Engineering: before, during, and after college

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When confronted with the decision of what to major in in college, I, like most college students, tried to figure out what I really wanted to do in life. Many high school students tend to focus purely on that final vocation – that magical career or profession that you can capture in some arbitrary title like “Project Manager” or “Chief Marketing Officer.” For me, it was simple. I knew that I wanted to work with medical devices, so I started by doing a quick Google search of what job titles were associated with medical devices – and that’s how I got Biomedical Engineering. It seemed logical enough, so I professed that to be my major and went to Duke University.

it’s not about the title, it’s about the passion that’s behind it

What I know now, and wish I had known in high school, is that you should focus on what your strengths and passions are. What is it that you’re truly interested in? What classes excite you? Which do you dread and never crack the textbook for? What tests did you walk away from, and while the other kids were complaining that it was too tough and didn’t make any sense, you quietly enjoyed and didn’t struggle with as much? That’s what you should focus on. Not the job title. I know it’s a bit cliché, but really, trying to find that magic title doesn’t necessarily lead to the dream job. First, most people will admit that their title is not completely indicative of what they do and they’re really involved in a multitude of other projects and have several additional responsibilities. Secondly, job titles are constantly changing, and can reflect different tasks within different organizations – and to be quite frank, they’re rarely talked about after the interview.

For me, I was fortunate that my strengths related to what I wanted to study. I loved math, science, and problem solving. I loved the idea of working in groups, with other like-minded people, and trying to solve a problem using principles of physics, chemistry, and biology. That’s what engineering truly is in college, no matter what type of engineering you’re in to. Yes – it’s important to understand that there are distinctions between mechanical, biomedical, civil, and electrical, and they all do have their own unique concepts, courses, and principles that must be learned and understood, but I had many friends from many different types of engineering and it always boiled down to the same thing: engineering is problem solving.

word of advice: don’t sit and do your homework alone

I encourage college students to actively bring as much practical experience into your college years as possible. One thing that I think a lot of engineering curriculums fall short on is helping students frame what they learn in class to what they’ll actually be doing once they leave the four walls of a classroom. Fortunately, Duke offered courses that allowed me to apply my education in real-world scenarios where I got to work on actual devices that go into hospitals. It was no longer theory and formulas, but actual construction with my hands and design tools and software programs. Engineering schools also provide co-op opportunities – and they’re invaluable. Leave school for a semester. Work for a Raytheon or a Siemens. Shadow a professional engineer and see what the day-to-day activities are. This will help you narrow your career interests and focus on the components of engineering that you’re passionate about.

Another word of advice, students should ALWAYS find study groups – NEVER attempt anything engineering alone. It’s hard for high school students who are used to going home and doing homework at the kitchen table by themselves to be comfortable with the concept of collaboration and group work; but when you’re a working engineer, you WILL NEVER WORK ALONE. It doesn’t matter how isolated the project is or how removed it is from the work stream of others, you’ll always be working collaboratively and will thus always be being critiqued on how well you do just that. So, start early – get used to pouring over problem sets with your classmates, spending hours in the lab playing with wires, transistors, resistors, and capacitors (I’m surprised I remember all those terms!), and most importantly, find people who you have fun with. If it weren’t for my core group of engineering friends, I most likely would not have completed my course work.

engineering: problem solving, creatively

When it comes to leaving college and finding that true calling, I encourage you to think about what it means to be an engineer. Engineers, first and foremost, love to create. We create with our hands. We create with our minds. A company wouldn’t have a product if it wasn’t for an engineer somewhere who was able to take ideas from concept to paper to reality. That being said, engineers have to constantly change the way they approach problems – and they love the process. Customers are always looking for better, cheaper, cooler, smaller – engineers need to stay abreast to these trends and be sure to deliver products that can meet customer requirements. I encourage any student who wants to go into a field of engineering to know why they believe in the products or the work that they’ll be focusing on. And also, know and understand who you’re serving the product/engineering too. These two things will really help solidify what companies you should be targeting post school. One who is passionate about energy because they think there are better ways to conserve energy and use alternative resources to help power people’s homes will naturally move towards this particular service offering within engineering – and they’ll do well because they understand their motivation.

According to DegreeDirectory, the most popular engineering majors are Computer, Mechanical, Electrical, and Civil. Students should understand that these disciplines will not necessarily translate directly into specific jobs with titles that correspond to the major. Use the structured curriculum to learn how to think, analyze problems, make data-driven decisions, and then apply for companies that excite you and that you believe in. That, I think, above all, will make for a successful engineering career.

By: BusinessandWorkplace / On: July 11, 2012 /

In: Careers, Education, Career Paths

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