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Nuclear Engineering a bad choice?

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  • Thread starter Eclipxe
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I've been reading around and have come to a general consensus that nuclear research and applications have and will continue to decline. I know there's the thread in the nuke forums section about if nuclear energy is "good" or not, but I want a more specific answer to the career.

I'm a freshman in college right now and will have to declare soon. Is nuclear engineering a smart/dumb choice given the situation? Added information such as if power plants will be shut down or research will stop (i.e. no more jobs) would be delightful.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Have you looked into Nuclear forensics? With terrorism scares and arms control efforts, it's worth at least looking into.
 
  • #3
Vanadium 50
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Added information such as if power plants will be shut down or research will stop (i.e. no more jobs) would be delightful.
Nobody can predict the future. If you are going to school solely to get a job, I would recommend trade school instead. That's what it's for. Sorry, but nobody can tell what's going to happen.
 
  • #4
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Nobody can predict the future. If you are going to school solely to get a job, I would recommend trade school instead. That's what it's for. Sorry, but nobody can tell what's going to happen.
I disagree. It's silly to go to university with no thoughts or intentions of considering working outside of academia afterward. In an ideal world, you could study fun stuff and never have to worry about making a living. In the real world, everything's governed by economics and what kind of knowledge, skills, and experience are in demand and by whom. Being successful relies on being grounded to those realities.
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50
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I disagree. You go to college to become an educated person.

I spend most of my day working on things that didn't even exist when I was in school. The model where you go to college, learn exactly what you need for a job, and then do that job forever doesn't work. The world is constantly changing, and to adapt, you need to become educated - not just learn what appears relevant right away.
 
  • #6
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I never said I was going to school solely for a job. Where did you jump to that conclusion? Obviously I have to major in something, and I'm simply asking for the advantages/disadvantages of nuclear engineering. I'm sure people out there (Where are you nuke engineers!) have some educated opinions on how this career choice will pan out in the future. You make it sound as if I'm looking for fortune tellers...
 
  • #7
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OK, that makes sense, but I still disagree with some aspects of your argument. Specifically, I don't see marketable skills/knowledge and being educated as a mutually exclusive dichotomy. Indeed, the best thing I gained from my time in university is a fundamental change in my way of thinking. Also, the strong theoretical background is way more useful than it appears at face value. I'm not saying that one should go to school only to learn what will be "useful" (by some arbitrary definition); I'm simply saying that not having any plans for what to do after 4 years of undergraduate, or even after a graduate program, is a recipe for serious frustration. Thinking ahead has never hurt anyone.

But back to Nuclear Engineering. Eclipxe--What do you like about it? What kind of work do you see yourself doing: purely theoretical research (in which case, Nuclear Physics may be better for you), research (look into the National Labs), policy work (something like the National Nuclear Security Administration may be good there), power plant operations..? If you know what positions are available ahead of time and what their requirements are, you will know how to tailor your studies as an undergraduate to be of most benefit.
 
  • #8
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Maybe you're getting me confused with the other guy? I never argued that they were mutually exclusive. That'd actually be quite ridiculous. Of course engineering in general will have my mind thinking in an efficient manner, but again, I do need to pick a major. So lets deviate from this out-of-nowhere subject of if going to school is purely for trade skills or not.

By the way, it's not like I'm randomly picking this out of a hat. I adore the idea of nuclear applications (medical, fuel, etc). Although, I don't know what I would want to specialize yet.

So any other thoughts on the prospects of this major?
 
  • #9
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Yes, the first half of my previous post was directed at Vanadium. Sorry for the confusion.
 
  • #10
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Thinking ahead has never hurt anyone.
Exactly. But you have to think way ahead. Where will you be 20 years from now, 20 years to retirement, and the world has evolved in an unexpected way, and everything you learned in school is obsolete? Don't let the 5 year time scale blind you to the 20 year time frame.
 
  • #11
MacLaddy
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Eclipxe, if that's what you love than go for it. Besides, people will have to pull their heads out eventually and realize that nuclear energy is too viable not to use.

But I'm far from an expert, just an opinion.
 
  • #12
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We should definitely being further refining and advancing nuclear reactor technology. I wouldn't count it out yet. Hopefully, the intransigent environmental jackasses will lose influence and more reasonable policy and legislation will be passed in the future.
 
  • #13
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We should definitely being further refining and advancing nuclear reactor technology.
We are! Same for nuclear fuel. Stay tuned.
 
  • #14
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My B.S. degree in nuclear engineering opened a lot of doors for me. Worked at a nuke plant for 4 years and got into the "secondary" side of the plant (turbines, feedwater heaters, condensers). Later, I had no trouble being admitted to graduate school and earned a MS in mechanical engineering and have worked in a variety of different (non nuclear) industries.

So I would say if it interests you, nuclear engineering is a solid and versatle engineering education that provides many different opportunities.
 
  • #15
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If you have a BS in engineering, it says a lot about you and if it happens that you'd rather move into a different field, it's easier to do so (especially if it's in engineering). Most people respect how difficult engineering is, so you won't have problems convincing people you're competent enough to do a job.

Also, this is my personal impression (that of a non-expert), but I thought the field of nuclear science ought to be growing. It sure seems like this whole energy crisis is putting nuclear energy in the spotlight, moreso than wind turbines or solar energy or something like that. For what it's worth... the BBC documentaries seem to illustrate those facts as well (yes, please hold down your laughter, I said I'm not an expert!).
 
  • #16
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I would suggest to study what interests you. If you really are interested in nuclear power and the public interest is declining you will still find a job. Anyone who likes his thing can find a job on it no matter what.
 
  • #17
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When I was an undergraduate in the late-1980's, I got a letter from the Navy offering to pay me $25K in cash if I switched my major from physics to nuclear engineering. I wouldn't have any obligations other than to switch my major.

The issue with nuclear engineering is that it's not a growing industry, but someone has to run the power plants.
 
  • #18
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http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos027.htm
Nuclear engineers are expected to have employment growth of 11 percent over the projections decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Most job growth will be in research and development and engineering services. Although no commercial nuclear power plants have been built in the United States for many years, increased interest in nuclear power as an energy source will spur demand for nuclear engineers to research and develop new designs for reactors. They also will be needed to work in defense-related areas, to develop nuclear medical technology, and to improve and enforce waste management and safety standards. Nuclear engineers are expected to have good employment opportunities because the small number of nuclear engineering graduates is likely to be in rough balance with the number of job openings.
 
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  • #19
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Exactly. But you have to think way ahead. Where will you be 20 years from now, 20 years to retirement, and the world has evolved in an unexpected way, and everything you learned in school is obsolete? Don't let the 5 year time scale blind you to the 20 year time frame.
The relevance of your degree declines over time. As you mention, 20 years out, his work experience will be much more important, and what he learned in school will be obsolete. Looking at career projections over the next 5-10 years and factoring that into a choice of what to study is perfectly reasonable. I studied mechanical engineering (vs physics) so that I could get started in a certain type of career, and I'm certainly very glad that I did. I don't think it would be fair to say that I'm any less educated for it either.

A lot of my friends chose majors without considering their options after college. Too large a number of them are now unemployed and don't have an opportunity to learn or experience much of anything. The unemployment numbers right now for new graduates are astounding.
 
  • #20
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Looking at career projections over the next 5-10 years and factoring that into a choice of what to study is perfectly reasonable.
It can be, but you run into the "projection paradox."

If everyone thinks that X is going to be the hot career, and everyone goes into X, then you get an oversupply of people doing X, and then X isn't the hot career. Something that makes projections messy is that it's often the case the the projection changes the thing being projected.

One of the ironies is that sometimes the optimal strategy is to do something totally random. If you do something totally random, your odds of winning are chance. If you listen to projections, then you may end up doing worse than chance, because you get caught up in a bubble.

I studied mechanical engineering (vs physics) so that I could get started in a certain type of career, and I'm certainly very glad that I did.
I studied physics without being too concerned about career. It worked out pretty well for me. The one important trick that I did was that I had a pretty broad education which meant that I could switch pretty quickly from field to field. The other thing that worked for me was a lot of outside reading on history, politics, and economics since those are going to be the big things that affect career.

A lot of my friends chose majors without considering their options after college. Too large a number of them are now unemployed and don't have an opportunity to learn or experience much of anything. The unemployment numbers right now for new graduates are astounding.
The problem is that they wouldn't have been much better off had they giving careful thought to their major. The problem is that we have an economy with 10% unemployment, and in that situation it's musical chairs. It's not going to help you at all to pick a "relevant major" because the jobs aren't there and as long as the jobs aren't there, you are likely to end up losing whatever you do.

If everyone switches from physics to MechE, then it's not going to do people much good if the jobs aren't there.

This is where history comes in. When all hell was breaking loose, I found it really useful to read the experiences of someone that lived in the 1930's to see what they did.
 
  • #21
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It can be, but you run into the "projection paradox."

If everyone thinks that X is going to be the hot career, and everyone goes into X, then you get an oversupply of people doing X, and then X isn't the hot career. Something that makes projections messy is that it's often the case the the projection changes the thing being projected.
Agreed... but how many high schoolers / undergrads picking a major actually look at these? I don't suspect that we have a problem with everyone picking nuclear engineering as a hot field.
The problem is that they wouldn't have been much better off had they giving careful thought to their major. The problem is that we have an economy with 10% unemployment, and in that situation it's musical chairs. It's not going to help you at all to pick a "relevant major" because the jobs aren't there and as long as the jobs aren't there, you are likely to end up losing whatever you do.
There's still a huge difference in the demand for different majors. It's harder to find employment stats by major, but the salary differences are definitely still there. There's a much higher demand for engineers than psych majors, and that hasn't changed. We fired a lot of people, but we never stopped hiring engineers over the past few years. My engineering classmates are also all doing fine right now. It's more important than ever right now to have an employable background.

http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/fall09a.pdf
http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp
 
  • #22
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Agreed... but how many high schoolers / undergrads picking a major actually look at these?
I wouldn't be so sure of that. At my school 2 years ago there were around 20 kids in environmental engineering out of 450 1st year engineering students. This year that number is closer to 120 out of 450. Even high schoolers know about the economy and how hard it is to get a job, a reasonable thing to do would be to look at some projections.
 
  • #23
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I wouldn't be so sure of that. At my school 2 years ago there were around 20 kids in environmental engineering out of 450 1st year engineering students. This year that number is closer to 120 out of 450. Even high schoolers know about the economy and how hard it is to get a job, a reasonable thing to do would be to look at some projections.
Good for them then. It sounds like improved transparency may be making the labor market more efficient, which means more people are likely to end up with jobs.
 

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