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What is the most challenging part of being a mechanical engineer?

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Frank’s Answer

Hello Lera,

Very good question and one that can apply to all careers we engage in. The other respondents have provided great advice. As for me, my biggest challenges have been overcoming myself. That may sound unusual, but I can remember many times early in my career when I would be given design or analysis projects that seemed overwhelming. So I would go back to the fundamentals of mechanical engineering that I learned in college. I did additional research, talked with experts in the various fields, and asked lot's of questions. Suddenly, overwhelming projects weren't so overwhelming. And I found I liked the challenge, not necessarily the challenge of a difficult project, but the challenge for me to learn and do new things. I like mechanical engineering because it gives me the opportunity to plan, design, analyze, test, and create physical objects that started as ideas in my mind.
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Dennis’s Answer

Hi Lera, You've asked a very pertinent question. And, I suspect that every engineer will answer it differently. It is a challenge to master all of the subject areas or disciplines, such as Thermodynamics, Structural analysis, Heat Transfer, Control Systems, etc. Most of us cannot master all of them, so we have to specialize in one or two of them and rely on others to experts in areas where we are not.
A second challenge is to understand the scope of a problem. Your boss gives you an assignment. Maybe it is straight-forward, but more likely, it will not be as well stated as problems you found in your textbooks. You have to break the assignment down into smaller problems that you might have a chance to solve. Then, you have to decide if you can do an analytical solution or if you will have to do some experiments. Most projects involve a bit of both. Even if you have a good mathematical model of a system, there may be inputs to the model that are not readily at hand. If you can't look up a coefficient or some material property, you might have to set up an experiment to determine a good value. I had a project involving the cooling system of a Diesel-powered vehicle. We wanted to model the variation of the coolant temperature as the output of the engine changed due to the changes in road load that the vehicle experienced. Ultimately, the model I developed needed values for the time-response of the thermostat. Guess what? It was not something that thermostat manufacturers were concerned with. We had to build our own test rig to apply temperature changes and determine the transient charactersistics of the thermostat. THEN, we had a decent model of the cooling system response. I learned a lot on that project - starting with understanding the flow characteristics of every part that carried coolant; how to write and solve linear simultaneous equations; write a computer program to solve said equations, as well as deal with the thermostat bit I just described. It was all challenging. And it was fun! I hope you will find fun in what you do as well, Lera. Good luck!
Thank you comment icon Thank you, this is really helpful. Lera
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Archana’s Answer

There are numerous challenges especially if you are new to the industry/Corporate world. College education lays a good foundation but wouldnt have geared us with everything that is needed to perform in the real world. Applying the knowledge learnt in school to the real world is not easy. For ex, i worked in an automotive testing company where i had to design 5000 lbs testing equipment where i had to apply my theoretical knowledge of CFD, static and dynamic study, design, Strength of materials etc. I would say, keep up with your learning and work hard.
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Kelly’s Answer

My degree was in electrical engineering, so what I'm sharing may be better validated by someone actually working as a mechanical engineer. I went to the Pitt School of Engineering where we had Electrical, Mechanical, Chemical, and other engineering majors. The mechanical engineers were always most challenged by their thermodynamics classes. We electrical engineers were often most challenged with our advanced physics classes. In both cases, because the laws of nature are complex, representing nature's forces with mathematical equations and solving those seemed to be the most challenging part of our degree studies. In the case of mechanical engineering, factors included gravitational forces and friction, driven by water, oil, weight and many other factors. In real life, these are likely a mechanical engineer's biggest challenges. How do you predict and design for the forces from the environment. The biggest challenges become the biggest rewards too when you solve them effectively.
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much, Kelly! Lera
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Tyler’s Answer

The most challenging part for me is determining what to work/focus on and what not to. In other words, where do you want to spend your time. You may choose to become an expert in a particular field/area or you may choose to broaden your expertise across more domains, but it is very difficult (and often too time consuming) to do everything. There are so many opportunities to make your career what you want it to be, but don't let FOMO cause yourself to get distracted from your focus.
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for the advice. Lera
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Drew’s Answer

My forensic Engineering practice includes Mechanical, Chemical, Civil and Environmental Engineering, as well as Safety Engineering and Industrial Hygiene. Each assignment calls for learning new skills to advance and focus my educational (M.Eng, MBA and soon MSME) and experience background. It is challenging and exciting to be able to determine the origin, cause and effect of events where people are harmed. Translating that into language that Attorneys, Juries and Judges can understand and use as a basis to make fair and equitable decisions is very gratifying.

Drew recommends the following next steps:

Always learn new stuff. Expand your skill base so you can be more useful to your client and the community.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook has good information about all areas of Engineering
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