Become a Mechanical Engineer
Mechanical engineers will find their skills in demand in a variety of fields and industries including medical, scientific research, construction, aerospace, acoustics, combustion, and automotive engineering. If a device requires movement or manufacturing, design, testing, or packaging, a mechanical engineer will most likely be involved.
Becoming an Engineer
- Study mathematics, science, and computer science in high school. Study pre-calculus and, if possible, calculus at a high school level, and be sure to take chemistry and Understand Classical Physics classes in high school. Physics and calculus are the back bones of engineering courses; understanding them is key to getting a degree. Certain types of engineering will require knowledge of computer programming, learn it sooner than later.
- Participate in math contests and science fairs. Try engineering contests, too, if they are active in your area.
- Develop hobbies related to mechanical engineering. These may include astronomy, rocketry, geology, auto mechanics, Bicycles, welding, or even robotics. Any sort of tinkering is good practice.
- Learn to use different sorts of Tools. Hammers and screwdrivers are a great place to start, but there are many more types than that. If you have the opportunity to take a wood, metals, or plastics shop class, do so. Auto shop is also a good choice. Don't forget to learn about various kinds of Read-a-Measuring-Tape, too.
- Take stuff apart. Ask friends and family to give you appliances and other machines that have broken, or gather them inexpensively from garage sales or even neighbors' curbs. Then, open them up and see what makes them go. If you can put something back together so that it works, great! If not, figure out what's inside and see what you can learn from it before throwing it out. If you're still not sure what's going on in there, look it up and find out.
- Explore the field of electronics, which may include activities such as ham radio and computer repair. Build stereo speakers for fun. Constructing speakers requires both woodworking and electrical skills. Learn the resistor code for fun. Although electronics are more closely associated with electrical engineering, mechanical engineers need, at the very least, to be able to communicate with electrical engineers. More and more systems are electro-mechanical, so it's good to know a bit of both. Some mechanical engineers do specialize in electrical engineering and become electro-mechanical engineers.
- Take drafting classes. Even though some engineering schools do not offer drafting classes, drafting classes may be available at the high school or community college level. If at all possible, learn a CAD (computer-aided drafting) program or two.
- Develop solid written communication skills. Documentation and technical writing skills are a must in many mechanical engineering jobs.
- Invent something. It doesn't have to be the next light bulb, or even a new idea. It could be something as simple as a bent wire coat hanger to dislodge something that always sticks. It could even be a new process or a more efficient way of organizing your desk or going about your day-to-day tasks. Or, see how far you can make a mousetrap- or gravity- powered vehicle go.
- Build something. Assemble boxed furniture or start from scratch. Make a potato launcher. Create your own lava lamp or trebuchet. Even fun or silly projects will help you get used to thinking about how things work, and how they are built.
- Take an interest in manufacturing. Where do paper clips come from? How about computer chips or jelly beans? Part of a mechanical engineer's job is to design things so that they can be efficiently, inexpensively fabricated.
- Develop your creativity, too. Although a lot of mechanical engineering is about being systematic and analytical, it is also about creative problem solving. Try drawing, writing, juggling, playing music, listening, playing, learning, and exploring. It will make you a better engineer and a more well-rounded person, in general.
- Get a university degree. Some states may offer certification through examinations. Those without degrees or state certification may work as mechanical designers or drafters, rather than as engineers. Also, check the local and internet listings to see what engineering jobs are in your area or areas you don't mind moving to as it is possible a job that may interest you may not be available in your area.
- Decide what type of school you would like to attend and what degree you are seeking.
- Larger universities may offer a wider variety of coursework and the ability to specialize as well as bachelor degrees and usually up to doctorate degrees while smaller community colleges typically offer associate degrees and/or the ability to transfer to a bachelor level college.
- Smaller colleges or technical schools may offer smaller classes and more of a "hands on" approach to engineering, and most offer accepted accredited engineering degrees. Some of the best engineering schools are small colleges: South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, New Mexico Tech and Montana Tech are examples of small schools with excellent engineering programs. Beware of commercial trade schools that offer technical programs.
- Confirm that your schools, colleges or universities of choice offer regionally accredited programs.
- Do not give up! There is a lot of hard work associated with getting any engineering degree. At some point you probably will fail classes and question your decision; just keep pushing, all good things take time and effort. Retake classes if you have to: a four year engineering degree takes most people about five years.
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- A mechanical engineering curriculum is a rigorous course of study that will require discipline and hard work to complete, but it is well worth the effort. Having fun and keeping the bigger picture in mind will help you get through it. Making friends with classmates is particularly helpful, as is being courteous to any teaching assistants or tutors who make themselves available.
- Get practical experience if possible. Mechanical Engineering degrees are notoriously theoretical, which requires learning and understanding deep concepts and equations; study them and apply them every opportunity you get in the real world. The importance of getting practical experience in any area that you may be interested in can't be overstated. If you want to go into auto design or manufacture
- Focus on achieving the highest grade in science, math, and technical courses in high school. If possibly, get an early start on calculus and physics; it will be well worth it as most of your core classes are based solely on the concepts you learn from them.
- Co-op programs or internships provide excellent experience. The federal government offers co-op programs along with junior engineer hiring programs. Some government engineers work with weapon systems and research projects. Check the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) website for more information.
- If possible, join your high school's FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics program. You get to work on advanced-level engineering problems much earlier than most students, and get a strong advantage on college applications.
- Look for opportunities and resources available from professional societies, such as ASME (excellent opportunities to meet and learn from students and professionals in the field, and often also organizes trips and seminars.
- Take advantage of any opportunity to get hands-on experience throughout your education, as well as outside of class. At the high school level, try shop classes, especially wood-shop if it's offered. At the university level, look to participate in robotics contests, hybrid and human powered vehicle design projects, or even check out the concrete canoe competition if it's active at your school. Your professors can to tell you more about the programs, projects, and research opportunities offered at your particular school.
- Engineering is a "professional" job and one that is currently in high demand. Starting salaries can depend largely upon one's graduating GPA and previous work experience in the field. The opportunity for advancement in many companies will be present, but it will take hard work to get to the top.
- Getting through a 4 year engineering degree will not be a walk in the park. You will likely be worked to your breaking point in many classes. Getting good professors is key to staying sane and being able to understand material without breaking yourself; look up professor reviews before signing up for their classes!
- While anyone may tinker and invent, working as a mechanical engineer, and particularly calling oneself a "professional engineer" or certain other titles requires a license.
- Becoming too committed to the study of Mechanical Engineering can negatively affect your communication skills, particularly with non-engineers. Take care to balance your time in school with social activities; the skills learned in that environment can be more beneficial to an engineering career than a good test grade.
- Pay attention to safety. Use tools appropriately, unplug things before opening them up, and don't mess around inside televisions and CRT monitors. (The capacitors inside can hold a dangerous charge long after they are unplugged.)
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