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Ways for a third year engineering student to gain experience?

  • Last Updated:
  • Jun 22nd, 2021 9:26 am
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 9, 2021
6 posts

Ways for a third year engineering student to gain experience?

Quick question.

What is the best way to gain experience in my field? Looking for personal experiences of other engineers. I am in mechanical.
16 replies
Sr. Member
Jun 19, 2007
793 posts
756 upvotes
Halifax
Are you doing co-op? That was probably the best way since you have companies looking for engineers, many sizable ones with actual recruiters and formalized recruiting budgets, along was decent development programs involved in co-ops so they can find and develop a pipeline of new talent.

Another friend, his dad was also an engineer, so was able to get his son in the door of the firm he worked at for summers before he did co-op.

If that fails, just things that are not necessarily true blue engineering, but just technical or mechanical in nature. There are still far too many engineers IMO who don't understand the more fundamental, mundane bits to the practice. Ie can calculate the stress and elongation of a bike chain under tension, but doesn't understand when it needs to be changed, or how to do it.
Member
May 29, 2017
241 posts
172 upvotes
Experience comes with home projects, co-op and on the job real world training. How do you gain experience programming? How do you gain experience driving? The employer understands you're a new grad or learning so what's really evaluated is your knowledge and skillset.

You're not going to learn to be an engineer from school. The experience comes from work. For now all you need to do is understand the concepts that will be evaluated and tested based on the path you choose to take.
Sr. Member
Nov 22, 2017
706 posts
416 upvotes
What discipline?

My advice to young graduates has always been the same don't focus on the theory but the practical. Start off by asking your family and relative/neighbors to see if you can get some insider information on your job hunt or if they can help you out. If you can't find a co-op job even working at a place like home depot or helping out in the trades will develop your interpersonal skills and get you thinking. Don't scoff at the hard jobs that aren't really related to engineering, you never know who you might run into. Meet as many people as you can, and get involved. This stage of your life you have to get any experience which helps you create a story to tell for when that big interview with the company you want comes along later in life.
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Oct 24, 2010
1709 posts
1453 upvotes
Ottawa
Work experience doesn't need to be paid, and doesn't need to be formal. Mechanical Engineering is a fairly wide discipline, but think of home projects you can do that will let you learn and showcase your work.

Part time jobs can be difficult for engineering students during the school year, but co-ops or summer jobs are super beneficial for gaining experience. I wasn't in a formal co-op program when studying engineering, but I built up experience during those summer breaks, while also earning enough money to come out of school debt free.

After my 1st year, I worked the summer at a local embedded device manufacturer soldering and testing printed circuit boards. After my 2nd, I worked for a telco doing mostly administrative project tasks. After my 3rd year, I designed some control systems and did a power system study for a power plant. After my 4th (I did a dual degree - EE and CS), I designed SCADA and communications systems for a couple of substitutions for a distribution utility.

My tasks started menial and unskilled, but after building up experience over summer terms I was able to develop a desirable skillset and increase the complexity in the tasks I was assigned.
Deal Addict
Jun 12, 2008
1215 posts
680 upvotes
Ripley
If you are prepared to travel and live in Ontario - try wind turbine companies. They were looking for techs but did a lot of hiring back in March. Are you just looking for a summer job now?
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Nov 2, 2013
5558 posts
1424 upvotes
Edmonton, AB
Co-op jobs. Some of these aren't advertised aggressively, so you'll have to dig around for the relevant companies that host them.
I see openings for engineers more than other positions for co-op/new grads...

Also: look up a directory or some sort of list (if available) of the relevant companies in your industry. If there is a governing body for it, they'd likely have it.
If there isn't one, do some searching.
e.g. For oilwell servicing in the past when I was a noob to industry: I looked up the list of companies under the governing body , CAODC.

I can't speak for mechanical engineering, but I've been looking for CPA articling positions, and CPA Alberta (and the CPA chapters for each province) have a list of "Pre-Approved" employers. A technique is to go down such a list and check out each of the employers.

I have had a few interviews so far. I can usually gauge what kind of postings are likely to respond to my applications, and over 2/3 of the time I'm correct.
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[OP]
Newbie
Jun 9, 2021
6 posts
Dynatos wrote: Work experience doesn't need to be paid, and doesn't need to be formal. Mechanical Engineering is a fairly wide discipline, but think of home projects you can do that will let you learn and showcase your work.

Part time jobs can be difficult for engineering students during the school year, but co-ops or summer jobs are super beneficial for gaining experience. I wasn't in a formal co-op program when studying engineering, but I built up experience during those summer breaks, while also earning enough money to come out of school debt free.

After my 1st year, I worked the summer at a local embedded device manufacturer soldering and testing printed circuit boards. After my 2nd, I worked for a telco doing mostly administrative project tasks. After my 3rd year, I designed some control systems and did a power system study for a power plant. After my 4th (I did a dual degree - EE and CS), I designed SCADA and communications systems for a couple of substitutions for a distribution utility.

My tasks started menial and unskilled, but after building up experience over summer terms I was able to develop a desirable skillset and increase the complexity in the tasks I was assigned.

Thank you. Will take your advice to heart.
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 9, 2021
6 posts
FirstGear wrote: Co-op jobs. Some of these aren't advertised aggressively, so you'll have to dig around for the relevant companies that host them.
I see openings for engineers more than other positions for co-op/new grads...

Also: look up a directory or some sort of list (if available) of the relevant companies in your industry. If there is a governing body for it, they'd likely have it.
If there isn't one, do some searching.
e.g. For oilwell servicing in the past when I was a noob to industry: I looked up the list of companies under the governing body , CAODC.

I can't speak for mechanical engineering, but I've been looking for CPA articling positions, and CPA Alberta (and the CPA chapters for each province) have a list of "Pre-Approved" employers. A technique is to go down such a list and check out each of the employers.

I have had a few interviews so far. I can usually gauge what kind of postings are likely to respond to my applications, and over 2/3 of the time I'm correct.

Really appreciate this advice. I'll try it.
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 9, 2021
6 posts
zeddy wrote: If you are prepared to travel and live in Ontario - try wind turbine companies. They were looking for techs but did a lot of hiring back in March. Are you just looking for a summer job now?
Yeah. I'm hoping to get a part time job more relevant to my field in Alberta or a summer job. Been working at a retail store for a couple years since high school.
[OP]
Newbie
Jun 9, 2021
6 posts
Dynatos wrote: Work experience doesn't need to be paid, and doesn't need to be formal. Mechanical Engineering is a fairly wide discipline, but think of home projects you can do that will let you learn and showcase your work.

Part time jobs can be difficult for engineering students during the school year, but co-ops or summer jobs are super beneficial for gaining experience. I wasn't in a formal co-op program when studying engineering, but I built up experience during those summer breaks, while also earning enough money to come out of school debt free.

After my 1st year, I worked the summer at a local embedded device manufacturer soldering and testing printed circuit boards. After my 2nd, I worked for a telco doing mostly administrative project tasks. After my 3rd year, I designed some control systems and did a power system study for a power plant. After my 4th (I did a dual degree - EE and CS), I designed SCADA and communications systems for a couple of substitutions for a distribution utility.

My tasks started menial and unskilled, but after building up experience over summer terms I was able to develop a desirable skillset and increase the complexity in the tasks I was assigned.

That's pretty inspiring. Thank you, appreciate it, especially how you listed out the specifics of what you worked on. Pretty eye opening.
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Oct 24, 2010
1709 posts
1453 upvotes
Ottawa
cardwatermelon wrote: Yeah. I'm hoping to get a part time job more relevant to my field in Alberta or a summer job. Been working at a retail store for a couple years since high school.
One of the most successful ways to get a part-time job relevant to your goals in Engineering is to first secure a full-time job during a summer or co-op term. If you prove yourself during your full-time summer or co-op, many companies have the budget and work to justify keeping students on part-time during the school year. My previous company did this with a few strong engineering summer students, and I'm currently working closely with a couple of students working part-time while they complete their studies. If you continue to prove your worth, it's also a great way to bridge into a full-time position upon graduation.

One disadvantage for your situation right now is that you're much too late for 2021 summer positions. Note that many summer positions tend to open by late fall, and the really desirable positions with well known companies tend to be filled by January. Start looking as soon as the semester starts if you want a full-time engineering job in summer 2022.

Until then, what societies or extracurricular activities are you involved with? Universities tend to have many project based design teams that will help you gain some mechanical engineering experience, and subsequently look great on a resume. Some examples of pretty common clubs:
- Space design team (I was on this team when we won competitions and set records with the Space Elevator in the team's early years; I designed a lot of the software, and we had a couple of Mech Eng help with the mechanical designs)
- Formula racing design team (One of my buddies led this team to some wins with a custom designed race car)
- Aircraft design team

You can also get involved in groups or student chapters for professional organizations, like the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy, and Petroleum; the Society of Petroleum Engineers; Engineers Without Borders; IEEE; etc.

Remember as well that experiences doesn't need to be strictly engineering design to be relevant. For example, if you have an opportunity to do project coordinator work, which is mostly administrative, you'll see many career benefits. If the role is with a company that does engineering or projects relevant to your interests, all the better; you'll be exposed by osmosis.
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Nov 2, 2013
5558 posts
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Edmonton, AB
Just be careful about underbidding yourself , especially by working for free. It indicates to employers that you lack experience (as if you were experienced and informed, you'd then realize your market value), lack confidence, and/or are desperate - that is, you otherwise aren't employable at or above market value.

This might be good in certain circumstances (e.g., you are in a field where this is normal for someone of your caliber, such as marketing, where there are many unpaid or underpaid interns), but not good in others.

Think of two people coming to re-do your yard into a masterpiece - A and B.
  • A has a strong track record, but demands a pretty penny. Someone else will pay A to do their yard if you don't.
  • B is someone's child looking to do it for free, and has no track record. B doesn't have much customers.
Which one do you go to? Depends on you. But, the child can move forward and eventually decide whether he's going to become an A, or stay a B.
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Member
Sep 15, 2013
201 posts
49 upvotes
Greater Vancouver
Don't graduate without co-op experience. Even if you take 7 years to do your degree, get as much work experience as possible. Don't rush it. Society is a lot gentler to a student than to a new grad.

What do you like working with in mechanical? Machines or fluids? Are you interested in construction (HVAC, MEP, Green Buildings) or are you interested in machine design? Very different field but attainable with a mech degree.
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Dec 27, 2007
3614 posts
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Edmonton
So I deal with alot of incompetent engineers that have no clue how the real world works. They can draw it out on the computer but in reality are pretty useless.

If you want to do well in mechanical engineering. You need to be able to go out and get dirty.
I can't count the number of times I chewed out an engineer because according to his computer and his logic everything works and then out in the field there's something different.

Had 2 of them a couple weeks ago keep telling me this pipe spool is 600lbs but with extra safety factor to give the trades an 800 lbs number. Being in the field doing the work I knew it was not possible, so had to call mfg to find out it's 2100lbs. That mistake would have cost the company in the 2-4 million dollar range of non production


Get hands on experience, away from the computer. And go get dirty. The best engineers are tradesmen that went into engineering
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Oct 12, 2006
1930 posts
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Alberta
tmkf_patryk wrote: So I deal with alot of incompetent engineers that have no clue how the real world works. They can draw it out on the computer but in reality are pretty useless.

If you want to do well in mechanical engineering. You need to be able to go out and get dirty.
I can't count the number of times I chewed out an engineer because according to his computer and his logic everything works and then out in the field there's something different.

Had 2 of them a couple weeks ago keep telling me this pipe spool is 600lbs but with extra safety factor to give the trades an 800 lbs number. Being in the field doing the work I knew it was not possible, so had to call mfg to find out it's 2100lbs. That mistake would have cost the company in the 2-4 million dollar range of non production


Get hands on experience, away from the computer. And go get dirty. The best engineers are tradesmen that went into engineering
Well said.
I was ok not being the best engineer, so I went out and did 2 years as a field engineer, asked all the dumb questions, but learned a lot.

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