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Why do people prefer engineering/applied science over pure science?

by metalrose
Tags: people, prefer, pure, science
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physicsdude30
#37
Sep21-10, 09:25 PM
P: 37
Quote Quote by metalrose View Post
Well, I guess you are right to an extent as to how most of us would view what we do as the big picture and the rest as details.

But I think it's not so relative as you suggest. I guess there are some things that ARE really a bigger picture than the rest of the things. And I think Pure science, and more importantly, the physics-maths combination more so.
Your question wasn't what has a broader impact overall, but rather what attracts people to become engineers versus pure research. My response above was meant to be more of where they're coming from, rather than an argument of what is more useful. As far as usefulness it has to do with context, even if things more universal have a broader impact (physics, economics, biology, chemistry, interior design, etc).

I guess why they chose that path instead, to them it's like asking, "Why become an engineer? Why not get a doctorate in economics since it'll have more impact in the long run compared to designing that bridge? Economics more of a soft science compared to physics? Well think of this, physics used to be soft and less unified and then Galileo/Newton did things to help bring it together. Others thought these intellectuals were details thinkers while harvest time was seen as the big picture, although Galileo years later was seen as big picture." I mean, a lot of people don't just jump up saying they want to study economics, mitochondrial, muscle fiber cells, physics, etc, because they see them as details in the background. All these have a broader impact/universal, but they're details when looking at the here and now project big picture. Think about this, when you see your mom, you think "Mom is the big picture," rather than, "Her hair is __ color, and colors are much more universal than my mom. She has mitochondrial in all her cells, that's more universal and has a bigger impact on society. There's such and such postulates about cells from biology, and that's more universal."

I'm more interested in pure than applied research, but above is the reason I'd guess why some choose to be engineers rather than pure research. I mean, I talk to others who are interested in Science and they discuss how Science expands your horizons and is a big picture. Then I talk to an athlete and they think only nerds talk about "uncreative details" like Science and they'll give me a hard time for actually being interested.
metalrose
#38
Sep22-10, 08:21 AM
P: 126
@physicsdude30

Yeah I guess i misunderstood you a bit. That seems to be a good enough answer to my question.

Everyone has different perceptions, and I guess it is this very diversity in perceptions, as you also said, that is ultimately responsible for people choosing to do what they do.

Thanks for the reply.
jasonRF
#39
Sep22-10, 02:14 PM
P: 698
Some people are simply realists - I know I fell into that category. I love physics, but quickly realized that the majority of people I knew (both directly and indirectly) that got physics degrees were not "doing physics". They were working in industry essentially as engineers, or became lawyers, or were writing software, etc. Back when I was in high school my father knew a fellow with a physics degree that worked in industry - he worked side by side with the engineers doing the same job, only he got paid $10k US less.

At least in the US, unless you have a PhD in physics and get either an academic or national lab job then you will likely not be "doing physics" either. And even then, if it is theoretical physics you want to do it is even harder, since it seems like more than half of the academic jobs seem to be experimental. After all, it can take many experimentalists to build an experiment to test the theories of a few theorists.

Astronomy seems to be even harder - I studied space plasma physics in grad school (in EE dept so I was still easily employed!) and took some astronomy classes and got to know some of the astro PhD students. One was dropping out to go write software, since there were only a few astro academic jobs available each year in the entire country (someone basically has to die to free one up) and at least a hundred new PhDs, so he decided not to prolong the inevitable since he wasn't even in the top few in his class at our university, let alone in the country/world.

When it came time to pick a major, I just knew that I loved electromagnetic theory and wanted to see more consequences of Maxwell's equations - so I did EE but just made sure I took extra physics to satisfy my curiosity. Today, many of the "engineers" I work with have physics degrees.

I find the same thing with mathematics - most folks I know with math degrees (including my wife) do not "do math" at all, and the same comments above pretty much hold. A few of the "engineers" I work with have math degrees.

If you want to really "do" physics, you must be willing to make many sacrifices in your quest to get a tenured position, and you must realize it is possible to never get such a position. I wasn't willing to do that, but I applaud those that have such strong dreams and drive that they pursue and succeed in such a quest.

Best of luck,

jason
metalrose
#40
Sep23-10, 02:32 AM
P: 126
@jasonRF

Well actually I am currently doing an electronics and communication engg. course, not because I want to, and also not because it would give me better job prospects, but simply because I couldn't get any decent enough physics undergrad. course because of various technical reasons I won't discuss here.

But, anyway, I am studying all of undergraduate physics on my own currently and plan to join grad. school in the US.

It does sound scary when you read on sites like these, about so many people who have a tough time finding an academic job, and how many of them move on to other fields despite having Ph.D's. Now that is scary. I wouldn't want to go all the way through a Ph.D. with dreams of being a physicist and not being able to do it in the end, because of scarcity of jobs in academia.

But being put off by such scenarios at this stage, and not going in for grad. school wouldn't be such a great idea too. I'd rather give it a shot than feel frustrated for an entire life for not even having given it a shot.

Thanks for sharing your experiences....

Cheers!!
Astronuc
#41
Dec11-10, 05:02 PM
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P: 21,911
Some people prefer engineering/applied science, some prefer pure science, and some prefer a mix/blend, and perhaps there is a continous spectrum of interests.

I prefer a mix.

Under Nuclear Energy Advanced Modeling and Simulation (NEAMS) there is a broad array of pure and applied science.
http://www.ne.doe.gov/AdvModelingSim...n/program.html
chill_factor
#42
Dec12-10, 02:11 PM
P: 900
Let's put it this way:

theoretical chemistry - calculates the property of chemical reactions from the level of quantum mechanical interactions. what the reaction actually produces or whether it is a useful reaction is an unimportant detail, the real question is, getting the software code and the equations to work out to highest accuracy and lowest memory requirements.

applied chemistry - uses facts known from theoretical chemistry to design useful reactions to produce drugs, polymers, paints, etc. the quantum mechanical properties of drug molecules, polymers, colloids, are all unimportant details. the real question is, how do you make them (precursors, temperature, pressure, catalysts, reaction kinetics, basic fluid flows and mass transport) and analysis for quality control (spectroscopy, chromatography).

chemical engineering - the reaction itself is an unimportant detail. whether it is a pesticide, a drug, a protein or paint that you're making, it doesn't matter. all you need to know is whether the things you make and their intermediates are corrosive or not, their states, whether they are hydrophobic/hydrophilic and their boiling points. the real question isn't even what you're making, it is, what type of equipment is needed for the reaction designed by applied chemists to be magnified from the gram-kilogram scale to the kiloton-megaton scale. then you'll be dealing with much more reaction kinetics, much more fluid flow and mass transport, but also heat transport, process controls, building design and layout, and even economics.

now can you see the difference between pure science, applied science and engineering? they are all concerned with different details, with engineering being more towards what "exactly happens" in the real world and how to make useful things from existing knowledge, applied science being more towards a "part of the engineering problem that require in-depth research and design" and pure science being towards "what are the physical laws that govern all this"?
viscousflow
#43
Dec16-10, 12:42 AM
P: 273
I'm going to be a late commenter here but:

I honestly enjoy a perfect mix of both. I'm somewhere in between as astronuc mentioned. I am finishing up my aerospace engineering degree however, I enjoy flight controls. Now this is heavily theoretical however, there are major design aspects and obvious applications also. Not only that you get to see what you designed come alive!

So, I enjoy:
-Controls Theory
-Controls Design
-Aerospace Controls Application

I would go purely theoretical however, to me there is no satisfaction in not being able to see your hard work "come alive". From design to application, simply gets me excited!
nocturne-e
#44
Dec18-10, 09:16 PM
P: 27
I'm choosing to go engineering versus pure science because I believe for me the return on investment is significantly greater.

I think much of it involves money and job avaibility, though I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. People seem to look down on going into jobs because of their pay but I disagree with that viewpoint. I think that you have to have a balance - do what you're naturally inclined to do and enjoy but you have to be realistic. It's something to definitely consider. I don't believe in simply "doing what you love" because doing what you love might not feed your family. In the same respect, though, I wouldn't choose a high paying career that I completely despised (eg. even if an art history major actually led to a good salary, I would still not even consider going into it!)

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" as the Good Book says.

I'm not naturally passionate about engineering but I'm fixing my attitudes towards it in order to someday be able to say yes, I do actually enjoy in many respects what I do for a living.

If you're willing accept the consquences of going into a career that you love but is less stable than other options, more power to ya. Sadly, it seems that many people at the end of the day find themselves with a career they enjoy but one that's cannot afford them the lifestyle they want. Then it becomes a problem for them.
kramer733
#45
Dec18-10, 09:57 PM
P: 334
Quote Quote by chill_factor View Post
Let's put it this way:

theoretical chemistry - calculates the property of chemical reactions from the level of quantum mechanical interactions. what the reaction actually produces or whether it is a useful reaction is an unimportant detail, the real question is, getting the software code and the equations to work out to highest accuracy and lowest memory requirements.

applied chemistry - uses facts known from theoretical chemistry to design useful reactions to produce drugs, polymers, paints, etc. the quantum mechanical properties of drug molecules, polymers, colloids, are all unimportant details. the real question is, how do you make them (precursors, temperature, pressure, catalysts, reaction kinetics, basic fluid flows and mass transport) and analysis for quality control (spectroscopy, chromatography).

chemical engineering - the reaction itself is an unimportant detail. whether it is a pesticide, a drug, a protein or paint that you're making, it doesn't matter. all you need to know is whether the things you make and their intermediates are corrosive or not, their states, whether they are hydrophobic/hydrophilic and their boiling points. the real question isn't even what you're making, it is, what type of equipment is needed for the reaction designed by applied chemists to be magnified from the gram-kilogram scale to the kiloton-megaton scale. then you'll be dealing with much more reaction kinetics, much more fluid flow and mass transport, but also heat transport, process controls, building design and layout, and even economics.

now can you see the difference between pure science, applied science and engineering? they are all concerned with different details, with engineering being more towards what "exactly happens" in the real world and how to make useful things from existing knowledge, applied science being more towards a "part of the engineering problem that require in-depth research and design" and pure science being towards "what are the physical laws that govern all this"?
Could you also clarify between the differencves of mathematics and applied mathematics? I don't really understand what applied mathematicians do. Are statisticians considered applied mathematicians?
chiro
#46
Dec18-10, 10:31 PM
P: 4,578
Quote Quote by kramer733 View Post
Could you also clarify between the differencves of mathematics and applied mathematics? I don't really understand what applied mathematicians do. Are statisticians considered applied mathematicians?
Hey kramer.

Applied mathematicians are usually given a problem to solve. One should note that the answer or advice to the problem they received is communicated to people often with no or little mathematical aptitude.

The above applies both to statisticians and other applied mathematicians.

Typically the mathematicians do not simply get a mathematical system and solve it: they have to generate the system based on the information they are given: in other words, they are given a problem from which they generate assumptions that hope to represent the system they are analyzing with the minimum amount of assumptions as possible.

A lot of problems will include optimization problems like maximizing profit or minimizing expenditure. Other problems include finding critical values or fixed points in systems.

Some examples include fisheries, where you want to maximize yield without generating a species extinction of the fish so you can guarantee a harvest with max profits. The optimization problems should be easy to visualize.

With pure, the audience for this kind of work is usually going to be other mathematicians, but it may include other scientists or engineers as well. Typically you won't have to dumb things down like the applied folks do to managers and business executives.
Shaun_W
#47
Dec19-10, 12:36 PM
P: 270
I find the OP's tone somewhat patronising (I'm studying [mechanical] engineering, so not a "pure" subject) but I won't get my panties in too much of a twist about it.

To answer the OP, no, I don't really find it all that exciting to answer fundamental questions about the universe. I find it much more exciting to generate a brand new product, from start to finish.

Of course, money and job prospects fit into the equation as well. I'm liking the starting salaries for engineers, the median salaries for those who are chartered (which only takes four years real life engineering experience after a masters degree) and the fact that once you're in the door, you can branch out into management and business if you desire. When looking at degrees, engineering and other applied ones had better employment rates and better salaries than their pure counterparts.

And there's also satisfaction. To become a top scientist, I'd have to do a PhD, which is a long hard slog. To become an engineer, once I've done my integrated undergraduate masters degree, that's me done with university forever if I want. Which is free for us at the undergraduate level, might I add, whereas PhDs cost tens of thousands.

Then there's also the fact that not everyone who studies a pure science goes onto research in that field. In fact, very, very few do. I've seen some statistics that around 80% of maths and physics graduates from the top universities here will end selling their souls and working in finance. Because the job prospects in science and maths research here are just so poor, and the pay so little, many realise that London wants their ability to solve partial differential equations so much that they'll pay silly amounts of money for it.

And lastly, there's the fact that most universities here simply don't teach to a rigorous standard to allow their graduates to go onto become top scientists, and I'm not from the correct social class to fit into a university of high enough quality in one of these fields.
Theorem.
#48
Dec19-10, 01:59 PM
P: 237
I think above all else, money and stability
Edit: although I should add that this is not a 100% accurate statement, but more or less could account for a decent proportion of the difference between the amount of people that enter applied and pure. Its important to remember that some people just find applied sciences much more interesting, rewarding (or at least more frequently rewarding) and stimulating.
lurky
#49
Dec19-10, 03:48 PM
P: 59
Late to the party, but...

I have a degree in biology. I studied biology because it was fun and interesting. However, the first thing I noticed upon graduation was that I needed a Master's degree if I wanted to stay in my field and not just be physical labor going out and collecting traps or something that any high school drop out could do. I briefly thought of getting that Master's degree, but then I asked myself if I honestly believed that, after getting a Master's, I would not once again be faced with the "now what?" conundrum.

I'm studying engineering, now. You can actually get a job in engineering with just a bachelor's degree. Every time I look at job listings, I always see listings looking for engineers with a bachelor's degree (not Master's or Ph.D.). Oh sure, there are companies looking for Master's and Ph.D.s, but you can also find lots of jobs that are for people with just the basic degree.

So for me, the answer is one that is very much grounded in reality: I want a job. And if I have to get a Master's just to make myself employable, then I would much rather just switch fields now, because when the Master's starts becoming the base degree, that means that there are simply too many fish in that pond. Maybe engineering will also eventually head that way, but it isn't there yet.

Oh and I considered medicine and law as alternatives, but the truth is that I'm a total geek. I love technology.
Kevin_Axion
#50
Dec19-10, 04:21 PM
P: 921
Condensed Matter Physics is blend of both which is why I'm planning on studying that, I still have to high school so I have a long way to go!
metalrose
#51
Dec20-10, 01:42 AM
P: 126
Thanks to all for pouring in your views...

The main arguments I see emerging :

1.) MONEY + STABILITY = BETTER LIFE

I guess that is true and that at the end of the day it does matter what you earn so that you could feed a family and live a comfortable life. Comfort in life, at a point, does seem to take a priority over every other thing in the world, and that's why I guess many people change their minds midway through their degrees.

And so, this happens to be the main reason, I guess, most people end up in applied areas.

2.) PERSONAL PREFERENCE FOR APPLIED OVER PURE

Then there are people who say they don't prefer fundamental questions over practical /engineering related problems.

This could be the case certainly. But what I feel is that people do feel that way not so much because the fundamental questions are any more boring or useless inherently but more so because most people tend to get put off by the amount of intellectual labor required to answer such questions and the uncertainty associated with finding answers to such questions despite the hard work you may put in.

I simply can't agree with guys who say that they don't get intellectually aroused by fundamental questions as much as they do by technical questions.

I think, asking fundamental questions, and trying to find answers to them, is central to human curiosity.

I don't think that if we had an answer to "why is the universe just the way it is" or "why is the universe there at all", anybody would feel uninterested in the answer.

But maybe I am wrong....
But I simply can't get hold of how a human being cannot be interested in fundamental questions, because being able to ask such questions is what sets us apart from every other species on the planet.

And it is this very kind of curiosity, that led to the philosophical and then later scientific revolution, which then led to the technological one.

I guess if all scientists were to stop thinking in fundamental terms and were to think in much more technical/application terms, sciences would cease to exist and all of applied science would become a bottleneck of sorts without any further developments
whereas this argument wouldn't hold the other way round.

Yeah, I mean if applied scientists were to stop doing what they are doing, experimental scientists would suffer a lot, but the scientific method or activity would still go on......and then of course scientists can always come together and build experimental setup for themselves when they need one, they can always create technology, because all of technology comes from their science itself.
lurky
#52
Dec21-10, 07:26 PM
P: 59
You're trying to make this out to be a black and white sort of thing and I really think you should consider that there are lots of reasons why people do what they do. Sure, if you look at a population, you may find a few trends, but there will be massive numbers of people who fall somewhere in between.

Anyway, I love fundamental questions and I ponder them all the time. I think that the most interesting questions stem from experiment (application), though.

Just be happy that you've found what you love, and that others have found what they love.
Jokerhelper
#53
Dec22-10, 04:42 AM
P: 183
This thread is ridiculous. metalrose, you asked a question and plenty of people answered, many of whom happen to have plenty of experience in various fields of science and engineering. Yet, you essentially ignored large part of their reasons and came to almost the same conclusions you had at the beginning. Just to quote from your last post:

Quote Quote by metalrose View Post
This could be the case certainly. But what I feel is that people do feel that way not so much because the fundamental questions are any more boring or useless inherently but more so because most people tend to get put off by the amount of intellectual labor required to answer such questions and the uncertainty associated with finding answers to such questions despite the hard work you may put in.

I simply can't agree with guys who say that they don't get intellectually aroused by fundamental questions as much as they do by technical questions.
Pardon if I ask, by how are you able to make such arrogant claims? After all, you happen to be still an undergrad student. So what work have you done, or what knowledge do you have of these fields to be able to contradict their reasons for their own choices?

But I simply can't get hold of how a human being cannot be interested in fundamental questions, because being able to ask such questions is what sets us apart from every other species on the planet.
Is it so hard to understand that other people may have different interests from yours? Again, other posters already explained this to you.


I guess if all scientists were to stop thinking in fundamental terms and were to think in much more technical/application terms, sciences would cease to exist and all of applied science would become a bottleneck of sorts without any further developments
whereas this argument wouldn't hold the other way round.

Yeah, I mean if applied scientists were to stop doing what they are doing, experimental scientists would suffer a lot, but the scientific method or activity would still go on......and then of course scientists can always come together and build experimental setup for themselves when they need one, they can always create technology, because all of technology comes from their science itself.
That's a very bold claim to make, which could perhaps be a good topic for another discussion. Here, however, you're arguing that "pure" scientists are more essential than "applied" ones. If that's what you believed all along, why couldn't you have just said so from the beginning?

According to you, some people prefer engineering or applied sciences over pure sciences mainly because of money, job stability, and a better life. Another reason for their choice may be due to personal preference or interest, but you disagree with them because you can't perceive how anyone could find anything more intellectually arousing than seeking answers to the "fundamental questions" (despite others already telling you that science doesn't necessarily deal with them). If you already had an answer to your own question, then why did you make this thread in the first place?
metalrose
#54
Dec22-10, 11:34 AM
P: 126
@jokerhelper

I have certainly held the view all along, that fundamental questions do have a certain significance and value over and above most other things in the world.

Now obviously every body wouldn't like to make an occupation out of it and sure I do understand that.

My reply was addressed to those posts which claim that technical questions for them meant more than fundamental ones, and I fail to see how that can be.

And as I said earlier, if we did have answers to many deep questions eluding us today, for instance, "why did the big bang occur in the first place" , could you find people who would be least bothered about the answer to the question of why they exist?

Even if you could, that would be a minority.

It's a different thing if you find it pointless to spend an entire life over finding answers to such questions, and would prefer to engage in something else, but that doesn't mean that such questions are less interesting than many others.

How do I know that? Well obviously I haven't gone about asking each and every guy whether or not they find such questions interesting or curious enough, but that's as much a fact about human beings as is that most humans go to bed at night, again not that I have checked whether most do so or not.

For instance if we had an answer to a deep question and on the other hand we had an answer to a technological problem. Almost every one would be interested in knowing the answer to a deep question that affects all of us and that is central to human beings' existence and on the other hand, not all of them would feel like getting to know more about a technology, unless it has direct impact on their lives.

The argument that I'm making is that there are certain questions that are not specific in nature but pretty much universal in nature, which do matter to every human. Whether or not you consider it worthwhile to spend your entire life on it, is a different matter, a matter which I was trying to discuss through this question.

You are confusing these two aspects.

If we had an answer to a fundamental question, could you find me an engineer/applied scientist who would be least bothered/ uninterested in it?


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