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How to find what work you love

  1. Jul 7, 2015 #1
    Hi all,
    This has really been a difficult question for me to get through. So I need your help. I'm feeling like the walls are closing in and I need to find out what I want to do for the rest of my life~40 years more.

    I am an engineer in mid 20's with a master's degree in ME, working for a MNC currently.
    It was a very well spent learning time in my four years if engineering. I enjoyed learning stuff and building some stuff. Then I went for masters in ME. At the start of which I started to ponder over this question: Why I am doing this? Is this really what I want to do. I thought this because I really was performing as average student and the things I learnt(rather taught to me) were mostly theoretical/computational involving little or no pratical or design aspects...the thing I really enjoyed learning in my bachelors. So I thought then maybe I wanted to go and design and build stuff which I enjoyed in my bachelors and took up the job. The job is basically of a structural analysis engineer based on lifing gas turbine components. I think I don't like it because it's mundane, has less scope for creativity, no technical learning whatsoever (except for gaining expertise in tools).Take a model, mesh it, analyze it and get the results, repeat over again. No real understanding of the physics, no new knowledge gained, same old routine stuff to be done. But it has been two years in my job and still not a single day has passed by when I am jumping with joy to go to office. Also I think I have some tendency towards creative ideas because I have had given an out of box, idea or two in my job.
    Now I am again thinking of a Phd because it can offer me in a way new projects(in long term) and I am thinking of getting a Phd in non computational based area like robotics or may be applied mechanics (which has some theory, computation but with intent of solving a practical problem instead of a totally theoretical one).
    Of all these years (masters and job) one thing which I really enjoy and still do is to read basic physics, try and solve some interesting problems in it, and ask a lot of questions mostly: Why types.
    Ex: Why is creep a function of time?, How are ants able to walk on vertical walls and carry load much higher than their capacity?
    I like to dig into the details always. I won't leave a thing until I understand it completely and will keep digging deeper if I am not satisfied(craving for knowledge/understanding?)
    I like to discuss, sometimes feel for explaining ideas.
    Eg: Airfoil Stall
    I like to go to details and find out the most lucid explanation of phenomena:
    Eg: How airfoils work, create lift etc..
    I also happen to still continue purchasing technical books(mostly basic physics and mechanics) and read them continuously(almost everyday).
    I also like to read about new technologies, ideas or research, discuss it and appreciate it.
    I also like to do hands on stuff to appreciate the things in better way.

    Over these two years in my job I think I've also become hesitant to say goodbye to it and latch onto something else. But in the part of the world where I stay the jobs in general are outsourced ones and thus happen to be based mostly on analysis.
    Most of my friends too have chosen Phd over job for this very reason.

    Sorry for the excessively long thread and thanks for taking out time to go through it.
    I really appreciate it. I would be thankful if someone can help me find what I am interested in doing...hopefully good at doing the thing for rest of my life.

    Thanks again.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 7, 2015 #2
    Life throws curve balls. The book, What Color is Your Parachute, was helpful to me in handling them.
  4. Jul 7, 2015 #3
    I'm in my 50s. Like you, I'm fascinated with many things. It never stops. Engineering became the vehicle that I used to explore more things.

    After I graduated from college, I realized I had that degree I sought, and then --WHAT?

    I had to shift gears. I wanted to design and build spacecraft --and the economy took a bad turn for the worse. Well, I had a job that paid the bills. I had a few interesting toys to play with. And I could do some exploration on my own.

    Most people here think that work is about discovery or great technical feats of prowess. And perhaps for a very small few, it is. For the rest of us, getting things done is as much a social effort as anything else.

    I have explored microbiology by playing with wild yeasts while brewing beer. I've learned the practical side of aviation by getting a pilot's license and instrument rating. I've designed leading edge modulation technologies in ham radio. I tinker with software and embedded computing platforms. I also like to read about mathematics and its history. I often wonder what corners were left unexplored and why.

    In short, you don't have to do all this through your work. You can also explore things in your own time.

    And, hopefully you'll find a bunch of people you enjoy being around to work with. Yes, I have suffered a few jerks in my career, but most of the people I know are fun to be with. I hope you find a similar crowd. Your education can serve you well, though you might want to rethink where you're working.

    As time goes on, your efforts to get things done will get less technical and more social. This is true for nearly everyone except perhaps those who are borderline autistic. You may also have notions of starting a family, exploring the world, or studying something completely different. Now is the time to make those decisions.

    Take a deep breath, have drinks with friends, discuss life, the universe, and everything. Build a social community both inside and outside work. That's how you become the adult you always wanted to be...
  5. Jul 8, 2015 #4
    Firstly, you never know how long you're going to live, so don't count on living ~40 years. I like to live by the motto, "Live as if you'll die today" - it'll make your life better :)

    Anyways, I think the PhD is a great idea. I'm actually a prospective PhD student myself, but I have talked to many of my seniors and others, and this has given me a valuable insight. The PhD will give you ~5 years to do something you would seem to enjoy, and to think, reflect, and look for new opportunities. With a PhD in engineering you can become an industry researcher, university faculty member, college instructor, or high school teacher ---- or you can go back to regular industry and become a staff engineer or something else. The point is that I highly recommend a PhD (I plan on pursing a doctorate myself soon hopefully), just because it fulfills much of the intellectual pursuit that many are looking for, and allows time to rethink and find something you would enjoy (and usually you would have funding, so that takes away the financial stress). The only problem would be that if you are established and have other obligations such as a family, obviously your case would be different then. In that scenario, an online PhD in ME or CS would be a better fit (Online CS PhD's are more common). This would allow you to handle both responsibilities. The only bad part is that you would have to find your own funding. As a student, this is from my own research as well as conversation with some of my seniors - I wish you the best in your future endeavors.
  6. Jul 8, 2015 #5
    You can also just buy a PhD. he advantage is you can keep your job and you won't lose much time pursuing one. So similar to an online PhD, yet less cumbersome.
  7. Jul 8, 2015 #6
    "Most people here think that work is about discovery or great technical feats of prowess. And perhaps for a very small few, it is. For the rest of us, getting things done is as much a social effort as anything else"......great advice...
  8. Jul 11, 2015 #7

    Thanks Jake for taking time to go through the post and your great inputs :) Really helpful advice . Thanks Haraq for the motivation :)
    What I feel is because I am confused about what to do I am never really able to focus on my job. Thus my performance is just average and there seems no point in continuing this job. Due to this I think I underperform and then get frustrated with myself thinking I can do better things than sitting on a computer and processing junk results over and over again!
    That's why at the end of each thinking cycle I come to the same old question....What to do, where do I want to go,what do I wanna be?...if only i had a vision etc...for me now, I have no end point in my mind(I want to be this or that)...just randomly doing whatever is coming up. And a part of the frustration comes up due to the fact that I never imagined that I wouldn't know what I want to be.
  9. Jul 12, 2015 #8
    I see what you're saying. I highly recommend pursuing the PhD (and really not to delay longer, you're not going to live forever), just due to how it will allow you to pursue whatever interests you want within your field (for the most part). For example, if you go for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering (ME) - you can do energy, robotics, Heat Transfer , HVAC, Automation/Mechatronics, Aeronautics, Acoustics, Bioengineering, Manufacturing, Tribology, Fluid Mechanics, Materials, etc., the list just keeps on going on. If you gain admission to a PhD program in ME with say, a robotics research interest, but then find out you don't like it, you can switch your focus in a reasonable time frame. Seeing that you have already experienced industry, you'll obviously be able to make an informed career decision, and you'll find yourself in an interesting, challenging, and opportune environment. I'd say go apply to PhD program's in ME (CS is also a great and highly broad field), get in, take classes, talk to professors, find something your interested in, and pursue it. This will give you time to look for new opportunities, enjoy a intellectually stimulating atmosphere, and just start fresh per se. To me it seems like you would make for a University Professor or some type of Academic Faculty, research is always something that is an intellectual challenge and the job is really never the same in academia - but just my opinion based on your comments. I wish you success on your future endeavors.
  10. Jul 12, 2015 #9
    If you're distracted like this it is probably because you do not really understand the job. If the results are junk, you probably owe it to yourself to find out why. You may be starting with junk data. Perhaps the question you're trying to answer is wrong. Talk to the people who give you the data and find out more about it. Show why the results look the way they do.

    That is what your bosses probably want. This is not some stupid word problem in school. You don't have to keep grinding away at it until you get the "right answer."

    If you are treating this job as though you are some automaton oracle to answer questions of profound statistical meaning --GET A LIFE! The reason humans are involved in this is because they're looking for direction and answers, not garbage-in-garbage-out. If they wanted garbage, they could have used a canned query against the data and gotten the results themselves.
  11. Jul 12, 2015 #10


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    How about short-term internships in areas you think you may be interested? You can then decide whether you really like the given areas. Also, what activities do you enjoy outside of work? Maybe you can turn one of those activities into a job?
  12. Jul 17, 2015 #11


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    They say you should change jobs every few years early in your career so not unreasonable to consider that. In my day working for a large multi national company for a few years set you up to work virtually anywhere. The people most in demand were graduates with a few years experience. Salary rises of perhaps 30-40% when moving jobs were common at that stage in your career.

    If you are in a large multi national now perhaps take a look at a smaller company. I found it much more rewarding and demanding working for smaller companies. Small companies don't always have enough staff that they can dedicate a person to just one narrow role. You would probably find yourself getting more involved in the steps that come before and after your current position or even seeing a project right through from conception to manufacture and support, perhaps also doing some project management. I also found them more open to new ideas.

    In the small companies I worked for the hours were longer because you stayed until you got the job done but they were more flexible (especially when the local beer festival was on). In the larger companies people tended to work 9-5 and may even have to clock in and out. Job security isn't as good at a small company but if you are in a skilled profession that's not always a problem.
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