Today's blog post is for anyone interested in a career in mechanical engineering. I will give you my insights into being a mechanical engineering student. This post should cover all the questions I had before I started this study back in 2020. If you think there is still something missing, you can reach out to me over Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or use my contact form.
If you do not know me, feel free to read my about-page on my website.
Otherwise, I would start with the most meaningful question: What on earth is mechanical engineering?
What is mechanical engineering for me?
As you probably know from movies, when people encounter problems that need some technical solution, they always refer to their engineers like: “Ohh your robot does not work? You can rest assured our engineers are currently working on a solution for it!". This is also the main focus that you will have in your engineering journey. You get a problem, and then you need to solve it. But your solution needs to be an optimum of simplicity, cost, and effort, and you still must make sure that the customer's safety is guaranteed. big
To make good decisions in the development phase of such a product, engineers have a large bandwidth of technical and scientific knowledge. The field of mechanical engineering requires an understanding of core areas such as dynamics, mechanics, mathematics, electricity, quantum mechanics, materials science, bioengineering, structural analysis, control systems, programming, and thermodynamics. On top of that, engineers use software such as computer-aided design (CAD), MATLAB, finite-element-method analysis (FEM), SIMULINK, and much more.
You can think of mechanical engineers as entrepreneurs too. With such a definition, we add a touch of social competence to the above description of a mechanical engineer. If you want to make a product for a customer, you also have to understand the customer. This includes sometimes going out and talking with them too. I think this is especially true if you are working in a startup.
So why have I chosen to study mechanical engineering?
I always wanted to be someone who can understand anything, and I still have this goal. From the beginning on I could think, I constantly asked questions about all the phenomena I saw on earth. I remember the day when I was at the beach in Rimini (Italy) with my family. I think it was in 2012. I asked my mom how the waves of the ocean worked. She told me: “This is something you’ve got to figure out yourself.” As a 10-year-old boy, I was not able to make calculations and find a mathematical description, but I used something that everyone could do. I observed the waves and jumped into the waves.
Although I did not know anything about physics, I observed something that physicians would call interference - constructive and destructive interference. Another thing I realized was that the wave gets bigger as it approaches the beach. My funny explanation for that was: Since humans get bigger as they walk out of the ocean, so do the waves. Otherwise, there would be some magical stuff that would make humans smaller and wave too. I think it was quite an understandable explanation for a 10-year-old boy.
Through my high school years, I started to get interested in becoming an entrepreneur, because I realized that finding solutions to problems is not the only part of being an inventor. He must be able to bring it to the people as well. That is why the need to become a mechanical engineer got greater. As I mentioned earlier, you have to find a solution that optimizes simplicity, costs, and production effort.
After graduating from high school, I had three options to choose from. I either could study nanotechnology right from the beginning, I started my studies in physics, or I would choose mechanical engineering.
I did not take the first one since it was too specialized for me, and it did not work with my goal of getting broad technical and scientific knowledge. Then, physics would be a good choice, but for me, it did not have a lot of entrepreneurial aspects in my studies. Which eventually brought me to the field of mechanical engineering🎉.
So this brings me to the question: What can I expect from studying mechanical engineering?
What can You expect from studying mechanical engineering?
First of all, you will have a broad spectrum of subjects you will cover in your studies, especially in the first year of your bachelor’s degree. E.g. in my first year, I had the following subjects: material sciences, mechanics, machine elements, innovation process, calculus, linear algebra, chemistry, and C++ programming. These are all compulsory subjects. In the second year and third years, those are dynamics, physics, more maths, control systems, dimensioning, fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and electricity.
As you go on with your study, you gradually get more flexibility in choosing which subject you want to learn. I am currently in my fourth semester. At that stage, as well as in the upcoming semester, you get the possibility to choose at least three subjects based on your preferences. For this semester, I chose four out of these subjects: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, Control Systems (MIMO-Systems), Bioengineering, and MAD (Models, Data and Algorithms).
In the fifth semester, this is especially true if you are studying at the ETH of Zürich, you can choose a focus. This will be the first specialization you do in your Bachelor’s degree. But it does not mean that you will have to continue with that in your Master’s degree, and you do not have to write your bachelor's thesis in that particular focus if you do not want to. It is a way to deepen your knowledge in your area of interest.
Since I really love robotics, artificial intelligence, as well as quantum mechanics, I will either follow focus on mechatronics or micro-and nanotechnology. We will see!
In the last few paragraphs, I talked a lot about what theoretical aspects of mechanical engineering you will learn. But you will also get the chance to put your hands on some projects. Since this differs a lot across universities, I let you find out by yourself if your dream university allows you to do some engineering projects.
At this point, you could ask yourself, do I really need to go to college to learn to engineer? The short answer is NO. How about becoming an engineer officially? Do I have to go to college in that case? Yes.
Is it possible to learn mechanical engineering without going to college?
Learning is a process that every human being can do by him-/herself. All the materials I have to learn in my studies can be found mostly for free on the internet. But it is not the same as studying at a university.
The university offers you not only knowledge, but also a certificate and, above all, a network. By studying at a university, you have access to laboratories, all kinds of professors, and like-minded people, basically to a hub of motivational thrusts. It just makes so much more fun if you can work with other future engineers. And who knows, maybe you find people to found a startup. Everything is possible!
I personally see college as a way to develop myself socially and to have fun. All the stuff covered in the lectures I learn from scripts and things I find on the internet. Most of the time, I do not even go to the lectures. I only go if I have some particular questions. But I still go every day to college for studying and meeting friends, although I live around 1 1/2 hours away from the university. The university offers so much for you as a student, it is kind of stupid to not use these offers.
We have learned lots of things about studying mechanical engineering in today's post, and I think it is time to make a short summary of the most important aspects.
If you want to study something that deals with technologies that will change the future, and if you want to acquire broad technical knowledge, I recommend studying mechanical engineering. But feel free to check out other engineering-related studies.
Last but not least, we shortly looked at the question of learning mechanical engineering by ourselves. Here we clearly said that is possible to learn everything by yourself. With all the free material you can find on the internet it is not that hard to learn engineering topics. But keep in mind, being at university does not mean that you are only there to go to the lectures and learn, you are also free to use the labs, and the vast network the university offers you. So definitely do not miss this part!