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Engineer vs scientist

  1. Jan 27, 2012 #1
    Scientist Vs Engineer

    What is the difference between an Engineer and a Scientist?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 27, 2012 #2


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    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    engineers apply knowledge discovered by scientists.
  4. Jan 27, 2012 #3


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    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    Considering "scientist" is a more general term, it's a little hard to compare the jobs. In many cases an engineer can be a scientist, but a scientist is not necessarily an engineer. In the case of job descriptions for an employer (at least my employer) jedishrfu's description is generally accurate.

    Engineer: "Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, safety and cost."

    Scientist: "A scientist in a broad sense is one engaging in a systematic activity to acquire knowledge. In a more restricted sense, a scientist is an individual who uses the scientific method."
  5. Feb 3, 2012 #4
    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    Where I work, an engineer is a scientist who makes practical application of what he knows.
  6. Feb 3, 2012 #5


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    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    Where I work,
    engineers make money, scientists spend money.
  7. Feb 3, 2012 #6
    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    One uses the symbol I for electric current and the other uses i.

    When I first saw the title of this thread I thought the question would be "If a scientist and an engineer got into a fight, who would win?"
  8. Feb 3, 2012 #7


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    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    Thus, the engineer becomes immensely confused in a complex analysis class.
  9. Feb 3, 2012 #8


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    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer go to lunch one day. On the way back, they pass an open office an observe that there is a fire starting in the corner of the room.

    The mathematician looks around, observes that there is a fire extinguisher on the wall and walks on. He is satisfied that the problem has a solution.

    The physicist grabs his pocket calculator, estimates the size of the room, the amount of combustible material, etc, checks the tag on the fire extinguisher to see what size fire it can handle, and after some calculation, he too walks on. He has confirmed that the problem solution is at hand.

    The engineer grabs the fire extinguisher and puts out the fire while the other two are fooling around.

    This is the difference between the mathematician, the physicist, and the engineer.
  10. Feb 3, 2012 #9

    jim hardy

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    Re: Scientist Vs Engineer

    observe their respective parking lots.
    engineers are known for keeping their old jalopies running.

    perhaps the distinction between living and inanimate is less clear to us ?
  11. May 13, 2012 #10
    I'm going to hazard an educated guess (my Wife is a biotech research scientist, and I am a software engineer - amongst other things). This relates to our specific situations only.

    Both solve problems. I think the big difference is the type of problem that they solve.

    My Wife, as a research scientist, solves problems that currently have no solution, and are generally not 'practical'. An example could be 'It is generally though that green tea improves health. Exactly, at a molecular level, how does green tea do this?'. She comes up with a hypothesis and then sets out to prove this hypothesis, and hopefully finds a solution. her solution will be novel - no one will have come up with that solution in the past - actually, to correct that, no-one has published that same solution in the past (or she would have found it during the literature review). The hope (from her employers' commercial view) is that the novel solution can be patented and at some point money can be made from it.

    I, as a software engineer, solve many problems every day to make my software achieve a certain goal or function. This is problem solving at a practical level. To do this I solve that problem(s), but I often rely on solutions that other people have already devised. In fact, that speeds up my job considerably.

    A scientist would not be a scientist if they solved problems using existing solutions, as they would not be adding to human knowledge.

    So the big difference, I think, is that an engineer solves practical problems that are not necessarily novel, and a scientist breaks new ground for human knowledge and understanding.
  12. May 13, 2012 #11
    depends on what you're doing.

    I did research on polymer electronics and on different processing techniques and their relation to device performance. We devised new methods for analyzing device structure and did theoretical calculations and experiments on thermal stability.

    Does this sound like science, or engineering? Or both?
  13. May 13, 2012 #12
    What did it say on your name tag? :P
  14. May 13, 2012 #13
    Hi all, new here :)

    I'm neither an engineer or a scientist but I think the difference in their roles can be roughly summarised as follows:

    A scientist seeks to discover new knowledge.

    An engineer seeks to apply existing knowledge.

    So a scientist will try to discover the laws of motion and what causes electrical currents, whearas the engineer will try to use this knowledge (once it's been established) to invent cars, televisions, etc.
  15. May 13, 2012 #14
  16. May 13, 2012 #15


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    The engineerer has a concrete problem and seeks a suitable solution.
    The scientist usually has a concrete solution and seeks a suitable problem...

    It is truer than it sounds!
  17. May 14, 2012 #16
    It's a little more complicated than that. (I know you said roughly, so I'm not disagreeing with you!)

    There are a lot of engineers who are forced to discover new knowledge because the knowledge required to meet their goals does not exist. Otherwise, I'm not sure the phrase "Engineering Research" makes any sense (and I happen to do Engineering research).

    So I would say that while blanket statements like that are useful, the reality is that the two blend together at the edges.

    Also, a lot of scientists end up doing quite a bit of engineering in order to do their experiments (while most engineers don't do any science, in my opinion)
  18. May 15, 2012 #17
    Engineers build things. Scientists discover things.

    (As other people have said, there is a lot of overlap... in order to discover something, you often have to build a tool to help you, and in order to build something, you often need to discover something first. But I think the focus of the activity is the essential difference between the two.)
  19. May 16, 2012 #18
    Engineers ask how something works
    Scientists ask why something works
  20. May 16, 2012 #19
    My (US Engineer) perspective:

    Surviving an Engineering curriculum at the Bachelor's level will teach one how to solve problems. Getting through a Master's Engineering program in graduate school teaches one how to learn new subjects and deep analysis. The Ph.D. develops a skill in deep thinking and analysis, and to independently develop new insights.

    In industry, engineers have constraints imposed upon them such as production schedules, finish dates, budget limitations, and limited resources (financial, physical, equipment, & personnel). The perception is that engineers are there to solve the problems of those conflicting constraints and "make it happen" to get the project completed or the products out the door in order to make revenue. It involves technical compromises, cutting corners but maintaining <whatever important criteria>, and occasional negotiating with a variety of stakeholders to accept other-than-specified parameters or changes of project scope or completion dates or budgets.

    Not to seem disparaging in any way, but my experience with "scientists" is that they are often more narrow in scope and perception; focused on the task of discovery rather than the results; appear to value their worth via individual accolades (e.g., paper authorship) rather than an engineer's desire to show successful completion of projects.

    My experience is that there is distinct difference in thought processes and motivations. But I think that there is a place for both in the world, and many times in the same company.
  21. May 16, 2012 #20
    i think i understand what you mean.

    even in applied sciences, the focus is on "making the device operational". The engineering mindset is "this device is operational. how do we make better without incurring horrendous losses?
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