Choosing Engineering as a Career

Hi, my name is Lane and I am currently a student at the University of Pittsburgh enrolled in mechanical engineering. I came into college undecided and chose engineering as my major my sophomore year. Coming from a small town that I do, it is hard to get out there and talk to other female engineers, and I love this website that I had found. Being in mechanical engineering, I know that I can pretty much work with what ever I would like to. Engineering is a struggle for me, it takes a lot of time and self discipline. I know that I want to make a difference in the world, and I want to do something the helps people. Many people ask me why I choose this major, and again my response was to help people. I am always asking myself if I made the right decision for myself. School is at times hard for me, and I know for a fact I learn better with hands on experience, as opposed to reading how and object moves and trying to picture it in my mind. My mother always tells me that the real learning will begin when you actually start working. I guess I was just wondering where you would stand on this statement? Being women who have already gone through this, were there times you doubted yourself, and your own career choice? And is engineering a career you would suggest to young women entering college or who have been undecided such as myself. Thank you so much for you time, Lane
posted by Lane on April 2, 2012

Answer 1 by Yasmin Hashambhoy

Hi there, Lane. I think that the sentiments you're feeling are pretty common among undergraduate engineers. I remember being very confused and/or frustrated with classes, and there were numerous times I questioned my decision to go into engineering. It's probably one of the toughest degrees out there because you have to take so many classes, and at the beginning it's hard to appreciate the value of what you are learning. It's also a bit frustrating because there are so many fundamentals you need to absorb, and not all of them are interesting to everyone. I found that it was only in the second half of my third year that I really started piecing everything together. In problem sets, we were forced to use knowledge from various courses, so their relevance became clearer. In my final year, we did design projects, and this was even better; I got to combine some hands-on engineering with theory from my classes to solve an interesting problem. At my school, we had a bit of flexibility in coursework in our final year, so this was nice too, since I could take the classes that really interested me. This will probably be the same for you; I think most engineering students are given some flexibility to specialize within their area of interest. I don't have a lot of experience in industry, but I imagine that in that arena, you will also apply some of the theory from school and gain hands-on experience when you tackle larger problems. What you're doing is really noble; it's great that you want to go into engineering in order to help people. You'll find that it's a valuable degree in that you really learn how to think differently and ask the right questions to zero in on a problem, even if it isn't necessarily related to engineering. I would recommend this degree to anyone who really likes combining creativity with problem solving. As far as being a female engineer goes, sometimes it's hard trying to fit in in a male-dominated field, but don't let that stop you. There are some really great female mentors out there! I hope this helped a bit. Take care, Yasmin

Answer 2 by Meredith Short

I myself was uncertain about what to do, which is why I came to mechanical engineering later in life...I did an English degree first!?! It's a tough subject for anyone, male or female, so don't worry about that! As an engineer you will have many opportunities to help people in many different ways. They range from bio-medicine and physio-therapy developments to designing and building safer, more efficient automobiles. It's about what subject or equipment most interests you. In the process of learning you also get to "play" with some pretty neat kit. I agree you don't do as much hands on as everyone would like, but a way to supplement this is through summer internships--I did three very different ones and got a lot of experiences. Talk with you department of career services centre for more info.

Answer 3 by Maryam Ali Al Thani

Dear Lane, I feel comfortable with choice I made in my life. Frankly, I didn’t prepare properly or plan for my career. I just chose what I liked. I found myself to be good in math and I wished to go for engineering. I got the chance to study it and I went for it. During my first year in college I found that Electrical Engineering is very interesting to me, and I went for it :). In my opinion, you don’t stop learning in your life. You learn from college, and you learn from work. You may learn different issues too and you may find little similarities. I just want to tell you that nobody should stop learning. At work you should adapt yourself to the job requirements and concentrate on specific topics. You may not need the whole topics you learned in school or college, but you may need it one day. Your mother meant that at work you learn different things than what you learn in school. Just to conclude, I believe you must go for what you like. You will be happy in your life if you know what you want and you do what you like. :) Regards, Maryam