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Few careers offer such diversity either in terms of work or work environments as engineering. A qualification in this area does more than prepare you for one career - it provides expertise that grants access to a wide range of jobs.

The work of an engineer
What makes a good engineer
How to become an engineer
What can you do to prepare?
Case History
Do's and Don't's

The Work of an Engineer

Engineers are involved in the design and manufacture of the hardware that surrounds us - everything from motorways to microchips, robots to razors. They generally specialize in two dimensions - during training they specialize in one branch (i.e. mechanical) and after training they specialize in one activity or function (i.e. design). Transfer between branches is possible and as new areas emerge demarcation between branches are becoming less clear.
The main branches of engineering include
  • Agricultural and Food
  • Civil
  • Chemical
  • Electrical
  • Electronic
  • Computer
  • Mechanical and Materials
  • Industrial
  • Production and Manufacturing
Within each of these branches an engineer can specialize in one of the following functions
  • Design
  • Research and Development
  • Production
  • Technical Sales/Marketing
  • Consultancy
  • Education
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What Makes a Good Engineer

A person considering Engineering as a career should have a strong interest and ability in mathematics, physics and chemistry, a good imagination, creative ability an interest in how things work, good concentration, a capacity for detail, problem solving skills, perseverance and the ability to meet tight deadlines.
As well as these requirements that relate to the technical side of the work. Engineers for the most part need to have excellent interpersonal and communication skills. It is estimated that engineers spend one third of their time discussing work with colleagues, customer/clients, staff and bosses. An engineer must be able to explain what he is doing and why he is doing it. Furthermore, he is very often required to be a team leader or a team member.

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How to Become an Engineer

To qualify as an engineer takes at least four years of study in a third level college. There is now a variety of courses available, with some colleges requiring students to specialize from the outset and others offering a common period of study of one or two years duration, for all branches.
UCD will introduce denominated entry to engineering degree programmes from 2001. This means that students applying for Engineering at UCD this year will have to specify their degree programme preference on their CAO form. Denominated entry will apply to the following degree programmes:
  • Agricultural and Food Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electronic Engineering or Electrical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering.
In addition to the denominated entry Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering will offer a common entry course from which students will make a free choice to enter second year Civil Engineering or second year Mechanical Engineering. In the case of Electronic and Electrical Engineering the first three years are common with free choice in fourth year to either Electronic Engineering or Electrical Engineering. Under this new system all first year students will still take a common first year programme and the mathematical requirement will be a HB3 for Electrical and Electronic and a HC3 for the other disciplines.

TCD will continue to operate its omnibus entry to engineering with a first and second year programme common to all branches except for its latest addition Manufacturing Engineering with Management Science (TR038) which is by direct application through the CAO.

The points required to secure a place on an engineering degree course in 2000 ranged from 290 - 495. In addition to the points it is important to note the course and college requirements for each of your choices. Generally applicants must obtain a HC in Mathematics and in some cases a laboratory science is also required.

The ladder system - certificate, diploma, degree - in operation in the Institutes of Technology, offers an alternative route to a career in Engineering and may be the preferred option for students who wish to gain experience in the workplace between each step.

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What Can You Do to Prepare?

Begin by talking to practising engineers about their work. Visit places where engineering work is in progress - trade exhibitions and displays of proposed projects put on by County Councils and other bodies - to get a feel for the work involved. Try to find work experience in an engineer's office or try to find an engineer who will allow you to work shadow him.
Thoroughly research the courses available. Get the college brochures and study them carefully. Find out about the quality and content of the courses, the subject options available in second and subsequent years, the type of work placements provided, if any, and the job outcomes that emerge from them. Former students of your school can be a great source of information, as can the college open days. There is also much information available on the web. The Institute of Engineers of Ireland have an excellent website which also provides a list of link sites.

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Case History

Maire Nic Reamoinn BA BAI, MIEI, ICE works at present as a graduate civil engineer in a Civil, Structural and Environmental engineering consultancy. She did her Leaving Certificate in Colaiste Iosagain in 1994 and in 1994/95 she took a Business Linked Diploma in Ballsbridge College of Business Studies. In 1999 she graduated from Trinity College with BA BAI Hons - specialising in Civil and Environment branches.
Her decision to choose engineering was based on consultations with her school's Careers Guidance Counsellor and made on the basis of it being a "broad" qualification i.e. being able to keep her options open with respect to career. She believes that it is easier to change discipline with an engineering qualification than with other qualifications.
She chose an Engineering course in TCD because it offers a general education in first and second year i.e. the student doesn't have to specialise in a discipline until third year. She chose to specialise in Civil and Environmental Engineering because she had always been interested in enviromental and health issues. Of the two she found Civil engineering the more interesting discipline both in college and in her career to date.
Her career path to date has involved work in a Civil Engineering Consultancy firm as a student engineer. At present, Maire works as a graduate engineer in the Planning and Development Department of the same Engineering Consultancy and is concerned with the design of roads, watermains and drainage for housing estates.

The Ups of the Career
  • Lots of career prospects at the moment in Engineering
  • Variety of work
  • Constant interaction with people
  • Generally challenging and problems encountered are real life and interesting
  • Mostly 9.00 - 5.30 job
The Downs of the career
  • Sometimes working longer hours, and Saturday work is required coming up to a project deadline.
  • At present there is too much work not enough engineers in the industry - civil engineering doesn't pay as well as other professional careers for the amount of effort that must be invested in the job.
  • Like most work, it can become boring and tedious at times.
  • If you don't stand up for yourself and be assertive you can be taken advantage of and taken for granted.
Plans and ambitions for the future
  1. Gain enough experience so that I can move into other areas of the market. You need a minimum of two years post-graduate experience in order to do this successfully.
  2. Do an MSc in Environmental (it is needed if a person wants to pursue a career in this area) or do an MBA (Masters in Business Administration)
  3. Get some experience on Site as a resident engineer or site engineer
  4. Get a chartership with an engineering professional body such as the IEI and also publish a paper or two - the above ensures a good increase in wages.
  5. Try my hand at something totally different than pure engineering such as working as a lecturer or going into the broadcasting sector or anywhere else which appeals to me.
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Do's and Don't's

Do engineering
  • if you like to be challenged and have a mathematically orientated mind
  • if you are willing to put in four years of good hard work at college
  • if you enjoy people's company and working with people
  • if you want to die happy but not necessarily rich
  • if you are unsure what career path to take and don't mind 4 years of hard work
  • if you want to do civil engineering and don't mind wearing a neon yellow jacket and groovy green waders
Don't do engineering
  • because "you're good at maths", since you'll end up disillusioned if this is your only reason for choosing it
  • if you want a nice easy time at university
  • for the money, especially with civil engineering. Although the computer and electronic branches offer more money to start with, every engineering discipline's wage level evens out in the end.
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