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Cannot decide which field of engineering to go into.

  1. Mar 29, 2013 #1
    Hi, my name is Matthew, and I am a junior (soon to be senior) in high school. I am fascinated by math and science, and would like to one day become an engineer, or possibly a physicist. The problem is I don't know which type of engineering to major in. I love to program, so I thought about software engineering, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it as a full time job as opposed to just doing it in my spare time. I am also intrigued by astonomy/astrophysics, and aeronautics, and so I considered obtaining a degree in aerospace engineering, or becoming an astrophysicist. The problem was, I was concerned about the available jobs near where I live(I won't tell you where, but it isn't California, Texas, or Florida where I would imagine most aerospace jobs are located). I have also considered electrical engineering, but I wasn't sure if I could handle the very advanced math that comes along with that degree. The math is also the worry I had with obtaining a Phd in Physics. So basically I am stuck in my career planning as of now.

    Any help or input would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2013 #2
    Don't go into physics.

    http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]

    Have you considered becoming a criminal mastermind? I think it would be intellectually challenging and with good pay. And it's a good way to meet chicks. You'd get that whole bad boy thing going.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Mar 30, 2013 #3
    You won't avoid math in any engineering field. I would recommend that you forget about aerospace as an undergrad, as ME is much more versatile. If you were to study engineering as a graduate student in Aerospace/ME concentrated in fluids/thermal science, your math skills would need to be of the same caliber as a physics graduate student. Don't know much about electrical, however, fluid science is among the most "mathematical" of all natural sciences. The only way to escape advanced math is to get out with a bachelors degree in engineering/physics. Then you could get by with calc1-4, linear algebra and some engr or phy mathy courses like controls for ME or signals and systems for EE or methods of physics for physics. I would also say not to fear the math, as I have found it to be the easier component of my degree so far. I took real analysis as an elective to get a math minor, and even as this is a "math major" course, I found it enjoyable and somewhat easier than fluids or thermodynamics courses. IMHO vector analysis/real analysis<engr thermodynamics. I am assuming however that things outside of analysis are probally much harder, modern algebra and the such. If you want to avoid math, do civil engineering. It has the most lax requirement as far as I know.
  5. Mar 30, 2013 #4
    I don't want to avoid math, I actually quite enjoy it, but it just doesn't come as easily to me as say history or English.
  6. Mar 30, 2013 #5
    Of course it dosen't, lol. It should be harder than basket weaving 101. You think you are at a disadvantage b/c of this?
  7. Mar 30, 2013 #6
    I think that I will not receive as high of a grade as some of my peers. But because of my minor struggles in high school, I also have a much greater work ethic. Let me put it this way: I can achieve anything I set my mind to, but I might find it more difficult than others.
  8. Apr 1, 2013 #7
    If you have a strong work ethic you're ahead of 90% of your peers and you'll do just fine. You don't have to be a math expert to be a good engineer as long as you are competent at math.
  9. Apr 1, 2013 #8


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    Where would you like to live? I chose chemical engineering because there were a lot of pulp and paper mills in Maine and I wanted to live here. The same could be said for refineries in LA and East TX.

    Some engineering jobs are stable and regional, and some may require lots of travel. I have a nephew that does civil engineering projects, and he is always on the move from one project to another. It seems to suit him, but I wouldn't like that. I did a lot of travel when consulting, but it was on my own terms. He works for a large construction firm and they take projects all up and down the East coast, so he travels a lot, helping to build bridges, roads, water projects, etc. Good luck, whatever you decide.
  10. Apr 1, 2013 #9
    The Electrical Engineering curriculum is difficult, but not impossible. The math needs to be understood in context of where you'll be likely to use it. For example, Fourier and Laplace transforms are taught with signal theory so that you can leverage one to understand the other. It builds on a foundation you learn in differential equations.

    A good school will attempt to schedule these courses so that you don't have to learn one without the other.

    I've heard that there is a pecking order in the engineering disciplines and I am here to tell you as a professional engineer that this is utter nonsense. There is a tendency for some schools to haze certain engineering students with steaming heaps of math courses. Mind you, I like mathematics. I love to play with fractals, study transforms of various sorts, and read about prime number theories. However, my appreciation for the beauty of mathematics didn't come until later in life. I had to unlearn my disgust for the awful math teachers that I have known as a student.

    In the real world, mathematics is a thing of beauty. Conversely, in the real world, if you can't make a back of the envelope estimate with a pencil, paper, and a plain old scientific calculator, you are incompetent as an engineer. Yes, we use much more refined tools to make more detailed designs, but the vast majority of what we do isn't that precise. I often shake my head in disgust of engineers who use "extremely sharp pencils for their designs."

    Another point: if you choose engineering, do note that graduation from school is only the beginning. There are many aspects about design that are not taught in schools. Schools usually start with a design goal. However, they don't say much about how the design goals and parameters were decided. It turns out that arts, economics, standards, psychology, and sociology are all involved.

    Realistically, most people are not particularly well rounded engineers until they are about 30 years old. You have to see where things break, how people use the stuff you design, what their real expectations are, and how you could have done better. You also need to learn humility, and develop a reputation of honesty and openness. These things area all essential toward becoming a well rounded engineer.
  11. Apr 1, 2013 #10


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    Excellent post! I will agree with everything above, although quite frankly 30 may be too young for some of us - I would just now consider myself "well rounded" and I am significantly older!

    For the OP, most engineering disciplines (and physics, for that matter) have different areas that are more or less mathematical, and it will be hard to know ahead of time which you find most interesting. At the undergrad level engineering majors do not typically require outrageous math - many engineers I went to school with only took the bare minimum that all engineers had to take (calc, multi-variable/vector calc, linear algebra, differential equations, probability). But all engineering/science disciplines teach you some extra mathematical techniques (and perhaps even some theory) as needed in various courses. In grad school all bets are off.

    Regarding undergrad, where I went they gave you plenty of time to choose a major and you only had to declare at the end of sophomore year - so don't feel like you must lock yourself in now! For some universities you may need to decide between arts&sciences unit (which would include physics, math astronomy and chemistry) and an engineering unit (has the engineering degrees) when you apply - see particular details of each school. In the engineering school I went to, different electives were required for different engineering majors but there was plenty of flexibility. I had all the prereqs for EE, applied physics, materials science and operations research by the end of sophomore year - those were all the majors I was interested in. If I recall correctly, mechanical and civil had similar if not the same pre-requisites, etc. So if you apply to engineering school to do EE or mechanical engineering, you may not be locked into that major and may be free to select something else once you learn more about it during your first few semesters/quarters. Look into the details of where you apply.

    I wish you luck.

  12. Apr 1, 2013 #11
    Note to JasonRF: I pulled the age of 30 out of thin air. I can not recall having met any engineers who were in their 20s who I thought were well rounded. I suppose it is possible, but not likely. Just so that you know, I recently celebrated my 50th birthday. I am considered to be one of the senior guru engineers on staff, but I really do not feel like one. The thing is that there are few left with my level of experience and study; so I guess I must be one of those authorities on stuff.

    This didn't happen overnight. I sort of slid in to it over a period of about ten years. Gradually, other engineers and managers left the company through retirement, or promotion. And then before I realized what happened, people were seeking my opinions and suggestions because everyone else they would have asked were no longer available.

    I do not feel smart; I do not feel the degree of certainty that I would have thought I would feel when people look at me for answers. The answers I give are not the answers from a word problem in school, but from knowledge of what is in the field, how it got that way, what has been tried before, what worked, what didn't, and why.

    In other words, it comes from experience, study, and from cleaning up the messes I have made.

    Note to the OP, Matthew: think of what you want to do. But don't automatically assume that this will be your career. Like you, I thought it would be cool to work in the aerospace industry. And then, just before I graduated, a lot of aerospace jobs evaporated as the cold war ended. I still have the itch to play with aerospace. I got a pilot's license and an instrument rating. I owned an airplane for a while. I like to play with RF and I still maintain a ham radio license after all these years. I brew beer, I teach shooting sports, I don't mind doing routine maintenance on my home plumbing, electrical wiring, truck or tractor. You don't have to do everything you enjoy doing in the context of your career.

    Choose something that amuses you, with the caveat that it may not have any relation to what you ultimately find yourself doing for a living. Lives aren't always as linear and structured as so many guidance counselors would have you think. And that's not a bad thing. Guidance Counselors have been known to be wrong too.
  13. Apr 3, 2013 #12
    Consider Aerospace

    I think you would enjoy aerospace engineering. The math is not as demanding as for physics or EE, but it is not easy by any means. I am an Aerospace Engineer myself and I had the same concern about jobs availability near me. I went to Purdue and the only big Aerospace company near by is Rolls Royce in Indianapolis. However, the aerospace industry has suppliers all over the US. You would be surprised on how difficult is for aerospace companies to find good engineers. In the company that I am right now, there are always openings and they cant hire fast enough (and it is not Florida, Texas, or California). I would recommend you do some research around your area (or the area where you want to be) and find out which companies would hire AE. Also, within aerospace you can specialize in different areas such as propulsion, aerodynamics, design, structures, or controllers. Some of those areas required a lot of programming which you mention you like. You will be surprised on how much programming is needed in AE even during your years in college.

    Hartman Leonardo Aguirre
  14. Apr 5, 2013 #13
    Just so everyone knows, I absolutely love math and science. I look forward to learning advanced math and science, but I worry that my grades would slip, and I would lose scholarships. To the kind gentleman who made the last post: Do you know what programming language(s) are commonly used in AE?
  15. Apr 6, 2013 #14
    KC_Smallz? How hardcore are you? I was able to keep my grades invariant throughout college although my studying (including time doing homework + anything outside of classes) went from maybe 20 hours per week as a freshman to 80 hours as a senior). My classmates seemed to be doing similar.

    Everything is hard at first but you will learn to study things that make you initially uncomfortable throughout your engineering degree. Do not worry about the math. These things just take effort, time, and caffeine.

    Also, if you can be successful in one engineering field, (other than perhaps Industrial Engineering), you can probably do at least OK ) in any other. From what I've seen, electrical eng. leads to the most interesting work later on. This is all opinion though, but the only reason I majored in EE was because I was the most ignorant about and heard it was the hardest when I went to college, and I wanted to get my money's worth. No regrets here.
  16. Apr 7, 2013 #15
    If I want something bad enough, I will make it happen.
  17. Apr 7, 2013 #16
    A real engineer is a tool user. Math is one of those tools. You should see it as no more or less than using thermodynamics, structures, Electricity and Magnetism, or fluid dynamics. The "hardcore" silliness is just that.

    Are these courses tough? Yes. There are subtleties that elude many people. But once you get to the end of these courses, you sort of see what they were getting at. Some of what you learn you may never see again. Unfortunately, we don't know what that something is. In fact, I posit that it is different for every career engineer.

    Schools have no choice, so they teach the basics, knowing this is just a foundation for what you'll learn later, either in a more advanced degree; or more likely, on the job.

    This is not hazing. Some portray it that way because they hate learning "useless" stuff. But it really isn't like that. Some people work in semiconductor fabrication where quantum mechanics is a big deal. Some design drainage systems, where fluid mechanics is a big deal. Some work on telecommunications where Shannon's limit is a big deal (by the way, I learned that on my own, long after I got my degree).

    The point is that you should never stop learning. If you're thinking this is a one time thing that you'll never have to do again, find some other field. This ain't for you.
  18. Apr 11, 2013 #17
    Oh, I'd hardly refer to it as silliness. Maybe that's just me. From my experience, the transition from 12th grade to freshman year was nothing compared to the transition from sophomore in college to junior year in college. That 5th semester sucked and it was what pushed me to kick my grades way back up my last 3 semesters. I like to think that it hardened me for what was to come. It gave me a spine. And I'm better for it in many ways.
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