Everyone is this area calls themselves an engineer, regardless of the degree they have. At my last internship (an automotive safety system firm....seat belts, airbags, seat weight sensors, etc) there were people with the title 'engineer' that had 2 or 4 year degrees in engineering technology, and were working along side the engineers. I think one problem is HR does the hiring...not the engineering managers, and the HR people do not understand the difference between ET and engineering.

    Plus I see all of the network admins and software programmers calling themselves 'network engineers' and 'software engineers', but that isn't just in the detroit area I am betting.

    I think the EE jobs are a little better than the ME jobs in terms of the careful use of the word 'engineer', but it's still a problem.

    When I finish ugrad I am going to grad school (PhD) and then perhaps head out to silicon valley. I am rather interested in semiconductor device physics and VLSI. I would not be happy in the auto industry.
     
  18. May 27, 2007 #17

    FredGarvin

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    I almost forgot about that. I hope things are going well at Larry Tech for you!

    It's nice to see someone else that has seen what I am talking about. I think most people in our area disagree because most are on the side that we are taking issue with.

    I think you are correct too in the ME vs. EE on the engineer side. It does seem that the EE side seems to still be a bit more specific as to what is considered an engineer. Honestly I think that management is entirely to blame with this. They get a chance to pad their stats as to how many of their employees are engineers. It is pure salesmanship. In the jobs I have had, I was somewhat impressed with the HR staffs because they asked a lot of questions of the engineering management. It is totally dependent on the company though.

    That's a cool plan. Make sure you talk to Chroot a lot. He's pretty much living your Silicon Valley plan.
     
  19. May 27, 2007 #18

    turbo

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    The key to a great job is having a smart, autonomous boss who will use your abilities to the fullest. I had studied chemical engineering for at UMO and kicked the traces to pursue a double major in English literature and philosophy. After some time working in construction after school, I applied for a general worker's position at a local pulp mill that I had helped build as a materials inspector/soils scientist. The HR dept saw "Chemical Engineering" in my resume and invited me to interview for an opening as a process chemist. I had interviewed with a couple of engineers and was finishing up with an interview with the manager of the technical department (who became one of my closest friends) when the chief environmental engineer popped his head in and expressed concern about the effluent to the waste treatment plant from the impending acid-wash of the Kamyr digester. I asked if I could chip in and the manager said "sure" so I pointed out that he could direct the low pH wash to the sludge ponds where there would be a lot of material to buffer the acid, and then bleed it into the aeration basins gradually to avoid killing the good "bugs". The manager asked how I knew that could be done, and I told him that I had overseen the installation of the earthen materials and concrete in that facility and had access to a full set of blueprints, including all the pipes, valves, and pumps. He shook my hand and said goodbye, and by the time I got home (~30 minutes) the HR department had already called my wife and scheduled my pre-employment physical. George (the manager) gave me as many difficult/demanding projects as I had time to handle, and I loved going to work every day. Incidentally, we process chemists had to routinely train degreed engineers in the quirks of our industry so they could be our supervisors. It's a little disconcerting to see a new engineer come in all unsure of himself and open to learning, only to see him ossify and become authoritative after he has had a year or two to settle in.

    Once, an engineer told me to monitor the efficiency of the lime kiln at a time when the incoming lime mud was too wet and the baghouse was too plugged to allow enough free flow to get the slurry hot enough to calcine. I explained why the kiln's efficiency was compromised, and he insisted that I do the tests and report ASAP. He "engineered" that so I would have to report to him in the midst of a departmental staff meeting, then he summarily dismissed me with a curt "this is not right!". I refused to accept the insult and pointed out what I had known at the beginning. He told me to leave, and I said "You insulted my work in front of these people, and you will apologize in front of them." He refused to apologize, but my point was made, and a couple of the engineers came up to me later and said that Gupta was a jerk to have done that. I was a whole lot more valuable to the manager of my department than the engineer was, or I would have been reprimanded for backing him down.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2007
  20. Jun 1, 2007 #19

    Chris Hillman

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    Esys, I wouldn't panic just because of one offhand remark by one person, especially if (as I gather) nothing bad has happened yet to yourself personally!

    It seems a safe bet that every graduate program produces some disillusioned graduates, but also some very happy ones. So if so far you think you will like being an engineer, I'd stick with the program, at least until you decide you really dislike it (which might not ever happen--- some other posters here have said they have no regrets about choosing engineering as a career).

    nobb123, are you in the US? Have you visited the website of the appropriate professional society? In all likelihood it will give you some salary comparisons. Usually more advanced degrees are associated with a larger skill set (more computer modeling, more math, more physics background), all of which can increase your versatility/adaptability and general utility to any organization interested in hiring you.
     
  21. Jun 1, 2007 #20
    I agree with the notion that some industries (the software and automotive industries especially) have watered down the term "engineer." I read Slashdot fairly regularly, and I cringe whenever I read an IT guy refer to his title as "software engineer."
     
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