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An engineer teaching Math

  1. Apr 16, 2008 #1
    An engineer teaching Math!!!!

    I was just wondering how decent would it be for a person who has a PhD in Engineering to teach Math at a University? In other words does an engineering degree really prepares one to teach Math courses at a University level? Or, what courses would it be allright for him/her to teach, that wouldn't really make any difference whether he is a pure mathematician or an engineering?

    Thnx for your replies!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2008 #2
    Depends on which math courses and what kind of engineer. Most people would probably agree that someone with a PhD in engineering is plenty qualified to teach, say, freshman calculus. Also, there are certain fiels of study in engineering that pretty much ARE math (Information theory is probably the best example, but there's also controls and coding), and so you have engineers teaching (and researching) math all the time. It's not uncommon for math-inclined engineers to end up as joint professors between an engineering department and the math department. One of the control systems professors where I went to school would teach the graduate real analysis course on alternating years, for example. Likewise, it's fairly common for certain math courses to be populated mostly by engineering students (probably owing to the fact that engineering departments tend to be much larger than math departments). It's also not uncommon for engineering students to earn an MS in math before getting a PhD in engineering, or to take a large number of math classes while doing their PhD. It's also pretty common for engineering PhD's to have a math professor on their thesis committee.
  4. Apr 16, 2008 #3
    No! Having been on the receiving end of this I would say that an engineering PhD is no indication of mathematical ability. I had a Chem E teach my PDE's course, and he didn't know half the material himself (seriously, he spent 10 minutes one class trying to figure out what an odd function was).

    That's not to say all engineers would be unqualified, just that an engineering PhD cannot be taken as evidence for mathematical knowledge.
  5. Apr 16, 2008 #4
    i would go as far as saying that one shouldn't learn math even from a physicist
  6. Apr 16, 2008 #5

    Tom Mattson

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    Most engineers stop taking math at differential equations, which means they really don't know much about math at all. Before I would trust an engineer to teach a math course, I would want to know a thing or two about his preparation. For instance, I wouldn't let anyone teach even calculus unless he had a decent sequence in either advanced calculus or real analysis. I am of the opinion that if someone is to be prepared teach a subject, then he should have studied it well beyond the level of the course he intends to run.
  7. Apr 16, 2008 #6
    I resent the implication that physicists know more about math than engineers :P
  8. Apr 16, 2008 #7


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    I don't have a PhD (was ABD from Northwestern in the 80's), but I taught calculus at another school. I think a PhD in EE, who has had some serious courses in Diff Eq, Applied Math, Vectors and Matrix Theory, Probability and Random Processes, Complex Variables and Functions, Numerical Methods and Approximation Theory, Real Analysis, Metric Spaces and Functional Analysis, and who has used such concepts in their research and publication as well as in the EE courses they have taught would be plenty qualified in the material to teach nearly any such courses (maybe leave out the Real Analysis and Functional Analysis) as far as their own competence in the math is concerned. If the EE prof doesn't know how to teach in the first place, then they might not be any good, but it wouldn't be because they didn't know their stuff.
  9. Apr 16, 2008 #8
    I don't think that's accurate if we're talking about people with PhD's in engineering.
  10. Apr 16, 2008 #9


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    yeah, it's not true at all. at least for EE. i took at least one semester (but most of the time, two) in each of the fields i listed above.
  11. Apr 16, 2008 #10
    Would it be offensive if i posted here the name of the proffesor in particular for which i am interested to know. He seems to have some publications. I am asking this, because i am wondering whether it is okay to take him in one of my math courses, or should i take someone else.
    He has his name at my university's web page, but can i post it here?
  12. Apr 16, 2008 #11
    Why not? Some of the greatest mathematicians of all time were physicists. I mean lets be honest, without application mathematics itself is pretty pointless, sure it's great to do but it has no real importance unless it can be applied somewhere. Why should someone who works to apply math to real-life problems not be allowed to teach it?
  13. Apr 16, 2008 #12


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    how does one get a PhD in engineering without being pretty damn good at applied mathematics? are they giving the degrees away?
  14. Apr 16, 2008 #13


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    it wouldn't offend me, and i'm not going to sue you.

    i can't speak for others.
  15. Apr 16, 2008 #14
    MOreover, the proffesor that i am talking about has gotten Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from University of Texas at Austin.

    I am concerned because at my university there are only 3 pure math proffesors who have phd's at math. The others either have phd's in engineering mechanics, nuclear engineering, electrical and computer engineering.

    Here is the link:

    Last edited: Apr 16, 2008
  16. Apr 16, 2008 #15
    A relevant quote I read somewhere (I think it was IEEE Spectrum):

    A Bachelor's degree proves that you have the basic skill set required for your field.
    A Master's degree proves that you are an expert in some particular field.
    A PhD proves that you have the ability to become an expert in any particular field.

    So, someone with a PhD in engineering should certainly have the ability to master the math material at the appropriate level. The question is: did they actually do this? The degree doesn't really tell you (even if it was a math degree, it's still no guarantee), you have to find out by asking people who've taken the classes before, or just see for yourself. Although, presumably, the department wouldn't let him teach the course if they didn't think he knew the material well enough. Also, bear in mind that people don't stop learning when they finish their PhD, particularly people who stay in academia. Just because someone got a PhD in engineering doesn't mean that he hasn't spent all the intervening years dorking out on math textbooks and classes.

    And of course, having an appropriate mastery of the material is still no guarantee that they can actually teach worth a damn.
  17. Apr 16, 2008 #16
    Likewise. And, again, that's just 'real' math courses. If you start counting EE courses that are nothing but math, it begins to look even more impressive. Although I suppose that EE is somewhat more mathematical than other types of engineering, except for control systems...

    Also, what's ABD?
  18. Apr 16, 2008 #17

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    All But Dissertation. A particularly nasty way to end one's college career with just a Masters degree to show for it.
  19. Apr 17, 2008 #18
    Aaaaaah. Where I went to school, you'd end up with a CPhil in addition to the Masters in that situation...
  20. Apr 17, 2008 #19
    I had a cource "Applied math for physicists" which was being taught by... a mathematician. I have since tried to find a suitable word to describe this arrangement and I have come to settle on the word... disasterous.

    And by the way, I do study physics and nanoscience but technically I'm an engineering student. I can vouch for the mathematical skills of my kind.
  21. Apr 17, 2008 #20
    Odds are that roughly half of the teachers you will have in your college experience will be below average.

    Complaining about perceived poor teaching does little good.

    Being a good enough student to learn from the below average teachers is a requirement to succeed in college.

    There are two kinds of students (which become two kinds of employees):

    1. Those who are content with having a good excuse for failing to accomplish the goal. No one is really impressed with the quality of your excuse.

    2. Those who find a way to accomplish goals even though significant obstacles must be overcome.

    If you cannot learn to succeed in a class with a professor who is below average, how will you succeed in a job with a boss who is "below average"?

    Michael Courtney
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