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Engineering Getting started late - how do I catch up? (Mechanical Engineering)

  1. Sep 4, 2017 #1
    Hi guys,

    I am looking to get a degree in mechanical engineering and eventually work in the defence industry (I am in Australia but would like to move to the US eventually). The problem is that I am 25 and so would be going down this path late due to getting an unrelated degree previously (B.Com - Economics & Finance). Getting another bachelor degree would take 4.5 years - 1 semester to do the necessary math/physics/chem prerequisites that I didn't do in high school, 4 years for the degree itself - so I will be 30 by the time I graduate. My questions:

    1) Just how bad is it to start late in engineering? Is it too late to start (essentially from scratch) and become an expert in my field?

    2) What skills would be useful to learn in addition to the uni coursework (i.e. how do I compete for a job against 22 year olds when I'm 30)? My degree didn't really give me any concrete skills other than some Excel, academic writing/researching and working in a team. I also have some basic machine shop skills and will buy a lathe/drill press to work on some of my own projects while I study.

    3) Would potential employers look unfavourably on having 2 bachelor degrees? I've often heard that it's a waste of time getting another undergrad degree and employers would see it as you being indecisive/avoiding getting a job, but in my case I can't get a masters in engineering as I simply lack the necessary technical background.

    Does anyone have a similar story? How did it work out?

    All advice/criticism/guidance is welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2017 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Someday you will be 30 whether you get a MechE degree or not. Do you want to be 30 with or without such a degree?
  4. Sep 5, 2017 #3
    Tally ho and get on with it. My experience tells me that "older" entry-level folks are generally liked due to maturity, family baggage, and the stability that comes with all of that.

    Additional skills: depends on what you want to do. Part time jobs, internships, and hobbies can all give you the extra skills you desire if chosen correctly. Choose work assignments for the skills to be gained, not the money that will be paid.

    Additional degrees add breadth and depth. You choose to market yourself with that, or not.
  5. Sep 15, 2017 #4
    Thanks guys, I'm gonna go for it.

    The uni I'm going to apply to also offers a double degree in Mechatronics + Computer Science (5 years), and I'm considering doing that instead of straight Mech (4 years). The downside is it would be more watered down compared to a pure ME degree, plus having 3 undergrad degrees is pretty ridiculous. The upside is that I'll learn a bunch of different skills and will have more opportunities. I would take mostly mechanical units for the optional units so it would essentially be ME + some programming and electronics. The list of units is here: http://handbook.curtin.edu.au/courses/32/321167.html

    My passion is firearms, and ideally I'd like to work in defence and small arms design, but I'm also interested in CNC machining, cryptocurrencies (economics + CS), cyber weapon technology like Stuxnet (PLC's + CS) as well as general robotics. Not saying I would pursue all of these fields but if my main goal doesn't pan out I have more opportunities and can find interesting work/research elsewhere. If all else fails I could go into banking with a finance background + math skills from engineering.

    Do you think this is going too far?
  6. Sep 16, 2017 #5
    Firearms is one of those fields where the supply and demand of qualified technical people is one of vast oversupply - because it is so interesting. (Rocket design and airplane design are similar.) It is very hard to just graduate with a 3.x GPA in engineering and get hired by an established company or a laboratory in the field. The industry also ebbs and flows with DoD funding in general as well as with political events. When the DoD spigot is on full force, there is a lot of money flowing. Right now we're in BOTH a down DoD funding cycle (relative peace is a great thing) as well as a downturn in the cycle due to a conservative president not threatening new gun laws (Obama was the best gun salesman ever.)

    Many folks in the firearms business are entrepreneurs who invented something new and started their own business to market it - could be either a new firearm or an essential accessory. In the US right now, there is legislation before congress that would remove the $200 tax on sound suppressors. Lots of new companies out there are treading water hoping the law passes and they get a slice of what they see coming as a huge new market.

    If your goal is to make a living in the field of firearms and defense, have a plan B. Odds are against you. We give this same advice even to some outstanding students we mentor - great GPAs in STEM majors AND a track record of publications in ballistics and blast are not enough to ensure a steady career in firearms and defense. Even inventing the next great thing isn't because the political winds can change very quickly eliminating the market.
  7. Sep 17, 2017 #6
    This was the same logic I used to get my degree.
  8. Sep 20, 2017 #7


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    I went back to school when I was 32 and graduated with my BSME last May at 39. I'm fairly certain that if I had not returned to school I would still be 32.
  9. Nov 25, 2017 #8


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    what job did you have before going back to school? and was it easy to find a ME job after your graduation?
  10. Nov 25, 2017 #9


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    I worked in facilities maintenance and management. I did have a difficult time finding a job, but I think that's due more to my social awkwardness than age.
    I finally ended up getting a good position after nearly 6 months, but I was pigeon-holed into a facilities engineering position due to my background.
    I couldn't get a design engineer position and NASA wouldn't hire me.
  11. Nov 25, 2017 #10


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    awesome, is it well paid? what do you do in a facility engineering position, just curious. NASA is super competitive, I think its very normal to not get hired though. I wish I can work for NASA someday as well haha...
  12. Nov 26, 2017 #11


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    People who study for engineering degrees later in life fall into three categories .

    (1) Those who have worked in industry from a young age and have worked their way up through apprenticeship , work experience and increasing levels of educational qualifications until they finally do a degree course .

    (2) Those who have genuinely found that their first choice of career in life is not for them and want to get an engineering degree to start afresh .

    (3) Born again engineering students . By some mystical process they have decided that engineering is the only true way in life . Doing a degree course means that they are going to instantly become geniuses and change the world .

    Chances of getting a good job eventually are in the same (1)(2)(3) order : very high , reasonably good , near zero .
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2017
  13. Nov 26, 2017 #12

    I suspect you'll need to be good at trigonometry and vectors.
  14. Nov 27, 2017 #13


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    No...it is definitely not well paid. It's an entry level position, so the potential is enormous, but I had to take a pretty substantial step-backwards financially in order to accept this position. As far as what I do...I have no real idea. At least not yet. Ask me in a few weeks.
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