5 Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Engineers

by Kristen Svec on March 23, 2017

5 Pieces of Advice for Aspiring EngineersA couple months ago I had the privilege of talking to a group of aspiring engineers at the Independence School District’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day event. I left feeling inspired and hopeful about the future of women in engineering. I also started reflecting on my career as an engineer and how I got to where I am now. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has most definitely been worth it. So for those of you who are in the throes of your engineering program, or contemplating whether this is the right career path for you, I wanted to offer these five pieces of advice for anyone aspiring to be an engineer.

Consider the Possibilities

Engineers are in high demand. There are roughly 1.6 million engineering jobs in the U.S. In the past four years, we’ve seen a seven percent increase in engineering jobs – and it continues to grow. In some disciplines, job growth has been in the double digits – sometimes as high as 30 percent.

Engineering consistently ranks high in terms of salary potential. According to the NACE Winter 2017 Salary Summary, engineering graduates are expected be the highest paid with an overall average salary projection of more than $66,000. And PayScale’s annual College Salary Report, which ranks majors based on earning potential, only three of the top 25 majors were not engineering-related. Can you guess how many were non-STEM related? Zero.

Money isn’t everything, but at the end of the day, it’s nice to have the peace of mind of financial security.

Tap into a Career Full of Diversity

Engineers work everywhere – in big cities, small cities, rural communities, even remote wilderness areas. Some of us work in an office setting, some in refineries, power plants, factories, research labs and even Disney World. Some work outdoors and some in outer space! The opportunities and possibilities are endless – and it’s one of the things I love most about my career.

By choosing engineering, you’re not limiting yourself to one thing for the rest of your life. Even as a chemical engineer, I still have countless possibilities of what I can do with my degree. Down the road, if I decide the oil & gas industry isn’t for me or if the market changes, it’s nice to know I have options. With a chemical engineering degree, you have the pre-requisites to get into medical school. You could also pursue other options like patent law, pharmaceuticals, environmental, research, the list goes on and on.

Keep an Open Mind

I never considered engineering until my junior year of high school when a math teacher suggested it as a potential career path. I’ve always loved math but I struggled with science so I was hesitant. During my freshman year of college, I decided to give it a try and during those first three years, I considered changing my major about 20 times. It wasn’t until I completed my internship at Burns & McDonnell following my junior year that I knew it was the right career path for me.

If you’re still undecided on your major or career path, that’s ok! But what’s not ok is just sitting back and not trying to figure it out. Take an engineering class. Go to an engineering summer camp at a nearby university. Participate in in a job shadowing program. Burns & McDonnell offers a lot of programs for parents and students to help pique the interest of future STEM rock stars. Now is the time to explore these opportunities!

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

I’m a chemical engineer, and ironically, I struggled A LOT with science for a long time. But what I lacked in knowledge and natural talent, I made up in work ethic. I also learned to step outside my comfort zone in order to grow.

I encourage you to take a class that scares the heck out of you! For me, that was an AP History class during my junior year of high school. It was tough. It was humbling. And it was the most frustrating class I’ve ever taken. But man did I grow through that experience. And most importantly, I learned that I could do anything I set my mind to when I was determined not to give up.

Halfway through my freshmen year at Kansas State University, I contemplated transferring out of the engineering program. I felt defeated and like I wasn’t smart enough to take it on. But my parents reminded me of that AP History class and I decided to stick with it. And I’m so glad I did.

No matter where you are in your educational journey, do something that pushes you to step outside your comfort zone. The sooner you do that, the sooner you’ll realize that you can take any challenge head-on and you’ll come out stronger on the other side. So whether it’s a pottery class, a computer science class, or even the advanced PE class – take it! You won’t regret it.

Don’t Give Up

There’s no two ways about it: Engineering is tough! But it’s so worth it. We get to work on projects that change the world, and there’s no better feeling than knowing that you’re making a difference. My best piece of advice for anyone considering a career in engineering is this: Don’t give up! Give engineering a shot, even if it doesn’t come easy to you at first. (It most likely won’t!) Even if it sounds like a vague profession that seems so far out of your reach. If you believe in yourself, you can do it. And I’m proof of that.

For all you engineers out there, what other advice would you offer for our next generation of aspiring engineers? Sound off in the comments below!

Kristen Svec is an assistant process engineer at Burns & McDonnell, where she designs and optimizes processes in the oil and natural gas industry.

  • Kristen, Outstanding article and advice.

    To answer your question, one piece of advice I always offer aspiring engineers is to be constantly working at building your conversational and relationship-building skills. As in all disciplines, successful engineers must have strong soft skills to excel. Plus, meeting new people and building relationships can be a lot of fun.

    I often suggest to young people that conducting informational interviews is a great way to learn about engineering, or other careers, while also building vital soft skills. That’s why I built a free guide titled, Conducting Informational Interviews: Using Informational Interviews to Explore Careers in Engineering (…And to Easily Expand Your Network of Supportive Relationships). It’s available here: http://engineeringcareerlauncher.com/stginfo-2/

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