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Courses EE or ChemE? Research vs. Courses

  1. Jan 2, 2012 #1
    I am a first semester(well, second now I guess) ECE who is now considering a switch to ChemE. I chose EE originally because I looked up the ChemE curriculum and it didn't seem all that exciting to me(transport phenomena,thermodynamics, etc). I also heard that most ChemE jobs were process jobs in plants and more alike MechE than chemistry. This was before I was set on grad school and research. Now, granted, I haven't taken the courses, so I might like them if I took them-has anyone found this to be the case?

    Recently I wonder if I haven't been having a change of heart. I am hoping to go to grad school eventually, regardless of what I do, and have been looking at research possibilities I looked at research at the ChemE and ECE departments at my school and other schools as well. I noticed that there was a lot of research going on that interested me. Renewable energy, polymers, biotech... etc.

    As for ECE, there are some research topics that really interest me, but fewer than ChemE. Nanotechnology, mainly, as well as plasma and quantum stuff in general. Artificial intelligence is also cool, but that isn't in EE at my school. I am also worried about the fact that I am not particularly good at or interested in progamming. Does that me that I should forget about EE? However, the rest of the EE curriculum really interests me-or a good amount of it does anyway. Needless to say, I'm a little lost.

    Anyone have some advice? Should I not be focusing on what research interests me yet? And is it weird when a departments research interests me but the courses don't-or is that a sign that I truly don't know what I am talking about? I am also considering physics, so clearly I have a lot of soul searching to do. Maybe I just need to pick something and go with it.

    Happy New Year, BTW.
    2011 sucked, but 2012 will go great for me! I hope...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 2, 2012 #2
    Electrical Engineers use programming merely as a tool, and there are many electrical engineering career paths that do not depend on programming.
  4. Jan 2, 2012 #3
    you can probably switch to ChE and back to ECE again if you don't like it, so you should give it a try . . . talk to someone in ChE to see what they say about it.

    How are your grades in engineering so far?
  5. Jan 2, 2012 #4
    In a word-TERRIBLE... another reason why I'm considering something new. The EE classes coming up seem really interesting, but I don't know if I can do well in them if I did badly in the weeders.

    I can't do that. The problem is ChemE is very competitive at my school(mine is top 10 in engineering overall, and really good in chemE in particular), so I basically need to crank out all A's the next couple-or more-of semesters in order to be able to transfer. I am pretty confident I will do BETTER next semester(I've isolated what I did wrong last semester, and doing things differently, and I'm also going over the material ahead of time), but I don't know if it will be that much better. There really isn't a margin for error any more, no matter what major I pick.

    However, what I could do is take chemE or chem classes while still in EE. I will need to do really well in them, but it's possible. I don't know whether I could do an actual chemE this semester or not(could do it over summer if needed, or the next semester-thanks to AP credit I'd still be on track to graduate in 4 years), but I could take organic chem. I have studied that a little on my own and like it so far(haven't done a lot), but the problem is that I doubt that would tell me if I would like chemE or not. Good idea? The chemE class I am referring to is mass/energy balances if that helps.

    I guess it just seems really strange that I prefer systems and signals to thermodynamics(I've been looking at books about chemE/EE subjects the last few days to get some clarification)-yet I'm still interested in chemE research. Maybe that is a sign that I don't know what the research in ChemE is really like, which is possible. I am a freshman, not a phd, so I could have my head in the clouds.

    Do you think it would be possible to go into something like protein engineering or synthetic biology with EE? I looked up at some of the synthetic bio labs in certain grad schools, and there were some EE students in there. I am pretty sure that alternative energy is possible with EE, but all the alternative energy research is in chemE.
  6. Jan 2, 2012 #5
    Terrible as in . . . Less than a 3.9? Less than a 3.0? Less than a 2.0?

    If you don't like the sound of ChE classes, you could possibly do a minor in bio or chem if you like synthetic bio. The main EE / SynBio labs that I know of are Tom Knight in CSAIL at MIT and Ron Weiss at Princeton in EE. But since 2007, there are a lot more labs / research going on now, as well as teams and schools participating in iGEM -- which I haven't stayed up to date on.

    I think with respect to SynBio, you have more room to move around with respect to departments and research for grad school with EE + bio. As for those other types of research, you are def going to want to be in a ChE/BioE program.

    As for the program, you should email someone at school (ugrad department chair, etc) since they will be checking email even if you are still on break, and they will give you a better idea about transferring.

    As for grades, a lot of students see their GPA drop when they start / transfer into ChE due to the nature and difficulty of courses -- ochem being a bear in particular, so planning to make a few adjustments and expecting to ace your first semester in ChE may not be very realistic, (even though it's possible), but keep in mind that ochem is the most failed college class at colleges around the country.

    How much do you like chemistry? At my program we did a year of ochem + labs, pchem (lab optional), biochem (1 of 3 choices depending on what you wanted to do), and another advanced science where people usually took another chem class.

    You should print out the ChE requirements and take a look at every single class you have to take, and how they are arranged by semester to see if that is something you are still interested in. The research opportunities are very interesting, that is certain, but the work load in exchange for those opportunities regularly challenges bright students semester after semester.
  7. Jan 2, 2012 #6
    Thanks for all the replies.

    Hah! I'd be fine with a 3.0 now. Therein lies the problem. By terrible, I mean mainly C's. 2.2 GPA... My final exams turned out a LOT worse than I was predicting, but it isn't just that.

    Now, granted, I am not just making a "few adjustments." Sorry if I made that impression, I should have said complete overhaul. I am going back on medication that I used in high school, but went off of in my first semester-long story. I was also going through some family issues and depression at the time, which aren't really issues anymore. But at the same time, I don't want to sound like a whiner-a lot of it was my fault-didn't take notes, didn't pay attention, relied of high school cram methods. I have been working on that this winter break, and I think my habits are being altered pretty good. The point is, I am very confident of doing better this semester, regardless of major. I really have to, otherwise I won't be coming back next semester. But I don't want to give the impression that I am being unrealistic. I am aware that A's will take sweat, blood, and tears... and might not even come then.

    I like chemistry and I am pretty good at it(got AP chem credit), and like what I have studied with Ochem so far. The chemE majors here said Ochem I at least isn't as bad as people say it is, but maybe that's just because they are really bright. I have heard the horror stories about Ochem, and I know studying it in advance will only help a little. That's why I don't want to do this unless I am really sure that I want to try chemE.

    The chemE requirements are similar to yours, chemistry wise-(Pchem lab is required for us, but no biochem-unless that is your elective. we do have to do biology though-which I also have credit for) The chemE classes include transport phenomena, transport processes, thermo, seperation, materials, process control... you get the idea. Didn't think that was my type of thing, and still don't. I am taking that as a sign that chemE is something I shouldn't do. It's possible that maybe I wouldn't like the real meat of the research if I don't like the classes. I mean, I don't have any experience with the actual research, so that's possible.

    Alternative energy and biotech... that surprises me a little. I thought you could into that with a lot of degrees, including EE. Protein engineering/polymers, not so much, that doesn't shock me. I guess you can't do everything that suits your interest.

    I don't know if it is worth doing all those courses just to get into a small research area that I am thinking of at 18 years old. Right now, I'm leaning toward just sticking with EE and nanotechnology, my original ambition, or just doing physics, if only because that is what I CAN do, because of this semester. I just don't like the idea of closing doors. Maybe that is a problem I need to fix.

    I am sorry if any of this confuses any of you, or if I come across as arrogant or unrealistic.
  8. Jan 2, 2012 #7
    I wouldn't jump ship completely because of one bad semester, I think a lot of people have been in a similar type of situation, and have been able to turn things around, so try to stay positive and really commit to those study habit / work ethic changes.

    If you don't like the sound of those ChE classes, you probably shouldn't switch programs lol. They are challenging enough as is, before you factor in "overall lack of interest" in the material . . .

    The protein engineering / metabolic pathways / biotech stuff is mainly biochem, so you could still take organic1-2 / biochem and still work in that area pretty easily -- look to see what is required for a bio / molecular bio minor. You should investigate professors in EE, BioE, Bio, ChE, Chem, Physics and see if anyone has overlap with EE/Biochem and talk to them about doing research in their lab. Even anyone in the bioe / bio / biochem / molecular bio dept that will have you in their lab will give you a HUGE leg up in terms of doing that kind of work later on in grad school in another program like BioE.
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