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I'm thinking that I want to study something more technical in university (next fall), but I don't know how to choose a more specific topic

Whenever I mention this, people sort of assume I'm looking for a pure hard science like just chemistry or just math or they assume Engineering, which I know is a very broad topic. How do I narrow it down to a more specific field? Has anyone had this problem and had a good method for finding out what the liked?


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Deeksha’s Answer

I had this problem when deciding between Electrical and Chemical Engineering. I LOVE bioengineering, and both fields have some very interesting intersections with it. But I had absolutely no idea which one I should have gone for. I ended up taking electrical engineering, and I reached that decision by following some of these ideas:

1. Looking at the courses offered by your University might also be a great place to start looking at courses that may seem interesting to you! An important part in taking courses at the university level is ensuring that its something you will WANT to do for a whole year at the minimum - so reach out to any alumni/seniors from the university., or check out your university website for more information on course content.

2. Use the internet to come up with some interesting future plans and ideas about where you would like to see yourself in the next 5 odd years - what do you want to achieve in this time? Maybe you want to start your own personal project, or maybe you want to have learned a particular skill? Or maybe you really want to work at a management firm? Technical courses impart a specific skill set, so having an idea of what you want to achieve can help you pick the right tools from the tool box!

2. Talk to seniors! This might seem like a no brainer - but as a quick reminder, ask you upper years about how the technical course helped them in deciding their future career paths. A lot of them might have or are looking for jobs, whether in academia or a corporate setting, and sometimes having the right sort of technical course can make or break your interview. Getting their opinion as students or professionals is really indispensable in envisaging what sort of future you might want for yourself.

3. Talking to upper year university students might also bring to light some great opportunities to learn outside the classroom, which is honestly an added bonus to any technical course you might take. For instance, I found out some amazing research opportunities in engineering, and got connected to many clubs that dealt with robotics and bioengineering. These can really make or break your experience at university in general, so I would highly recommend talking to upper years!

These are just a few pointers that have helped guide me through the last three years of university. I hope these help you navigate through University life! The most important thing to remember is that what you study at university is never going to hedge you into that specific field - take your time to explore and don't loose hope!

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Nathalie’s Answer

I hear you, it is difficult to choose something you haven't yet experienced. There is a method, I recommend you get a mentor who has experienced various roles in their career so they can share the reality of the field(s) you are interested in; more specifically how the topic studied translates into the workplace, this way you can form an idea, just bear in mind that the same role will be different from one company to another. You mention your awareness of Engineering being a broad topic and I couldn't agree more; with an engineering degree you can experience a wide variety of roles; as an engineer; but you could also decide to become a product manager in an Engineering team, or a developer, or a program manager; while leveraging a core skill set based on Engineering. Think of the topic you will study as the Core skill set you will carry with you; in the workplace; how you decide to apply those skills however is up to you, and the role(s) you decide to apply for in the workplace. As you start your professional life, get a mentor who can help you navigate your role and define a career plan; but don't wait, you can do this already today, to help you make your choice of study, ask your family and friends and college counselor to identify a mentor now, who can speak to you about the application, in real life, of the fields you are interested in.
Best of luck!

Nathalie recommends the following next steps:

Identify a mentor

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Amit’s Answer

This is a problem a lot of people, myself included, have run into. You're right, engineering is such a broad topic that it can be overwhelming to try to narrow down the field you want to work in. Here are a couple things to keep in mind or try out:

1. Reach out to anyone you can and ask them about their experiences in their field and why they chose their specific field. Senior level students are the easiest to relate to, as they'll understand where you're coming from and will likely have the most up to date info on potential classes, so they're a great resource. I'd also recommend reaching out to counselors or advisors at your school, they are trained in helping students decide what they want to do and will likely have a lot of good stuff for you. Finally, look up engineering (or math or chemistry or any other field) companies in your area. They probably have contact info for HR (Human Resources) on their websites. Email or call them and say your a student who is trying to decide what you want to do and are interested in learning more about the work the company does. They will be more than happy to speak to you about what they do, and may even connect you with a technical person within the company who can give you even more information.

2. Join clubs and organizations in your school in various different fields you may be interested in. A lot of clubs do design projects, so you can get hands on work in these fields and find out if you like it. If you don't like it, no big deal, you don't have to stick with it. These clubs understand students may no be sure if they want to work in that field and are totally open to letting you get your feet wet without holding you to any crazy commitment. Professional engineering organizations are also a great thing to get involved in. At my school, I joined the student organization for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. They would bring in professionals to hold talks about mechanical engineering careers, what they do, how to get onto that career path, etc. Most fields have some sort of professional society you can join.

3. My school had a 1 semester course for undecided engineering majors where each week, they would learn about a different field in engineering, tour labs, get talks from professionals, etc. Check with your school to see if they offer something similar.

4. What kind of things are you interested in? What do you enjoy? I guarantee that most of your interests have some sort of engineering behind them. For example, if you are interested in music, you can get into audio engineering. If you like planes and helicopters, you can go into aerospace engineering. Try google searching your interests plus "engineering career" (for example: "music - engineering career").

Amit recommends the following next steps:

Reach out to senior level students or school advisors
Join a technical organization

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Yijing (Jenna)’s Answer

This is a very difficult decision. I have done multiple master degrees in multiple fields and here are what I learned over time:
1) It is easier to find out what you absolutely don't like, rule out those first
2) Every major may have some areas that are really interesting or attractive, but it could also have some areas that you don't enjoy much. You may not find the perfect fit at the beginning - please give yourself some time to explore more. The world is changing quickly and the technology is evolving at a speed before we can imagine - prepare yourself with broad and solid foundation, learn how to learn and think is more important at the early stage.
3) You may need to think multiple dimensions before you make the final decision: what you like, what you are good at, what the world is needing and what the world is willing to pay ( assuming that you still need to earn an income to support yourself and family in the future).