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Name: Eric
Status: Student
Age: 17
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A

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 the future.

Dear Eric:

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: 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 chapter.

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.

John S.

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."

Tim Mooney

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