Considering a Career in Engineering?
Guidance and tips for pursuing a successful career in engineering
I have worked as an engineer for almost a decade. In this blog I'm going to cover main engineering courses/degrees, how to choose the most appropriate degree, tips for finding a job and what makes a good engineer. I will also highlight my personal views based on my own experiences.
Choosing a Career Path
There are three main paths students can purse to becoming an engineer. Students could either complete an apprenticeship, study a diploma, or go to university to study a degree. I recommend reading my previous blog post where I covered these routes in much more depth. Once you have identified which career path you would like to follow, the next step is to find which type of engineering course/degree you would like to study.
Main Engineering Degrees and Courses
Educational institutions offer a vast selection of engineering courses. Before we discuss how to select the right course for you, let's discuss some of these briefly.
- Electrical Engineering
This branch of engineering is concerned with the design, study and application of electronics and electricity. It covers a range of fields from power systems engineering, telecommunications to satellite communications. Typical course content may include, fundamentals of electricity and electromagnetism, circuit designs, analogue and digital electronics, computer simulations, mathematics and communications. You can explore the content of a typical electrical engineering course here.
- Aeronautical/Aerospace Engineering
This field of engineering covers the development of aircraft as well as spacecraft. It's the field of engineering that put a man on the moon. It also overlaps with Aeronautical Engineering. Modules students may learn are advance mathematics, aerodynamics, aircraft design and maintenance, mechanics of flight, stress engineering, thermodynamics, space systems and satellite communications. Closely related to this field of engineering is Avionics, which covers electronics associated with aircraft. Here is an informative guide to studying Aerospace Engineering in the UK.
- Civil Engineering
Civil engineers create the world around us. They design, build and maintain electricity grids, renewable energy systems, transportation networks, hospitals, schools and more. Typical modules students may study include architecture, structural analysis, fluid mechanics and geology. Universities also offer specialist civil engineering courses such as nuclear engineering and environmental engineering. Check out the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) for events, exhibitions and more information about Civil Engineering here.
- Biomedical Engineering
Biomedical Engineering is the application of science in medicine and healthcare. A career in this field could involve developing walking and hearing aids, developing artificial organs, tissues and limbs, designing equipment for medical and dental surgeries, management of medical equipment and health monitoring systems and more. Modules students may study include, bio-engineering science, advanced mathematics, computer programming, modelling and medical science.
- Mechanical Engineering
This is arguably the most diverse field of engineering. It combines both maths, science and technology to design, analyse and manufacture motion and mechanical based systems. Engineers in this field can work in almost every major industry including aerospace, energy, automotive, electronics, biotechnology, robotics, automation and food production. Studying Mechanical Engineering will give students a range of career options. The modules you may study include design and manufacture, mechanics, materials, stress analysis, fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. Here is a university guide to studying Mechanical Engineering.
- Chemical Engineering
This branch of engineering uses principles of chemistry, maths and physics, as well as biology and biochemistry to develop, produce, transform, transport, manage and maintain processes of materials and energy. It involves experimenting with chemical reactions, large-scale industrial processes to convert raw chemicals and materials, living organisms and energy into useful products. Industries that hire chemical engineers include cosmetic, medicine, chemical production and process companies, water suppliers, food production, oil refining and petroleum companies. Typical modules students may study include chemical engineering practice, chemistry, fundamentals of mathematics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, reactions engineering and mastery. Here is an extended read to what chemical engineers do.
How to Choose the Right Engineering Degree/Course
How do you choose which engineering discipline to study from the above? My recommendation is this:
- If you are not sure which industry you would like to work in, I would recommend studying Mechanical Engineering. The reason for this is that it gives you a broader education into engineering, and you will have a wider selection of jobs to apply from when you graduate.
- If you are certain that you would like to work in a specific industry; such as aircraft/space/civil/medical industry, then go for a specialist degree. This does not mean you cannot apply for other engineering jobs, but it’s likely the mechanical engineers will have the edge during the selection process for jobs outside the study of your specialist degree. For example, if you studied Aerospace Engineering, and you applied for an engineering job in the medical field, you will probably be behind those that studied Biomedical Engineering as well as Mechanical Engineering.
One thing to note is that universities are flexible when it comes to switching courses in the first year. When I went to university most of the modules I studied in the first year for Aerospace Engineering were similar to that of Biomedical and other engineering degrees. The chances are you will be able to change course in the first year if you are unhappy. Moreover, most engineering courses will allow you to specialise in a certain topic during the final year projects. I became specialised in stress analysis during my final two years. When you reach the end of the first or second year, you should have a better understanding of which modules from your engineering course you would like to study further.
I would also recommend that you consider doing a master's in engineering. The extra year you spend at university will greatly increase your chances of getting a better job.
Finding a Job
Finding a job that you will truly enjoy in the real world will be a challenge. I worked as a stress engineer for major corporations before I went on to work in the education sector (which is now my passion). When you study your selected course think about which modules you enjoy the most. Consider gaining some work experience during a gap year or a summer if possible. Moreover, don't limit yourself to applying for graduate jobs. If you have some relevant knowledge to offer to a particular job, go for it! As an engineer, more hands-on and creative your job is, more likely you will enjoy it. Don't settle until you are happy. Explore many industries as you can while you are young.
What Makes a Good Engineer
Finally, here are my top tips for becoming a good engineer when you enter work life:
- Serve society without bias.
- Be critical, open-minded and be willing to change.
- Have a good fundamental understanding of maths, physics and science.
- Separate your work from personal, religious, political and cultural beliefs and work with facts and the scientific evidence in front of you.
- Learn a range of topics, and explore other fields of engineering outside of your expertise.
- Learn to code - this is very helpful for your work too.
- Learn to sketch.
- Learn to work as part of a team (it's not about you, it's about the end goal). We fail as a team and we succeed as a team.
- Build, test and re-test to make sure anything you produce will work.
- Keep trying when you fail and don't give up! Engineers have failed throughout history but we learn and move forward.