Great advice, Bobjengr. I agree with virtually every point you've made here, but especially with your advice regarding communication. As engineers, we'd all like to believe we can get to the point where we're so good we don't have to bother with communications skills, but for most of us that's probably not realistic.
There are 3 types of mechanical engineer. General, technical, and management. Is different advice for each type. General are the responsible engineer, quality, out sourcing, shop work etc. If you want to be technical, then you have to have a passion to be good. Technical are the analysis like dynamic, fluid, thermal, stress, design and R&D. To be good there, you have to really know your stuff. Study to pass a course is different from study to know the concept. Spend time to discover for yourself how a freebody calculation can be solved graphically or with a matrix. Why torque can be moved anywhere on a part, but not force. Why a force can be replaced with force and a torque. Do the same with vibration, controls, fluid and other classes. If you like machines and moving toys as a kid, you are ahead of the curve. You have to develop a sense of intuition about machines. Visualize how a new design is going to work, and where the weak spots are.
Realize that a technical path will almost never get you into management, VP, CEO. They are way different. Maybe department lead, but rarely more. Your sense of technical knowledge will hinder you in politics. You are too "pure".
Management is way different. You need to take control of people without them realizing you are doing it. Be able to take control of a room full of people, not just speak in front of them. Make people feel comfortable. Suck up to them without being obvious. Be able to find a mentor that will sponsor you. Need to hear rumors and know just enough so you sound like you are in control. Having a job as a salesman in high school or college probably helps here.
Most important tip is if you get a job, and is not what you really want to do. Start looking IMMEDIATELY. Don't lose several years of your career because the job pays your bill and you are tired of more rejections.
I've been actively involved in design engineering since 1966 and like most of the comments I have read here, there is some advice I would give as follows:
Carefully choose the branch of engineering you wish to follow; i.e. mechanical, EE, chemical, environmental, etc. I know this is a difficult decision when you are an entering freshman but it does make a difference "down the road".
Like other comments--take as much math as you can get. A second major in mathematics would not be a bad idea.
Learn to communicate effectively. Write, Write, Write. Become proficient in public speaking and making a decent presentation.
Take the EIT your senior year.
Stand for your PE--take the exam. (I have been a PE since 1974 and have obtained 2 jobs as an employee and many jobs as a consultant as a result of the license.)
Learn a second language. (I know this one seems odd but Spanish or German or whatever is a great advantage.) You must think "global" today. You may find yourself working in a foreign country and the language ability will be valuable.
When you get that first job, save as much money as you possibly can, at least 10% of your base pay. Establish a 401K or SEP IRA, etc etc. Tough times are coming and being resourceful is a must if you are to survive. We are headed for a huge inflationary period so be prepared.
Expect to work at least a 60 hour week the first few years.
Realize that there will come a time you will report to a complete idiot. He will be a "bean counter" or the boss's son, etc etc. Unrealistic deadlines will become the rule and not the exception. In other words, learn to handle stress and pressure.
As much as possible stay away from office politics and the PC crowd. Become known for your engineering abilities and not BS abilities. Be the "go to guy or gal" when a job really needs to be accomplished on time and under budget.
Never stop learning. Make learning a life-time endeavor. Branch out. Other fields, other technologies. Know everything about something and something about everything.
...I hadn't borrowed so much money to pay for my education. I was ill-informed enough to think that my salary after graduation would justify GSL funding the lion's share of my BSEE. My own life since then has argued that was not smart. There have been several factors, including the failed health of my wife, but the point is that doing (almost) anything to graduate with the minimum amount of educational debt is highly recommended.
When my daughter started college--not in engineering--I told her what a year at her school would cost with tuition, room and board, books, transportation, and everything else related rolled into the total. Then I told her to figure out how many days she would be at college for a school year to calculate the cost per day. If she didn't think she got her (our!) money's worth, either she had to work harder or take on extra work. After graduation she told us she thought about that number every day.
Every engineering student should read your comments to get a dose of reality, jhess169. All of the job surveys that Design News has done over the past 10 years indicate that what you say is true. Sixty hours a week is pretty commonplace, design cycles are getting compressed and most engineers are juggling several projects. That's not to say that kids should be discouraged or stay away, but they should know the realities. I know many engineers who work long hours and wouldn't trade engineering for any another profession. But the realities of hard work and long hours are out there, and they don't appear to be changing in the next few years.
I left my home country (Vietnam) for Canada at the age of 18. After a few years I did not want to burden my parents so I took a summer job as a chemical plant operator assistant. Little did I know that the real world experience during that summer helped me get a job right after graduation. School does not teach you much about equipment and how to operate them.
We had a strike at the (unionized) plant. All staff had to replace operators to operate the plant. It was the best opportunity to learn hands on experience. Soon I was given responsibility over the operation of an Ethylene glycol unit then an Ethylene Oxide unit. I showed innovation (I develop a computer program to replace manual calculations) and I correctly diagnose the cause of several incidents. Piecing together all facts to explain an incident is not taught in school.
My mentor was an ex-foreman. He taught me during my daily tour of the plant to listen to pump noise, cavitation, bearings vibration. All senses (sight, smell, hearing, touch) can help detect/prevent equipment failure. He taught me to go to the maintenance shop to learn how mechanical equipment is built and what cause the failure/ wear.
That early experience puts me on the track of process engineering career which after more than 30 years I still enjoy.
OMG, "kid-jensen," I totally agree! The Pollyannas who say that everything is wonderful and the future looks bright leave me thoroughly baffled. I've concluded that they must be space aliens because they can't possibly be talking about engineering careers here on Earth.
All the advice given so far is about their schooling. My advice is more about their future job. I think that is what students really want to know something about. So here are my points
(1) Try to stay in the main stream of your profession. This is because most management are selected from the main stream. However important to a company's products, specialists are not selected.
(2) There is no objective measure of performance in the job place. There is no professor to be the objective judge. So that means your abilities is a matter of perception to others. The only thing that matters is that the project eventually gets done. Along the way any number of poor decisions can be made, but projects are so complex and schedules so impossible, that the attitude of management is to make no effort to look backwards. They consider it a success to just get the job done. On to the next job, don't look back.
(3) The number one measure of your promotability is (and this is above all else), your social skills. Can you make small talk, can you talk shop, can you talk to a complete stranger and make them feel comfortable? Yep, nobody knows who you are until you socialize and fit in with them.
(4) Never allow your self to be in a position where your boss is less educated than yourself. For example, if you have a Masters, your boss should have a masters or PhD. The difficulty with having a boss less educated is that they just haven't gone through the same rigor you have, and don't have the same perspective. Your skills are effectively being judged by someone with different standards.
5) Not all of us have the attributes to be corporate VPs, directors, managers. Recognize that in yourself if that be the case.
The best advice I can give is to choose a career in engineering because you enjoy solving problems and thinking creatively, not for job security or good pay. There are other, easier careers to achieve those goals. After 18 years in engineering, I still work 60+ hours a week in a salaried position with no overtime. I manage a technical staff of five and its is expected that I am up to speed on everything they are working on. There is also an expectation that I be an expert on the product line of all our suppliers also. All this requires a comittment that is difficult to maintain unless you truely enjoy your work.
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Noting that we now live in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff,” Ammunition design studio founder Robert Brunner, speaking at Gigaom Roadmap, said that by adding connectivity to everything and its mother, we aren't necessarily doing ourselves any favors, with many ‘things’ just fine in their unconnected state.
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