Day in the Life
There is no typical day for
most mechanical engineers. Engineering projects are multi-disciplinary organizational
efforts often involving scores of people inside and outside the company.
Project life cycles call for different skills and people at different
times. The issues and challenges start-off numerous and evolve throughout
the project. It is difficult to characterize a typical day under these
circumstances. Laced within and among other activities is a great deal of
communication -- on the phone, via e-mail, in meetings, teleconferences, memos, and
reports. No engineer works alone. Engineering is a team sport.
Some projects will turn over in a week, some in three months or a year,
and projects may run concurrently. Workload can change as a project
advances or encounters obstacles. Diversity and challenge are among the
things that mechanical engineers like about their work.
Job & Beyond
What are you likely to be doing? In their first job, about half of today's
mechanical engineers have a primary focus on some form of design
engineering and three-quarters do some work in this area. Product,
Systems, and Plant Equipment Design are forms of design engineering. This
can be a broadening experience, for engineering designers often work in
teams consisting of engineers of different disciplines who work in design,
production, testing, sales and service, people with finance, legal and
marketing backgrounds and project and corporate management. The solution
to a problem may require learning new things in other fields, which can
help to develop career options that may not be apparent when you are just
starting out. Some mechanical engineers are surprised by the responsibilities that go
with their first job. No one expects you to know everything on Day One,
but you will be expected to learn by doing the job, improving and growing
as you move forward. You won't be doing this alone, for much of your work
will involve interaction with managers and members of your project team.
courses and projects in mechanical engineering will introduce you to the
ways of engineering, but then experience intervenes. Out in the real world
you will find that it's not just a matter of applying a formula or theory.
Most problems simply don't have a "cookbook" solution, so you have to draw
upon all of your education and experience, and you will routinely have to
learn new things to solve a problem. This will be a challenge, but also is
a great source of satisfaction as you move forward.
Mechanical engineers enjoy making a contribution to improving the quality
of life. Whether it's improving the performance and safety of an
automobile, or the latest in medical diagnostic equipment or gas turbine
engines, mechanical engineers enjoy being part of the solution of an important problem.
Finding satisfaction in overcoming obstacles, whether they are technical,
financial, legal, or managerial is central to the engineering psyche. Many
find satisfaction in the variety of jobs that they do, the opportunities
for travel and meeting people, the completion of projects, and the
knowledge that they've done something that not everyone can do. For some
it's simply the satisfaction of seeing their designs in production, used,
and enjoyed by people.
Mechanical engineers thrive on solving complex problems. These are not
purely technical problems -- mechanical engineers deal with management requirements,
unique customer needs, budgetary and legal constraints, environmental and
social issues, as well as changes in technology. It is the mechanical
in mathematics, the sciences, engineering fundamentals, and computer
applications that provides the ability to anticipate and respond to
change. For the working engineer, the key is staying abreast of emerging
Mechanical engineering and business are closely intertwined. Mechanical
products and services to meet the customer needs and cost objectives
identified by corporate management. Mechanical engineers advise financial and marketing
managers on the feasibility of new initiatives, and when all systems are
"go," they design and build the production facilities. More important, but
less obvious, are the thousands of engineering service companies, many of
which are large businesses. Business and management occupations are major
career options for mechanical engineers.
Mechanical Engineers work in many different settings, most often as a
matter of choice and career planning. They differ in the type of
workplace, the problems to be solved, and work schedule. Some mechanical
engineers work in
the design centers and headquarters facilities of high-tech companies,
some prefer working in the field, and some travel overseas to serve
clients and to develop new markets for products and services. There's a
good chance that you won't spend all your waking hours sitting at a
mechanical engineers tend to spend more time doing testing lab and
field work than their more experienced colleagues. Advances in computer
simulation technologies have dramatically effected the type and nature
of physical testing that is done. Data gathered during tests of
products and processes is not only done as a production quality control
measure, but often has the very important use of supplying information
that is used to improve the computer design tools used to simulate the
much more complex "real world."
75% of graduates with 5 or 10 years of experience spend from 10% to 30%
of their time working on proposals. Students should look for
opportunities within the curriculum to develop this skill through
coursework and projects.
a global economy many employers compete for business overseas, have
multinational operations, and work through overseas partners. Product
realization is often an international team effort, in which a
manufacturing company might design a product in the U.S., modify it for
assembly in Europe, use overseas contractors and suppliers, or set up and
run a plant in Germany. Even if you do not work overseas, it's entirely
possible that you will someday be dealing with international clients.
Language skills could become an item on your list of "lifelong learning"
objectives. A number of U.S. engineering schools participate in exchange
programs with universities in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and
beyond. Students who participate in these programs find that language
skills and international experiences distinguish them from other
engineering graduates and job candidates. Later on, engineers with this
background have a wider choice of assignments.
continues to diversify in terms of the gender, ethnicity, and national
origins of students and graduates entering the engineering workforce.
Mechanical engineering offers excellent opportunities for women and
minority students who want 21st century careers that are challenging,
progressive, flexible, and well-paying.
Ethics and Professional Responsibility: Ethics are standards or rules that
govern your behavior in a given situation. That doesn't mean that the
rules can change with each situation -- they should stay the same. One
indication of a true profession is the existence of a code of ethics and a
clear sense of professional responsibility. For an engineer, an ethical
"situation" could be when you have to choose between doing what is best
for the customer or the public, or doing whatever is best for you -- they
may not be the same. It could be a situation where you have used someone
else's ideas -- have you given them credit or compensation? Or it could be
a question of being qualified to do a certain kind of work. Situations
often come up in the design, development, and manufacture of products.
This is why questions of ethics, safety and health, and reliability are
built into the design projects you will do as a mechanical engineering
Note: Some resources in
this section are provided by
and the US Department of Labor, Bureau
of Labor Statistics.