Plenty of parents hope their children will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers.
It’s fair for parents to want this type of success for their kids: These prestigious professions often offer satisfying, long-term careers with plenty of room for advancement. Many find the work challenging and important and, of course, many earn a decent living.
That is not to say that students taking grade 12 online courses in Ontario should aim to work in medicine, law, or engineering solely because they are prestigious and prosperous fields. Wanting to pursue a career for prestige and money is rarely a good idea. People who want to become surgeons because of the salary, for instance, might not enjoy the work itself, and when they do not enjoy the work itself, they may burn out.
Medicine, law, and engineering are especially challenging professions that demand more than usual amounts of effort, as well as a willingness to work long hours. To excel at these jobs, people need to be genuinely passionate about the work they do, not (merely) passionate about enhancing their public image and bank accounts.
In other words, people need to be intrinsically motivated to do the work, not merely extrinsically motivated, to excel while enjoying the work they do.
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
OES prepares students to become future engineers. Students who are intrinsically motivated to become engineers are at an advantage over extrinsically motivated students.
What do these two terms mean?
Intrinsic motivation means behaviour driven by internal, as opposed to external, rewards. People who do work because they are intrinsically motivated find the work satisfying in itself; they don’t do the work solely for praise or to avoid criticism or punishment. In other words, the work itself is the reward.
In their book Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior With Concept Maps, psychologists Dennis Coon and John O. Mitterer say that “Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.”
Extrinsic motivation, by contrast, means behaviour driven not by internal gratification but rather by the desire for recognition, prestige, money, fear of punishment or failure, or a need to please parents or spouses. Someone who is intrinsically motivated may work a job they do not enjoy because they want people to be impressed by them.
Extrinsically motivated individuals are overrepresented in prestigious professions such as law, but not all lawyers are extrinsically motivated. Many lawyers, including those at the top of their fields, work for intrinsic reasons. More specifically, a lawyer may be intrinsically motivated to do their work because:
- They enjoy being intellectually challenged
- They want to help others
- They believe in fairness and justice
- They love to read, think, and debate
And an engineer, as well as a future engineer at OES, may be intrinsically motivated because:
- They love science
- They love solving complex problems
- They enjoy being creative
- They enjoy working with their hands
- They love making things
If a secondary student shares the same motivation as a practicing engineer, they may be suited for a career as an engineer.
To get a better sense of whether they ought to become an engineer, however, students should understand what the day-to-day life of an engineer is really like.
The Day-to-Day Life of an Engineer
Most people have an idea of what the day-to-day lives of doctors and lawyers are really like, and how these lives differ from what movies and television would have us believe.
When, for instance, you hear that someone is a criminal defence lawyer, you probably know their job involves representing people who are charged with criminal offences. When you hear that someone is a pediatrician, you probably know their job involves caring for babies, toddlers, and children.
Yet not so many of us know what the day-to-day life of an engineer is like. Many of us don’t know what engineers even do. When you hear “marine engineer,” what comes to mind? The sea? A boat? A boat at sea?
If you’re unsure how to answer that question, you’re not alone. Many of us tend to have at least some understanding of what doctors and lawyers do, as well as how people become doctors and lawyers, whereas we tend to know comparatively little about engineers. That’s partly because doctors and lawyers are everywhere in the news and the media, while engineers, for whatever reason, are not.
That’s a shame, because many engineers, like doctors and lawyers, enjoy meaningful, intellectually challenging, and prosperous careers. And the same qualities that make good lawyers and doctors make good engineers—for instance, intelligence, discipline, high work ethic, dedication, and a drive to do good.
The path to becoming an engineer is not exactly an easy one, and it starts as early as high school. To be accepted into engineering programs in university, students in Ontario typically need to have completed certain prerequisite courses. OES offers some of these prerequisites to prepare our students to become future engineers. We will take a look at these courses later. First, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to be an engineer.
What It Means to Be an Engineer
Engineers use applied science and applied mathematics to plan, design, construct, oversee, and maintain such technologies as:
You could date engineering back to pre-recorded history. Whoever invented the wheel around 3500 BCE was an engineer. Whoever invented the wedge 2.6 million years ago, during the Pliocene Epoch, when sabre-tooth cats still roamed about, was also an engineer.
Skip ahead to ancient times, when engineers invented pyramids in Egypt, the Roman aqueduct in Rome, and ziggurats in Mesopotamia. More recently, engineers invented the lightbulb, followed by technologies including self-driving cars, drones, bioprinting organs, and microbubbles.
So, to say that engineers play an important role in society is an understatement. Engineers have occasioned paradigm shifts and advanced civilization. Those are epic terms that may sound comically hyperbolical, but they are not inaccurate.
When people become engineers, therefore, they join an impressive lineage. Not every engineer invents something tantamount to the wedge or the wheel, of course, but many do help invent and build technologies that make our world a better place.
Think about the effect that eco-friendly cars have had on our environments. Think about what life was like before the internet, which engineers created alongside computer programmers and scientists.
Types of Engineers
There are different branches of engineering and different types of engineers that work within each branch. The different branches of engineering are:
- Marine engineering
- Geological engineering
- Computer engineering
- Civil engineering
- Chemical engineering
- Aerospace engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Mechanical engineering
Bioengineers, otherwise known as biological engineers or genetic engineers, combine the tools of engineering with principles of biology and other applied sciences to create usable products.
Medical imagining technology is one example of bioengineering technology. Other examples are:
- Biopharmaceuticals (pharmaceutical drugs that are extracted or semi synthesized from biological sources)
- Rapid disease diagnostic devices (such as COVID-19 rapid tests)
- Tissue-engineered organs (functional constructs, such as artificial cartilage, that maintain, improve, or restore whole organs or damaged tissues)
- Prosthetics (artificial limbs and other artificial devices that replace missing body parts)
Marine engineers specialize in above and underwater vehicles and crafts like ships, boats, and submarines, as well as:
- Drilling equipment
- Offshore platforms
- Oil rigs
Consider marine engineering if you like the ocean, but not if you don’t like to swim.
Geological engineers apply knowledge of geology and engineering to civil engineering facilities and structures. They specialize in subsurface environments, i.e. environments beneath a surface, particularly underground. Their work involves subsurface architecture such as:
- Groundwater facilities
Computer engineers use computer science and electronic engineering principles to develop software and hardware. They help test, design, research, and develop, technologies including:
- Circuit boards
- Memory devices
If you love tinkering with computers, computer engineering may be a great fit for you.
Civil engineers specialize in constructing and repairing building systems and structures such as:
- Water and earth retaining structures
- Railway facilities
- Coastal systems
There are seven subdivisions of civil engineering:
- Structural engineering
- Transportation engineering
- Geotechnical engineering
- Structural engineering
- Hydraulic and water resources engineering
- Materials engineering
- Construction engineering and management
Chemical engineers specialize in using chemical processes to produce and manufacture products. They deal with:
- Petroleum refining
- Commodity chemicals
These engineers specialize in technologies that fly, such as:
- Aircraft satellites
Aerospace engineers who specialize in rockets are also known as rocket scientists.
Electric engineers specialize in the technology of electricity and electronic systems such as:
- Optical fibers (fiber optics)
- Computer, instrumentation, and control systems
- Power station generators
- Radiofrequency (RF) systems
- Digital circuits
- Signal processing
Thomas Edison was an electrical engineer.
A mechanical engineer uses mathematics and physics combined with principles of engineering to work with mechanical systems. These systems include:
- Weapon systems
- Kinematic chains
- Vacuum technology
How to Become an Engineer
Becoming an engineer typically requires, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in engineering — although some practicing engineers have BA degrees in engineering-adjacent disciplines such as physics, computer science, math, and chemistry.
Engineers with graduate degrees often have access to additional job opportunities. Graduate degrees in engineering tend to be more specialized than undergraduate engineering degrees. Graduate programs in engineering tend to be even harder to get accepted into than undergraduate programs in engineering.
There is no general undergraduate degree in engineering. Rather, there are degrees in, for instance, computer engineering, bioengineering, and electrical engineering.
It can be quite difficult to get accepted into university engineering programs in Canada. McGill’s engineering programs have the highest average entrance grades in the country.
The most challenging undergraduate engineering program at McGill to get accepted into is bioengineering; the average entering grade for secondary students in Ontario is 96.8% overall, with 91.3% in each prerequisite science and math course. The most accessible undergraduate engineering program at McGill to get into is Mining Engineering; the average entering grade for secondary students in Ontario is 88% overall, with 86.7% in each prerequisite science and math course.
Undergraduate engineering programs at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto are also challenging to receive acceptances from. At the University of Waterloo, there is no grade cut-off, but students who get accepted into the engineering programs tend to have high school entrance grades above 85%. Undergraduate engineering programs at the University of Toronto have similar acceptance standards.
Before applying to undergraduate engineering programs in Canada, be sure to look up the prerequisites for each institution and understand general OSSD requirements and see if you can take them during the regular school year or by taking online summer school courses.
How OES Prepares Future Engineers
OES students may take courses that qualify and prepare them for undergraduate engineering degrees. These courses include the following university-bound grade 12 courses:
MCV4U Calculus and Vectors
In this course, students work on problems that involve derivatives of radical, exponential, polynomial functions, and algebraic representations of vectors, among others. The course helps students also apply these abstract concepts to the modelling of relationships in the real world.
Students may take MCV4U because they plan on attending university to study not only engineering but also:
- Pre-nursing or pre-med
MHF4U Advanced Functions
Students who have already studied functions at the secondary level can refine and expand their knowledge of functions by taking MHF4U. Students not only explore properties of trigonometric, rational, logarithmic, and other functions, but they also improve their understanding of rates of change, learn ways to combine functions, and learn how to apply these concepts and skills to fields such as engineering.
In this course students focus on:
- Rates of reaction and energy changes
- Properties and structures of matter
Similar to how SCH4U deepens students’ understanding of chemistry, SPH4U deepens students’ understanding of physics. It does this by enabling students to investigate:
- Electromagnetic radiation
- Forces that affect motion
- Magnetic, gravitational, and electrical fields
The Next Generation of Engineers
A career in engineering can be as rewarding as a career in medicine or law. Students in high school who love science, being creative, working with their hands, and solving complex problems are well suited to careers in engineering, especially if they are driven by intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, pursuits.