I was told outright wrong things about being an engineer. I think these engineering myths cause many college students to major in engineering fields under wildly inaccurate expectations. They end up disappointed, their performance is undermined, and they ultimately become dissatisfied with life.
I want to debunk these common myths. I also want to explain why so many engineering students are miserable. And, I want to provide some concrete actionable items to help improve your performance and get more satisfaction out of life as an engineer.
You should become an engineer if you’re good at math and science. Sound familiar?
In my opinion, this is incorrect. You may be good at math and science, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you would like engineering or that you’d be good at it.
There are a many different professions someone who is good at/enjoys math and science can pursue other than engineering, including:
Students skilled in math and science major in engineering fields, even if another job might be better for them. They discover engineering isn’t for them. They become miserable every minute of everyday as they slog through difficult courses they can’t wrap their heads around, work on projects they have no interest in, and get deeper into debt year after year.
Engineers are problem solvers. They need to be able to apply knowledge to creating products and completing projects, manage projects, work well in a team, budget well, and have a basic familiarity with economics. Engineers generally need good spatial thinking and analytical skills. They need to be persistent, meticulous, and be able to maintain a positive attitude under immense pressure, exhaustion, criticism, and even failure.
You won’t necessarily have these traits from being good at math and science.
If you hate engineering, it may be because it’s not the best choice for you. You may have pursued it because for the wrong reasons. But, you may have committed too much time and effort to it by now, and you’re unwilling and/or unable to change career paths. If this describes you, debunking Myth #2 is especially important:
You need to be passionate about engineering, about anything, to be successful at it, right? Job interviewers all want to hire passionate employees. When we were kids, we were constantly encouraged to find our passion.
The harsh truth is that it doesn’t matter what your passions are. All that matters is what you can do to benefit and help other people. Jobs aren’t supposed to be fun or enjoyable. If they were, they would be hobbies, not jobs.
Let’s look at basketball as an example. Playing basketball casually with friends is a fun hobby. You play whenever you want to, for as long as you want to. Playing basketball professionally requires years of dedicated practice, tremendous success on college and amateur teams, physical fitness, plenty of luck, and it comes with enormous pressure to win games.
It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about basketball. If you don’t have the talent, dedication, or ability to endure the demands, you can’t play professionally.
Engineering is a well-regarded and well-paid career because it’s difficult and not many people have the aptitude and commitment to be good at it. It’s fine if such demands undermine your passion. It’s all right if you aren’t even passionate going into it.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s certainly possible, and even desirable, to get a sense of satisfaction from your job. At the very least, you shouldn’t HATE your job. But, it’s wrong and even detrimental to expect passion or enjoyment. Your job is a source of livelihood, a means to achieving the life you want to live. Passion is an unintended consequence of living the life you want to live.
This myth is the reason so many engineering students and young engineers are miserable and under-performing. You expect your chosen discipline to be enjoyable and instill passion in you. When it doesn’t, you become disappointed. You also believe that you won’t be successful because you lack passion for what you do, and this negative outlook undermines your performance.
Discipline and a commitment to productivity beat passion. As long as you do your job well, it doesn’t really matter if you’re passionate about it or not. The best part? If you become good at something and devote a lot of time and effort to it, you’ll naturally become more passionate about it.
You chose to major in engineering because it pays well, has great job prospects, and it has great job security. This is because engineering is useful to society. Any job that pays well, is easy to get, and comes with great job security will almost always be very demanding and difficult.
Despite the difficulties, keep devoting time and effort to engineering, and you will become more proficient at it. Your increasing proficiency, and the time and effort invested, will make you passionate.
Students often major in mechanical engineering because it’s believed to have broad overlap with multiple different engineering disciplines. This major allows them to keep their options open and make them eligible for a wide range of careers, including careers outside engineering.
They’re also told that you have degree A, but you can work in profession B. For example, an electrical engineering graduate may end up doing mechanical engineering-related work, and vice versa.
This myth isn’t necessarily a lie, but it is an exaggeration.
Engineering fields do have significant overlap, and engineers from different disciplines often work together on the same projects. Consequently, many engineers have to have at least a basic familiarity with technical concepts outside their chosen specialization; a mechanical engineer is going to need to be a little familiar with coding and electrical systems.
But, you can’t major in something completely different from a job and successfully get hired for it. A mechanical engineering major will very likely work as a mechanical engineer.
It also doesn’t mean that a mechanical engineering major will open up opportunities outside engineering. Yes, mechanical engineering majors have entered multiple other different professions, both related to engineering and otherwise. But, it’s going to take effort and time to develop the required skills and experience to transition to a different profession. An engineering background will only make the transition a little smoother because the inherent difficulty of an engineering program will make other non-engineering disciplines comparatively easier.
Students also choose to major in engineering because it can guarantee a job after graduating.
This is actually true for the most part. Engineering is doing relatively well in terms of job prospects. Everyone I graduated with had full-time jobs lined up before putting on the cap and gown.
However, you still need to be good at engineering to get an engineering job. An engineering major isn’t an automatic free pass to stable, gainful employment.
You still need internship experience, good academic performance, and/or any notable project work. And as previously mentioned, engineering is difficult and demanding.
I’m not trying to insult you or say that you’re not a hard-working, competent engineer/engineer-in-training. I’m only trying to clear up a misconception. You still need to commit yourself to learning and performing well in engineering school/your job, complete projects, have effective documented proof of your accomplishments, and job hunt effectively.
Also, the rise in engineering graduates is much faster than the rate of engineering job creation. So, job hunting will slowly become more competitive and difficult. The rare instance of an engineering graduate unable to find a job is likely going to become more and more common moving forward.
I’m not trying to discourage or scare you. I just want to tell you my experiences to arm you with the right mindset and expectations, and help you tackle the problems you might encounter.
This myth is related to Myth #4 (engineering is a free pass to stable, gainful employment).
The common belief is that GPA isn’t important for getting internships or jobs, and it isn’t a reliable measurement of your engineering skills.
This may have been true 10+ years ago, but not anymore now that engineering is becoming more competitive as the rate of engineering graduates is higher than the rate of job creation.
Many internships and entry-level jobs have a minimum GPA requirement for eligibility. If not, GPA is still a contributing factor; the higher your GPA, the more likely it is you’ll be hired. If your GPA is lower, it’ll outright disbar you from some positions. Ford only considers applicants with a 3.0 minimum GPA. Generally, you still have a good chance of getting jobs if your GPA is 2.7 or higher. The lower your GPA, the lower your chances of getting hired.
Also, your classes generally don’t teach you very much, that’s certainly true. The classes are taught very poorly and unintuitively. 90% of what you learn will be useless to you. They generally have a heavy work load, and sometimes the professors can barely speak English.
The bulk of your engineering knowledge is going to come from working on projects in engineering clubs like Formula SAE, membership in professional organizations like ASME, through internships, or through projects you complete on your own time.
In my mind, the classes aren’t meant to teach you much. The projects you complete teach you most of what you need to know. The classes are intentionally made to be arbitrary challenges. You’re forced to develop problem solving skills and good time management skills to do well in them and work on projects at the same time.
So, a high GPA is an indicator of good problem solving and time management skill, which are critical skills for engineers.
Many engineers, engineering professors, and even engineering students have one common problem: they try too hard to make themselves seem smarter than you. They’re critical of others’ mistakes, they love throwing blame at others, they always point out others’ shortcomings, but they’re reluctant to hold themselves to similar standards.
They speak very quickly and make it difficult to understand what they’re saying in an attempt to sound smarter. They also want to make you feel dumber because you can’t understand them. And, they’re self-consciously trying to hide their own dumbassery by making it hard to understand what they’re saying.
These engineers may even deliberately withhold information to create an opportunity to chastise and belittle their co-workers and students.
I know everyone isn’t like this, but I’ve met quite a few who are. Enough to warrant including a section on how to work with people like this.
These engineers are difficult to work with because of their smug, arrogant attitude and the difficulty in understanding what they’re saying. They ruin the productivity and morale of the team, sometimes deliberately.
These kinds of individuals, in engineering and every other walk of life, are seeking validation from others. They want you to tell them that they’re smart, competent, and a valued member of the team.
Don’t do this. These engineers can never be satisfied no matter how much validation they receive.
You just focus on finishing the project, and you still need to work with them to do so. Always keep project completion in mind. When conversing with them, only discuss topics related to the project. If they try to derail the conversation to any other topic, stop speaking immediately. If they try to insult you or someone else over a mistake, immediately stop them. Point out that throwing blame around isn’t going to go anywhere. Then, propose some actionable items to fix the mistake.
The engineers will speak very quickly to try to make themselves seem smarter and make you feel dumber. Paraphrase what they just said in a loud, clear and even paced voice once they’re done talking.
Doing this will show that you meticulously listen to them. This will make them more hesitant about speaking for fear of saying something stupid that you’ll catch on to. They’ll overall become easier to deal with once you shatter what little confidence they have.
This is a link to another of my blog posts on effective job interviewing. I talk about proper voice tonality, which applies to this context also.
Show them that you won’t put up with their crap. Ignore them when they start insulting others, always propose solutions to problems instead of letting them throw blame around, and paraphrase everything they say in an even-paced voice with proper voice tonality.
I hope I cleared up some of engineering myths and misconceptions.
You shouldn’t necessarily be an engineer just because you’re good at math and science. You don’t need to find your passion to have a happy, fulfilled life. An engineering major doesn’t necessarily open up limitless opportunities to other engineering and non-engineering careers. An engineering major isn’t an automatic free pass to a good, well-paying job. Lastly, you still need a decent (2.7 or higher) GPA to get a job, and GPA is a reliable indicator of your problem solving and time management skills.
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All the best,