Engineering is a popular field of work that promises a challenging course of study, great job prospects and high starting salaries. But how can you decide if engineering is right for you? This post will provide you with the information you need to make this decision, as well as key questions to answer in order to give you a jump start in your research.
What do engineers do?
Engineers solve problems. According to Engineering the Future, engineers “take scientific discoveries and apply them practically.” The work of engineers “creates the fabric of society, whether the buildings we live and work in, the energy that powers our world or the transport networks that we use every day.”
Engineers have potential to improve mankind’s quality of life through the solutions they propose to some our biggest challenges. Here are a few examples of challenges that engineers are currently working on: reverse-engineering the brain, enhancing virtual reality, restoring and improving urban infrastructure and making solar energy economical. Would you like to test your problem solving skills? Join the K-12 student design challenge from Future Engineers. Which engineering challenge interests you the most?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts rapid growth for a range of engineering occupations through 2020. The world needs engineers, but record job creation is only part of what makes this career so attractive; six of the top seven highest paying college majors are in engineering, according to a salary survey from the National Association of Colleges & Employers.
There are many types of engineers: software, biomedical, environmental, chemical, civil, nuclear, aerospace, materials, mechanical, electrical, computer, etc. Understanding the different types of engineering is key to deciding whether or not you want to study this field. To learn more about different jobs and specializations, visit Try Engineer. What are the top three types of engineering that interest you the most?
Women in Engineering
The field of engineering holds both opportunities and challenges for women. In general, women are underrepresented in programs of study and in the profession. Over the past two decades, women accounted for more than 20 percent of engineering school graduates, but only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women. In response to these low numbers, many employers are being more purposeful about recruiting and developing women in order to benefit from the positive effects of diversity within the workplace. In addition, organizations like Women in Engineering are helping to bridge the gap through education, recruitment and retention initiatives. Engineer Girl is another great resource for women considering a career in engineering.
Beyond their technical knowledge, engineers leverage many different skills in their work. According to a National Academy of Engineering report entitled The Engineer of 2020, successful engineers need strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, good communication skills, business and management knowledge, leadership, high ethical standards, professionalism, dynamism, agility, resilience, flexibility, and the pursuit of lifelong learning. How can you purposefully develop these skills during the next few years?
Engineering programs equip students with tools and frameworks to solve challenging problems, leading them to jobs and careers that are in high demand. Accordingly, engineering coursework is rigorous and stimulating. Most engineering schools look for strong quantitative skills in prospective students. This means you should build a strong mathematics foundation to prepare yourself to succeed in calculus, statistics and linear algebra.
To adapt to the changing needs of the 21st century workplace, important recommendations have been made to improve the education of engineers. For examples, some industry leaders have suggested that curriculums should feature more interdisciplinary learning, case studies (with an emphasis on failures), exposure to the actual practice of engineering, leadership skills, economics, policy, teamwork, innovation, entrepreneurship and risk-taking. These additions may lead to more years of study; many thought leaders have proposed that graduate degrees become the new norm for professional certification.
The U.S. has some of the top-ranked engineering programs in the world. Besides these traditional institutions, students should also consider more innovative engineering programs, like those offered at Olin or Galvanize, which offer immersive, experiential learning environments with close ties to industry. Now that you know more about the future of engineering education, what would you look for in an education program?
Meet an Engineer
In order to decide whether or not engineering is right for you, you should also meet engineers. Use a simple, three step process to do this:
1) Find them. Perhaps your parents know an engineer you could speak with. Or, try to find someone who works for a company you would like to work for.
2) Contact them. Before you send them an email, do some research online about what to include and not include in your message.
3) Meet them. When preparing for your meeting, think of 4-5 questions you could ask. After your meeting, send a personalized thank you note. Finally, keep them updated on your career program by sending them an email update every 6 to 12 months (Remember: these may be the same people who will hire you after graduation).
You’ve just learned about what engineers do, different jobs options, skills required and potential programs of study. As a next step, visit the links in this post to choose the engineering specializations that interest you most, research your top potential programs of study and find one engineer that you would like to meet. The preparation you do now will pay off in dividends when you apply for your engineering program and your first job!