Engineering a new perspective on engineering as a career

By Wong Tsui-kai

Not many students are considering engineering as a career, here is why that needs to change

By Wong Tsui-kai |

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Samantha Kong wants to boost the popularity of engineering as a career choice.

Engineering. The science of making stuff. But for many students, it wouldn't be their first choice as a career.

Samantha Kong Wing-man is out to change that by putting together a book titled Engineering is Not a Backup Subject.

Unfair stereotypes abound, but Kong is far from stuffy, socially awkward engineer.

"I'm looking to change the perception of engineering as a back-up. Both students and parents have misconceptions about engineering. It's not a dirty field," she explains.

Eric Yung Chi-wai, one of the book's contributors, says: "In electronic or computer engineering, work often takes place in offices, labs and clean rooms.

"It's not physically demanding or dirty work. The focus is on teamwork and communication."

Kylie Lam Nga-yan, another contributor and a civil engineer, shares her experiences.

"Interning as a civil engineer requires experience working on site. Thinking back to my internship brings back good memories. Sure it might be a bit tougher than an office job, but watching something grow from a drawing to a real thing is a special experience."

Lam says the common perception of women struggling in the field is simply not true.

"Back when I was an intern, I was a little girl compared to the construction workers I worked with, but they were very nice and willing to share their experience."

The gender imbalance has lessened a lot in the past decade.

More and more girls are entering the field each year, although only a quarter of the students studying engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) are female.

Yung says: "As an employer, a mix of the genders is best in a team. Female engineers tend to communicate better than men and they resolve conflicts better."

Kong deliberately searched for female engineers to ensure a good balance of contributors.

She says: "They were easy to find. I think in this day and age, women engineers are common. I have no personal experience with sexism at work."

Engineering is a diverse profession, and the fields include the environment, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, programming, web and app development, piloting, aerospace, robotics, public safety, design, logistics, research and development.

Entrepreneurship is common in all fields. Even if you want to change careers, engineering is a good platform for further studies in other subjects.

However, it could be difficult for people from an unrelated discipline to study for an engineering degree.

Professor Lo Hong-kam, Associate Dean of HKUST's School of Engineering, urges prospective students to pursue their interests.

He explains the skills and personality required to become an engineer. "Maths is very important to engineering. It's fine if you only have a narrow interest in one science subject since you can choose within the department," he says.

"And the idea of an engineer not needing people skills is a misconception. No one can build a building alone; communication skills and teamwork are very important."

Kong says her book project was the result of a desire to improve the image of engineering in the eyes of both students and parents.

Her advice to students is: "Dare to dream, dare to do. The heart of social change is how you can make a difference."