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Mechanical Engineering Overview - The Field - Preparation -
Day in the Life
- Earnings - Employment - Development - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations 

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.

First 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.

No Cookbook Solutions
Your 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 engineers training 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 technologies.

Engineering Means Business
Mechanical engineering and business are closely intertwined. Mechanical engineers develop 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.

The Workplace
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 workstation.

Lab/Field Work
Early-career 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."

Proposal Prep
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.

Global Engineering
In 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.

Engineering 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 student.

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by ASME and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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