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What was your expericence as a mechanical or electrical engineering student?

Going to be applying to colleges soon. Trying to decide between mechanical and electrical engineering. Curious what where the various experiences of the two professions. #student

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G. Mark’s Answer

First off, all engineering disciplines overlap, essentially because most machines operate on similar principles, from cars to computers to chemicals to the human body. So I can tell you what my experiences were. I originally started to go into medicine. Stuff fasciated me. I happened to be walking down the hall and saw some professor giving a lecture on computers on the television monitor. I sat in to watch and got hooked. That was about 50 years ago. As time went on, I saw the overlap between medicine and computers and eventually engineering. As classes go, in my experience, engineering was a bit more intense, less "casual" or "philosophical", more packed with information. I'd describe it as "immersive". Of course, I'm giving you my subjective, personal experience based on what I went through. I found engineering students -- particularly in our honor society -- to have a lot of camaraderie. Again, my opinion. As for course work, I'd describe it as a bit of a "Paper Chase" (the movie) atmosphere.

In general, engineering is essentially an objective pursuit. In other words, there are right answers and wrong answers and very little subjectivity. As you progress later in your career and try to innovate and create intellectual property, there's more "artistry" and subjectivity involved as you try to engage so much of the creativity that becomes essential to solving new problems. But you're in college to learn what other smart people have already discovered so as to provide your knowledge base on which to build new things. Other engineers would rather you not reinvent the wheel, but add to the sum of knowledge to solve new problems, not to try to figure out what's already been figured out. I'd have to say, however, that there is more creativity involved earlier in engineering training today. This is due largely, I think, to the advancements in information technology. The "grunt work" of drafting and mathematics and simulation is more easily replicated and automated, leaving more creative time to engineers and other scientists. If you're caught doing something from scratch or manually that tools already exist for, you'll likely be considered a "rube" so to speak. So creativity is prized.

Engineers are expected to pass various certification exams just like medicine or law students, and as such, you'll be expected to study and remember. The best part of this is that if you are really an "engineer type", you'll love it. You won't be able to resist learning new stuff. Or playing with concepts to discover something new.

My advice is to take a few classes and see how you like it. If engineering is for you, you'll know. And realize that engineering concepts overlap with most of every other field in some way. And that's a fun thing.

Thank you comment icon G. Mark really nailed it here. Just to add some more personal info: if you decide to pursue engineering (mechanical, electrical, any really) you'll realize how rigorous the curriculum is and the limits you'll push yourself to learn. It isn't an easy field, and to G. Mark's point, getting certified is another hurtle altogether, and while I myself am not certified, I'd recommend any new student to do so as it provides a lot of paths than the traditional engineer in a private organization. Just be ready to really push yourself, and realize it will not come easily. Best of luck! Karim Habib