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What does it take to be an engineer?

  • Engineering
  • Thread starter joojoo
  • Start date
  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life since I'll be starting college this fall. I've been looking into the field of engineering, particularly environmental engineering.

I took AP Calculus in high school and loved it, I've always been interested in science type areas, and I consider myself to be a creative person (I love painting, sculpting, etc). However, I'm not sure if this is enough to actually become an engineer. I never had a good physics class in high school because my teacher was going through a rough time in her life, so unfortunately our class suffered through monotonous busy-work and little explanation.

I'd appreciate advice on what it REALLY takes to ENJOY being an engineer, or what classes I can take early in college to see if I'm any good at it.

Thanks for taking time to read this:)
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Gold Member
Are you good at math?
Can you build toys/furniture/etc easily by looking at directions.
Can you picture a car taken apart....both the engine and chassis? Think about how it all goes back together and works?
Are you familiar with the terms "an object in motion tends to stay in motion" and "an object at rest tends to stay at rest".
Are you good at story problems and problem solving?

Painting and sculpting is not typically what an engineer is interested in, but that's not a give all.

Take Chemistry, Calculus, Diff EQ and basic electrical concepts course (most engineering majors require this) to get a feel.

Just my opinion as an electrical engineer.
  • #3
Science Advisor
I would agree with psparky's question, "are you good at math"? And more importantly, "do you enjoy it?". Sounds like you do because you like AP calculus.

I would broaden your concept of engineering. At it's very core, engineering is about achieve some objective given limited resources. That's it.

Do you enjoy understanding how things work? When you are told something, do you wonder why (and more importantly, do you try to go find out)? A happy engineer is often obsessively wondering and curious. Why do some cars get better MPG than others? How does a solar panel work? Why are house prices increasing in the USA when income is still stagnant? The drive for understanding how systems work is key to being a happy engineer.

I often hear that engineers are people who tinker with things like engines or brew beer or whatever. For me that has never been the case. I don't do home improvement projects or have technical hobbies like that. I am, however, always curious and observant and always trying to figure out WHY.

There is a saying that if you love your job you'll never have to work a day in your life. While any job has its difficult moments (in mine it is after the creative part of a project has passed and I'm turning the crank to actually get it done) but all in all I'm completely ecstatic about my job and much happier in my work life than most people I know. For the right kind of person, engineering is a perfect career path.
  • #4
Both psparky and analogdesign have excellent observations for the schooling part of this profession.

Ok, so imagine for a minute that you get the degree and then...

Things will be completely different. As an engineer the learning never stops. It may not be anything formal such as a classroom setting, but if you do not learn, you will soon be out of a job. You will also need to learn communications skills. Very few engineers sit in a room noodling with equations and physics to invent things of genius. You need to be something of a salesman, a manager, a financial whiz, a visionary, and politician. You can not get away from these things.

As for bad teachers, get used to them. I had a load of uniformly awful teachers. I remember the good ones and the bad ones, if I do remember them, will serve as an example of what NOT to do. Above all, you need to be able to teach yourself. This is an important survival skill in this business. There will come a time when things won't be nice neat word problems. That's when you earn your pay.
  • #5
Painting and sculpting is not typically what an engineer is interested in...
While that may be true, I think it's mostly because kids that are interested in the arts are pushed away from STEM by well meaning but misguided adults. Talent / aptitude / interest in painting & sculpture might indicate a strong visual & 3D sense -- not a bad thing for an engineer!

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