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Civil vs. Mechanical Engineering (for 2nd semester 2008)

  1. May 16, 2008 #1
    I'm near the end of my 1st semester of 1st year engineering and I need to decide which electives to study for next semester relevant to either major but definitely for 2nd year
    (provided I don't fail my current subjects and also my current subjects are common to all Engineering students).
    I'll pick the electives but you can provide me with your opinions and facts on either engineering major.
    Here's what I think.


    - I have more friends here
    - Things that don't move are better to deal with but ...
    - Programming in Visual Basic

    - We build targets (as opposed to Mechanical Engineers who build weapons)
    - Not entirely my cup of coffee, static objects aren't that fun ...


    - Automotive industry
    - We build weapons (as opposed to Civil Engineers who build weapons)
    - Very traditional yet adaptable
    - Makes good use of Mechanics I learnt in Physics

    - Less friends
    - Dropped the C programming course for the Visual Basic programming course exclusive to engineers much earlier
    - Projects in the final year ... what to design ???

    I ruled out Electrical because I don't like to study higher physics (but complex numbers is fine) and Mechatronics is much more complicated.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2008 #2
    You seem to have a few wrong ideas about what Civil and Mechanical Engineers really do! A field of civil engineering does analyze dynamics of structures and that includes "moving" and not necessarily "static" parts. As for weapons, pretty much everyone comes into the picture and ballistics is usually a lot of precision engineering and math.

    And, programming in Visual Basic?? :uhh: How do you think that fits into civil engineering? You can always pick up these skills yourself and indeed you will find programming useful for projects and courses. But don't get the false impression that any one field of engineering uses more of "Visual Basic" than another one :-p

    Mechanics is something you will use heavily in both fields. I don't know how your undergraduate curriculum is structured but I have known Civil engineering students who have scoffed at the freshman mechanics course taught by physicists and have found that course invaluable in their junior year! But I must also point out that both these fields, there are a lot of topics which may not directly use mechanics. Conceptually, both fields overlap..especially at the research level. For instance, you will find quite a few Civil engineering researchers working on nanotubes as you will find mechanical engineers. Then there are things like composite materials whose properties and usages transcend barriers between the two fields which are essentially invented by humans.

    I suppose if you want to keep your options open in terms of working in the aviation sector or in space/aeronautics, you could take more Mechanical Engineering courses. Things like Thermodynamics and Fluid Dynamics form the cornerstone of most of these fields. Projects in the final year will become clearer to you as you progress in your chosen field of discipline. Its pointless to worry much about them at this stage. It suffices to say that both fields have enough problems worthy of being tackled through such projects.

    As for friends, you can always make new friends...that shouldn't influence your decision of choice of major or electives. In fact if you go out of your programme, it might even help you make more friends and meet people with different academic tastes. It always helps to talk to people from other fields. Science and engineering are extremely collaborative pursuits.
  4. May 16, 2008 #3
    Thank you very much for your reply.

    I go to the University Of New South Wales in Australia and initially I wanted to be a Civil Engineer after ruling out Electrical which requires studying higher physics and in addition we were assigned to first-year projects and I chose the Civil's drinking-straw bridge construction over Mechanical's fan-powered car construction, the bridge project was in groups of 5.

    From the program guide for both majors, 'Computing for Engineers' is prescribed for both Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering (using Visual Basic for Applications).
    However I dropped 'Computing' which was recommended for Mechanical Engineering and I just hope I don't get disadvantaged because I mainly programmed in Visual Basic rather than C.

    We have finished thermodynamics and now we're on Simple Harmonic Motion and waves so I think the latter topic is more relevant to Mechanical Engineering.
    (High school physics was a joke ^_^)
  5. May 16, 2008 #4
    Do civil engineers learn thermodynamics? I am not sure...
  6. May 16, 2008 #5
    Doesn't say at all in the Civil Engineering program guide for my university.
    But I'll study Thermodynmics in the 2nd year of Mechanical Engineering if I choose Mechanical.

    By the way, my engineering degree is flexible for one year only hence why I can still decide now and I'm studying subjects common to most first-year engineers and some scientists.
  7. May 17, 2008 #6
    As I said, programming and 'computing for engineers' is something you can always pick up on your own, although focused courses will definitely help. However, if the computing courses you plan to take aren't going to teach you real stuff like numerical analysis and application of mathematical modeling to computer programming (thing you need to solve engineering problems), then they are probably 'coding' courses.

    [Believe me, Visual Basic is something you can really learn on your own.]

    Well, all the mechanics you will find in books like "Physics for Scientists and Engineers" is something all civil AND mechanical engineers must know. Note that the eventual pursuit of either of these fields does not have to dictate the nature of the basic undergraduate physics curriculum. All scientists and engineers need to know some bare minimum physics, mathematics and chemistry. It is in that spirit that topics like simple harmonic motion, waves and thermodynamics are as important to civil engineers as they are to mechanical and electrical engineers. And you never know what you're going to "use" in future.

    In particular, you need to understand 'simple' harmonic motion in order to understand more complex vibrations and effects on structures. Thats where there's an overlap with mechanical engineering. After all, when a building is swaying due to a storm, the difference between the two fields is really minimal ;-)

    That would depend on the course structure followed in your university/college. In my college, Thermodynamics isn't compulsory for civil engineers.
  8. May 17, 2008 #7
    My computing course does teach us how to program in Visual Basic and use both Visual Basic and Microsoft Excel to solve problems in finance and engineering.
    A few examples of mathematical problems to be solved in either include the Newton-Raphson method, factorials, calculating the trajectory of a projectile, harmonic numbers and circle geometry (my current assignment) and so on.
    It's basically using Visual Basic to solve some mathematical problems.

    If you're referring to the textbook 'Physics for Scientists and Engineers' by Serway & Jewett that's our prescribed textbook.
    It is quite colourful which is what I like and it's my bible for Physics but I only need to study Physics for one semester only.

    But I guess I may have to stick with 'do what you like !'
    After all, engineers are in demand in my region.
  9. May 17, 2008 #8
    What is your 'region'?

    Yeah sure, deciding which engineering major to go with is more a matter of choice, especially if you have to make a choice between conventional discplines like Civil and Mechanical Engineering. So yes, do what you like :smile: There will probably be things in both that you will not like, and that shouldn't make you regret your decision...either way.

    I am neither a mechanical nor a civil engineer, but you should talk to OP on this forum about the flexibility of switching from one to another at the time of grad school or research. That is, if you're interested in that sort of stuff.

    Have fun!
  10. May 18, 2008 #9
    I think you should use different criteria to pick your major. The ones you have aren't that good, except for automotive industry, which is what I assume you are interested in for a career. Do some more research as to what each field entails and make a decision based on that, instead of what your friends are interested in.

    While a significant part of civil engineering is statics, theres also a lot of dynamics in it too. Earthquake engineering and water resources come to mind off the top of my head.
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