I love this poster; by the Women in Engineering (WIE) section of the IEEE: “I Create the World. I am an Engineer”. From providing clean drinking water to inventing artificial organs that save lives to creating technologies that allow people to connect with others on the other side of the planet, engineers really do make a difference.
I attended an event this last weekend where we inspired young girls with our passion for engineering and technology. Two college students shared with the girls why it was that they liked engineering. One student said she wanted to help people. Her interest was in developing technologies to provide clean drinking water to people who don’t currently have access to it. She believes by finding a solution to this problem she can make a difference in other people’s lives. The other student shared that he liked to solve puzzles, and engineering problems are often just puzzles. Science and math are two of the tools that he uses to solve these puzzles. For him, the challenge of a new problem keeps him engaged and excited about his work.
I had a friend in high school who had a passion for music, but he decided to go into electrical engineering so he could design better sound equipment for bands. I was recently inspired by a high school girl who wants to pursue aeronautical engineering because she wants to be part of space travel.
For me, engineering is an opportunity to create something new. I like working with fellow engineers to come up with new ideas and innovations and to be constantly learning. Additionally I also like the challenge of a good puzzle!
If anyone had told me when I was young that I was to become an engineer, I probably would not have believed them. In high school I really wasn’t sure what field I wanted to pursue in college and beyond. I enjoyed my math and science classes, but I also loved music, art and creative writing. My parents wanted me to pursue engineering, but I was having a difficult time understanding what engineers did. I attended a program sponsored by the boy scouts that explored engineering, but it was based on designing buildings and that did not interest me much. By the time I entered college, I had yet to make a choice so I officially declared myself “undecided” and hoped I’d figure it out eventually.
As a freshman, I toyed with the idea of majoring in either biology or chemistry. Biology was interesting, but I couldn’t see myself working in a lab all day culturing tissues (my idea of a biology job!) and the salary prospects were not exciting. I ended up deciding against chemistry as well and was leaning towards medicine. The problem was that I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be a doctor. Medical school was a huge commitment and I was convinced that if I went that route I would be stuck in the profession even if I didn’t like it.
Then one day I met another student who was doing research at the medical center on MRI machines. This was back when MRI machines were fairly new and I thought the work he was doing was so cool! I loved the idea of a machine that could look inside the body and see so much. It was then that I learned about the biomedical engineering field and decided it was an excellent combination of my interests. This was a field where I could contribute to improving peoples’ lives without being an MD. The starting salaries of biomedical engineers with bachelors degrees were very good and the coursework sounded very interesting. I signed up.
The biomedical engineering curriculum at the school I attended incorporated courses adapted from other engineering disciplines such as mechanical and electrical engineering. Little did I know when I enrolled in my first circuits class that I would really enjoy it. Electronics was a foreign field to me, but once I started studying it I was hooked. I liked that I was learning how to make complicated devices work and “think”. It was also an opportunity to be creative and clever in the designs. I ended up concentrating my studies in electrical engineering and then I pursued a masters degree in electrical engineering to balance out my biomedical engineering degree and define my field of specialization.
At times I review my decision to pursue engineering and wonder how my career and life may have been different if I had pursued another career. I am glad I did not go into the medical profession. It is a wonderful profession and I have a true admiration for MDs, but it would not have been a good fit for me. Engineering has been a great choice. Engineers are in such high demand that finding a job is much easier than in other professions. Employers often offer flexible schedules and work-from-home options to attract the best talent. Engineering salaries always rank among that highest for professionals with bachelors degrees. Although layoffs have become commonplace, the salaries are usually generous enough for engineers to accumulate an emergency fund in a case a layoff hits them. Additionally, there are many engineering jobs out there (like designing artificial organs, etc) that provide the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of others.