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Anonymous Poster

Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 4:11 AM

I'm a sophomore ME at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The courses I am currently taking are Mechanical Systems, Fluid and Thermal Systems, Elements of Electrical Engineering, and Differential Equations 2. So I've got an "OK" understanding of what crunching the numbers is like. I understand whats going on in the classes and can get my work done, but sitting down for hours to crank out the right answers is burning me out pretty bad. On my second night in a row of working on my homework well into the morning, it's bring back a question that keeps popping into my head from time to time. Is being an actual engineer in the real world anything like classwork? I understand there will be differences, but I guess the more broad question that I'm asking is What is it like to be an Engineer in the real world?

I've already committed the 4 years of my life that I'll be at school to this career path, but I've never really asked what does an Engineer actually do. Or what is your "average" day?

Any advice or insight would be greatly appreciated.

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#1

Re: Is "real life" engineering anything like what I'm learning in class?

03/16/2010 5:19 AM

That sounds like a daunting class load, and you seem to be doing quite well in staying abreast of it. Yeah, the midnight oil can be tough....

Your questions are very perceptive and well composed, and the theoretical background you gain will likely be helpful in the long run.

That said, a lot of real-world engineering consists of knowing various basic technologies and principles, and examining manufacturers' data to see if their products do what you want to do. In class, you might use the pump or fan affinity laws to make theoretical calculations; in real life, you will look up catalogued pump curves, maybe adjusting them a little (impeller trim or adjustable speed) to match the desired conditions. (That's just an example.)

Most vendors do not want their products to fail, so they do have an incentive to perform their own calculations properly. This is not bullet-proof (after all, there are fly-by-nighters), but engineers sometimes tend too much to second-guess vendors, and then overspecify.

No doubt that was too brief to cover the whole picture, but I hope you can find some perspective there. Excellent questions.

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#2

Re: Is "real life" engineering anything like what I'm learning in class?

03/16/2010 7:19 AM

This weekend I am getting on a helicopter in Manila Philippines and flying out to a platform in the South China Sea in order to review what the construction crew has done in implementing the design our team developed on some compressor mods. I never did that in school. The real world is more fun, but we all must pay our dues in school.

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#11
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Re: Is "real life" engineering anything like what I'm learning in class?

03/16/2010 11:50 PM

Steve S. is bang-on. I've worked on platforms, in paper mills, in mines (5,000 feet underground!), and now I've done my MBA and become Mr. Energy Efficiency Expert over the past six years.

I honestly believe that we're entering a Golden Age of Engineering. For all that our predecessors accomplsihed and for all the trails they blazed, they've opened up a world of "I can't believe that anyone could even THINK of that!".

Fear not, you're on a right track, my friend. Once you'll be an engineer, if you think of engineering as more than just a job, the world will be your oyster. And your world will be so expansive that you'll be amazed at it all and find it hard to grasp. Give it time, though, stay alert, feel that what you do is a vocation, and after 20 years of experience you'll REALLY understand how much wider your mental and social horizons will be than those of most others.

Like Steve said ... we all pay our dues in engineering school. But those dues gain you entry into an exalted club. (Mind you, there ARE ding-dongs in it, but still ...).

Cheers! DZ

P.S. And how I found my way to engineering and the type of engineering I love ... dumb luck. I've always been good in math and science but I felt early that a science career wasn't for me. I like dchemistry, but I didn't feel like being a chemist. Same for other sciences, etc. So, something scientific but not science ... engineering!

And why electrical engineering in my case? The three main branches when I studied in the early 80s were electrical, mechanical, and civil. I couldn't draw a straight line with pencil and ruler, and back then technicaldrawing was done by hand (urk!). That pretty much eliminated civil and mechanical, neither of which I felt I cared for, really ... So I wound in electrical engineering by double default, found that is was congenial to me (the subject matters fit with how my mind works), and I've been at it ever since.

Mind you, after I'd graduated, I didn't even know that the field I've worked most in (instrumentation and control, automation) even existed. It took a while for me to stumble into it, but I've never looked back.

Courage!

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#12
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Re: Is "real life" engineering anything like what I'm learning in class?

03/16/2010 11:51 PM

Oh .. and getting paid and having weekends off (most of the time) is pretty cool, too. :P

DZ

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#17
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Re: Is "real life" engineering anything like what I'm learning in class?

03/17/2010 12:30 AM

Weekends off? You mean, there are engineers who get weekends off? Is this a regular occurrence, or a special reward for some great accomplishment? Just exactly what do you do with such an abundance of free time???

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#3

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 8:15 AM

My experience with having gone back to school several years ago for an EE degree was a real eye opener after having had some years working in the real world. So the basics answer to your question is NO ITS NOT! Class time is apparently taught in opposite land for what ever reason.

The real world is far easier and far more practical. I cant even Begin to understand what pin heads developed the EE class program that I took. If you are good at the class work then real life might be a considerable challenge being reality doesn't give a crap about what theory says most of the time!

In reality you get to have every resource you can find or afford at your beckoned call. In class your punished for having any practical reference material or helpful methods of solving problems. In reality you find and use the most practical approach to solve problems like calling in someone who does understand something you dont or just using common sense most of the time.

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#49
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

04/07/2010 6:09 PM

tcmtech: Please note that the questioner is attending Rose-Hulman! Their classwork is more practical and applicable than most. In our company's experience, RHIT grads are capable of hitting the ground running, unlike most other new grads.

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#4

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 8:15 AM

A business trip to South Korea to act as the technical interface on a water treatment plant proved rewarding for everyone involved...

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#5

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 9:32 AM

Analogy - military boot camp prepares you for combat (does Rose still have mandatory ROTC for two years?) - anyhow, real military life has lots of down time - but when you do have real life combat, you have been drilled and it comes back quick. Similarly, high end engineering,such as Rose offers, prepares you for real world engineering. No, it's not as intense day in and day out. But in real life, you do need to solve problems others aren't equipped to. Long ago, poor engineering and/or follow through led to collapse of suspended walkway in Kansas City building, killing many. Engineers are like trained military combatants. What you learn thru intense training will be used, but real life has more human interface with others, overseeing projects, etc.

I remember my years at Rose very well (used to be Rose Poly before the Hulman was added) and after a long career, will testify it well prepared me for those tough times that skills and discipline were needed to do it right - and I could have confidence I was able to do it!

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#6

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 9:48 AM

In the EE world, real life is much less math intensive than class - in a sense, you learn the math to understand the engineering, then you don't need it so much. Real life also requires much more creative thought, and the opportunity to use your own mind to come up with your own solutions, instead of the one that's in the back of the book.

The biggest difference I noticed is that in school you're competing against perfection - a 100% score - and you always come up short. In real life, if you just do what is asked of you, and get it right most of the time, you will be hailed as the greatest employee on earth.

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#24
In reply to #6

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 5:56 AM

The difference is that in college you may be measuring against 100% score, but nobody actually expects to achieve that.

In the real world you are expected to get it right otherwise people die.

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#27
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 8:54 AM

Die? Rarely. I'm pretty sure I've never killed anyone with one of my designs - except for the designs that were actually meant to kill.

But, yes - you are expected to get it right - the question is how many times do you have to try before you do.

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#29
In reply to #27

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 9:53 AM

I work in broadcast - not an especially hazardous industry, however I have heard of fatalities in my field from:

  • electrocution due to faulty equipment where a single point failure could give rise to a lethal system
  • electrocution and burns due to equipment becoming live during maintenance due to poor access control interlocks,
  • studio fire aggravated by use of flammable acoustic materials and lack of interlocks to the air-con system and
  • tower collapse.

However the scope for fatalities is much greater in other fields such as petrochemicals, nuclear, munitions, aviation and automotive industries. The quality of the engineering is crucial to safety.

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#31
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 10:13 AM

Bhankii, thankfully none of my designs have ever killed anyone as well (and I take particular pride in that). But in my line of work it happens with monotonous regularity because it IS a dangerous business. High temps and pressures and poisonous gasses and tall structures and a lot of exposed moving parts combined with a well paid workforce that was lucky to finish high school and likes to drink and party on their time off leads to situations where we have to engineer for the lowest common denominator. The problem with fool-proofing things are that fools are so damned ingenious.

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#44
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/20/2010 3:13 AM

I've found that the third iteration is the charm before being qualified for production. Very rarely is it perfect on the first try.

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#7

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 12:33 PM

At M.E levels normally self study, assignments, seminars are usually given. Home works for M.E level? If your professors discuss in the class rooms on basics and concepts of technology aspects, better to make the assignment or home work at the college itself. It can be like a mini test. Your self corrected answers can be based on the professor's views or guidelines.

The college hours are real working hours for learning. Home work beyond college hours, that too at M.E level ? ooof.

If it is of a specific practice oriented study it is of some value. Too much of dry theory benefits no one.

Any way, having entered the game, better finish with these pains. If you have consciously under taken these home works with real involvement, a big gift is on your career journey. That is - You would have mastered the art of problem solving, which should be of real value in your technical life. nothing goes as waste.

So keep going.

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#13
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 11:57 PM

And let's not forget the crucial ability to neutralize people (icluding a few engineers) who CAUSE problems, hahahaha.

DZ

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#30
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 10:10 AM

DreadZontar,

One way you are right. Engineers with in depth theories can tackle[ confuse] the on way trouble makers. You got to be smart enough to tackle the smarter game players. Call it as fooling out or driving out.But you should survive to be genuine.

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#8

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 6:12 PM

Some of it's like school, but there's a lot they never tell you (possibly because many professors don't know). You may spend six or seven days straight, twelve hours a day in a sterile, mind-numbing carpeted cubicle writing process documents. Then two nights later, you find yourself 150 feet up on a smokestack catwalk at 3 in the morning in a pouring thunderstorm trying to diagnosis a goofy 4-20 mA loop. Two weeks later you find yourself trying to sell a customer while sitting in a hot spring, and sipping hot rum, at Banff. Good engineers are "git 'er done" folks and you just never know what's coming along.

Just remember where you read all that stuff in school. One day twenty-five years from now, you'll need that and you'll know where to go. But, keep in mind: it's one hell of an interesting life compared to investment bankers. Most of us wouldn't trade it for anything.

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#9

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 10:56 PM

You'll probably only use a tiny bit of what you learn, but no one knows which bit that'll be.

So, right now you're learning a huge amount of background material that's interesting in its own right, may be useful later on and most of all, is great brain training.

At the risk of seeming vain, I often help tradesmen out with PLC/VSD/sensor/pneumatics/logic problems. Although they've done the training courses and have years of experience my deeper knowledge of the fundamentals and an ability to quickly understand new things often saves the day.

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#10

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/16/2010 11:40 PM

1. There is no such thing as a "typical" day for an engineer. This should be obvious from the answers from others.

2. The problems you solve in your classwork are theoretical simplifications of what you will face in the real world. Real problems are a whole lot more complicated than those you study in school.

3. If you are a good engineer, your studies will never end. They get easier when you can accomplish them at your leisure rather than under a deadline. But you will find that studying and learning are a way of life for the good engineer. Leave the cookbook solutions to the mediocrities...

4. Once you are an engineer, expect one day your significant other is going to ring you up with the question, "When are you coming home?", and when you reply, "Soon, dear, soon. Almost finished." And the response is, "Good. You know it's been three days since you've been home?" You know you are doing really interesting work. If you spend most of your day waiting for the clock to strike quitting time, you are in the wrong profession, whether it is engineering or anything else...

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#15
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:16 AM

You get a GA from me.

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#23
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 5:33 AM

With regard to your point 4. Are you saying that being in a 9-5 job (as it sounds as if you are) and being away from your family for three days (probably with no overtime payment, as your probably a staff employee being an engineer) is a good advertisment for becoming an engineer, you must be totally brain washed (the man at the top must be laughing his arse off, with people like you working for him), or it must give you a great feeling of being the most important person on the block (egomaniac springs to mind). I hope your family appreciates your sacrifies as your employer probably doesn't, he just wants you to get your job done. We are just a number.

PS To the original poster, get a job in some sort of financial position, your studies/education will be a whole lot easier, your financial reward will be a whole lot better and your home life will be a whole lot happier (where 9-5 means 9-5).

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#25
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 6:05 AM

That's the great thing about free enterprise. You can have a mutually acceptable situation for both parties. His boss gets some free labor (or inexpensive labor) and he gets to do something he enjoys doing. And this is not unique to engineering.

Of course that's just one possibility. He may be getting paid for achieving a goal, not for how many hours he puts in. And by working hard for a few days, he may make enough to take the next month off before taking on another project.

As to your comment that "we are just a number", that's quite true in a number of fields...again, not unique to engineering.

One may find satisfaction in a financial career, but perhaps not. I would recommend they find something they enjoy doing. If it's financially rewarding that's great. But there is more to life than a paycheck (although a paycheck doesn't hurt).

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#37
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:28 PM

What, Guest? You only work for your salary??? I pity you. I work because I love what I am doing- so much so that I sometimes lose track of the time. If you spend your time at work waiting for 5:00 to come round, I pity you...But, then again, you probably make more than I do.

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#14

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:07 AM

Keep up the battle at academia, it will never hurt you to have it but will hurt you not to have it!

My father was a MIT Electrical Eng Magna Cum Laude graduate who used to chat in latin with others so inclined. Could design just about anything electronic in a practical and usable way. Next time you fly in an airliner, think of him- he designed the Instrument Landing System that has been in use for the last 65 years. Had all that but his true love was building and sailing wooden sailboats. If something was commercially available for his boat he wouldn't buy it because he would rather use a lathe or milling machine to make it himself.

Me, I percerviered and got a degree in chemistry. From the time that I got my degree the closest I got to chemistry was working part-time as a bartender for cash during school. Spent my career doing chemical, mechanical, electrical, envoronmental and safety engineering along with operations and engineering management. Don't regret any of it but the two things I enjoy the most: 1) sailing the wooden sailboat that dad and I made and 2) fighting fires as a volunteer fire chief. Also never spent much time with spelling!

Life is what you make it. School isn't what work will be and work won't be what school was. Learn to enjoy all the phases of your life no matter how much you may or may not like/love them. Also after over 40 years in a career which had several changes in it, school time never ended since you begin to be more self taught as your career progresses.

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#20
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:52 AM

It's been some years, but I really enjoyed AC Clarke's "Glide Path" story on the development of the ILS... if I'm not getting my aero technologies mixed up?

Chris

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#22
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Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 2:23 AM

Chris, if I recall correctly many of those brilliant men went on to work in a dusty hole in the wall in the middle of the New Mexico Desert, and ended up changing the world yet again just a few years later.

But no, that is a different system you are thinking of. It served the same purpose but worked differently.

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#16

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:21 AM

Hi,

A great topic, and a good question.

Engineering education is foundational, but will never be inclusive of all there is. But, hopefully, your career will continue your education, and you get paid to learn.

Truly, there is no way for a formal education to teach you completely, partly because the classroom and textbook cannot encompass the 'real world' completely, and because in any career, the parts of your day by day job that are actually according to the job title are small compared to all the other things you will encounter.

Consider your field of engineering … the mass of calculations and references you will learn. Do you believe that is all you will do? How dull would that be? As has already been stated, the trips to dark, rainy places to figure out why 'it' didn't work … or worse, explaining to your disappointed customer why it failed … or worse yet, being deposed legally to explain what went wrong. And, sorry to say, nothing can every prepare you for the corporate politics which constantly makes adjustments without knowing the ramifications, or office politics which might punish you for actually being more clever than anyone else in the department, or for being too ambitious.

Okay, that's the dark side, for sure it is not exclusive to the field of engineering, but it does happen.

So, where's the balance? The balance comes only from inside your own heart and head. While there is some philosophical basis for my saying this, it is also just a way of preserving what you have and why you do what you do. If you truly love the art of creating something … if you get excited about seeing something real and tangible when before it was just an idea … if you feel good about seeing something finally work, especially if no one before you could make it happen … if having someone tell you, 'it can't be done', but you know better … THEN, you have the stuff to enjoy design and engineering, AND to survive all the 'slings and arrows' that go along with the job.

Such has been my career and much of my life for more than 40 years … and, it's still FUN

Kind regards ...

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#18

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:30 AM

My personal experience is that I grew up a math/science geek in a liberal arts home. Fortunately, my parents are about the two wisest people I know and encouraged me to explore my interests and natural talents.

Coming from a non-technical/business environment, I had very little idea what to expect in the business world let alone the world of engineering. One of the best decisions I made in college was to get involved in the coop program. I'm not sure if your school has something similar. For those who don't know, it's a form of apprenticeship. At the university I attended the program would assist the student in finding engineering oriented employment (usually locally). The student was required to work and go school alternating semesters. Employers know they are getting an inexperienced body and good employers integrate (and teach) them. It's a great way to learn what's going on out in the world outside of academia. Experiences aren't always good though. Some employers just need a warm body and don't want to put the time into helping the person become productive. Others just want cheap labor. The work can sometimes be boring. I spent a few months making copies of documents to put in design folders. But if I wasn't doing it the company would have had to pay an engineer to do it. So it's still a view into what you may be doing as an engineer.

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#19

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:38 AM

Some great answers already but- let my 40 years of doing this stuff yield some more insight.

First- you must realize that an engineering degree, especially from a first class school, is proof to your potential employers that you are capable of maintaining consistent effort for an extended period of time. It is also proof that you are "technically domesticated", meaning that you are capable of being trained in whatever their system needs you to know. That gets you in the door.

Once you are inside, it is up to you to decide how much you want to use your training or how much you want to drop into a groove and slide by. If you truly understand that engineering is "applied physics" and like that idea- you will be able to truly make a difference not only at your company but in the industry where you are employed.

A few years ago- in the movie "Paper Chase" (a story about law students), the key professor had a saying- You come in hear with a head full of mush, and you will leave thinking like lawyers! It can be the same thing with engineering- you will leave thinking like an engineer. If you are up to it- you will constantly challenge the status quo with questions like- What If ....? Why Not Try ....? What Will Happen If ....?

Always try to find some old fart who still ENJOYS what he is doing. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers.

Some time ago, I was putting together a resume and decided to include some of my significant accomplishments over the years to show my perspective employer that I still "had it". I found that I had at least one major and significant "win" during every year, going back 25 years. If I did that today, I would find that now I have at least three or four "wins" every recent year because I have learned a lot more and I still ask the same questions.

Last year, I invented a new CoGen system that operates at 99% annual efficiency (compared to the 65-70% that virtually ALL of the previous systems operate). Last summer, we had entering air at 105F with an exhaust of 84F, all the fuel and 21F of 4200 SCFM of air went into the process. Additionally, this system cuts CO2 by 80% and smog-producing NOx by 97% and it pays for itself in two years. This year, I am developing a new style steam engine to use the waste heat to make more electricity and still be able to capture over 90% of the "waste" thermal energy. I am also finding ways to use the same style engine with thermal from a solar panel and refrigerant for pressure and heat reclaim. It's still FUN.

Keep plugging away- you will actually look back at this time with fond memories. But- if you keep you head on straight, and look for ways to use everything that you learn to get better, you will have a good life. Remember- Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants and Engineers PRACTICE- you always want to get better and you will NEVER be perfect, and that is OK.

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#21

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 1:13 AM

I cannot think of any better career than engineering. I spent 40 years with USS and enjoyed every minute of it. Seems that every day was a new challenge. I spent 80 percent of my time away from my desk, in some plant solving some problem.

I specialized in a few fields and frequently was expected to solve difficult problems in a few minutes, and usually I did. On some occasions I did not. I am now 80 years old and still doing seminars to convey what I have learned. I have written a math book and I am writing 3 other books simultaneously at my own pace.

I still do consulting. If you love engineering, you will have a joyful life. I highly reccomend taking your E.I.T. exam near the end of your senior year. Work with some P.E.s and take your P.E test when ready, usually 5 or 6 years sfter entering the work force. Real enginering is quite different than college, because no one gives you all the components of the equation such as you get in a text book.

If you do not like engineering, find a field you think you like better. Do not let anything stand in your way of working in a field you enjoy. That is why I am still doing engineer consulting, because I like what I am dioing.

There are 2 reasons to go to college. 1. To get a degree, and 2. to get an education. You need to do both. Do not let the boring courses get you down

PEbob

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#26

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 6:37 AM

STAY THE COURSE ! You are doing great. A questioning attitude, and trying to figure out if it is all worth while. Yes it is. You will find in the job place that every day will bring new challenges. But they will be things that you can feel and see. What you should do is get a job in the summer as a pipefitter, or a valve tech, something mechanical that will mix in with your degree. Its good to see how your design goes together. You get a whole different look at what the implementation is like, from the paper to the actual system running, producing, and making money. Which is the reason for it all, to make money. But the answer to your other question is no, school is nothing like work. Work will be like a vacation compared to school. But without that degree, you are dead in the water. Stay the course, school will get easier next year, you should start looking at more hands on projects your junior year. Good Luck !

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#28

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 9:00 AM

I'll weigh in on this since I have a unique outlook most do not. You asked if real life engineering was anything like school. The simple answer is yes and no (lol). In school the emphasis is on learning the technical information and developing your analytical skills. In real life the emphasis is on your analytical skills and hopefully that developes your technical know-how. I don't want to say what industry i work in, or who i work for, but i'm not quite 31, and I have been ridiculously successful. Owe it all to my ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently. THATS what you need to take away from school.

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#32

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 10:18 AM

Let's see if I can remember what's occurred to me reading the other replies... For some reason it took me 20+ years to realize a couple things about engineering (software, for me).

1. In school, you're told not to cheat: DO NOT COPY OTHER PEOPLE'S WORK OR YOU WILL PAY. It's a good rule, because you've gotta learn how to do it on your own. In the real world, you "cheat" whenever you can - always honoring laws and ethics regarding intellectual property protections (unless you work for the Chinese or unscrupulous Westerners). "Not Invented Here" and "re-inventing the wheel" are well-worn cliches because they speak to common sense efficiency or people doing things stupidly.

2. Thrive on feeling clueless! Engineering is about solving problems: you start off being vexed, puzzled, terrified, etc. at the challenge before you, struggle variously hard and long for the solution, and immediately upon solving the problem at hand, you're done! (Except for documenting it, lessons-learned exercises and/or sustaining it after deployment.) Often, you don't even have time to savor the solution before the next problem comes up.

For some reason, this only dawned on me recently after literally dozens of challenging software projects. We get new guys in our group here and they flounder in self-doubt at first as they struggle to catch up with the specs of the new system they're working on. I have to remind them that that's the nature of the work we do here. (I'm lucky enough to be in an R&D group, as opposed to a more paper-pushing consulting role.)

2a. Your work often never sees the light of day. I've written roughly 4X more software during my career than has ever actually been used, and this is completely normal. Other flavors of engineer design things that don't fly in the market, the money runs out before they're done, they're thrown on another bonfire of a project, etc. At least in school, you get a grade.

3. As someone else wisely suggested, remember where you learned things. Despite having spent a whole semester studying the topic, I can't remember and don't care 99.99% of the time which algorithm has which efficiency. But every few years I need to know. Google - gotta love it! I hated Calc III and sold my textbook immediately upon passing the course. I have regretted that decision ever since.

4. Engineers "always" have work and "always" make a decent living. But very very few of us get fithy rich doing it. If that's a priority, you need to be entrepenurial, go work for financials (though that might be frowned upon now), or just hope to be very lucky.

5. When they tell you in school that you've got to learn and use English properly, believe them! It's not essential for an engineer to have a very strong grasp of the language, but those of us who do have a sometimes subtle advantage. A big part of engineering is communicating succinctly, accurately and precisely.

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#35
In reply to #32

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 11:26 AM

4. Engineers "always" have work and "always" make a decent living. But very very few of us get fithy rich doing it. If that's a priority, you need to be entrepenurial, go work for financials (though that might be frowned upon now), or just hope to be very lucky.

"The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it."

John Ruskin

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#38
In reply to #32

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:53 PM

Yes- master the language! A most crucial aspect of any career field- communicating.

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#33

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 10:21 AM

Mr. Sophomore at Rose-Hulman-

As you read through all these responses, take a look at the ages (when available) and the locations around the world of your responders. Then check out the responses to any number of topics that are being discussed within CR4.

That should tell you how much those of us who have "gone before" generally enjoy what we do, our collective contributions to the industry, and our desire to help others solve whatever problems they are facing- based on our collective experience.

If that does not sound like what you want to be doing 1o, 20 or 40+ years from now- change your major before you waste more of your life and get in the way of someone who does. If it sounds "exciting", relax (for a couple of minutes) then get back to work preparing yourself for the ride of your life.

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#34

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 10:23 AM

In class you are learning the theory, methodology, and building the foundation to become an engineer. Hopefully, you have experienced instructors who have worked in their technical fields outside the classroom, because they can convey both theory and application and you'll likely learn more from them. (The real tipoff is, after spending hours crunching through equations to solve a problem, the instructor then says...now here's the way this is actually applied, and provides that shortcut). If R-H has a co-op program, I would certainly recommend it. Anyway, most engineers go to college, graduate, then go out in the world and learn how to become an engineer. In my experience, nobody is an engineer right out of college or university. In fact, several of the most creative engineers I've had the privilege of working with over the years, did not have engineering or even college degrees. The degree may get you through the door but, once inside, you have to be able to do the job and hopefully excel.

Remember too that engineering provides a solid foundation for almost any other technical or non-technical field you might be interesting in pursuing in the future; business, law, geology, astronomy, social sciences,................

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#36

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 12:24 PM

Hi,

I'm a mechanical engineer and there's a lot less number crunching than you think.

I'm retired and in my whole career I solved only 2 differential equations. In the first few years you might have to do some math but not the heavy stuff we learn at the University. If you decide to go on and do a master's degree then you'll end up doing a lot of number crunching. But let me tell you that the first 2 years at the University are the most challenging. After these you'l have more time on your hands. The best advice I can tell you for these 2 rough years is to do your homework in a team, it will help you and you'll get through.

Best regards,

Bob

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#39

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 1:59 PM

The road of life is littered with the corpses of those students who didn't finish their courses. It is the only failure.

I have 3 children. When it came time for them to go to advanced education. I told them... Choose something. You won't know if you like it till you have completed it. There is NO such thing as wasted education. It is the core of a person's life. The only loss is what is not completed. If you are unsatisfied or unhappy after you have completed the school and tried the job, then you are perfectly free to try something else.

Of the 3 children, only 1 was sure about their choice going in. All 3 love what they have become.. It is more important to choose and commit and complete, than to know what it is you want to be. There is no loss in completing a course or degree.. It will all add to the final value you will own.

heed this well.... test my assertion by completing your chosen course... teach it to your own children when that time comes.

Chris

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Anonymous Poster
#40

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/17/2010 7:28 PM

College is only the first building block in life. You never know everything, or accomplish all you want to do. College teaches you to look at challenges and life from a different Perspective.

Courage son, never give up your pursuit for happiness.

You have to start with theory and common sense. Finding a job in todays industry doing what you love will take more effort then college, trust me. But finding a job and doing what you love will be the greatest achievement you and your future family will benefit from.

Yes you will not use all of what you learn. But I have worked in a technical field for 32 years and I learn something new daily. I still find my self referring back to the technical college books for that long lost equation I learned 25 years ago. Loving what you do is the greatest reward in life and know one can take away your personal achievements.

Education is worth every minute and every penny.

Best Wishes and Regards,

Tim

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#41

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/18/2010 12:09 AM

Or what is your "average" day?

The average day is a blast. No matter what you end up doing, your engineering degree will benefit you. It gives you a base from which to work, but you can go in any direction thereafter. And no, it is not endless calculations, by any means.

Have fun and good luck.

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#42
In reply to #41

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/18/2010 12:22 AM

"The average day is a blast."

sure if you are the Van Helsing of HHO hunters...

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#43

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/19/2010 4:57 PM

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

That reminds me of a really smart guy that graduated the Sam Houston Institute of Technology at the HEAD of the class. The short form of his title was S. H. _. _. head.

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#45

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/20/2010 3:34 AM

In school, you do two things, learn things basic knowledge of things and learn how to learn things.

When you are hired on, even as a recent graduate, your employer expects you to know some things, be able to research or absorb knowledge of other things and be a creative problem solver as needed. All this is done with an eye towards cost containment and time to market. That's where the fun is. Especially if they have enough confidence in you to turn you loose. and you thought studying on a subject late into the night was only for school. I've had many sleepless nights thinking through a problem to be solved and then having success the next day. My job was so much fun that I chose to work on circuit board check prints while attending a Daytona 24 hour race just so I could move the project forward a little faster. Time to market is paramount.

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#46

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/20/2010 7:31 PM

What I have found is that the answer is "yes and no" as many have indicated. You won't be solving differential equations every day, but you'll have the ability to do so, if ever needed, as well as where to reference information to solve problems.

I think the greatest benefit, if you're lucky enough to get the right professors, is learning to think like an engineer and acquiring the discipline to solve problems. Many, far too many people, even in this profession fail to get that. Organized, systematic solving of a problem goes a long way to actually resolving problems. Making lists of what you know, don't know, appropriate equations, and systematic, step by step resolution is vital to an engineer.

I've been lucky to have professors like this. One is a world authority in heat transfer, and I've adopted his methodology to solving problems in engineering, and in life in general. I hope you have been as lucky, because besides his skill, he takes a genuine interest in the improvement of his students.

Good luck, and welcome to engineering.

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#47
In reply to #46

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/20/2010 10:37 PM

I'd give my right nut to be able to do what you're doing right now

To go back to school and learn it all again has been my dream for the last ten years

There's so many things to learn, and so little time to learn it all once you start working. So take the time to learn all you can now, and cherish it. You won't have time after marriage, kids, payin the bills etc.

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#48

Re: Is "Real Life" Engineering Anything Like What I'm Learning in Class?

03/21/2010 9:42 AM

I know it's tedious, but start keeping a journal now, with names of significant people, phone numbers of possible contacts, the phone number and subject of all phone calls of substance, little tidbits of interesting observations and means of accessing information about them... Many were the times I remembered seeing or hearing about something but couldn't recall enough about it to do any good.

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