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Is it possible to have a balanced life as an engineer?

midnightowlmidnightowl Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
Is it possible to major in engineering and have a balanced life (both in college and after)?

I'm currently in community college and transferring this fall but I'm no longer sure if I want to major in engineering. I guess I've realized over the last few months that quality of life matters a lot to me and I don't know many happy engineers. (Most seem stressed and overworked.) I'm also not sure if engineering is for me. Even though I've enjoyed classes in math, CS, bio, and chem, I struggled a lot in/didn't really enjoy physics (I never took it in high school, just dived into calc-based physics in college) and it seems like engineering is mostly physics. (Is this true?)

For those of you who majored in engineering:
Did you enjoy your college experience? How did you handle stress? How did you decide you wanted to major in engineering? Were you passionate about it or did you just happen to fall into it? Are there engineering jobs out there that don't require a crazy workweek?

Replies to: Is it possible to have a balanced life as an engineer?

  • EmpireappleEmpireapple Registered User Posts: 1,407 Senior Member
    Excellent post and observations.

    IMHO, to answer your question - maybe. I know highly successful Engineers who work in the private sector and I would say no, they do not have a balanced life. Their jobs are very stressful. It seems to be a trade-off for the excellent salary.

    With that being said I know a couple of Engineers who work for the state of NY. They have worked their way up over the years to an excellent salary, fantastic benefits, pension and they have much lower stress level than their private sector peers.
  • engineermomof2engineermomof2 Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    I think some of what you are seeing is correlation, not causation. Many engineers are by nature "type A" personalities- perfectionists, driven, etc....Which is not a bad thing- I personally prefer a perfectionist to design and construct the bridges I drive on, the planes I fly etc ;) So some of the "work life balance" you are seeing is typical of the person, not the job imho

    Is the course load heavy in engineering? yes. It is demanding- and you have to understand in some programs its designed that way to weed out those who are truly interested in being an engineer vs those who just see the starting salaries. Its not for everyone. However, different fields have different levels of physics if that is your specific concern. I'm a ChemE- I took the general physics courses, but then most of my upper level engineering was chemistry/thermo based. If you go into MechE or CivilE- more physics based (i.e. statics, dynamics, etc)...its really about what interests you...

    I would suggest reaching out and trying to shadow some engineers for a day. There are multiple fields, and one size does not fit all. There is also a wide range between engineers employed by the government vs private sector and within the private sector- within industries as far as work/life considerations....and if you transfer to a 4 year uni then you will have to declare a specific type of engineering- that would help you get a feel for which branch of engineering you prefer.

    Good luck!
  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU Posts: 13,714 Forum Champion
    Engineering isn't physics...but engineering classes are often applied math.

    There are many different types of jobs...I majored in Electrical Engineering but found I didn't like the labs much..so I got a job that was at a more logical level in telecommunications.
  • ClassicMom98ClassicMom98 Registered User Posts: 45 Junior Member
    edited May 15
    I'm a civil engineer. If you want a balanced life, look at government. I work for a small, local government. My hours are 8-5, M-F. I have a short commute, so I leave home at 7:50 in the morning and return at 5:10. I even can come home for lunch. It is very rare for me to have overtime. The trade-off? Pay and benefits. For most of my career, I made 30-50% of what I would have in the private world. That has been mostly fixed in the last few years, just in time for FASFA! I do have a pension. it's nothing like the feds, but it is something guaranteed if I stay here for 30 years. Similar to retirement, our health & other benefits are not great, but I also think this is more typical in the south than other regions. We also have little to no flexibility in schedule like you might find in the private world. One boss told me he was being flexible letting me take my lunch from 11:45-12:45 instead of 12-1, so I could pick up a kid from pre-school and deliver him to the sitter. LOL. So there are always trade-offs, but for a working mom with little kids, I would definitely choose it all over again.
  • MaineLonghornMaineLonghorn Super Moderator Posts: 39,100 Super Moderator
    My husband and I are both structural engineers. We started our own firm, 20 years ago next month. We run it out of our home. Some weeks are crazy, some aren't. No commute, lots of flexibility, and the freedom to make all our own business decisions are wonderful. Plus we were home with the kids all the time as they were growing up.

    We were both laid off multiple times during the '90s, so this has been a more stable situation for us. It's a good lifestyle. We're not getting rich but we're doing OK.
  • HPuck35HPuck35 Registered User Posts: 1,963 Senior Member
    You can definitely have a balanced life as an engineer.

    I am now retired and actually, at times, do miss working. I always wanted to work in the manned space program and that is what I did. I was definitely passionate about my work. It was in many respects my childhood dream come true.

    I worked for a big aerospace company, a NASA contractor. The work was quite stressful at times, but that is what made it exciting for me. If I wasn't under pressure, I was bored and wasn't enjoying it. I worked overtime as needed and typically worked longer days and minimized weekend work (i.e., I RARELY worked weekends). I spent about 15 years in management but begged out of it as management evolved too far from my career interests. I then went to be on staff to the chief engineer and did all kinds of smaller very interesting projects; the most satisfying time in my career.

    I made good money and "semi-retired" at 56. I then consulted for another 8 years until I finally fully retired.

    I was married and had a couple of kids. They played sports and I made it priority to attend their games, even if it meant taking time off from work. I needed to do that for my sake and the kids. My wife also typically made it to the games.

    I also typically didn't take long weekend type vacations. Instead I'd take off for 3 or more weeks every other year or so. The first week you're still thinking of work and the last week you start again thinking about going back to work. But that time in between you could really relax and recharge.

    You could say that I was one of those Type A personalities. I could work hard and play hard but then I could also just totally sit down with a book and relax and watch the world go by. A positive attitude and realizing that you can only do so much and therefore prioritize your work goes a long way to balancing your life.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,548 Forum Champion
    I don't know many happy engineers.

    You must not know many engineers. At any rate, that's not a representative sample anyway.
    it seems like engineering is mostly physics. (Is this true?)

    Yes. In general, engineering is essentially physics and math applied toward solving real problems/designing real products (that's not to say that physicists and applied mathematicians don't do this, but it isn't generally their focus).
    Did you enjoy your college experience?

    Yes, very much.
    How did you handle stress?

    I went to basketball and football games and watch parties with friends for away games. I went out to the bars and had a good time. I went on dates. I played video games. I played intramural sports. You know, the exact same way that every other college students handles stress and enjoys themselves outside of class.
    How did you decide you wanted to major in engineering?

    I liked math and physics in high school and wanted to learn more about how things worked and how to make better things.
    Were you passionate about it or did you just happen to fall into it?

    Sort of both? I was enthusiastic about learning, but it's hard to be passionate about something about which you know nothing.
    Are there engineering jobs out there that don't require a crazy workweek?

    Almost all engineering jobs are just fine with you working a standard 9-to-5 (or increasingly, a 9-80). So yes, most jobs fit that bill. You probably aren't going to work your way up to being a VP with that approach to your job, but you'll have a comfortable, relatively low-stress life in most cases.
  • RichInPittRichInPitt Registered User Posts: 362 Member
    Life? Sure.

    Yes, college will be difficult, probably among the most challenging and stressful of majors.

    But I spent several years as a working engineer and it was fine. Pretty much 8-5 every day.

    I went back and got an MBA and worked for a global consulting firm. Now, that's a different story. Lots of hours, pressure, etc.

    But I retired at 53.
  • momocarlymomocarly Registered User Posts: 779 Member
    I am an engineer and have been for years. I work for a NASA contractor at a NASA facility. I did go back and get my MBA but kept my job. Almost everyone I know has a good work-life balance. Flight controllers do work odd hours, I quit doing that part of the job when I had children. A lot of families have both spouses doing it and they trade off. Most others work 8 - 4:30 jobs. I love it because it is flexible job. My husband is an engineer and he worked longer hours but by choice. Now he is an attorney.

    Did I like college. Honestly no. It was grueling. I studied most of the time. I felt stressed most of the time. Maybe I wasn't meant to be an engineer. It was hard for me. I did have enough time to meet my husband and marry him the day before graduation though! I don't keep in contact with anyone from college.

    I fell into engineering. I told a college advisor I was really good in math and science and they said "Be a biomedical engineer - but we don't really have that so be an electrical engineer with a biomedical concentration and we will give you 30 hours of credit and a scholarship." Ok, sold.

    Today's students go into engineering much more prepared, much more sure of what they are getting into. The classes are hard. There is stress. You don't have to go to the hardest ABET school to get a great degree and hired by great companies. Go to a state school, go for the least money, go to a campus you love. Do social things you love. My son have a large number of engineering majors in his fraternity. They have 3.6, 3.7 or higher GPAs and still have time to have fun. It isn't a 4.0 but all the ones graduating have great job offers.

    So yes you can have a great work-life balance.
  • midnightowlmidnightowl Registered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Thank you for all your thoughtful responses! I was glad to hear there are many engineers that have a more balanced work schedule.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,548 Forum Champion
    In fairness, while I came out strongly in favor of people being able to have a balanced lifestyle, I would not classify myself among those. Then again, I work in a job that employs a very small percentage of engineers, so I didn't think it fair to generalize based on my experience. My dad's experience is much more typical, and he has mostly done 9 to 5 his entire career, coached my baseball team growing up, is very involved with his church, etc.

    No worries.
  • HamurtleHamurtle Registered User Posts: 2,055 Senior Member
    Depends on the type of engineering. If you work for one of the FAANGs, then there is very little work/life balance.

    If you major in civil engineering and find a government job, you are pretty much set and there will be relatively little stress.

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