Mastering some of the most complex math and science and applying their skill to improving the world around them, engineers not only demonstrate great intelligence, but they show outstanding care toward their community through their diligent work.
Every engineering field is always eager for more workers, and most technical-minded students are eager to launch themselves into an engineering career — before they even know what they are getting themselves into.
Engineering can be satisfying and rewarding, but it can also be frustratingly challenging.
Before anyone commits to a career in engineering, they should understand exactly what is required of them at every stage: before college, throughout education and during their real-world engineering career.
Any strong, successful career begins long before one enters the field. If possible, prospective engineers should start young, honing their skills and personality for engineering long before they begin more serious study.
Here are three important tasks for future engineers prior to enrolling in a college degree program:
1. Focus on math and science
Regardless of an engineer’s specialization — e.g., computer engineering, mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering, etc. — the occupation requires ample experience with math and science.
Hard skills in these fields prepare would-be engineers for the complex calculations they will learn in advanced study and use in their jobs.
Before college, a future engineer should at least be at the calculus level in math, they should have begun studying chemistry and physics, and for some fields, even biology.
2. Practice soft skills
Though engineering does attract those who boast advanced hard skills, engineers with soft skills, like communicating and working in a team, truly shine in the field. It is possible to improve one’s soft skills, but it does require mindful effort and leaving one’s comfort zone.
It is best to recruit others to provide feedback, so one can understand one’s improvements (or lack thereof).
3. Indulge curiosity
At this early stage, it is wise to encourage one’s curiosity. If something seems interesting, one should pursue study in it, even if it does not seem related to their engineering career. The best engineers are naturally curious individuals who have a habit of learning new things.
Unlike some professions, engineering does require a bachelor’s degree — and some positions even require licensure through a regional board. Thus, it is impossible to skip this step of the engineering career.
Fortunately, unlike many majors, engineering programs tend to be exceedingly informative, providing plenty of information and practice to build competent and prepared engineers. Here’s what engineering students should do during undergrad to optimize the experience:
1. Determine one’s field
There is no such thing as an “engineering degree” — rather, students must determine what type of engineering they will study and practice before they can graduate and enter the field.
There are dozens of different kinds of engineering, and each variety utilizes a different combination of skills for different purposes.
A small collection of options includes:
- Mechanical engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Biomedical engineering
- Chemical engineering
- Civil engineering
- Aerospace engineering
- Software engineering
- Environmental engineering
2. Study, study, study
This should be obvious, but too many students in undergrad focus more on the so-called “college experience” than on their studies. Because engineering is highly technical, it is imperative that students focus on their coursework and gain the necessary skills before they earn their degree.
While C averages might qualify students for graduation, it won’t ensure they become successful engineers. In engineering, more than in other fields, a high GPA — backed by high comprehension and retention of material — is necessary.
3. Attend events and conferences
Undergraduate engineering programs should offer some kind of career-building opportunities that students should engage with enthusiastically.
Some programs will host their own events, which might pull in noteworthy engineers to give speeches or otherwise meet and greet engineering students; programs might also offer stipends to visit professional conferences, where students can network with important movers and shakers in their chosen fields.
Networking like this in undergrad is critical for forming relationships that will result in enviable employment after graduation.
Though it might be tempting to rush right from undergrad into a graduate-level engineering program, this isn’t wise for one’s career. Instead, as daunting as it may be, one should jump headfirst into the engineering job hunt.
This is ideal for a few reasons.
First, it allows newbie engineers to begin applying the skills they have been accruing for almost a decade. In the real world, skills translate to projects differently than they do in school; by getting a feel for how engineering work actually occurs, engineers can know for certain whether this career path is right for them.
Secondly, most graduate engineering programs prefer applicants who have some real-world experience, so by leaving school for a few years, engineers can gain access to better programs and scholarships than they would otherwise.
It’s probable that many graduating engineers already have jobs lined up through their networking efforts. If that isn’t the case, engineers can find plenty of available positions through online job boards like CareerBuilder, ZipRecruiter, Monster and more.
1. During Graduate School
Though it isn’t always necessary to return for advanced credentials, engineers who earn a Master’s in Engineering are more likely to move up the ladder sooner in their careers. Higher-level engineering positions mean greater responsibility and substantially better pay.
Even better, it is possible to find master’s programs online, meaning engineers can maintain their current employment while improving their qualifications for positions in management and beyond.
In addition to learning the advanced skills and knowledge presented in a master’s engineering program, it is important that engineers continue to network throughout this experience.
Just like in undergrad, continuing to expand one’s network during this process will help ensure a smooth transition into better positions after graduation.
2. Lifelong Learning
Engineering careers are tracked through a series of projects, each of which offers its own hurdles, its own failures and its own successes.
Engineering is challenging — but for many engineers, that perpetual challenge is precisely what they wanted in a career. Still, to continue triumphing over opposition, it is imperative that engineers continue to learn throughout their careers.
Maintaining the habit of learning — ideally, driven by a natural curiosity — will help engineers think creatively and critically about the problems they face and generate innovative and efficient solutions that benefit everyone.
A career in engineering isn’t for everyone, but for some people, it is the best possible path through life. For those not put off by a career requiring near constant self-improvement and application of technical skills, engineering might be the best solution.