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Engineering Is engineering the right career for me?

  1. Oct 7, 2012 #1
    Hey PF first post here, was looking for some career advice on engineering and physics related employment.
    I'm 22 years old, from Australia, and have just completed high school at an adult college after dropping out of 11th grade about 6 years ago and working as a construction builder and supervisor.

    I decided at the start of the year I was going to complete high school before I got any older and try to get into university so that I could work towards not a better paying job (as I made plenty in my former construction jobs) but towards a career thats better suited towards my interests in science, physics and mathematics. I just feel like I could be doing something that pushes my brain much further then being in physical work.

    I enrolled in an adult college to complete 12th grade at the start of this year, I picked physics, chemistry, math and math specialist (advanced math) and have managed to get all A's and B's, impressing my teachers after such a long absence from any study at all.
    I have done very well in physics and both my math classes, but not so well in chemistry where I just managed to get a B+ after so much hard work and study.

    Civil and chemical engineering have been suggested to me as a good career to have, espescially here in Australia where we have a major mining industry for engineers. But since completing 12th grade and being faced with picking a Uni course, I have found that I enjoy physics the most and I'm doing pretty well in maths, but chemistry while I really enjoy it, isn't my best area when it comes to test scores, grades, ect.
    So where does that leave me?

    I know this is a fairly vast question, but is engineering the best choice for me? or should I push myself to achieve a degree in an area of physics? even if the career possibilities may be much better for engineering where theres more jobs, money, ect?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2012 #2
    These situations are very common. The general solution is to major in what you love or what you would hopefully like to do for the rest of your life. (note that usually, physics graduates end up leaving physics simply because job prospects are low and competitive.)

    In my opinion, I believe that majoring in something practical for a career and setting aside some courses for physics (or mathematics in my situation) may be enough and a good solution.

    This can work out in the form of a minor or double major. A double major is doable but has some cons: More years in college, higher cost for college, may be difficult in some semesters, and maybe even additional coursework outside both majors (if you see this as a bad thing).

    Regardless, if you did enough physics coursework your undergrad year (and enough math), it is possible to end up in graduate school in the opposite field. But it appears that transitioning from engineering to physics is a bit more difficult than vice versa. So that may be a flaw in just taking a couple of courses.
  4. Oct 7, 2012 #3
    This is one of the most helpful things I've read in a while. I really like physics, but the job market for a physics major is just abysmal for how much sheer work you have to put out. Engineering seems far less competitive in that there are far more openings for engineers since engineering needs are abundant and widespread.
  5. Oct 7, 2012 #4


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    Just adding to the point made by Klungo regarding a combined degree, the added time at university can sometimes be a good thing. I am nearing the end of my chemical engineering / commerce degree (6 years instead of the usual 4 year engineering degree), and as much as I have learned quite a lot from the additional commerce units, the biggest benefit I have gained from the double degree is the extra time to consider future career options. It really has only been within the last 1.5-2 years that I have had the chance to investigate different options more thoroughly, whereas if I had finished after 4 years, I would have probably taken a job somewhere without really knowing what I was getting into.

    In Australia, it seems that chemical engineering courses don't require that you study all that much chemistry, so in my opinion it is not too important that it wasn't your best subject. Over the course of my degree, I have taken only 3 chemistry-specific classes (one of which was an optional course). While my other classes have utilized chemistry in some form or another, it has been very superficial, so an in-depth understanding of chemistry was never absolutely necessary. Most of my classes are probably better labeled as "process engineering" rather than chemical engineering (I study in Western Australia, but I think the situation is similar across most Australian universities).
  6. Oct 7, 2012 #5
    thanks all for the replies, I had thought similarly myself.

    It seems like engineering is a good choice for the reasons that the available job market and that it also involves my interests (math, physics), my only concern is that if I commit myself to an engineering based course for the next 4 years, I may end up wishing that I had pursued my interests in getting a degree in physics and overall having a better background in higher-level mathematics.
    A combined degree does sound like a good idea to consider, although due to my age I am rather hesistant to commit myself to another 2 years of school (+ the 4 years for engineering) at this point, as I would be nearly 30 by the time I finish.

    thats interesting that your classes in chem engineering don't require a solid background in chemistry, I was nervous about exactly how much assumed knowledge would be involved since I had a really rough time with chem at the start of this year.
    What would you say are the most important things for me to study if I hope to do well in chemical engineering at university?
  7. Oct 7, 2012 #6


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    Based on my experience, without doubt the most important thing for studying chemical engineering (and I guess any field of engineering) is a solid background in mathematics. Just about every class I have taken has made use of a lot of maths (maybe not to the extent that advanced physics courses would, but certainly enough that a lack of understanding will be a hindrance).

    In terms of the chemistry, most of my chem. eng. classes have required only a fairly basic understanding of reaction stoichiometry and chemical calculations (especially for material and energy balances) and a basic understanding of bonding. I did a class called "Reactor Design" last year, and even that required very minimal knowledge of chemistry; it was more related to modelling the actual reactor itself. There are of course the initial introductory chemistry classes that you'd probably have to take (inorganic, physical, organic, maybe analytical etc.), however I found these to be quite straightforward, and then after completing these classes I was never required to use a lot of it again.
  8. Oct 7, 2012 #7


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    Have a look at the websites of some Australian universities for specific details about each class you'd be required to take. For reference, I study at the University of Western Australia.
  9. Oct 8, 2012 #8
    thanks for the advice danago, will do

    I'm still deciding whether I want to go into chemical engineering or mechanical/aerospace, but the double degree seems like a good idea so that I can continue to study mathematics and physics while also getting a degree in some form of engineering.
  10. Oct 8, 2012 #9


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    With some construction experience behind you, and good grades in physics and Maths, which you enjoy to boot, sounds like a degree in structural or mechanical engineering might be worth pursuing. I'm not keen on the double degree thing....only once in a great while have I dealt with others who have degrees in different engineering disciplines. Go with something you like and do well with.
  11. Oct 8, 2012 #10
    thanks for your reply,
    After searching the local universities courses, I have been considering applying for a double degree in engineering and mathematical science. Which although it sounds like a lot of work, would give me not only the degree I need in engineering to hopefully find work down the track, but also some exposure to more mathematics.

    I kind of want to take all the mathematics courses I can stand before I start looking for work again.
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