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Choosing a Discipline: Mechanical, Civil, Process!?




I know many of you reading this blog post might not have the option to choose an engineering discipline right out of high school. However, maybe you do and/or maybe you’ll refer to this blog post when you must decide later down the road.

The university I attended offered 6 undergraduate disciplines to choose from at the end of engineering one, the general eng year that covers all first year courses like math physics and chemistry. Many universities, including mine, have students go through a general first year before you decide what discipline to enter, this may be with many other students from other degrees but mine is called ‘engineering one’ because its all the engineering students going through first year courses together. Also during this year we do 4 engineering specific courses that attempts to touch on all disciplines so you can get an idea of what you like. At the end of Engineering one you have to rank your choice of discipline one through six and based on your engineering one average you will be admitted to a discipline. To give some context, just say 100 students ranked mechanical (for example) their number 1 choice, there are only 80 seats so the top 80 averages would get a seat and everyone else would, hopefully, get their second choice, maybe third if their average wasn’t as good.

You may enter the program or finish your first year with a good or better idea of what discipline you want and will love. If you know what that discipline is, that’s great!! If your were undecided like myself, your not alone.

The six disciplines were Process, Civil, Mechanical, Computer, Electrical and Ocean and Naval Architecture (ONAE). I entered the engineering program hell bent on doing process engineering and that changed fairly quickly, which brings me to say, its good to have an idea but explore around the other disciplines JUST in case you find one that sparks another interest in you.

Firstly, the 4 engineering courses helped me cross some things off my list. From these courses I determined that I didn’t like electrical circuits and I wasn’t good at programming, so, electrical and computer were crossed off the list. What you are good at and what you LIKE to do and learn can help guide this decision big time. A friend of mine tried computer engineering 3 times and failed out three times, he wasn’t good at it and ultimately needed to try another discipline.

Next, if you have the choice to do coop, I recommend. I didn't have a choice but coop was so eye opening! At the end of first year I got a work term with a construction company and boy was civil engineering not my thing! I hated it, I thought it was boring and I crossed that of my list…fast! Don’t let my experience sway you though, find out for yourself! During my year, civil was the most popular discipline, and the quickest to fill up, it wasn’t for me, but, many people do it and LOVE it. Coop helped me decide my discipline, and that is one of the many great things about coop.

I had three disciplines left to rank. So I attended their open houses. At my school each discipline holds an ‘open house’ around the time eng one students must rank their choices. Its nice because you can go to the discipline classroom, hear from students and faculty in the program, see some projects and job prospects and then get some free pizza for lunch. If your school does an open house, attend! It was at the process open house that I realized I didn’t want to be a process engineer. Hearing the projects and job prospects completely turned me off and so off the list process engineering went. Note that I started engineering thinking this was the discipline I was going to finish my degree with and now all that was changed….you could say I was anxious now!

Mechanical or ONAE?? I was interested in both after the open houses. Essentially the ONAE program was similar to the mechanical, I would be much more ‘specialized’ in a field, specifically the field of ocean floating and ocean going vessels if I did ONAE and also attractive to the program was the reputation of the faculties professors, the attention they gave students and a smaller class size that allowed students some really cool labs. In contrast, mechanical was an old and well known discipline that really is so broad with many streams to choose from (oil and gas, bio-engineering, drilling, mechatronics, machines, etc) that it would open many doors to jobs and future career paths. And so I ranked mechanical first and ONAE second.

Months later I was admitted to ONAE. My average was 0.8% away from entering the mech class and it filled up to capacity without me in it. I wasn’t upset at all. I really liked both my mech and ONAE choices and was happy with either. Some of my classmates got choices they really didn’t want. Some went through and tried the discipline they knew they didn’t like and the majority that did that failed out or left the program. Some of my fellow students decided to increase their admission average and reapply next round to get the discipline they wanted. Its whats going to be best for you in the long run. Make that decision and know that the decision dosnt have to be final if you don’t want it to be.

Looking back I think it was fate, if you believe in that stuff, that I became an ONAE engineer. The program was so good, the faculty is recognized internationally, and the program is the only one of its kind in Canada making my small class HIGHLY employable. All of us got jobs right away with hardly any competition! Above that, my small class size, 25 of us graduated together, gave me some great friends and above all that was the quality of education…amazing, given the time that could be spent with each of us.

If your struggling with choosing a discipline, hopefully some of my tips above can help you out! Try and get a good sense of what work you want to be doing. Keep an open mind but stay focused on the end goal.

NEXT UP: My up and coming posts will include

➢    My experience with Coop program and placements

➢    What I do as an Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineer

➢     Why I am currently looking at applying to medschool



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