Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

Technical or General Engineering Courses in Your College Education

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well.  Today, I wanted to discuss a personal dilemma I have had during my studies in my Masters of Engineering degree program.  The concern is whether I should take courses that expand my general knowledge or focus on one specialty of structural engineering.  At first, I was trying to get a general base of knowledge with the intention of gaining a detailed skill set once I got a job.  However, due to the availability of courses, I have shifted to the second approach in the last two semesters – a concrete bridge design course last semester and structural dynamics this semester.  The concern I have is which would be better in the long run.  I really don’t see any true negative concerns to either course of action; however, there are different possibilities depending on which focus is taken.

There a several good things about a general base of knowledge:

Gain more practical and hands on knowledge quicker – a large general base of knowledge would help you gain more knowledge about general engineering practice quicker.  It would also not tie you into one specific or focused position straight off either, which should theoretically give you a lot of career options.

Allow yourself to see the methods of the company with an unbiased mind – By learning the advanced structural methods through the company, you don’t have to unlearn old habits.  You could also learn only the advanced methods that are applicable in practice and not have to worry about something being too academic or idealistic.

Start your career earlier – An early start in your career could get you a high position faster – assuming you do your job well.

There are also several good things about a specific knowledge base in your education:

Gain focused technical expertise quicker – By doing more technical course work, you could theoretically get a more focused or better job due to the increased expertise.  This knowledge could still be learned in practice but it would take longer.  A good example would be the construction worker who works his way up to being a construction manager vs. a college graduate who got a degree in construction management.

Higher position/more responsibility earlier – Your increased technical expertise could allow to start in a higher position as well.  There would still be things you need to learn to do your job if you are a new employee, but the in this case the question would be when and not if.

Knowledge of more up to date techniques – By learning more technical practices in school, you could learn practices that might not be fully implemented at an engineering firm.  One would hope that the firm isn’t too far behind, but the delay in implementing ASD in structural design in the last 10 to 20 years is a good example of how it could happen.

In my education, I have gone straight through with my coursework and pursued my Masters of Engineering while working part time.  However, I wish I had been more determined to pursue my original plan – get a job after I got my Bachelor’s Degree and pursue my Masters of Engineering while doing that.

What did you do in your education?  Would you do it that way again?  Are there any positive or negative consequences that you can directly attribute to this?

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