In The Media

Don’t Let Your Degree Tell You What You Can and Can’t Do

By Daniel McInnis • Schulich Leader at University of Toronto
Spring 2019

Like many students, I find that my interests change from semester to semester, month to month and sometimes even day to day. Throughout my time working towards my mechanical engineering degree, I have bounced around between being interested in robotics, stress analysis, aerodynamics and product design, among many others. Yes I agree that it’s important for mechanical engineers to be well versed in a few different areas, but this can make converging on a career path difficult.

I just started a job at a product design firm and have been loving it! When applying to product design companies, I noticed some were strictly looking for a mechanical engineering student, but some were looking for a hybrid of a student that understood the artistic side of making a product look good, as well as the technical side of making a product function reliably. I was told I “have the technical skills, but engineers aren’t typically artistic” by one recruiter at the first firm I interviewed with.

They were right about one thing, my classes and prior work helped me develop a strong portfolio to show for on the engineering side, but I didn’t have much to show for making a product look good. I always felt like I had a creative eye with my interests in videography and photography, but that’s very different from designing a product. I needed to find a way to show off what I was able to do and more importantly, to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to get their attention.

After a decent amount of Googling for a way to showcase my design abilities, I entered an online design competition where you had to design the coolest looking sled concept you could come up with. I instantly followed up with every company I applied to and updated them on the competition I entered and showed them my design. As most students stop at the standard resume and cover letter, this helped me get their attention and start landing a bunch of interviews. Part way through the interview cycle, I actually found out I won the design competition – something I definitely wasn’t expecting to do. Although learning that I won was exciting, the most rewarding part was knowing that I didn’t let some pushback and some unanswered emails stop me from pursuing a field I was interested in – I just had to find a creative detour to get to my goal.

The moral of the story is that you should never feel boxed in by the degree you picked or your prior experience. The only real limit to your abilities is your willingness to jump outside of your comfort zone and I encourage you to jump out of yours over and over again. Who knows where it will take you.