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Which engineering stream should I take?

  1. Mar 29, 2012 #1
    I'm not sure if this should go in the Careers forum, since that's a lot of my concern, so sorry in advance if this is in the wrong place.

    I've finished my first year of engineering at McMaster University (in Ontario) and currently have very little idea of which area of engineering to go into. I'm bouncing between engineering physics, electrical engineering, mechatronics and software. I've gone to info sessions, and talked to professors and upper year students. They've given some good information, but they all basically claim that theirs is the best and qualify it with "do what you love" (ME went so far as to say they can do anything). I love all of these, and I'll probably keep up with them all for as long as I can, but I was hoping for some more realistic, unbiased advice that hopefully actually deals with industry. Academia looks good too, but it's a long shot so I figure I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Some background on my choices:

    All degrees are CEAB (like ABET but with maple syrup and hockey) accredited.

    Engineering Physics: Looks like *really* incredible work, and the idea of being on the leading edge of future technology is exciting. At McMaster I can keep general or split into Nuclear, Photonics, or Micro and nano devices. We have good resources (CANDU reactor, good electron microscope, etc.) for each. My biggest fear is the job market. My second biggest fear is that the "amazing new technology" type jobs are actually few and far between. Don't want to be mislead by poster children. And I have no experience doing physics like this outside of class, unlike the other fields, so it's slightly more of a gamble.

    Software: I've been programming for years and love it, but I'm getting the impression that software engineers are really just systems engineers. I'm used to lower level design and programming (simple games, simulations, etc.) so I'm not really sure how much I'd enjoy this. I am doing research with the computing and software department in the summer though, so we'll see how that goes I guess.

    Mechatronics: brings a lot of things I enjoy together, which is nice. Doesn't go very in depth into any one of them, which is less nice. Also it's only a few years old and isn't very well known in the area. I'm not sure how useful a mechatronics degree is, but I do know that employers don't request it very often. Looks interesting, but part of me feels that robotics would be better handled with a pure EE or ME degree.

    Electrical: looks very versatile, which is part of what I'm looking for. Can involve a lot of physics or programming/computer stuff. I can specialize into computer or bioelectrical if I want, which sounds interesting.

    Mechanical: not for the big machinery kind of things, but the info session kind of hinted that it had interesting links to various technology industries (televisions, some computer stuff, etc.). They also offer a MEMS course, but I assume that's more Eng Phys territory. The whole presentation sounded a bit too good to be true in terms of versatility.

    I can also take a 5 year program with any one of these and do Engineering&Management, which puts you 1 year away from an MBA, and Engineering&Society, which focuses on sustainability issues and the like while allowing you to focus on a minor.

    I guess my questions boil down to:

    1. What is working in these industries actually like? I get that the work varies a lot, but something like the tools you use or typical projects that you might work on would be nice.

    2. How heavily should I consider job prospects here? What are they like for each? I have an 11.7 (out of 12), I'm on full scholarship (for academics) with an almost guaranteed co-op, and have a research position. But I've heard of even PhD students not finding work, so I really don't know how to put what little information I do have into a meaningful context.

    3. How versatile is the work for each? I get bored relatively quickly (I jump between programming, robotics, math and physics periodically), and while I'm sure engineering will mitigate a lot of that, taking on different roles and working on different technologies (or at least having the option) would be a huge plus for me.

    4. How employable would you think the 5 year programs are? Do they seem worth it? An academic advisor told me that the Management program is very employable, Society less so, but they both provide benefits. But I've heard from some employers that it wouldn't make much of a difference most of the time. is employability even a good reason to do these? AARGH

    My biggest issue is that I don't really know what I want to do with my degree. If anyone could give me insight into these industries, or their own experiences if they had similar concerns, I'd be very grateful. Any help would be very much appreciated.

    Also, please tell me if I'm overthinking everything. That would be helpful too. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
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