A friend of mine's son is heading off to college in a couple of weeks to start on a degree in mechanical engineering. The scary part is that I remember going to his preschool graduation. Of course, the time between then and now has been something of a blur marked by a few high points (the Boston Red Sox’ World Series wins, the invention of the Slapchop, the availability of the leopard-spotted Snuggie, the emergence of the Kim Kardashian empire… Oh, wait, that last one comes under the heading of signs of the apocalypse.)
Especially in today's high-tech society, a career in engineering is pretty much guaranteed to be successful. Maybe there have been some cuts in the defense and electronics quarters in the last couple of years, but the technology is not going away and there will always be a need. Even better, according to a recent article on careers where opportunities exceed the number of qualified applicants, some of the sectors poised for a particular growth include industrial, civil, and environmental engineering —areas that had been slow in the past couple of decades. With an aging infrastructure in many countries around the globe, civil engineering as a career holds far more promise than in the past.
All of it got me thinking about engineering education in general, mine in particular, and the things I wish that I had known at the start. Some of my tips are pretty simple: Take as much math as you possibly can. When in doubt on a physics problem, take a series expansion. You can never have enough memory. Before you apply a simplifying assumption, make sure that it's both simplifying and that it applies. With enough duct tape and WD-40, you can rule the world.
What advice would you give to a student just starting out in engineering, whether about academics, careers, or just practical living? What do you wish that you had known back in the beginning?