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Would I make a good engineer?

  1. Oct 22, 2008 #1
    Hello-I'm new here, but I've been lurking for awhile. First, my apologies if what I'm going to ask has been beaten to death or if I've posted it in the wrong area. Let me give you a bit of background on myself:

    I wanted to be an engineer up until my senior year of high school. I had a lot of trouble in math when I was in high school (mostly B's in math--occasionally an A, but I never really felt like I knew what I was doing), and that led to my giving up my dream to be an engineer. I was also somewhat worried about engineering's vulnerability to offshoring. I started at a junior college straight out of high school-I was a radiography major. I transferred to a university to pursue a bachelor's degree in diagnostic radiography, but left after a semester. I found myself very frustrated with the program--it was pretty much "this is how you do it" and not "this is how it works and this is why you do it." I feel as though I'm more capable than that.

    I've always been interested in knowing how things work, and I have a particular fascination with bridges, building design, and computers. I worked for a computer store for two years in high school doing troubleshooting and repair, and I loved that job. I've worked in hospitals (in anticipation of working as a radiographer), but I haven't enjoyed any of my work there as much as I liked working in a troubleshooting or otherwise thinking capacity. I've built/repaired computers and installed small networks as a side business, as well, since I was in high school.

    Fast forward to today. I'm 23 and back in a community college close to home. I took general chemistry I & II over the last year as well as intermediate algebra. I received a high "A" in each of those courses. Now I'm in college algebra and currently have a solid "A" in it. It's taken some work, but I feel more comfortable with math now and actually find myself enjoying it (particularly the application problems). I am kinda frustrated because I feel as though I've wasted the last five years of my life. I can't stop thinking about becoming an engineer, but I'm afraid I don't have what it takes. I am competent with most any subject I take in school and have served as a tutor for chemistry and now for algebra, but I wouldn't consider myself a genius. I don't consider myself to be exceptionally creative, and I wonder if I'm creative enough to function well as an engineer.

    Based on that information, what do you guys (and gals) think? Does it sound as though I have the makings of a good engineer? Am I starting too late in the game, being that I'll need a semester of trig and calculus before I can even begin engineering physics? If I've been able to improve to the point that I'm comfortable with college-level algebra, is it likely that I'll be able to succeed in higher mathematics? How "creative" does an engineer need to be? I'm particularly interested in civil and nuclear engineering. I apologize for the long post and all the questions, but I don't know any civil or nuclear engineers, and I just wanted to get some input from people in the field to see if I might be a good candidate.

    Thanks in advance for your time!


    EDIT: Also-what are some of the current trends in civil/nuclear engineering as far as the job market/vulnerability to offshoring? I would imagine that plant-level nuclear engineers probably have excellent job security, but what about those involved in reactor design? I would also tend to think civil engineers probably need to be on site for the majority of projects, but are any of the back-office design types in danger of losing their jobs to offshoring? I've attempted to research this online, but I seem to get a lot of conflicting opinions from academic articles on the subject. I figured those of you in the field would have much better (and more up-to-date) insights.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2008
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  3. Oct 22, 2008 #2


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    You made the wrong suspected conclusion about yourself. You reported so much evidence of possibly becoming an engineer that you really SHOULD continue to prepare toward engineering. You liked fixing things; you are doing well in your college level Math courses; you are able to tutor at least for Intermediate Algebra; you like to find and be informed about how things work. You seem to have the right kind of mentality for something in the physical sciences or engineering. Can you learn to write computer programs? Even better. Would you want to try research? Better still.

    Stop worrying about your creativity; that can develop. Problem-solving skills are also very important. You at least have an imagination, and creativity depends on imagination. If you had no imagination, you would not have achieved what you did up to now.
  4. Oct 22, 2008 #3


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    Ed, these are, in my opinion, the most salient revelations about yourself and the topic at hand:

    getting the math down is part of "knowing how things work". i think that if you approach it rigorously (that is, do not settle for learning any of the key concepts by rote, but demand of yourself and of your prof and TAs, the rigor of learning how these key concepts are derived - where they come from), you'll be fine. this is true of college algebra, calculus, and differential equations. also true of the college-level physics you will be taking. continue to not be satisfied with learning only the what without learning the why and how. if you do that, you are a "natural" for engineering.
  5. Oct 22, 2008 #4
    Thanks for the encouraging words. Do either of you know (or know someone) what the job market is like for newly-minted civil or nuclear engineers? I'm just trying to get an idea of whether or not the jobs are difficult to come by or fairly abundant. I'm particularly interested in industry employment trends; is there a lot of danger from offshoring in those fields? I know it's generally good advice to follow one's dreams, but I do want to be sure my dreams won't land me in the unemployment line.

    Thanks for your patience with all of my questions. I've tried to research the topic on the 'net, but there seem to be a lot of conflicting opinions on civil engineering and not much out there at all on nuclear engineering.
  6. Oct 22, 2008 #5
    You are not too late. And those skills you are worried about not having, is something you will develop during the education. Creativity, problem solving skills... and so on! You seem to be well on your way already! Good luck! :)
  7. Oct 22, 2008 #6
    well, it's a lot to consider. the math is the most important skill. as for the engineering itself, you may find the real world is nothing at all like the school work. sitting in a cubical and working on the same thing for months on end with no sunlight and staring at a computer screen gets old after a few years. employers will also bring in cheap foreign workers and unqualified technical students to add to the stress. so... i'm actually thinking about going back and entering a medical career. engineering can always be a hobby.
  8. Oct 22, 2008 #7
    Thanks for the thoughts.

    Proton soup: that's great that you're considering a career in medicine! Do be careful, though, if you're wanting to get away from paperwork/offices/students/stress. I assume you're in the United States (a bit ethnocentric of me-my apologies if you're not). Recent government policies and bureaucracy on the part of private insurers can really make a physician's life difficult. I've worked side-by-side with a lot of physicians and a number of them feel as though their practices are run by insurance companies. There's a lot of time in a doctor's day spent in front of a computer screen and not with patients. There's also a lot of potential for burnout with the long hours. Throw some medical students and residents into the mix (if you're working in an academic medical center environment), and it adds to the chaos.

    My post is not meant to discourage you; we desperately need good doctors. But I wouldn't want you to make a career move like that without knowing some of the potential downsides to medicine. It's undoubtedly a very rewarding and noble profession to be in, and there are some very exciting developments on the horizon, but it certainly won't get you away from corporate life and computer screens.

    Thanks for your advice on my decision here, though. It's good to hear the view from "the other side." Having worked in the medical field myself, I'd be happy to reciprocate if you have any questions about the medical field.
  9. Oct 22, 2008 #8
    honestly, i don't think i have the energy to be a doctor. even when i was much younger, i realized i couldn't function on a schedule that doesn't allow much sleep. the abuse would either kill me or make me psychotic in a short time. i think there's probably a better cost/benefit ratio somewhere in say nursing with a specialization. doing something that requires a little more thought that average, but still keeps you on a fairly normal schedule and doesn't accumulate a mountain of debt would be ideal, i think.
  10. Oct 23, 2008 #9
    There's a lot of truth in that. If a good salary is important to you, you will probably want to look into nurse anesthesia. The salary and benefits are excellent, but you (fortunately) don't have the life of a physician anesthesiologist. You don't get as much direct contact with your patients in this line of work, though, as your patients (obviously) spend most of their time unconscious. This could be a positive or negative for you, depending on your view of things.

    Also, have you considered a physician assistant program? You can typically begin one of those programs with just a few years of practical health care experience. You can get a CNA/EMT license though a one-semester college course, and you'd be able to get your feet wet in the field to see whether or not you like it. As an added bonus, if you went this route, you wouldn't have to leave your full-time engineering job to go to get an undergrad nursing degree and then do nursing grad school on top of that. With PA school, you'd only have to take the semester CNA/EMT course, get a few years' experience, and go through two years of PA school (which usually nets you a Master's degree, although some programs are still at the Bachelor's level). PAs have a respectable amount of autonomy, typically work a predictable schedule, and have good earning potential. Many of the physicians I have worked with generally prefer to hire PAs over nurse practitioners, as well.

    It sounds like you've looked into this career change a bit already, but I thought you might like to hear from someone who's spent some years in the industry. Good luck to you!

    Moderators: my apologies for getting so off topic on my own thread...
  11. Oct 23, 2008 #10
    well, i had a couple of physiology courses years ago and the PA students in there i wasn't particularly impressed with. big huge egos for guys that probably didn't do so well on their MCATs. the instructor made it clear on the first day he didn't want to hear anyone's theories or opinions, and those guys were obviously the reason why.

    i also knew an SA from my church, and he was not enjoying himself. he went back to school and became a dentist.

    back to your original post. if you've just got to do it, then go do it. it's the only way you can really find out. here in the US, all our crumbling bridges will have to be replaced at some point. and PBS ran a show the other day about our crumbling sewer systems. nuclear is political and not so clear. we have enough coal to put off the nuclear option for a looooooong time.

    about the math. i did poorly in college at first because my trig skills were lacking. so i went backwards and took precal I and II to get my fundamentals. and because of that i went from failing calc II to straight A's through my entire math sequence. don't screw around with it and try to just get by. think of it as each course building on skills from the one before and don't miss a thing. this will make all your non-math courses that much easier and remove much stress from your life.
  12. Oct 24, 2008 #11
    Let me tell you something, which is probably the most important quote created by man kind. "You Can Be What Ever You Want". I tell you this because i i'm living it. Six months ago i came to this forum for the the exact same question. I was frustrated that i wasn't good at math at all but i wanted to do Civil Engineering. I stated that i was about to start Precacalculus which is a review of algebra, also that i hated math in high school and berely graduated and somehow colleeg changed my whole attitude and got me to like math. I also was willing to put in the time to learn, and i beleived in my self that if i wanted to know more than Einstein i would. Anyway i received some positive comments and some negative ones. Well I tell you something today i'm taking calculus 1 and is going like a breeze nice and cool. People may say oh wait till you get to CALC 2, well i'll work harder i say to myself. See some people feel superior because of their graet knowlege, others want you to learn at their pace, others are willing to help you and do everything they cant to meke u succesfull. I tell you nobody cares more about you then your own self. All that BS of people Calculating your feature based on what you know is just that BS. I tell you something some people may be incredibly giftend on MAth Science etc, and sometimes i say D@$% I WHISH I BE LIKE HIM. In reality i dont that person may have freak out in other stuff that you completly master. (i tell myself oh he cant bench press more than me..LOL!!) so man you can be what ever you want.

    PS. I know guys in my calculus Class also aspiring engineers from 23, 25, all the way to 55
    Algebra is harder than calculus trust me!!!!!
    Try to remember as much as you can about algebraic expressions!!!!!
    I'm 20 yrs old never good at math since elementry, started in college all the way from remedial AlG 2.

    Also very interested in Nuclear Enginering, i considering it after finishing CE

    As far as Employment Any Engineering major will be on a graeter demand since is not very popular!!

    Nuclear Engineering is expected to grow a 200% world wide since just to keep up the demand in the U.S 7000 NE Should graduate every yr, but is projected that only 2057 will graduate every yr!!!!

    Hope This Help
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