Smart Choice of Engineering Discipline

Dr. Pradeep Kumar Singh
The institutions must focus on diversified career prospects of students while designing the programme structure. The specialized programmes should be avoided at UG level, although these may be useful at PG level.
Engineering is a diverse field of study with many disciplines. At UG level, more than 100 disciplines are flourishing in various engineering institutions in the country. A large number of these have similar nomenclature. In general, many of the UG programmes are broad based with further specialization at PG level. On the other hand, a few specialized programmes at UG level do exist, which may sometimes open up better job opportunities, but in general they narrow down the scope in overall engineering career spectrum. In general the engineering disciplines can broadly be categorized as (a) Broad-based fundamental disciplines (b) Derived/ inter-disciplinary disciplines, and (c) Specialized disciplines. The inter-disciplinary disciplines have been evolved to yield specialized knowledge in desired area.
The fundamental disciplines are the conventional disciplines of engineering, being practiced over the millennia, and are being studied as part of the university curriculum over the centuries. Most common and popular fundamental engineering disciplines are agricultural engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering, mining engineering, textile engineering, etc. Two more disciplines, viz. the computer science & engineering and the electronics engineering evolved in last 50-year, can also be considered to be fundamental engineering disciplines. Also, the information technology appears to be similar to the computer science & engineering. All these disciplines follow standard nomenclature, are curriculum wise broad-based; and well recognized all over the world. Most of these disciplines provide plenty of job opportunities at public & private sector industries, research centres, and a few government departments.. These also offer good flexibility for pursuing higher studies in inter-disciplinary areas.
Although, individuals may have varied opinion about the disciplines, yet based upon the diversification of career opportunities, and the preference of the nature of jobs, these disciplines can be broadly classified as Class A – computer science & engineering, electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, etc., Class B – metallurgical engineering, chemical engineering, etc. and Class C – textile engineering, agricultural engineering, mining engineering, etc.
Other engineering disciplines such as bio-medical engineering, bio-technology, electrical & electronics engineering, energy systems engineering, environmental engineering, instrumentation & control engineering, marine engineering, mechatronics engineering, ocean engineering, safety engineering, etc. can be treated to be derived disciplines. Some of these disciplines have evolved over the millennia, while others have evolved over the decades by combining the contents of fundamental disciplines. The disciplines viz. bio-medical engineering, instrumentation & control engineering, mechatronics engineering, etc can be useful specialized disciplines at PG level corresponding to relevant fundamental disciplines. However, a few enthusiastic institutions offer these programmes even at UG level, which may not be appropriate, as the flexibility to job opportunities in these disciplines may not be same as that in fundamental disciplines. Also, there are very limited options to choice of programmes for higher studies.
Similarly the marine engineering and the ocean engineering are also inter-disciplinary areas, and can be useful options at PG level for their specialized nature of study. Normally at UG level, the students need minimum uncertainty in getting a suitable job, and thus specialized disciplines are less preferred. In general the job opportunities for the specialized programmes are industry specific and thus restricted to very limited portion of the spectrum of opportunities.
The discipline electrical & electronics engineering apparently looks to be highly attractive, with the expectation to enable to hunt more job opportunities, but it may not be so. Definitely, for the job requirement of the electrical or the electronics engineer, there are plenty of qualified candidates available in both the disciplines. And thus the candidature for the one qualified partly in electrical and partly in electronics engineering gets weakened.
A few years back, a similar controversy occurred at PTU Jalandhar. The students of electrical & electronics engineering applied for the post of electrical engineers in the Punjab State Power Corporation, Indian Railways and the Defence services, but they were rejected for mismatch in the nomenclature of degree. To favour the students, university authorities clarified the recruiters that both the degrees, the electrical & electronics engineering, and the electrical engineering were the same as per the curriculum.
However, further before the recruitment process was finalized, the university authorities modified the curriculum, thus rendering the earlier equivalence certificate insignificant. This caused a lot of harassment and mental agony to the students and resulted in a protest in January-2013. Thus the combined “electrical & electronics engineering” discipline does not seem to be much useful, as the student undergoing this programme can neither acquire sufficient knowledge in electrical engineering, nor in electronics engineering.
Other derived disciplines mentioned above do not seem to be much useful at UG level. Also the safety engineering and the environmental engineering do not seem to be useful as a separate discipline; rather the relevant component on safety and environmental protection should be made an integral part of all other engineering disciplines. However, the environmental engineering and the energy systems engineering can definitely be useful at PG level in appropriate areas of engineering & technology.
A few other important disciplines are aerospace engineering, automobile engineering, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, production engineering, welding technology, etc. In general these disciplines can be considered to be the specialized sub-disciplines of mechanical engineering. Similarly other disciplines, such as, paper technology & polymer technology, appear to be the specialized sub-disciplines of chemical engineering. The ceramics engineering appears to be specialized sub-discipline of metallurgy, material science & engineering, and chemical engineering. Being specialized in nature, these disciplines offer relatively restricted job opportunities, and thus are normally not preferred at UG level. However, definitely these specializations can be useful at PG level in appropriate branch of engineering & technology.
The institutions must focus on diversified career prospects of students while designing the programme structure. The inter-disciplinary/ specialized programmes should be avoided at UG level. The students or parents are normally not aware of the career scope of various engineering disciplines at the time of admission. Also, a large number of institutions mislead the students for taking admission so as to fill the vacant seats, especially in the inter-disciplinary/ specialized programmes. The students come to realize the actual position of the job market during their studies in 3rd year or final year only, and become helpless. Thus, in case the inter-disciplinary/ specialized programmes are offered at UG level, the Institute administration must take the responsibility of providing appropriate placement to the students.
(The author is Professor & Former Head, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering Technology, Longowal)