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Free online introductory classes good method of choosing an eng.major?

  1. Jun 19, 2014 #1
    I am an upcoming freshman. I will major in engineering. When applying to the school I chose mechanical because of its "versatility and stability in the job market." (I don't fully understand the meaning of these phrases; I get my knowledge from anecdotal experience when browsing forums). I may want to major in electrical engineering because the math looks more "fun"--calculus fun lol. I am taking an introductory elec. eng. class in coursera vs intro to thermo class in coursera. Right away in elec. I am working with working with taylor series while in thermodynamics it seems very boring "linear" pressure, volume, temperature. (Again, I dont fully understand the courses, because of I only "dipped my toes" in these courses.)

    I chose this method because I would like to get an easier and less dangerous head start in mofinding the right major for me. Less dangerous in the sense that I'm taking free, non-obligatory intro classes online rather than costly, obligatory (like need A's or else GPA suffers) intros at the university. I am only thinking about mechanical electrical civil and CS.

    The question is:

    Is trying (and maybe completing) free online introductory classes a good method of choosing the right engineering major? If I enjoy the intro, I should major and if I don't enjoy the intro then I shouldn't major? Or is this just a bust?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2014 #2


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    Well, be careful what "introductory" means. Thermodynamics isn't likely to be a first year course (and maybe not even a second year) in most Engineering or Physics degrees. The foundations of Thermo are about understanding some not-very-intuitive concepts like entropy and enthalpy, not doing fun things with calculus. (And an "introduction to general relativity" course might be at grad school level.....)

    I guess dipping into MOOCS is better than reading "pop science" books or even wikipedia, but it seems a rather scatter-gun approach to choosing.

    In any case, you probably don't need to choose which branch of engineering to specialize in at the start of your course. Most of the first year is common to all of the branches of engineering - and it's mostly math, not engineering!
  4. Jun 19, 2014 #3


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    I just want to point that between mechanical and electrical engineering the math is often very similar.

    The math vibrations tends to be very similar to circuits with energy storing elements.
    The math in thermodynamics tends to be similar to the math in fields and waves.

    Granted the methods of solving those tend to vary between disciplines, but the initial equations derived from the physics are similar.

    The point is I wouldn't pick EE over ME or the other way around strictly because the math isn't intense enough. In both fields you can find a job doing little to no math, and in both field you can find yourself solving complex equations and using very advanced math.
  5. Jun 19, 2014 #4
    @donpacino Thank you. That cleared my misconceptions of the math between mech and elec. How about civil and aero?

    @AlephZero What do you mean by "pop science"? I am assuming like the newest trends in science or something but I'd rather not assume.
    I guess I wasn't do a fair apples-to-apples comparison between intro to ee vs thermo. Would an intro to ee vs intro to me vs intro to civil be a "better" comparison?

    I notice alot of replies on threads saying you have until after the first year/end of sophomore year to declare. IIRC, I heard this since last year, when I started finding which college major to pursue. As a result, I decided to wait . Now I am wondering what will change between my experiences now and my experiences in college that will help me get a better decision on which engineering to choose from.
  6. Jun 19, 2014 #5
    Would you rather design machines or circuits? And what do you think of spending a lot of time programming?

    Computer and electrical engineers at my university need to take computer science courses as soon as possible, so remaining undeclared for a year can slow you down a little.
  7. Jun 19, 2014 #6

    If you really want a fair grasp of what mechanical engineering would be like I highly recommend you go join MIT 2.01x course on EdX.org. It covers one of the first core courses you will take as a mechanical engineer or a civil engineer, the course is on elements of structures (strength of materials). This is usually the second core class you take after statics, they also have a dynamics course coming up and check out their aerospace engineering course for a taste of fluid dynamics. Thermodynamics is not really a good course to judge whether you want to go with electrical or mechanical engineering in my opinion. Just my $.02. That 2.01x course is going on right now by the way. You've only missed one hw if you decide to join it now.
  8. Jun 19, 2014 #7
    I would enjoy designing both... And I would enjoy alot of programming when I know how to apply it. I did VEX robotics and I really enjoyed building and programming the robot. It's just really hard to decide... I know a double major in two different engineering is very difficult for not much benefits.
  9. Jun 19, 2014 #8
    Ill check it out.
  10. Jun 20, 2014 #9

    Have you looked into mechatronics? It combines mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science into one degree. Sounds perfect for what you want to do. All the programs I've seen are graduate programs in the ME department but just for future references and who knows there maybe so undergraduate programs I haven't looked
  11. Jun 20, 2014 #10
    @caldweab I have not. Thats interesting. Thank you. But what I'm seeing is that mechatronics being a graduate program still does not help answer which undergradute program. (If there is an undergraduate program in mechatronics, my school does not offer it. I did a quick google search with my university's name and "mechatronics")
  12. Jun 20, 2014 #11
    Many graduate students go to a different university for higher degrees. If you were interested in that, mechanical engineering might be the better starting point.
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