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askST: Is engineering boring and will my career options be restricted if I study it in university?

As part of a series on university education, The Straits Times responds to a question on engineering degrees.

Q: My father is an engineer and so is my maternal grandfather. I have been inspired by them to study engineering as well, at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) or National University of Singapore. But my friends say that with my grades, I can aim for something more competitive and exciting. Some of them feel that engineering is a boring subject and such a degree does not really offer many career options. What is your advice?

A: It is good that you feel inspired by your father and grandfather to take up an engineering degree. What engineers do is indeed exciting and inspirational.

What makes engineering interesting is that it covers a wide range of disciplines – from rockets to mobile phones to hip and knee replacements.

At the heart of it, an engineer is a problem solver. Engineers use their knowledge to provide solutions to complex problems.

I asked NTU’s dean of engineering, Professor Louis Phee, what he tells young people seeking his advice on engineering.

NTU’s engineering education has been ranked highly in some league tables. Engineering and technology, as a broad subject area, has been ranked fourth best in the world by London-based education consultancy QS, for instance.

Prof Phee, who is also the university’s vice-president of innovation and entrepreneurship, said if you are the type to wonder why golf balls have dimples on them or why split-level houses experience more damage in earthquakes, then engineering may be the right choice for you. It can help you answer questions and push you to ask new questions and find new solutions.

Learning to think like an engineer is another good reason to enter the field, he said.

“Your entire thought process changes. You acquire logical thinking and critical analytical kills. Decision-making skills are improved. You become more objective and less emotional when it comes to work.

“All of these skills are greatly needed in the professional world, in any field. So, engineers tend to do better no matter which sector they choose, and they also tend to make good managers. So much so, engineering is the most common undergraduate degree among Fortune 500 chief executives.”

At the core, engineers are problem solvers – and even students beyond an engineering degree would have acquired the skills and confidence to deal with any kind of problem, even working life, he said.

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