# If you are an engineer but find out you don't like it?

• Studying
SeasonalBeef
I am worried about going for an engineering field and getting a degree in it to only find out its either not what I thought it would be or I just do not like it. If that happened I'd think the only option is go back to college to get a different degree, but I'd really not want to do that.

Is there a good way to find out what each engineering field really does? How do you know which field is right for you?

symbolipoint

Staff Emeritus
Is there a good way to find out what each engineering field really does? How do you know which field is right for you?
Ask oneself what one would like to do professionally. One could extend the line of query to ask, "what would I like to do professionally?" Does it involve engineering? If yes, then what kind (discipline) of engineering, or science?

Consider engineering as applied science or applied physics.

tech99, Borg and symbolipoint
There's no litmus test for life, I'm afraid.

If you're not sure about which direction to go in (and who really is coming out of high school), it's best to keep things as general as possible as first. Most first year engineering/physics programs share a set of common courses. In many schools you don't choose sub-field until your second year. That gives you an opportunity to explore a diverse set of courses and figure out what direction is going to be the best for you. And if you make a choice and find it's really not working, you can often transfer into another sub-field without having to make up too much coursework (though there are restrictions on enrollment and particular programs can be competitive).

It also helps to get involved with various clubs/societies on campus. This will give you the opportunity to meet and interact with senior students to help get a sense of what their programs have been like, what internships they've done and what those look like, what courses they recommend, etc. In engineering you can also get involved in groups like your school's robotics club, or a maker group. These can help you find your true passions and build up a set of skills

There's no "perfect path." There's this myth out there that people have a destiny for single route, a single set of choices that's going to lead them to happiness and prosperity. Every option is going to have elements that are challenging, boring, skill sets you don't have that you'll need to develop, and moments when you'll second guess yourself. But when you make a choice you're not suddenly locked onto a preordained path. You often have a lot more power to make your choices work than it seems at first.

StatGuy2000, DaveE, vela and 5 others
Staff Emeritus
Is there a good way to find out what each engineering field really does? How do you know which field is right for you?
I'm doing 2 years at a community college before transferring to a university for the last 2 years to become a Civil engineer. I was looking at the courses at the university, granted these are for all 8 semesters not simply post transfer courses.

With respect to Civil Engineering, which includes the discipline of Structural Engineering, one can find information at the American Society of Civil Engineers (https://www.asce.org/). One can find information on a variety of sub-disciplines and contacts for more information.

https://www.asce.org/communities/student-members

One can work on structures such as buildings, dams, bridges, roadways, railroads, airports, or water supply systems and waste water treatment.

I worked with a person who received degrees in civil engineering, who proceeded to develop some fundamental finite element methods, especially non-linear FEM, which are now used by a many engineers in many disciplines, more so outside of Civil/Structural Engineering.

Mentor
Is there a good way to find out what each engineering field really does? How do you know which field is right for you?
Most first year engineering/physics programs share a set of common courses. In many schools you don't choose sub-field until your second year. That gives you an opportunity to explore a diverse set of courses and figure out what direction is going to be the best for you.

I'm in the engineering club at the community college.
What is the overall policy of your CC for when you have to choose your major?

Gold Member
I am worried about going for an engineering field and getting a degree in it to only find out its either not what I thought it would be or I just do not like it. If that happened I'd think the only option is go back to college to get a different degree, but I'd really not want to do that.

Is there a good way to find out what each engineering field really does? How do you know which field is right for you?
Keep at it and don't doubt yourself, or worry too much about what you will do afterwards. It is easier to go from engineering to another field than the other direction in most cases.

For example, if you don't like straight engineering, the path to patent law, either as a full fledged patent lawyer, if you have the patience and inclination to go to law school, or as a non-lawyer patent law practitioner, is pretty straightforward. You could also be an inventor.

Similarly, transitioning from engineering to being a general contractor, or a construction company manager, and eventually to real estate development, isn't too fraught a path.

And, quite a few people use the math skills that they acquire in engineering to become quant traders in Wall Street firms (also popular with physics students who leave that path).

A cousin of mine who has a chemical engineer used that skill set to land a job selling technical and laboratory equipment for a chemical equipment manufacturer.

One engineer in my extended family used that skill set to lead the construction of the first private religious college's campus in an East African country using the students as laborers in lieu of tuition.

If you like teaching, an engineering degree is a good foundation for either being a high school science teacher, or a https://www.indeed.com/q-Engineering-Technology-Assistant-Professor-jobs.html?vjk=50d0294037583abf.

If you are interested in policy, there are jobs on the staffs of congressional committees, and in think tanks, that could use your expertise.

The vast majority of military academy students are engineering majors, and even if you don't have military ambitions or interests, the same kind of https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/jobs-for-retired-military-officers after twenty-years or so in the military are often also suitable for engineering graduates who don't want to pursue careers in pure engineering. If you are interested in the military, it probably isn't too late to join ROTC.

Heck, even if you suddenly get transported to a medieval fantasy world, your engineering knowledge can come in handy (see also here).

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BvU and berkeman
Mondayman
I am kind of in the same position. I did two years of physics and found I liked E&M more than any other field, driving me towards doing electrical engineering in university or electronics engineering technology at the trade school. But I can't for the life of me figure out if practical electronics is as fun/satisfying as theoretical electrodynamics is.

Astronuc
Gold Member
I am kind of in the same position. I did two years of physics and found I liked E&M more than any other field, driving me towards doing electrical engineering in university or electronics engineering technology at the trade school. But I can't for the life of me figure out if practical electronics is as fun/satisfying as theoretical electrodynamics is.
Unfun fact: "Do what you love and the money will follow" is a myth.

None of the things like I love most (e.g. blogging and watching anime) will pay the bills, and that is probably true for you as well.

Few jobs that are sufficient to support a mortgage and a family are truly "fun". You have to show up to work at least 40 hours a week (and realistically, with any decent job, more like 50-60 hours a week, at least at first). You have to put up with office politics and annoying co-workers and bosses, no matter what you do. You will have to do paperwork you don't love, no matter what you do. You will spend more time on routine tasks that you have mastered instead of challenging ones that push you to use as much brainpower as you did in college, no matter what you do.

But that doesn't mean that your career choice is a bad one, or even that it isn't the best one for you. "Fun" is an unreasonable benchmark. If you don't hate it, and you find it intellectually satisfying, it is probably going to work out.

Try spending a summer flipping burgers or mowing lawns or selling extermination services door to door, so you have a fair comparison with pursuing a career path in electronics. You'll come to appreciate how much better it is than your alternatives (not my advice, coming from my 20 year old son who is in college now and majoring in computer science, my son-in-law, and a couple of their friends at college in different majors than their's).

gwnorth and russ_watters
SeasonalBeef
It also helps to get involved with various clubs/societies on campus.

get involved in groups like your school's robotics club

The clubs at my college are not that great. Most of them are not in function because of covid. We have a STEM club but it was only online and since nobody showed up on zoom they are not having it this year. There is an engineering club but other than having guest speakers come in we aren't doing much. Field trips are an issue because they say the transportation the college provides wants to limit the amount of people in each bus this costing the club more. I've brought up that can't we just take our own cars and not have to rely on the school transport transport I guess there is some issue with that too. And honestly I doubt the Covid issue will ever be resolved any time soon. I'll need to find other avenues of networking and not rely on the school to provide oy because with Covid its super limited. Thing is I don't know where to go for that. Maybe the the university. It's ASU, they have a massive university abd a great engineering department. But I'm not a student so not sure what they could provide for me, also don't know if they won't want me on campus due to Covid limitations or what have you.

I have a question. Ok so I'm not sure what engineering I want. Maybe sustainability civil engineering. In my eyes that means creating industrial projects that help to be more economical and enviormentally efficient. Help to create buildings that have solar cells built into the walls to help reduce energy costs as well as reduce reduce heat. Or better ways to dispose of garbage do we don't have that giant island of garbage in the ocean. I see the enviormental problems being a bigger problem in the future and I see that as a great opportunity for me to tackle them. I'm an opportunist as well as an engineer. How can I help myself by helping others. It's not about the money, I mean the money part is nice, but the real reward is the challenges and opportunity to do something. And I see the environmental issues of the commkng future to be a gold mine of problem solving that i want to hop on to. Just to remind you it's not about the money. Its about the opportunity to tackle these problems fir the sake of solving them. Kind of like a puzzle. I like to keep myself busy. Keeps me out of my head which is not a place I enjoy being. Long story. Anyway based on that which field or fields would be best for me? And what other things should I look into on my way there?

SeasonalBeef
Keep at it and don't doubt yourself, or worry too much about what you will do afterwards. It is easier to go from engineering to another field than the other direction in most cases.

For example, if you don't like straight engineering, the path to patent law, either as a full fledged patent lawyer, if you have the patience and inclination to go to law school, or as a non-lawyer patent law practitioner, is pretty straightforward. You could also be an inventor.

Similarly, transitioning from engineering to being a general contractor, or a construction company manager, and eventually to real estate development, isn't too fraught a path.

And, quite a few people use the math skills that they acquire in engineering to become quant traders in Wall Street firms (also popular with physics students who leave that path).

A cousin of mine who has a chemical engineer used that skill set to land a job selling technical and laboratory equipment for a chemical equipment manufacturer.

One engineer in my extended family used that skill set to lead the construction of the first private religious college's campus in an East African country using the students as laborers in lieu of tuition.

If you like teaching, an engineering degree is a good foundation for either being a high school science teacher, or a https://www.indeed.com/q-Engineering-Technology-Assistant-Professor-jobs.html?vjk=50d0294037583abf.

If you are interested in policy, there are jobs on the staffs of congressional committees, and in think tanks, that could use your expertise.

The vast majority of military academy students are engineering majors, and even if you don't have military ambitions or interests, the same kind of https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/jobs-for-retired-military-officers after twenty-years or so in the military are often also suitable for engineering graduates who don't want to pursue careers in pure engineering. If you are interested in the military, it probably isn't too late to join ROTC.

Heck, even if you suddenly get transported to a medieval fantasy world, your engineering knowledge can come in handy (see also here).
Yeah no on the whole patent law. Law, politics, and government I'd rather stay away from. I have an engineering mind. I want to be an engineer. Just not sure which engineering. I want to stay out of law, politics, government because it's not my mindset. I'm going for engineering. That's that. My minds made up. It's set in stone. My heart is set for engineering. It speaks to the way I think. I have trouble understanding a lot of things. But engineering, math, science, well I take it in like air. I'm not going to squander my potential in a patent office. I need a career that challenges me. That fulfills me. My father found his, I'll find mine. Engineering is where I'm going and I won't settle for anything else.

My question is how do I find my right engineering focus? What resources can I utilize to better narrow that? Where I am able to learn all the various different engineering focuses. I have time to figure it out but why wait? The sooner I start looking the better. More time to figure out what I want. What I don't want is I get a degree in what I thought I wanted in a degree in one field of engineering only to find out I hate it and possibly enjoy another field but would require me going back to college to get that degree. Like say a civil engineer finds out that don't like civil and would prefer chemical engineering. Theyd have to go back and take all the chemistry classes required and get a degree in chemical engineering. A civil engineer can't just become a chemical engineer if they only took a few classes in chemistry when a chemical engineer requires a large amount of chemistry classes. This is the issue I don't want to run into. I want to get it right the first time so what do I need to do to better increase my chances of finding out the right field of engineering for me? I've got some ideas, go to my college clubs. But due to Covid most clubs are not avalible and my engineering club is somewhat subpar. No field trips, just mostly guest speakers but I'd prefer if we did more trying to network. Like i asked if we would go to ASU and look at their engineering program but we won't due to covid. And honestly this whole Covid situation doesn't look like it's going away, especially with the newest variant to arise. My opinion of course.

I'd greatly like to know what I can do.

Gold Member
Unfun fact: "Do what you love and the money will follow" is a myth.
And some believe those myths...

In any case, doing what you hate isn't a very good compromise, you will hate every minute in your job. And most of your waking hours is spent in work.

Gold Member
Maybe sustainability civil engineering.
That would be an excellent direction to go in. It will not earn you vast amounts of money but that goes for a lot of Engineering careers. However, there a many Engineers with comfortable and fulfilling lives and you will always be in demand.

I would think that the course you need should be as general as possible; no one at your age should have to commit to anything too narrow unless they really fancy something specific - so the choice is already made in their case. On the way through most courses there are several options and your choices would be made on the basis of your experience at the time - not just now.

One comment I would make is that you should follow the Maths ( the discipline common to all of Engineering) to as high a level as you are capable of; don't "avoid it" until it really gets too hard.

Klystron
SeasonalBeef
That would be an excellent direction to go in. It will not earn you vast amounts of money but that goes for a lot of Engineering careers. However, there a many Engineers with comfortable and fulfilling lives and you will always be in demand.

I would think that the course you need should be as general as possible; no one at your age should have to commit to anything too narrow unless they really fancy something specific - so the choice is already made in their case. On the way through most courses there are several options and your choices would be made on the basis of your experience at the time - not just now.

One comment I would make is that you should follow the Maths ( the discipline common to all of Engineering) to as high a level as you are capable of; don't "avoid it" until it really gets too hard

I'm 35. I'm a late start. Spent the better part of my 20's being a live in caregivier for my parents and half of my 30's trying to sort myself out mentally because of things I'd rather not get into but long story short it messed me up. But I'm better now and want to get on with my life. I'm not fresh out of high school. I graduated in 2005, started some college after but then life threw its nasty curve ball and I put my life on hold to take care of my parents. They have since passed. Let's not talk about that. I have a hard enough time talking about it with my therapist. Anyways so yeah.

I intend to. I like math

Gold Member

I intend to. I like math
That's good. You will probably have a better idea of where to go with future education. Good luck.

Gold Member
My question is how do I find my right engineering focus?

I'd greatly like to know what I can do.
First, schedule office hours with a professor in each specialty to discuss what the field involves in the real world. Most profs will be happy to spare a half an hour or an hour to discuss that and wouldn't have become educators if they didn't have strong and clear feelings about the subject. Maybe it will take you five or ten hours over a few weeks to set up and do with all of the specialities you are seriously considering. Often, students in their sophomore or junior years will spend 100-400 hours a year lining up summer jobs and often 500+ hours in a senior year lining up a real job after college, so this is not an unreasonable investment.

Second, read job posting in each field as if your were a senior, and see how you feel about them.

Third, get a copy of alumni magazines or newsletters and see what people from your school or a school you plan on transferring to are doing two, five, ten and twenty years out. If you have narrowed you search down to two or three and feel you need more input, ask the alumni office if there are any grads in that speciality they could help you identify to talk about what the real world is like in that field.

Fourth, look for online role models doing precisely the work you'd enjoy doing. Go to the webpages of their companies and look at what they did to get there. If that person isn't a billionaire, send a polite inquiry via email to see if they'd be willing to talk to your briefly because you consider them a role model and would like to know how they go there and what their work is really like. They don't get many inquiries like this and lots of them are willing to have a 15-30 minute phone call with you about it.

Fifth, look at the college catalog to see what classes each specialty involves. Ask yourself, not just if you are able to do it, but which set of courses looks most interesting emotionally, and which you dread emotionally (but you're not allowed to dread math). Focus especially on the electives that excite you or bore you, even if you don't actually do them because that will clue you into what your real feelings about the different fields are.

Sixth, look for websites of clubs at different colleges and universities and national organizations of those clubs, that may be more active than your clubs. "Engineers Without Borders" is one I'd specifically recommend looking into that my daughter's best friend did a summer program with. The Colorado School of Mines also has a very strong sustainable engineering program that is worth a look to get a feel of that field. College clubs generally don't password protect their online presence and while some have websites that suck, some have awesome websites.

Seventh, consider who else you know who has expressed an interest in different specialities and who teaches those specialities that you've met (especially after your informational interviews with professors). Don't feel a need to be fair. If you feel like civil engineering majors you know are your kind of people and the chemical engineering people you know are dorks who smell bad (or maybe you feel like you are a dork who smells bad and would fit in great with chemical engineers), this is actionable information, even if it isn't fair.

Eighth, talk out your own feelings and concerns and ideas with a friend or mentor or trusted person who may know only a little or nothing about the substance as a sounding board to flesh out what you already know but maybe haven't consciously articulated.

Ninth, if all else fails, consult a psychic (see point eight), or turn to random chance. I've made good decisions in life more than once on a whim. Since life is basically unpredictable anyway and your sources of reliable information may be shallow, the down sides are less bad than you'd think. Doing this at least points you to a single choice which you can then gut check on an up or down basis undistracted by the alternatives and could have, would have, should haves, and getting stuck in an "optimiziation" mode. Instead, you really need to be in a "satisficing" mode, which is the kind of search process you should be engaged in right now. Your goal is not to find the best possible speciality for you. There isn't one that can be reliably predicted at this stage. Your goal is to find one of the specialties that will work for you.

Tenth, as a "late bloomer" you have more life experience going into this decision making that most undergraduates. Use that to your advantage. Contact peers who became engineers or work with them, and buy those people coffee or a beer and talk with them. Consider which fields have career paths that reward maturity and life experience and which penalize it. Smaller firms tend to value maturity more than big ones, because you have more client and third-party contact that calls for common sense. Consider which specialties work best with that kind of firm size objective.

Hint: probably not nuclear engineering. But see Robert Jordan (a highly successful author known best for his high fantasy novels who died in 2007):

Jordan was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He went to Clemson University after high school, but dropped out after one year and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War as a helicopter gunner. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with "V" and oak leaf cluster, and two Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses with palm. After returning from Vietnam in 1970, Jordan studied physics at The Citadel. He graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science degree and began working for the U.S. Navy as a nuclear engineer. He began writing in 1977.

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SeasonalBeef and BvU
The clubs at my college are not that great. Most of them are not in function because of covid. We have a STEM club but it was only online and since nobody showed up on zoom they are not having it this year. There is an engineering club but other than having guest speakers come in we aren't doing much. Field trips are an issue because they say the transportation the college provides wants to limit the amount of people in each bus this costing the club more. I've brought up that can't we just take our own cars and not have to rely on the school transport transport I guess there is some issue with that too. And honestly I doubt the Covid issue will ever be resolved any time soon. I'll need to find other avenues of networking and not rely on the school to provide oy because with Covid its super limited. Thing is I don't know where to go for that. Maybe the the university. It's ASU, they have a massive university abd a great engineering department. But I'm not a student so not sure what they could provide for me, also don't know if they won't want me on campus due to Covid limitations or what have you.

I have a question. Ok so I'm not sure what engineering I want. Maybe sustainability civil engineering. In my eyes that means creating industrial projects that help to be more economical and enviormentally efficient. Help to create buildings that have solar cells built into the walls to help reduce energy costs as well as reduce reduce heat. Or better ways to dispose of garbage do we don't have that giant island of garbage in the ocean. I see the enviormental problems being a bigger problem in the future and I see that as a great opportunity for me to tackle them. I'm an opportunist as well as an engineer. How can I help myself by helping others. It's not about the money, I mean the money part is nice, but the real reward is the challenges and opportunity to do something. And I see the environmental issues of the commkng future to be a gold mine of problem solving that i want to hop on to. Just to remind you it's not about the money. Its about the opportunity to tackle these problems fir the sake of solving them. Kind of like a puzzle. I like to keep myself busy. Keeps me out of my head which is not a place I enjoy being. Long story. Anyway based on that which field or fields would be best for me? And what other things should I look into on my way there?
For what it's worth, when I was talking about getting involved with various clubs and groups, I meant once you get to university. It's great if your high school has these too, of course, but as you say, in your case the opportunity may not be there.

As the risk of giving your second question a non-answer, I'll offer something to think about: what you study in university does not necessarily dictate the career you'll end up in. The two are obviously related, but the path to a career is rarely linear.

What I mean here is that it's great that you've identified problems you're passionate about. But you can work on these coming through many different branches of engineering. It's even feasible that the field you'll end up spending the majority of your career in doesn't even exist yet. So the point is to take some time figure out what your strengths are and the kind of work that you enjoy doing. Then, once you graduate, focus on putting that skill set to work on projects that have meaning for you.

sophiecentaur
Gold Member
This was just my personal experience, but the major was very challenging. I personally couldn't get through it if I didn't like it. There were definitely a lot of classes that I did not like, but the few that I liked made it feel all worth it. I could see the possibility of landing a boring job after finishing your degree, but you might like different roles or try a different company.

I do think engineering is a very robust major... when I was choosing my major I noticed that most majors had very similar coursework for the first 2 years, and many of the coursework were fundamentals that I would imagine could be useful for other STEM majors such as mathematics and physics. I personally made the switch from mechanical engineering to electrical engineering after 2 years. This was a good move for me.

I felt lucky to have scored a few internships during my undergraduate experience, which gave me a good taste of the work. I tried all sorts of things. Internships were very representative of my typical day as an engineer.

vela
Staff Emeritus
Homework Helper
Yeah no on the whole patent law. Law, politics, and government I'd rather stay away from. I have an engineering mind. I want to be an engineer. Just not sure which engineering. I want to stay out of law, politics, government because it's not my mindset. I'm going for engineering. That's that. My minds made up. It's set in stone. My heart is set for engineering.
This statement does seem to contradict the doubts you mention in your original post. If you don't know what's really involved being any type of engineer, how can you be so certain that you want to be one? There are other STEM fields you know, so why engineering?

russ_watters
SeasonalBeef
This statement does seem to contradict the doubts you mention in your original post. If you don't know what's really involved being any type of engineer, how can you be so certain that you want to be one? There are other STEM fields you know, so why engineering?
Ok so there seems to some major misconceptions going on so I feel I need to clarify.

My worries is what if I get a degree in civil engineering but find I'd rather go into chemical engineering. This is just a hypothetical. So I I complete all the courses to become a Civil engineer but now want to be a chemical engineer. How I figure this out is irrelevant in this hypothetical. So in other to become a chemical engineer I'd need to take the required courses in chemistry to get the degree. But I'd rather not have to do that. That means more time and money and energy spent in classes.

I am trying to reduce the risk percentage of comming to that possible outcome by increasing increasing chances of finding the right engineering program I want for me though finding the right resources, talking to the right people people, and so on.

ohwilleke provided an answer that fit inside the parameters of my question.

You ask how can I know for sure I want to be an engineer without knowing what an engineer does, well figuring out what an engineer does would be a good way of answering that.

What other STEM fields are applied problem solving?

Here's the thing. I see the future being a wealth of environmental problems that will need to be tackled. I want to be able to help design and come up with ways to help reduce heat in big cities in the south west, create better methods of solar power, make things that are both economical and do not impact the environment or help it.

Why? Because 1. I'll feel needed. 2. It will be challenging, and 3. It will be a gold mine of problem solving. Note I say the gold mine is problem solving and not money. Again, note that the gold mine is problem solving and not money. The money is the cherry on top but the true substance of reward is the problem solving. To me that's the real reward and drive for me.

I see it as this. I get money, in able to buy a nice car. Cool. Nice car just takes me from a to b. Nice or super nice is a moot point. It's glamor is temporary before it becomes mundane to me. But if I solve a problem and it fulfill me and I'm able to say to myself I helped solve this issue that made people's lives better and I was able to use my full potential on that problem, well that sticks. That stays. That's what I'll look at on my death bed that will let me know I did something. Yes I know that's morbid but when you've been to as many funerals as I have you start to have that perspective, at least I have.

ohwilleke
I see the future being a wealth of environmental problems that will need to be tackled. I want to be able to help design and come up with ways to help reduce heat in big cities in the south west, create better methods of solar power, make things that are both economical and do not impact the environment or help it.
Nobody "solves" any of these problems by themselves, and in fact, these things (like "help reduce heat in big cities") are not "solved" in one go, rather the solution is built from many interconnected parts that each require detailed solutions to myriad problems. So for your big environmental issues, it doesn't really matter if you are a civil, mechanical, chemical, or electrical engineer, the big solutions will keep all of these disciplines busy for years.

Take "better methods of solar power." If you mean "better solar cells" then yes, that's a pretty specific material/physics thing, but if you mean better solar "systems" then in addition to the cells, there are the cell holders (mechanical), tracking drives (mech design), supports and foundations (civil), wiring and circuits (electrical), manufacturing... and on and on.

No one person does all of these things, that's why engineering firms are generally organized by discipline (with a mechanical group, an electrical group, instruments/controls, structural/civil ...). It really doesn't matter what the "product" is, they need all of these engineers to go from an idea to a finished job.

Astronuc, russ_watters, BvU and 1 other person
SeasonalBeef
Nobody "solves" any of these problems by themselves, and in fact, these things (like "help reduce heat in big cities") are not "solved" in one go, rather the solution is built from many interconnected parts that each require detailed solutions to myriad problems. So for your big environmental issues, it doesn't really matter if you are a civil, mechanical, chemical, or electrical engineer, the big solutions will keep all of these disciplines busy for years.

Take "better methods of solar power." If you mean "better solar cells" then yes, that's a pretty specific material/physics thing, but if you mean better solar "systems" then in addition to the cells, there are the cell holders (mechanical), tracking drives (mech design), supports and foundations (civil), wiring and circuits (electrical), manufacturing... and on and on.

No one person does all of these things, that's why engineering firms are generally organized by discipline (with a mechanical group, an electrical group, instruments/controls, structural/civil ...). It really doesn't matter what the "product" is, they need all of these engineers to go from an idea to a finished job.
I don't intend to be the one to find a solution to these issues, I'm just saying I want to be able to work on them. I want to "help" come up with ideas like buildings that methods of absorbing solar light abd heat to turn that into energy. Maybe if just to have that idea out there so that in 50 years others when the tech is avalible can make it. I know I won't be captain planet and save the world. I'm not some idealist looking to fix the world's problems. I'm an opportunist seeing a need and wanting in on that action, but it's opportunity that is rewarded in puzzle solving. Replace opportunity reward being money with opportunity reward being puzzles to solve with the benefit of money, but puzzle solving being primary.

But again just so we are clear, I know I'm not going to solve the world's problems. I want want be able to work on issues and help find solutions. But that does not mean I see myself as the one to solve them.

Look, when it comes to writing and communicating my ideas I really suck at it. I'm going to be needing to really work on this, I know.

Ultimately I will need to choose one engineering focus. Unless I wish to double major which is more time because mechanical engineering and civil engineering do have deviations. I've seen the course classes for both they have big differences. The ultimate goal of this thread is finding the right field of engineering and knowing what I want to do with it before I graduate so that I don't have to go back to take other classes to go to a different engineering field which requires a lost of classes that the ok I took didn't have. I don't think a civil engineer with only a civil engineering degree would be a very good mechanical engineer. Maybe at a novice level. And again I state civil and mechanical engineering here as examples but not to be limited to.

ohwilleke already stated some really good points to give an answer to my question.

BvU
Gold Member
Look, when it comes to writing and communicating my ideas I really suck at it. I'm going to be needing to really work on this, I know.
Hah! I've come across a lot worse, so don't worry too much about that. I imagine you haven't yet had much formal training in how to 'write'. Courses are always available to deal with that problem, if you feel you have one.
But you got as far as contributing to PF and you've stimulated a thread with 20+ contributions so far so you must be doing something right. We all understood your points and we got 'engaged' - so I wouldn't say you "suck". Style develops as you progress and you'll gradually take on board the best ways to communicate.

As for any future job, you will find that the people you end up working with will contribute at least as much to your satisfaction as the name of the actual topic you're involved with.

symbolipoint
OP:

(a) Ideally, you would take a variety of engineering courses, work in a variety of internships, and then decide what you like best. Most of us do not have the luxury of the time and expense involved.

(b) One way to narrow your options is to reflect on what piques your interests the most.

(i) Think back on previous high school and elementary school science classes. Were you introduced to the basics of physics, chemistry, biology, and computers? What did you like, and what did you not like? Did you do any science fair projects? Did you build a model volcano, and laugh when you mixed vinegar and baking soda to simulate an eruption and overflow of lava? Did you look through a telescope, and anxiously await a total eclipse of the moon? Did you look through a microscope, and get wowed by salt crystals growing from a drop of saline solution? Did you take glee in dissecting a frog, or were you grossed out by it? Did you program a computer to control a robot?

(ii) Do you like to take things apart to see what’s inside? Do you like to build things? Do you like to blow things up? Do you tinker with cars? Do you repair appliances? Do you do woodworking? Do you do home repair? Do you prefer plumbing or electrical? Do you open up old mechanical watches and marvel at the complex array of mechanical components? Do you open up computers and marvel at the complex array of electronic components? Do you play around with the best agents for removing rust? Do you like writing code?

(c) Based on (b), you should be able to narrow your field of engineering among the major engineering categories, such as mechanical, electrical, chemical, biological, and software. And then perhaps narrow the choice to two fields, such as (mechanical, civil), (electrical, computer), or (chemical, materials). Pick one initially as a major, and take electives in the other. You can switch later on, if you change your mind.

(d) A lot depends on how many years you plan to spend at the university. Some students I know take their first two years at a community college and then transfer to a state university as a junior. This saves them a lot of money; and the total time getting a bachelor’s is still only 4 yrs. This works if they know what they want to major in, and if their community college and state university offer the appropriate programs. In your case, since you’re not sure what you want to major in, it might be worthwhile for you to spend an extra year at the university to explore your options.

Astronuc
Gold Member
(b) One way to narrow your options is to reflect on what piques your interests the most.
I can't argue with that, on the face of it, but my feeling is that what you end up doing will seldom be precisely that. It's all to easy to feel you've failed or let yourself down when you have too high commitment to just one direction.
I have always found that 'problem solving' is much the same process, whatever you happen to be doing and that's what makes a job worthwhile. Let's face it, there are millions of ex Scientists who love their jobs in finance, marketing and running shops, even. They didn't 'fail' because they left Science and the same applies to moving about within Science. Satisfaction lies in all sorts of places that you would never have thought of at the start of your life.

BvU
I can't argue with that, on the face of it, but my feeling is that what you end up doing will seldom be precisely that. It's all to easy to feel you've failed or let yourself down when you have too high commitment to just one direction.
I have always found that 'problem solving' is much the same process, whatever you happen to be doing and that's what makes a job worthwhile. Let's face it, there are millions of ex Scientists who love their jobs in finance, marketing and running shops, even. They didn't 'fail' because they left Science and the same applies to moving about within Science. Satisfaction lies in all sorts of places that you would never have thought of at the start of your life.
Oh, I totally agree that breadth, flexibility, and resiliency are keys to a successful career ... or careers. I myself pivoted from careers as solid-state physicist to quality improvement engineer to various flavors of telcom engineer to patent agent. But the OP is asking where to start. So you want to at least start with what you find fun, what you love to do. Then pivot when circumstances dictate.

sophiecentaur
Homework Helper
2022 Award
Ninth, if all else fails, consult a psychic (see point eight), or turn to random chance. I've made good decisions in life more than once on a whim. Since life is basically unpredictable anyway and your sources of reliable information may be shallow, the down sides are less bad than you'd think. Doing this at least points you to a single choice which you can then gut check on an up or down basis undistracted by the alternatives and could have, would have, should haves, and getting stuck in an "optimiziation" mode.
This is the best advice I have heard in a very long time (of course the Psychic is a metaphor) So much energy is wasted perseverating. You are always better served by gaining a reasonable amount of information, proceeding with enthusiasm, and never fearing to change course (I did not say backtrack). I am however a firm believer in persuing what you love if you are so lucky as to have the inclination and opportunity. I formally chose to do physics in 1972, a time when technical academia was overfilled with new young talented recruits and NASA was laying off physicists by the hundred. I knew was not the sharpest cheddar in the fridge but I am very good at what I do because of commitment. I had a brief infatuation with those new-fangled "computers" but my decision to "go for it" served me well and I am pleased with what I know. Had I done computers I would now be a fossil.
What other STEM fields are applied problem solving?
Let's see...all of them?!

Astronuc and russ_watters
Mentor
This is the best advice I have heard in a very long time (of course the Psychic is a metaphor) So much energy is wasted perseverating. You are always better served by gaining a reasonable amount of information, proceeding with enthusiasm, and never fearing to change course (I did not say backtrack). I am however a firm believer in persuing what you love if you are so lucky as to have the inclination and opportunity.
I chose my college in large part by counting the posters on my walls. I also believe agonizing over choices is unproductive because one's ability to predict the future is so limited. People tend to regret the choices that don't work out for them, but that doesn't mean the choice was wrong given the information available at the time.
Let's see...all of them?!
Yeah, that's a pretty basic definition of "engineering". When I got out of college I attached business cards to my resume and gave myself a job title that was something like "Relentless Creative Problem Solver". My interviewer in the job I took responded favorably to it.

BvU and hutchphd
Mentor
My worries is what if I get a degree in civil engineering but find I'd rather go into chemical engineering. This is just a hypothetical. So I I complete all the courses to become a Civil engineer but now want to be a chemical engineer. How I figure this out is irrelevant in this hypothetical. So in other to become a chemical engineer I'd need to take the required courses in chemistry to get the degree...

Here's the thing. I see the future being a wealth of environmental problems that will need to be tackled. I want to be able to help design and come up with ways to help reduce heat in big cities in the south west, create better methods of solar power, make things that are both economical and do not impact the environment or help it.
Nobody "solves" any of these problems by themselves, and in fact, these things (like "help reduce heat in big cities") are not "solved" in one go, rather the solution is built from many interconnected parts that each require detailed solutions to myriad problems. So for your big environmental issues, it doesn't really matter if you are a civil, mechanical, chemical, or electrical engineer, the big solutions will keep all of these disciplines busy for years.
Yep. When it comes to being focused on a major problem/industry, what specific role you have isn't necessarily that important. Pick any discipline relevant to it that interests you and you can make it work.

Me personally, I'm in maybe the broadest discipline; mechanical. I pretty much fell into HVAC, but I found that I like it because what I really enjoy isn't necessarily a specific discipline, it's "engineering".

sophiecentaur
Gold Member
Another point that has to be made here. If you get a job with an organisation that is developing, say, Flux Capacitors. Unless you are chief designer or a board member, you are very likely to be working on the same sort of problems and equipment that the firm down the road (developing Interossiters). Engineering tends to be Engineering, wherever you find it. You may never actually touch a Flux Capacitor.
It would be naive to think that all of your future career will hang on the 'name' of the first company you work for or the name of your first course. Some of my ex colleagues, who were working on Broadcast Engineering Research with me, eventually moved on to Colour Film development, Weather Forecasting, Semiconductor Sales, Teaching, 'Time' with the National Physics Laboratory, TV programme production and Finance. None of them / us moved out because they hated what we were all doing; they just moved on.

ohwilleke
paralleltransport
I am worried about going for an engineering field and getting a degree in it to only find out its either not what I thought it would be or I just do not like it. If that happened I'd think the only option is go back to college to get a different degree, but I'd really not want to do that.

Is there a good way to find out what each engineering field really does? How do you know which field is right for you?
I think the best way to find out would be to try to intern at a company doing engineering and really try your best foot forward at it (throw out all preconception of the job, just try your best).

Then ask yourself if you want to do this for several years.

Gold Member
Then ask yourself if you want to do this for several years.
Problem is that you just can't predict how you will feel, even after a short time. It can work both ways; a seemingly unattractive field of work can end up being your favourite thing, once you have been immersed.

As has already been said, Engineering is Engineering and the attitude that goes with it. When an Engineer talks to another Engineer, who works in a totally different field, they are both talking the same language. They very often appreciate the aspects of each other's current work.

Friends of mine who are non- engineers just have no idea of these sorts of things. They push on the pedal in a motorcar and have no awareness of what may be going on inside the car system. They don't notice the flaps operating on the wings of an aircraft when they look out during landing. OMG, they are certainly missing out!

One has to be more bullish and confident about such choices. Failure or 'incompatibility' are not things one should go looking for. You can find them anywhere. Cup half full is the best approach and not "could this cup have a leak?".

Mondayman
I think the best way to find out would be to try to intern at a company doing engineering and really try your best foot forward at it (throw out all preconception of the job, just try your best).

Then ask yourself if you want to do this for several years.
But the OP was initially asking a question along the lines of, "And what if the answer is, 'No!' Then what?" As I previously posted, most students do not have the time and $$to try out multiple fields and multiple internships to see what they like best. symbolipoint and sophiecentaur Education Advisor Problem is that you just can't predict how you will feel, even after a short time. It can work both ways; a seemingly unattractive field of work can end up being your favourite thing, once you have been immersed. As has already been said, Engineering is Engineering and the attitude that goes with it. When an Engineer talks to another Engineer, who works in a totally different field, they are both talking the same language. They very often appreciate the aspects of each other's current work. Friends of mine who are non- engineers just have no idea of these sorts of things. They push on the pedal in a motorcar and have no awareness of what may be going on inside the car system. They don't notice the flaps operating on the wings of an aircraft when they look out during landing. OMG, they are certainly missing out! One has to be more bullish and confident about such choices. Failure or 'incompatibility' are not things one should go looking for. You can find them anywhere. Cup half full is the best approach and not "could this cup have a leak?". Agreed that there is core commonality among different branches of engineering. Agreed that a student's initial choice of major does not lock him into a fixed career path for the rest of his life. And agreed that career trajectories often are not linear, or even monotonic. But unless the OP has a lot of time and$$$(and he's already starting college later in life than a typical undergrad), he has a window of maybe 2 years or so in which to decide upon a major (which is complicated by the fact that he is going the community college route first, which limits his early exposure to a larger variety of potential majors). There are universities that offer majors in "General Engineering". But companies generally are not recruiting general engineers for either internships or (nominally) permanent hires. They are recruiting mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, chemical engineers, software engineers, ... So the OP does need to decide upon a specific major in engineering. Some students try to decide on the basis of what field is the most in demand or what field pays the most. Those are not good ways to decide since there is a long time lag between when a student starts university and when he enters the work force ... and the job market can easily invert within that interval. Another way to decide (as championed by myself and other posters) is to at least initially narrow your choices to what you love to do (while maintaining enough breadth and flexibility to be able to adapt to volatile job markets). Science Advisor Gold Member <<Emphasis added.>> But the OP was initially asking a question along the lines of, "And what if the answer is, 'No!' Then what?" As I previously posted, most students do not have the time and$ to try out multiple fields and multiple internships to see what they like best.