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Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

I have always dreamed of becoming a mechanical engineer, and I will be graduating this May!!!
I am female, married, have one kid, and I plan on having more.
It seems like all the jobs I apply to/interview with want someone who will come in and work 40+ hours a week (if not 60+).
Although I love engineering, my family is more important than my job. I am starting to feel like I made a big mistake going into engineering, knowing that I want to have a big family.
My question:
What can I do with a Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering that is family friendly? Is there any sort of mechanical engineering entry role that only requires max 40 hours a week or is there anything part time?
I have been thinking of doing paid research and getting either a Masters or PHD because it seems like that has more flexibility in terms of the hours and days off (ex: summer break). At this point, I don't care what I do, as long as I get paid something, and it is in the engineering field.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Entry level engineering in the US working less than 40 hours per week? Not likely. At least for the first few years most companies will demand a lot from you. And it's not always about them giving you too much work, it's about you learning how to do the work in an efficient manner. When you start you may have to work 50+ hours to get 40 hours worth of work done. After a while, maybe you can knock out that amount in 35. (Though there are certainly some "sweat shops" out there than intentionally squeeze every last bit out of humanity from their EITs to turn a profit.) This is my experience in small consulting firms.

There are some larger companies that you can go to work for that will tend to be better on the work schedule. You could also look for government positions. It may require relocating, but I've interacted with several NAVFAC engineers who had very nice schedules, indeed. The hazard here is slower career growth (small consulting firms will often expose you to a lot in a short time). But that sounds like a viable tradeoff for you.

Again, this is my experience in the building design/consulting realm. That may not be the type of mechanical engineering you want to do anyway. In any case, good luck.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

There is a cost to starting any career. The degree is just the start. If you want to just work from home and do "engineering chores", you're not going to learn much or be of much use to anyone.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

At least in the beginning you will need to rely on peers to learn from. With more experience and the company knowing your value, you will be able to do more independently and from home. This is true for most professions.
Even with all work from home, you still need to go to sites, or go to work for other occasions.

It also depends on how modern your company is. If they all have old guys that still don't know how to use software, unlikely. if it is a modern company, more likely. the only good thing of COVID is, companies were forced to use technology that already was available 5 years ago. I'm always puzzled how conservative and backwards engineering companies can be.

I've bene working from home since COVID and only go to job sites maybe once a week. Rumor has it after COVID we can do half the time from home. but in my case the people i actually work with are from other companies, so i don't sit them with them in an office anyway. The people in my office, do more or less other work. but this isn't typical and most office work relies somewhat on the people in your office.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

How did you get through engineering school without spending at least 40 hours per week in class, and studying, and homework, and research, and everything else that is required?

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

I met my future wife in university while we were both getting Mechanical Engineering degrees. She was recruited by a large Oil & Gas firm, so I dutifully followed her to a new city. I found work with a very small consulting engineering firm: I was the 3rd full time employee, joining the Principal (and his wife, who did our invoicing and admin).

We were married a year after convocation. My wife worked full time (40 hrs/week) for 2 years until our first child arrived. Canada (Alberta) had a 1 year maternity leave at that time, which she used. She returned to full time for about a year until our second child arrived. She again took the 1 year maternity leave. She then returned at 60% time (and 60% pay) but ended up working about 90% time (Production and Operation questions needed to be answered when she was not in the office). Around this time, our small consulting firm had grown to 10 people and was acquired by a larger EPC firm. Once our third child arrived, my wife "retired" to be at home with our kids. We were incredibly fortunate that my compensation had increased to the point where it was sufficient to support our growing family.

We now have six children, with the youngest heading to Kindergarten this fall. My wife has maintained her Professional Engineering designation (in a non-practicing capacity) in case she decides to return to the workforce.

Also, she recently decided to get into Stock Photography (after reading this thread by JohnRBaker):

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

An old joke is that engineers are married to the profession, and its very true outside of academia. Working hours tend to be longer, both the need to travel and relocate are more frequent than other professions, and ultimately you will bring home work with you bc its a fairly high-stress, confrontational environment with constant deadlines. Part-time is an option offered by some companies to nearly-retired employees, but not usually open to most. I also wouldn't expect a work-from-home option anywhere decent, most employers discovered how truly inefficient that is last spring, hence the push last May to return onsite. If you live in the center of your chosen industry's universe (i.e. Detroit for automotive, Houston for oil&gas, etc) then relocating every couple years isnt much of a concern, but I wouldn't expect to do well jumping industry-industry bc you're trying to stay in an area with little industry. I also wouldn't expect to do a career at only 2-3 companies bc employers aren't financially motivated to keep you forever under 401ks like they were under the old pension systems, most hire and fire en-masse with industry economic cycles. As phaneng alludes to above, your first 3-5 years after college will make school look like a cakewalk - you learned 10% of what you need to be an engineer in school, now its time to learn the other 90%...yesterday. 60+ weeks your first few years will be fairly common, as are 50+ afterward. Personally I find the number of hours has less impact than when those hours occur and the commute time. Early days and short commutes leave plenty of time for after-work activity.

As to job options other than engineering, folks here will readily cite statistics showing 60%+ of engineering grads never work as engineers so don't think you are alone by any means in considering other options. I would caution however that not starting in industry right away will likely be frowned upon if you want to come back later, and advanced degrees are often more limiting than door-opening when pursued with no experience.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Get a job with a federal or state agency. I worked in government and used to see a lot of female engineers leaving the private sector to work in government because of the benefits and time off, but also the financial compensation. Female engineers are still paid substantially less than their male counterparts. Civil Service jobs don’t allow this to happen.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

TheRick109 is right and if you are in an "underrepresented" group you have smooth sailing through the process as long as you formally fulfill the requirements. It doesn't necessarily get you the job, but the hiring manager has to come up with really hard reasons why they didn't hire an underrepresented applicant.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

EnergyProfessional - I left government after being passed over for continuously for promotions as women and minorities get preference right now in the current political environment. The OP will do fantastic with a government job.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

TheRick109: I work for a government and sat in interviews as interviewer. The positions are listed by HR as under-represented before we even see resumes or any candidate. Then after the first interview it seems based on qualification the "underrepresented" applicant is on #4 and we only want to invite the top 2 for a second interview. Then we get reminded about how this position is underrepresented and that #4 all of sudden is #2 and gets invited to the 2nd interview. The original #2 doesn't get invited.
Didn't really work out, since the 2nd interview had detailed engineering questions and it became apparent to other mangers that this person isn't qualified at all. Too bad for the original #2 who didn't get a chance for the second interview.

Some of the discussions about the candidate skills are just about them being from a group. It is like "if we choose candidate X that is from 2 underrepresented groups (i.e. color and gender) we get two for one". The actual qualification is secondary as long as there is not a significant red flag.

I complained about that, and now I don't need to sit in interviews anymore smile

Another new policy is that the interview board needs to include underrepresented people because of bias etc. I don't disagree with that and generally want more diversity. But the problem is we have panel members that do interviews half their work time because the few underrepresented people are in high demand. And that person has absolutely no knowledge of that job (most often from different department and completely different profession).

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

I concur with the government option (especially local or state). You'll rarely work more than 40 hours per week. Pace of work will be inherently slower. If you work till 5:00, you'll be in your car by 4:59 every night.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

alchemon: You paint with a broad brush... I work in government and consider myself eager and hard working. But I know the people you mean...

Working for government can be a hindrance for actual professional development if you are someone who wants to do actual engineering work. I'm in a group of 12 engineers and architects and I'm the only one designing. The rest are hiring consultants and "managing" projects. Basically glorified paper pushers. Many don't even have a degree, but can be hired as engineers or architects anyway. If that is what you want, fine. But I imagine if for some reason we all get laid off, I can work elsewhere with my design experience. In addition, I find actual problem solving much more satisfying.

It is kind of worse for managers. they don't get to design anymore, but have to do a lot of " adult daycare" work what should be done by computers, or admin staff.

Some people were so bad in their job that they got demoted. Took 5 years. But here is the kicker, they still get paid for their higher position. The demotion is only in title.

So if you work in public sector and want to do actual engineering work, make sure you can carve out a niche where you can do that. For me it is nice to be able to focus more on the actual design and not to have to waste time on proposals etc.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Hey EnergyProfessional, am I really painting with a broad brush or being realistic? You may be an exceptional case, but how often are the people in your group putting in more than 40 hours? Or how often are they staying past 5:00 pm? This is what the OP seems to be looking for - something which can be "left at the office".

I'm not implying that this is type of environment is good or bad, or that anyone is not "hardworking" - I am merely stating that inherently these type of positions are slower pace. I know because I have worked in both.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

We have flexible times, so there is no 5pm. but we also have to go to public meetings that happen later. Or if we need to meet a contractor at 7am, we have to do that. Depending on your projects, that may happen once every month. Most people here get paid overtime (or comp time). At the higher levels it is 100% pay (at lower levels 150%) for over time. Principals get salary, but they don't design.
Admin staff are some sort of union-type and have specific work times. But professionals typically don't have strict times.

Due to COVID we mostly work remotely and only go on site where needed. Also public meetings are via zoom. I hope we can keep at least some of the "modernisms". But this could be true for any type of design job. Honestly, the people I actually work with on my design (subconsultants, factory reps etc.) I only talked to online most the time even before COVID. I had gotten rid of most paper way back.
I mean, we hire consultants from a State away and if they get away with designing and only coming on site a few times, so should we.

For several reasons, if I had to look for a job, I definitely would look for one that allows at least some sort of remote work and flexibility. In this day and age there is zero reason to go to work 5 days a week.

If there is a real engineer in you, don't fall into this "hiring a consultant for everything" trap. People spend decades here without having used AutoCAD or Revit once. Some of the licensed people here haven't used their stamp a single time in decades (at least not at work).
There are 2 huge incentives for hiring consultants for the work. First, you don't have to do the work yourself. This is an obvious advantage smile. Second, anything that ever goes wrong you can blame on the consultant.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Well ar29 has logged in only twice, both on the 12th March!

So clearly has other things to do than converse with people on this thread.... Or even read the posts.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

I appreciated all these responses.
I have definitely thought of trying for a government position but in the end I elected to pursue a PhD in engineering.
The PI I will be working with is happy for me to make my own hours as long as I put in approximately 20 hours a week in the lab. He is also happy for me to take work home at night for when my kids are sleeping which I'd like a lot. So it seems like a win-win; I want to contribute something meaningful to engineering and this job offers me the opportunity to do that. Afterwards, I can either go into academia, consulting, or a government research position which all have more flexibility and aren't closed to PhD engineers. Either way my kid will be older by than so it'll be a whole different story.
(and BTW I'm graduating my undergrad with a 4.0 GPA, so I am definitely not a shirker in any sense. I just work nights, weekends, or whenever my kid doesn't need me. I know that doesn't say anything about the "real world" but it's something)

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Thanks for letting us know.

You would get much better use from these forums in future when you actively engage with people who use their free time to respond, even if some ideas are not valid or possible...

But good luck and hoe it works out for you, you do seem very committed and enthusiastic.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Thanks for checking back in. Glad to see that you found such a great way to go forward.
I hope you will feel welcome to continue checking in and letting us know how the PhD is going. Good luck, too!

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Curious, what school allows someone to go from undergrad directly to Phd with zero experience? I know 50+ years ago a few allowed that jump for those with extensive industry experience, but I didnt think anyone offered that today, much less offered it to undergrads with zero experience.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

People that graduated with bachelor's can advance directly into graduate work pursuing a Phd without any experience. She's beginning graduate work, not automatically getting a Phd.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Anyone I know who is getting a PhD in a STEM field went straight from Bachelor's degree. The first year is master level credits but you do research at the same time. I have some friends who have done this. I believe this is normal in the US.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

AR29 - not at my school. We had a program to do a bachelors and masters at the same time, but not a masters and doctorate at the same time (at least not that I'm aware of). An MS has always been a prerequisite for a PhD or DEng.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

At Purdue, a number of students went directly from BS to PhD program... but that doesn't mean they (eventually) graduated, only that they were accepted.

Dan - Owner

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

In many U.S. engineering colleges, students can enter a PhD program directly from a BS program without any real-world experience. They will earn the MS along the way toward the PhD. Some students who start graduate work don't even finish the PhD, they just leave with the MS.

"Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life." Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged.
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RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom


We had a program to do a bachelors and masters at the same time, but not a masters and doctorate at the same time (at least not that I'm aware of). An MS has always been a prerequisite for a PhD or DEng.

Same for every college I have lectured or completed coursework at, including Purdue. BS or BS&MS then reapply separately for a Phd, usually after you have worked a few years. Many schools leave the door open to special programs like this for the donating/experienced/otherwise special few in basketweaving programs but as a "perpetual student" with multiple degrees I have never heard of anyone doing so in engineering stateside, hence the question. If I had, I'd be on Phd two or three by now.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Before jumping into a PhD program, do a serious evaluation of your short and medium-term finances with your partner. By not taking advantage of the highly employable position you have put yourself in, you will be making a tremendous sacrifice w/ earning potential and early-life investment, which are critical to accruing long-term capital. A PhD is not going to make you any more money until you use it to leverage yourself into a management/executive position.

Not that it matters, but I would be ecstatic if my wife also had an engineering degree and the household brought in significant dual incomes. But, I married a teacher, and she can always move laterally back into teaching after our kids are off to school. Engineers do not have that luxury because early work experience and continuity are king. Best of luck with your choice.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

I've worked a bunch of places (US, upstate NY) as an engineer and CAD jockey. 2 of them definately involved miserable engineers coming in on a saturday morning, and 3 definately did not. At one of the definately not places, I worked for a really pregnant and really smart engineer who designed automatic welding & positioning equipment. Everyone there was going to home or to happy hour at 5. Everyone was mentally present, in a good mood and effective instead of dragging their tails. Even the guy who seemed to drink a lot.

At one place they tried starting a new young engineer on 50 hour weeks at least for a while, he was gone after less than a year. Current new guy is strictly 8-4:30.

Please note that there are questions that it is illegal to ask in an employment interview, and do you/will you have or care for a kid is one of them.

Best of luck with the PhD!

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Quote (Greg Locock)

I'm guessing you live in America-land. In Australia and the UK I have rarely /had/ to work more than 40 hours a week, and when I do I get overtime or time off in lieu.

Yeah, I think it's important for americans to know how relatively overworked they are. Maybe enough will come to their senses eventually. In 86 my dad took us to France when he was consulting over the summer, and he was like, 'here, people pretty much take august off'. Same thing dealing with italian companies in the summer.

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

moon - you mean we're not supposed to grind our souls to dust making a small fraction of the population rich with minimal hope of actually elevating ourselves, despite the anecdotal evidence to the contrary and all the while demanding services that are poorly delivered and overpriced while we eschew taxes of any kind on "principle" such that our national debt balloons to an unsustainable and reckless amount?


RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom

Ph.D.? At least it's not an MBA (or, Cthulhu forbid, a JD).

RE: Best career path for mechanical engineer mom


I've worked a bunch of places (US, upstate NY)...Yeah, I think it's important for americans to know how relatively overworked they are. Maybe enough will come to their senses eventually. In 86 my dad took us to France when he was consulting over the summer, and he was like, 'here, people pretty much take august off'.

Engineers commonly get 4-6 weeks off stateside too. Your view is likely a bit jaded bc in NY, like most of the NE US, the job market for engineers is terrible, incomes are pitiful, and benefits abysmal. Its unfortunate, but the lack of industry coupled with another state school located every ~50 miles cranking out engineering bachelors' for $25k has flooded the market with folks willing to work for peanuts and lousy benefits. I grew up "upstate" (usually references the NYC burbs downstate), went to school in CNY and NNY, and have tried moving back several times for family. Unfortunately, a top offer there still has me facing a ~30% pay cut and ~30% cost of living increase before discussing lack of benefits, bonuses, career growth, or other negatives. Its better than Europe or Oz but that's not saying much. Oddly enough, I find myself drawn into conversation whenever recruiters or friends back east starting discussing money and the old joke comes to mind - the 1990s called, they want their incomes back!

As to the hours, I believe a lot of this comes down to the type of person you are and who you surround yourself with. My wife and I aren't the sleep late, lounge-around watching television, or wait for opportunity to come our way type. I grew up modestly poor and she grew up without indoor plumbing, so needless to say we have no interest in being poor or simply scraping by. We work hard and play hard. We have both a formal breakfast and formal dinner as a family every day, spend an hour or more working out, work the hours, and are home between 5-6 most nights. As an engineer I can't keep govt hours (most non-govt workers can't), but I can pretty easily flex my schedule given a few days' notice to attend the occasional doctor's/vet's/other appointment or event so IMHO this career has better hours than many and worse than a few. It also gave me enough financial freedom over the first few years after college that I haven't been beholden to any supervisor, employer, or banker. The big decision with every career move I have made in my decade of engineering has been - start Monday or take a few months/years off? I keep choosing the former. ;)

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