To M.E. or not to M.E. for me...

Posted by Ken.

Student on team #192, Gunn Robotics Team, from Henry M. Gunn Senior High School.

Posted on 10/21/2000 1:23 AM MST

The following is a long essay about my thoughts of what I want to do, and a question of what I should do. I doubt any reader will have enough patience to finish this, but I can no longer hold my thought to myself. I will be grateful to any time people spend reading this, or maybe even a tiny respond. But I AM hoping to get some advice from people…

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As I said before, I am a mechanical engineering major student. I picked this major because I am amazed about how simple “little things” work just the way you want it to when you use it right (during the robotics competition of course). Little things like: nuts & bolts and wrenches, screws & screw drivers, washers and bearings, gears, pulleys, wheels, sprockets & chains, hammers, pliers… And they work just because of simple physics. To me, they represent consistency, ingenuity, reliability, and efficiency.

After those “little things” came our 70 years old machines: Band saw, lathe, vertical mill, sander, and grinder.  They gave me the precision I never had when come to “making” parts, compare to the days when I only have papers, scissors and Elmer’s glue.  In addition, after learning how to use AutoCAD, I learned to express ideas with precise measurements through drawings.  Heck, those drawings look a lot straighter and rounder than my old crayon drawings of the sun.

Finally, when you put those things together, you can make complicated machines such as the robots in this competition. And when you go even deeper, you can create more sophisticated machines like automobiles, surgical robotic-arm, aircrafts… etc. So I love how all these are created because of the simple physics and the “little things”. YEAH!!!

So now I am well on my way in Mechanical engineering, and, as many people told me, I will be facing a lot of choices, some of the major ones like Thermo-fluid sciences, Statics / Structure, Dynamics, Dynamic systems / vibration, Controls...  etc.  As I look closer and closer, most of these topics are well developed, and there are lots of companies out there being the expert of them.  There are lots of places out there waiting for the next generation of young women/men to continue the practices and expand the field.  But I am not sure that’s what I really want.

Now don’t get me wrong. Those places have a lot of opportunity for further development and growth, and they are exciting and challenging to work in. But I don’t really want to follow someone else’s footstep. I believe in freethinking without many constraints, just like how we design the robot for this competition with only weight, size, parts, and material limit. No one to tell us our robot has to do this or has to act that way… But if I work in the field of, for example, automobile, then I will be limited by the market, conventional automobile design, as well as the narrow-minded image people have on automobiles. Or say I went into a computer related major, then the most I can do are still making computer better or faster, just because the people before foresee an object call “computer” and decided how it will act as a calculation tool or what kind of growth it will have to make life better for people.

These might not be entirely true, but I am only trying to show my point.  What I really want is the challenge of exploring the unknown, attacking a brand-new problem with different ways of innovative thinking, and come up with revolutionary design that will change the way of thinking forever.  This may sounds a little bit ambitious, but having a design named after you, or maybe starting a new kind of engineering for students to study in sound really nice.  I probably cannot succeed in doing any of this because I am not good enough, but it’s still a nice dream to have.  Maybe if I have the guts to add an additional step into this “new path”, then maybe someone else will think “Wow!  What a great idea”, and take an additional step into his/her own “new path”.

So here I am, in the University of California- Berkeley, being a first year student in one of the best school for Mechanical Engineering, having a constant struggle in my mind about my future career.  On one hand, I love the conventional way of thinking in Mechanical Engineering (how people think of and invent gears, nuts & bolts, chains, wheels... etc.) and hope to make more out of it; on the other hand, I would like to explore the unknown, have my own kind of new thinking and development, create new ideas and principles, and face new challenges everyday.

If I am to choose the second choice, should I drop out of ME? Or will ME’s range be wide enough for me to do it?

One more question:  Am I the only one out there with these crazy thoughts?  Maybe I watch too much Star Trek: The Next Generation...

“Space, the final frontier. These are the… …To explore strange, new world, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Posted by Lora Knepper.

Other on team #419, Rambots, from UMass Boston / BC High and NASA, Mathsoft, Solidworks, Analog Devices.

Posted on 10/21/2000 11:35 AM MST

In Reply to: To M.E. or not to M.E. for me… posted by Ken on 10/21/2000 1:23 AM MST:

Ken,

Although I don’t really have an answer for you, I can say you are not alone because I feel the same way. My biggest fear is to go through school to learn all I can about engineering only to be trapped behind a desk somewhere constrained by the sometimes narrow-minded profit based industries. (not to say all places are like that).

I grew to love engineering - particulary mechanical for the same reasons you did. I love the way things work, and seeing how so many small parts and large machines fit together to form complete systems like our FIRST robots. I remember talking to the engineers at Gillette and asking them what they do…thinking that they got to be free thinkers in design, and got hands-on time with the systems they worked with…and found it was not the case. I, like you, want to be out there and thinking of new and innovative ideas - something so different that the world has never thought about it before…

I look at my FIRST/Autodesk screensaver and the words of it are burned into my mind… ‘continually question design – imagine the outrageous, visualize’ That’s what we do in FIRST, and I’m sure there MUST be companies out there somewhere that believe in that. And I know that if you are like me Ken, even if the road gets rocky, and things in ME seem to be closeminded - if you think about leaving, is there really anything else you’d be happier doing in the world? I know for me that’s a no. And if it is true, and people are too close-minded, and thinking too much along the straight and narrow…who better than a product of FIRST to help show them otherwise? We are the free thinkers, the dreamers, and the lovers of Star Trek =) if anyone can change anything, we can.

And well, as for Star Trek, it was and is one of the best (if not the best) shows ever made =) And oddly, when I look back at it, my favorite job was always chief engineer…

Lora

Posted by Fran .

Other on team #166, Team Merrimack, from Merrimack High School and Texas Instruments/R.S. Machines.

Posted on 10/22/2000 4:08 AM MST

In Reply to: To M.E. or not to M.E. for me… posted by Ken on 10/21/2000 1:23 AM MST:

Even though I am not an engineer, it seems you are looking well ahead as in life after college. Ask yourself how will you know what is different and another path, if you do not know what has already been developed?College would be the place to learn this and prepare yourself to develop your unique things whether on your own or after hours of a job. After all if there were courses in it then it would already have been done. I suspect you just need to get your degree and go workfor FIRST or DEKA since they are always on a different beat…isn’t that the goal of all FIRSTers?

Fran
Team 166

: The following is a long essay about my thoughts of what I want to do, and a question of what I should do. I doubt any reader will have enough patience to finish this, but I can no longer hold my thought to myself. I will be grateful to any time people spend reading this, or maybe even a tiny respond. But I AM hoping to get some advice from people…

: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As I said before, I am a mechanical engineering major student. I picked this major because I am amazed about how simple “little things” work just the way you want it to when you use it right (during the robotics competition of course). Little things like: nuts & bolts and wrenches, screws & screw drivers, washers and bearings, gears, pulleys, wheels, sprockets & chains, hammers, pliers… And they work just because of simple physics. To me, they represent consistency, ingenuity, reliability, and efficiency.

: After those “little things” came our 70 years old machines: Band saw, lathe, vertical mill, sander, and grinder. They gave me the precision I never had when come to “making” parts, compare to the days when I only have papers, scissors and Elmer’s glue. In addition, after learning how to use AutoCAD, I learned to express ideas with precise measurements through drawings. Heck, those drawings look a lot straighter and rounder than my old crayon drawings of the sun.
: Finally, when you put those things together, you can make complicated machines such as the robots in this competition. And when you go even deeper, you can create more sophisticated machines like automobiles, surgical robotic-arm, aircrafts… etc. So I love how all these are created because of the simple physics and the “little things”. YEAH!!!

: So now I am well on my way in Mechanical engineering, and, as many people told me, I will be facing a lot of choices, some of the major ones like Thermo-fluid sciences, Statics / Structure, Dynamics, Dynamic systems / vibration, Controls… etc. As I look closer and closer, most of these topics are well developed, and there are lots of companies out there being the expert of them. There are lots of places out there waiting for the next generation of young women/men to continue the practices and expand the field. But I am not sure that’s what I really want.
: Now don’t get me wrong. Those places have a lot of opportunity for further development and growth, and they are exciting and challenging to work in. But I don’t really want to follow someone else’s footstep. I believe in freethinking without many constraints, just like how we design the robot for this competition with only weight, size, parts, and material limit. No one to tell us our robot has to do this or has to act that way… But if I work in the field of, for example, automobile, then I will be limited by the market, conventional automobile design, as well as the narrow-minded image people have on automobiles. Or say I went into a computer related major, then the most I can do are still making computer better or faster, just because the people before foresee an object call “computer” and decided how it will act as a calculation tool or what kind of growth it will have to make life better for people.
:
: These might not be entirely true, but I am only trying to show my point. What I really want is the challenge of exploring the unknown, attacking a brand-new problem with different ways of innovative thinking, and come up with revolutionary design that will change the way of thinking forever. This may sounds a little bit ambitious, but having a design named after you, or maybe starting a new kind of engineering for students to study in sound really nice. I probably cannot succeed in doing any of this because I am not good enough, but it’s still a nice dream to have. Maybe if I have the guts to add an additional step into this “new path”, then maybe someone else will think “Wow! What a great idea”, and take an additional step into his/her own “new path”.

: So here I am, in the University of California- Berkeley, being a first year student in one of the best school for Mechanical Engineering, having a constant struggle in my mind about my future career. On one hand, I love the conventional way of thinking in Mechanical Engineering (how people think of and invent gears, nuts & bolts, chains, wheels… etc.) and hope to make more out of it; on the other hand, I would like to explore the unknown, have my own kind of new thinking and development, create new ideas and principles, and face new challenges everyday.

: If I am to choose the second choice, should I drop out of ME? Or will ME’s range be wide enough for me to do it?

: One more question: Am I the only one out there with these crazy thoughts? Maybe I watch too much Star Trek: The Next Generation…
: “Space, the final frontier. These are the… …To explore strange, new world, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Posted by Andy Baker.

Engineer on team #45, TechnoKats, from Kokomo High School and Delphi Automotive Systems.

Posted on 10/23/2000 11:10 AM MST

In Reply to: To M.E. or not to M.E. for me… posted by Ken on 10/21/2000 1:23 AM MST:

: But if I work in the field of, for example, automobile, then I will be limited by the market, conventional automobile design, as well as the narrow-minded image people have on automobiles. Or say I went into a computer related major, then the most I can do are still making computer better or faster, just because the people before foresee an object call “computer” and decided how it will act as a calculation tool or what kind of growth it will have to make life better for people.
:
: These might not be entirely true, but I am only trying to show my point. What I really want is the challenge of exploring the unknown, attacking a brand-new problem with different ways of innovative thinking, and come up with revolutionary design that will change the way of thinking forever.

Ken,

I think that you are on the right path. You will fit right in to many mechanical engineering jobs. Where you want to be is ‘development’. There are many mechanical inventions just waiting for guys like you to create them… even in the automotive field.

Let me talk about the automotive industry a bit… since that’s the one I work in.

Think about how long you will be working as an engineer: probably 30 years, if you retire early. Now, think about what has happened just in the automotive field in the past 30 years. In 1970, sub-compact cars were rare, trucks were just for farmers, and people used gasoline like it would never run out. Imagine what will happen during the next 30. In 30 years, we’ll be driving hybrid energy cars that won’t need to be serviced for 10 years, also many of these cars will be solar powered. There will be sooo many new mechanical and electrical gadgets on cars 30 years from now that pre-2000 models will be considered dinosaurs. I bet that 30 years from now, cars will be driving themselves down the highway.

I’m tellin’ ya, there’s going to be alot of development and progress… that’s for sure.

Also, if you think that there is little innovation in the automotive industry, think about this: of the engineers who post to this website, I would bet that there are at least 5 mechanical engineers (who work in the automotive industry) who have patents. (I only have one… the ‘Baker-Combs-Davidson-Rezonya Vertical Wafer Flip Chip Feeder’ #5,671,530)

Like I said, I think that you would be happy in development… but you also gotta pay your dues. In order to develop the next ‘Ken-o-matic’, you gotta work on the production floor, and follow in other people’s footsteps… for a while. In order for you to realize what works and what doesn’t you gotta see what others have done and how they get them done. You can learn from other people’s mistakes and sucesses. The quicker and faster you get this experience, the sooner you will make that ‘Ken-o-matic’ that we all will not be able to live without in 30 years.

Good luck.

Andy Baker

Posted by Chris.   [PICTURE: SAME | NEW | HELP]

Coach on team #308, Walled Lake Monster, from Walled Lake Schools and TRW Automotive Electronics.

Posted on 10/23/2000 2:26 PM MST

In Reply to: To M.E. or not to M.E. for me… posted by Ken on 10/21/2000 1:23 AM MST:

Wow - there was a lot of thought put into that. I enjoyed reading it since it sounds EXACTLY like what I used to think.

Here are my thoughts:

Andy Baker was right on the ball - development is where you want to be. That is more or less what I do at TRW for about 50% of my job. Development work can be exciting, frustrating, boring at times, thankless at times, and rewarding at other times. Overall, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

There is one thing, though, that you should consider: The more advanced degree you have, the more opportunities you will have to do development work. Not only that, but you will have more interesting opportunities with an advanced degree. Since I showed a knack for this type of thing, I was able to start doing development with only a bachelors degree, but everyone who knows me knows that I am half way to my masters degree now. After I get that, I will have even more opportunity for development. My group employs 3 PhD’s who’s entire jobs is development. If you get a PhD, your whole life will be devoted to expanding the envelope of technology. That can be exciting, but it can also be stressful.

My current job is in new technology development. I work on a team that is pushing the envelope of automotive safety in the area of ‘smart restraints’. I’ve been developing an occupant classification and dynamic occupant sensing system for the past couple of years. This has been a very rewarding experience. It has also been stressful at times (and thankless at times). But in the end, it’s been a great experience overall.

As Andy mentioned, there are people that post to this board that have patents. I don’t have any issued yet (since it usually take a few years to get a patent issued), but I do have 12 patents pending. I’ve also won 3 TRW ‘Patent Day Awards’ for the ‘best patent submission of the year’ type of thing. That was probably the highlight of my (brief) technical career to date.

In summary, there is a lot of opportunity in engineering to invent new things and develop new technologies. You just have to be sure to find the right job, and an advanced degree usually helps. Also, be sure to understand everything in your subjects very thoroughly. This is the most important thing if you want to do development, This allows you to have an understanding of the ‘big picture’ in how an entire system works together.

If you have any questions, just ask. Your professors should have a wealth of information. Or you can e-mail me (or probably anyone on this board) if you want more details on what we do.

Regards,

Chris

Posted by Ken Patton.   [PICTURE: SAME | NEW | HELP]

Engineer on team #65, The Huskie Brigade, from Pontiac Northern High School and GM Powertrain.

Posted on 10/27/2000 11:39 AM MST

In Reply to: To M.E. or not to M.E. for me… posted by Ken on 10/21/2000 1:23 AM MST:

Hi Ken-

Sorry I’m late jumping in to this…

Both Andy and Chris mentioned ‘development’ as an area that seems to match up well with your interests. I think they are right, but I don’t think that you should necessarily be locked into only the idea of being a ‘development guy.’ You have some time - and a couple summers of work - to decide on your M.E. choices.

You mentioned thermo/fluids, controls, design, etc. as possible areas of specialization, and your personal interests might lead you to place a heavy focus on one of those. But there is also (in my opinion) an intense need for people who can cross some of those boundaries - someone with multi-disciplinary training and talent. So don’t rule out a combination of specialties.

And, as Chris said, don’t rule out graduate study.

But regardless of the specialization, some things are fundamental. You need to be an expert on the fundamentals, because you can apply them in every situation. You won’t ever get to violate the laws of physics, and you will always be able to apply your training in the ‘basics’ to new and complex systems. So don’t worry so much that you are going over ground that is already covered with the footsteps of others. You will depend on the fundamentals again and again. Your creativity and originality combined with knowledge on the fundamentals will be where those great ideas spring from.

And don’t worry about all the ideas being already generated, even in such mature industries as the auto industry. Both Andy and Chris are right about the possibilities - theres a TON of innovation left to be done. Sure, some areas are more constrained by rules and infrastructure than others, but thats a natural part of growth. It just puts more demand on your creativity…

And if you think that people in the big industries aren’t trying to break out of conventional thinking, you are wrong. I spend nearly all of my work time (I work in GM Advanced Engineering) on the design and development of things that AREN’T in production, and some of the ideas are definitely ‘free thinking.’

Good luck, and keep your grades up. People who don’t know you will use your grades as an indicator of how good you are, whether you think thats right or not.

Ken