Getting into an engineering career with no degree...

  • #1
AimaneSN
5
1
Hi there,

I need some guidance regarding a personal ambition of mine. I am currently working as an actuary in the insurance field in my native country (not the U.S. nor Canada) after having taken undergraduate courses in mathematics and physics some 6 years ago. And though I get to use my somewhat scientific background to work on real-world themes in insurance, I just don't feel fulfilled. Nothing can replace a highly technical physics-related career for me, like mechanical or electrical engineering. I am not sure I ever had or will have what it takes for it, but as they say you only live once so why not go for it.

Obviously my degree had nothing to do with physics whatsoever, it mostly revolved around statistics, probability theory, data analysis and light courses on economics, solvency in insurance and so on.

Now, is it realistic or possible to switch careers by, say, self-studying physics and all the necessary prerequisites to get an entry-level job in mechanical or electrical engineering, while keeping your job ? Was it done before ? And suppose I succeed at that, am I going to be taken seriously in the job market ?

Thank you,
 
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  • #2
AimaneSN said:
is it realistic or possible to switch careers by, say, self-studying physics and all the necessary prerequisites to get an entry-level job in mechanical or electrical engineering, while keeping your job ?
To get a job as an EE or ME, you will likely need a real degree. That will mean going to school at least part time. You might be able to do some of the classes online, but there are labs and hands-on work for each of those degrees that require in-person work at the school.

An alternative might be a 2-year technician degree in electronics. Are there any community colleges in your area? Those are much easier to take part-time so that you can continue working at your regular job. They take longer than 2 years to complete if you are not able to attend full-time though.
 
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  • #3
You will need a degree in engineering to get an engineering job in the US or Canada.

You might be able to get a job as a draftsman, designer, or engineering aide with less formal education.

Seld-study will not cut it, and education in other countries may or may not cut it, depending on the details.
 
  • #4
berkeman said:
To get a job as an EE or ME, you will likely need a real degree. That will mean going to school at least part time. You might be able to do some of the classes online, but there are labs and hands-on work for each of those degrees that require in-person work at the school.

An alternative might be a 2-year technician degree in electronics. Are there any community colleges in your area? Those are much easier to take part-time so that you can continue working at your regular job. They take longer than 2 years to complete if you are not able to attend full-time though.

Interesting idea, thank you. Fiddling with electronics components is one of my most cherished childhood memories, I hope I can turn them into something one day.

Vanadium 50 said:
You will need a degree in engineering to get an engineering job in the US or Canada.

You might be able to get a job as a draftsman, designer, or engineering aide with less formal education.

Seld-study will not cut it, and education in other countries may or may not cut it, depending on the details.
Even though I have a formal degree in statistics, all the progress I made throughout my years of education was by self-study. I forgot to mention that I don't really function optimally in the standard school setting -I used to be weird mix of social anxiety and hyperactivity, Ialways felt like being in a classroom actually hampers or restricts my learning in some way. I just feel like I would've gotten far better result if I had studied alone with all the time in the world to ponder math and physics problems, without the additional university deadlines and time pressure, to say nothing of failed exams you didn't prepare for, almost making you hate what you're studying...

I remember that when given a math problem, my tutor's presence was rarely helpful (in my case, not generally). One just exhausts all the logical possibilities for any given problem, and soon one starts seeing patterns that help restrict these possibilities, rince and repeat, and you suddenly solve more problems and see links you never saw before, no tutor in the world has enough time to give you that....... It's unclear really, maybe I'm butchering some basic pedagogical principle here, still I firmly believe that formal education doesn't always lead to maximizing one's potential.

I know, the job market doesn't care about any of that. But if one does manage to get decent knowledge and some skillset to be operational in an engineering job, is there really no way in?
 
  • #5
Sorry, but if you want an engineering job, at least in the US, you need an engineering degree. There are licensure and liability issues. Furthermore, you need to navigate the US immigration process, and that will reduce the already low probability of success even further.
 
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  • #6
I would suggest that your knowledge of statistics might be useful in the context of operations research and manufactering engineering and process control. Also the design production and testing of medical devices and drugs depends upon statistical inference for quality assurance and FDA approval. I managed to do all of those things as well as electronic design, optical design, thermal design, and systems design with a PhD in theeoretical physics and a little help from my friends. No one really cared what my degree was in. I am sure I was pretty good at what I know and a little chutzpah occasionally helped.

Me and my PhD were "between teaching jobs" and living in a small cabin in the Maine woods when a very old friend called and said his company had a crises (one of their glucose meter models was going rogue in the field) and they needed fresh eyes ASAP too avert disaster. What I did worked well and I realized I was better at engineering than physics. Word got out and that was a 30 year career. You need to be good at what you do and good to people. I never suffered not having an engineering credential, but I do occasionally flash my PhD. This was 35 years ago and it worked out well. Your experience may vary.

/
 
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  • #7
Vanadium 50 said:
Sorry, but if you want an engineering job, at least in the US, you need an engineering degree. There are licensure and liability issues.
At least in the US (I don't know about the situation in other countries), this statement is too broad. Some engineering jobs require a professional engineering license, which in turn requires an engineering degree (plus additional qualifications). But many engineering jobs do not require a professional engineering license and do not require an engineering degree. In the post above, hutch gave his example. And I got all my degrees in physics, but worked for ~15 yrs in various flavors of telcom engineering, primarily systems engineering. ETA: The specific application is dispositive. E.g., if the job involves mechanical engineering, it makes a difference whether you're designing boilers for a chemical processing plant or packages (chip enclosures, not shipping containers) for electronic devices. Or if the job involves electrical engineering, it makes a difference whether you're designing a power plant or a semiconductor laser.

As another example, if your job is materials characterization for failure analysis for a semiconductor or consumer electronics company, you likely will not need to be a licensed professional engineer (e.g., you can be a solid-state physicist). But if your job is materials characterization for failure analysis for a forensic lab (e.g., labs called in to determine why an airplane crashed or why a train derailed), you likely will need to be a licensed professional engineer. That is, if you want to be a lead engineer with signatory authority. But, as is true in many jobs that require licenses (or registrations or certifications), you can still do much of the actual work even if you don't have a license ... as long as someone with a license oversees the work, signs off on official documents, and is ultimately responsible for the work.
 
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  • #8
AimaneSN said:
Obviously my degree had nothing to do with physics whatsoever, it mostly revolved around statistics, probability theory, data analysis and light courses on economics, solvency in insurance and so on.

Now, is it realistic or possible to switch careers by, say, self-studying physics and all the necessary prerequisites to get an entry-level job in mechanical or electrical engineering, while keeping your job ? Was it done before ? And suppose I succeed at that, am I going to be taken seriously in the job market ?
You need to first find out what the regulations (if any) in your country are, before proceeding. At any rate, the approach you've outlined (even if allowed) will be difficult. A more viable approach (if allowed) will be along the lines of the one suggested above by hutch:

hutchphd said:
I would suggest that your knowledge of statistics might be useful in the context of operations research and manufactering engineering and process control. Also the design production and testing of medical devices and drugs depends upon statistical inference for quality assurance and FDA approval.

I'm in the US. I've switched careers several times. It's easier if you can leverage your previous skills and experiences in your future career. One option is to get your foot in the door of an engineering firm (in whatever position you can sell yourself), make a good showing in your job, express an interest in an engineering position, and garner support from your managers for a career transition (e.g., classes and on-the-job training). This is not a guaranteed path, but requires supportive management, patience, and a bit of luck.

One of my nieces got her BA in history. At some point she ended up working as an office admin for a civil engineering firm. She made a good enough impression that one of the principals suggested she transition into civil engineering. Even paid for classes to help her prep for the fundamentals of engineering exam. She, however, decided the studies were too hard and didn't go through with the program. So the opportunity was there; she just didn't put in the effort to capitalize on it.

I worked for a law firm as a patent agent. One well-established legal secretary wanted a career change. The firm paid for her to be trained as an information technology (IT) admin and transferred her to be the firm's IT admin. So these career transitions are possible, but as I said above, require supportive management, patience, and a bit of luck.
 
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  • #9
The challenge ahead of you is convincing people that your statistics degree from a school outside of the country you want to work in has prepared you for work in a different field. I agree with others that it's possible to get work in the engineering field without a formal degree in engineering proper. Most examples are people with STEM degrees, and so I'd be looking to leverage your statistics background.

AimaneSN said:
Even though I have a formal degree in statistics, all the progress I made throughout my years of education was by self-study. I forgot to mention that I don't really function optimally in the standard school setting -I used to be weird mix of social anxiety and hyperactivity, Ialways felt like being in a classroom actually hampers or restricts my learning in some way. I just feel like I would've gotten far better result if I had studied alone with all the time in the world to ponder math and physics problems, without the additional university deadlines and time pressure, to say nothing of failed exams you didn't prepare for, almost making you hate what you're studying...
Everyone learns in their own way. But keep in mind that if you're working in the engineering field, many jobs are going to have deadlines, time and social pressure, will require you to work in groups and with people you may not otherwise want to spend time with. And you won't always be fully prepared for the problems you're facing.
 
  • #10
CrysPhys said:
this statement is too broad
Perhaps, but the converse "C'mon over! No problem getting an engineering job with a non-engineering defree from a foreign counter!" is even less correct. By focusing on an improbable outcome, we risk giving very bad advice.
 
  • #11
Vanadium 50 said:
Perhaps, but the converse "C'mon over! No problem getting an engineering job with a non-engineering defree from a foreign counter!" is even less correct. By focusing on an improbable outcome, we risk giving very bad advice.

* First of all, the OP never wrote that they are looking for an engineering job specifically in the US. The OP wrote:

AimaneSN said:
I need some guidance regarding a personal ambition of mine. I am currently working as an actuary in the insurance field in my native country (not the U.S. nor Canada) after having taken undergraduate courses in mathematics and physics some 6 years ago. And though I get to use my somewhat scientific background to work on real-world themes in insurance, I just don't feel fulfilled. Nothing can replace a highly technical physics-related career for me, like mechanical or electrical engineering. I am not sure I ever had or will have what it takes for it, but as they say you only live once so why not go for it.

Obviously my degree had nothing to do with physics whatsoever, it mostly revolved around statistics, probability theory, data analysis and light courses on economics, solvency in insurance and so on.

Now, is it realistic or possible to switch careers by, say, self-studying physics and all the necessary prerequisites to get an entry-level job in mechanical or electrical engineering, while keeping your job ? Was it done before ? And suppose I succeed at that, am I going to be taken seriously in the job market ?
<<Emphasis added.>> So the OP asks about a career change, but is silent on a country change. The OP is also silent on where they got their degree.

* Second, what you wrote would indeed constitute bad advice. But nothing I wrote comes close to even suggesting such an extreme position. In fact I cautioned that the OP's approach would be difficult, and suggested an alternative approach that I considered to be more viable:

CrysPhys said:
You need to first find out what the regulations (if any) in your country are, before proceeding. At any rate, the approach you've outlined (even if allowed) will be difficult. A more viable approach (if allowed) will be along the lines of the one suggested above by hutch:
<<Emphasis added.>> However, I also issued the following caveat concerning my suggested alternative approach:

CrysPhys said:
This is not a guaranteed path, but requires supportive management, patience, and a bit of luck.

<<Emphasis added.>> And to drive the point home, I even repeated part of the caveat at the end. No reasonable reader would interpret my advice as, "Hey, no problem! Piece of cake!", as you apparently have.

* On the other hand, your post

Vanadium 50 said:
Sorry, but if you want an engineering job, at least in the US, you need an engineering degree. There are licensure and liability issues.

is very misleading. It improperly places engineering into the same bucket as law and medicine. If a reader were to give credence to this, they would conclude that to get an engineering job in the US, they must have an engineering degree; if they were to have a degree in e.g. physics, chemistry, biology or math, they would be barred by regulation from working in an engineering job. But this holds only for a very small percentage of engineering jobs: those requiring a professional engineering license. I'll see whether I can find stats to quantify "very small percentage".
 
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  • #12
Obviously, I don't agree.
 
  • #13
The only path I can see is to leverage your statistical knowledge and perhaps get into some company thats doing physics and engineering but needs a data scientist to help with the software for the project.

As an example, say a company was working on hearing aids and now wanted to enhance the HW and SW components with machine learning in acoustics then you might be able to leverage your statistics skill + programming skills (assuming you have some using matlab, python, julia or R or ...)

This gets you in the vicinity but it would still be near impossible to transition into a physics job from it.

Seeing that there are many good answers already posted it seems like a good time to close this thread.

Thank you all for participating here.

Jedi
 

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