Fields of Engineering
I am trying to decide what area of engineering I should
enter in. I have had a 4.0 G.P.A. throughout my three years of high
school. I enjoy math and science very much. I have somewhat narrowed by
choices to chemical, pertroleum, or nuclear engineering; however, I do
not what kind of jobs people with degrees in these areas perform. I also
do not exactly know what the job outlook for these areas will be like in
I am responding informally to your request about a particular field of
engineering to choose from. I am a nuclear engineer by training and
experience and it is a great field, but I do not want you to think I am
prejudiced in my opinion. You have some great choices in front of you. My
advice is to go with the area that you feel most comfortable with, in which
you personally feel you could make the best contribution to society, and in
which you could handle the future challenges of that professional area.
If you contact the American Nuclear Society in LaGrange Park, IL they can
provide you with some great info on a variety of nuclear engineering related
careers (American Nuclear Society, Member Services, 555 N. Kensington Ave.,
LaGrange Park, IL 60526, PHONE: 708-579-8266 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
There are similar organizations for the American Chemical Society, etc.
In order to pick an academic program for college, why not write to a college
near you (wherever you are) and ask a professor in the various departments
that interest you what their programs prepare you, what their view is of the
industry needs in the academic areas they serve, etc. A lot of universities
that have nuclear engineering programs (whether a separate department or one
combined with another department like mechanical engineering, for example)
have student chapters of the American Nuclear Society noted above. These are
great sources of information from people only a few years ahead of you and
who had to make the same choices facing you. If I knew what state you are in
or what colleges may be near you, I could steer you to a particular student
Although some colleges have downsized their nuclear engineering departments
due to decreasing student enrollments (for a variety of issues), there is
still a large demand for college-trained nuclear engineers. The civilian
power industry needs them, the radioactive waste management industry needs
them, the nuclear arm of the U.S. Navy and the shipyards that build
submarines need them, the nuclear diagnostic industries need them, etc.
You can use a "nuke" degree and work in many areas ranging from commercial
power production to health physics work (although technically health physics
is a discipline unto itself), to the transportation industry that transports
waste by truck and rail to waste repositories, to design of nuclear plants
(with commercial vendor companies like Westinghouse, General Electric,
etc.), to nuclear weapons developmental work at labs like Los Alamos in New
Mexico, to nuclear safeguards and inspection work, etc..
I have to go on business travel next week and will not be able to respond to
you then, in case you need a reference to a college near you that may have a
nuclear program (should you decide to follow up on that lead). If, however,
you write back to this e-mail system, the System Administrator can get a
message to me for reply to you, which I would be happy to do. For business
security reasons relating to our e-mail system, I cannot give you my direct
contact address. The Ask A Scientist System will get any message you write
to me, however.
This is only a short response, but I have to finish an important task today
before I leave. I wish you well in your career choice. You have some good
areas to choose from. A final word of advice--the same I gave to my daughter
going off to college: Do not pick a field based on how rich you think it
will make you. Pick a career based on something you enjoy working in. Making
a lot of money is not worth the stress of doing something you do not care
for. You will resent your job and be a miserable human being. You do not
need that nor does society in general. Have a good holiday weekend.
It's way too early for you to be making fine distinctions like this.
Even narrowing your focus to engineering is probably not your best move
at this point. The best field for you may not yet even have a name.
Learn, and let your interests and abilities continue to guide you as
they mature and as your understanding deepens. Do not ignore the other
sciences, and make a special effort not to ignore the arts. Your first
job is to understand what it means to be human. If you don't succeed
in that, then it doesn't really matter what career choices you made
along the way.
If you're still in the mood for advice, here's what my grandfather
told his kids: "Don't let your studies interfere with your education."
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Update: June 2012