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Engineering I want out of Mechanical Engineering

  1. Dec 10, 2017 #1

    First, let me tell you about myself:

    1.) I have a Bachelors degree in Engineering Physics with a mechanical focus.
    2.) I have been working as a mechanical engineer for 3 years at 3 different places.
    3.) My work mostly consists of product design, detailed drawings and working in a machine shop area.

    I have been very unsatisfied with this career choice. I don't like cars, I don't like guns and I hate tools. I got into this career because I loved learning about how things worked. Especially math and physics. When I choose my degree and thought engineering physics was a good choice because it would be challenging, interesting and engineers make good money. But I really hate the day to day of the engineering jobs I have had. I feel like a crusty turd at the end of each day.

    I have been looking at going back to get my PhD in Physics and go the Profesor route. I believe it's all I have really ever wanted to do. The issue is its 5 years of school to put me in a position to compete for University positions which are very challenging to get. I don't mind the idea of going back to school, I have always enjoyed learning. But, it's an all or nothing gamble. Getting a university professor position is extremely challenging and the reality is I could end up in the same position I am in now, just 5 years down the road with a PhD.

    Can anyone relate to the love of learning concepts, physics, and math? What careers have you found satisfying?

    Also, I don't want to ignore the skills I have developed over the past 3 years in Mechanical Engineering. Any advice as to how I can leverage those skills toward a different and more satisfying career path?

    Thanks for the help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2017 #2


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    Make up your mind.
  4. Dec 10, 2017 #3


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    Make that extremely challenging to get, at least as far as tenure-track positions go. I taught in a community college for 18 years, and frequently served on the hiring committees. When we posted a job opening for a tenure-track teaching position, it wasn't unusual to get 150 applications for the one position. I imagine it's no different in colleges hiring for an associate professor position. It's also possible that your estimate of 5 years is overly optimistic. In some technical areas, I've heard of people taking nine years or more to complete their PhD.

    I agree with @Bystander. Much of the time, to find out how things work, you have to take them apart. That's where tools come in...
  5. Dec 10, 2017 #4


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    Part of Mark44's posting included:
    Is that even allowed? I thought the institutions put a time limit for how long to earn a PhD.

    (Excuse the distraction - just curious )
  6. Dec 11, 2017 #5


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    Not to my knowledge.
  7. Dec 11, 2017 #6
    I suggest you apply to be a teachers assistant at a high school engineering or physics class to see if you like it before going to get a degree. Although it isn't college I think it would be a good way to see if you truly want to be a professor. It will also help you get a job as a professor if you go that route as well.
  8. Dec 11, 2017 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    This is terrible advice, from a person who hasn't even finished high school. The job of a professor is nothing like the job of a teacher's assistant.
  9. Dec 11, 2017 #8
    There is an alternative available without getting out of engineering. Get into really advanced engineering. Get some more education, at least an MSME but not necessarily a PhD, become truly an expert on some technical area, and then look at getting into a consulting organization. For example, you might become an expert on FEA (although there seem to be a lot of those around these days), an expert on bearings, an expert on electromechanical systems, an expert on capillary flow, etc. Then look for a consulting organization that utilizes those specialized skills. This is a lot more secure route than trying to break into academia these days.
  10. Dec 11, 2017 #9
    Dr. D has the right point. There's a lot of applied physics in mechanical engineering it is possible that you can move to an adjacent field of engineering if you'd like more physics. Fluid dynamics or materials science are two possibilities.

    Getting an industrial position involving a lot of science/becoming a professor is far easier. I'm at a school ranked in the 30's for engineering and 10 of my adviser's students have become professors, and the remainder are engineering physicists in industry, some with very high level positions.

    And, a masters may be all you need, which should take at most 3 years and probably fewer.
  11. Dec 11, 2017 #10


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    In Canadian universities (at least the University of Toronto), they certainly do (although this might vary by program). For example, students pursuing their PhD in statistics (my field of expertise) are required to complete their program within 6 years; otherwise they will be forced to leave the program without a degree.

    I believe this is the norm in many non-US graduate programs.
  12. Dec 11, 2017 #11
    I can certainly sympathize with the OP; I never wanted to be involved directly with production with project engineer responsibilities. I was always much more interested in analysis, the application of mathematics to engineering problems.

    Many years ago, I was in a company that was in danger of going out of business (which they eventually did) because they were being strangled by a deal with the federal government. They were suing the government, but the government's position was simply to drag their feet and wait for the company to go broke (which is exactly what happened). My job was to provide engineering analysis for the law suit, as the company prepared to go to trial.

    Because of the financial crunch, many project engineers had been let go, and one day the manager of engineering called me in and told me I was to take on project responsibilities for a new contract. He pushed a pile of drawings about 6" high across the desk to me, and told me to get busy (this was long before the days of CAD). I took the pile of drawings back to my desk and looked at a few of them; I knew quickly that I wanted nothing to do with being project engineer on that job.

    I was planning to leave shortly, as soon as the trial was over, to go to a teaching position I had already lined up. So after about 30 minutes, I picked up the pile of paper and took it all back to the managers office. I told him I would not be project engineer on the new contract, and he could either let me go right then, or he could let me stay to work on the law suit. He let me stay, and I testified for several days on the technical aspects of the contract that had gotten the company in such deep trouble. Then I resigned and went to my teaching position a few weeks later.

    My message to the OP is to pursue the things that interest you. Don't go to teaching because it looks easy, laid back, etc. It is a battle of an unusual sort, and not at all the easy life it looks like. If you are interested in the application of science, then stay where that happens, namely in industry, but in the research and analysis sections, not in production.
  13. Dec 11, 2017 #12


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    Dr.D, post #11, I know basically what you mean; even in areas outside of mechanical engineering. Production can also mean, "quality control", in which a technical person needs to monitor some details of production and give instructions to ensure quality, reproducibility, meeting product specifications. People doing the production operations and overseeing them are in a hurry and want answers fast, and want things to keep moving along. Companies rely mostly on PRODUCTION, and development work is less urgent. Even worse, some companies put products into production before these products are fully enough developed and then still want the product to be made and be in whatever stable and reliable condition. Production and Sales gets the profits, while R&D is a long process, often with its own expenses - and any possible profits are only as a potential in the future.
  14. Dec 30, 2017 #13
    I was in a similar position, and I entered a PhD program with a goal of getting some type of academic position after completing it. I got my Engineering PhD in 3 1/2 years, but I could not find a suitable position, so I went straight back to working in industry. It was very disappointing, but I don't ever regret pursuing the degree. I think it's a mistake to base your career decisions entirely on the chances of success or failure. You certainly have to account for the possibility of failure, but you can't let it hold you back.
  15. Feb 7, 2018 #14
    I also agree with Dr. D.

    It seems you are in an area of ME that is very far from physics and math indeed. Product Design IMO is closer to Industrial Design/Art + ME practical skills rather than the type of physics/math you encountered in a typical ME curriculum. I'd say if you want a job that has more of an academic bent without taking the risk of the professor route, your best bet would be to go back for MS/PhD. There's plenty of areas of ME that has slightly more advanced Physics/Math requirements, some examples including FEA, controls (feedback control & robotics), maybe even robotic vision etc...

    Before making the jump, I would talk to a few people who are ME's are R&D Labs doing the above activities and see if you like their jobs first, then google for what type of requirements those jobs typically have. Most of them are R&D jobs, and require a PhD, but it seems you'd be happy to get one.
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