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Programs Help choosing a type of engineering-- unclear on differences

  1. Jun 15, 2017 #1
    I've been researching different types of engineering and since some of them are pretty similar, I'm having trouble understanding the difference between them.

    Fields I'm looking into: Industrial engineering, systems engineering, manufacturing engineering, operations research, supply chain management (not sure if this is more business or engineering), operations management (more business than engineering?)

    If anybody has recommendations for what types might be a good fit for me, that would be great. A field that's relatively light on science would be nice-- I know that I am on physicsforums.com but to be honest, physics scares me. Last year (junior year) I took physics and it was definitely the hardest class I've ever taken. Maybe because it was supposed to be college level and I had never taken physics before? I managed an A- but that's basically because I could do the math without understanding what I was doing. AP Calc BC was a breeze and I enjoyed it, so a more math-heavy field is probably ideal. I know there is much harder math out there, but I'm sure there's also much harder physics.

    I'm the "big picture" type and designing more efficient processes interests me. I also like the human oriented aspect. Right now I'm helping design a cross country course-- creating a 3 mile path is trivial, the challenge is minimizing opportunities to get lost and/or cut the course and making it easy to follow with as few instructions as possible. Obviously this is a pretty minor "problem" but I like this type of thing.

    While taking my AP tests I was interested how they designed the grading process-- there are lots of numbers and codes to attach all of the documents to the person, the essay graders can't have any information about the identity of the person but the testing service still needs to be able to identify them, getting students to follow the instructions, preventing cheating, making sure that no tests get lost or are unidentifiable...etc. Designing a system/process like this appeals to me.

    Sorry for the long post! I appreciate any input you all have.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2017 #2


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    Examine yourself for your actual interests AND accomplishments. Both engineering and sciences and also Mathematics require a person to focus on details. Logic and rational thought must go into the processes. One must learn and trust his Mathematics.
  4. Jun 15, 2017 #3
    I was actually planning on majoring in applied math for the past couple years but started looking into engineering a few months ago. I'll graduate high school with 3 years of high school level math and 4 semesters of college level math (1 semester of college level = 1 year of high school level, so I'll have 7 years worth of credit). I consider myself a pretty detail-oriented person so that's something I can do in a job.

    Not sure if it was clear in the original post but I don't really understand the difference between industrial, manufacturing, and systems engineering, or the difference between operations research, operations management, and supply chain management.
  5. Jun 15, 2017 #4


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    Fine. I do not understand some of the differences either, but if you are going to make progress in Mathematics and if you are detail-oriented, then you should be able to pick through the categories and find something to study for major field. You SHOULD do something which relies on Mathematics. First few semesters would be similar for most students, and the changes come when you put more effort on your major-field courses.

    Students heading into Physics, or Chemistry, or any Engineering, will all go through three semesters of Calculus 1,2,3, a year of General Chemistry, the Physics series for scientists & engineers, some minimal biological science requirement; and the rest of the courses depend on the chosen major.
  6. Jun 15, 2017 #5
    Part of the problem is that my current first choice for college is Cal Poly SLO, which requires you to apply into a major. I can probably change majors into a similar field (like industrial to manufacturing) but changing into a completely different field is tough.

    Here's the first year courses for IE at Cal Poly (quarter system):
    Intro to industrial and manufacturing engineering
    Manufacturing processes: net shape
    Graphics communication and modeling
    General psychology
    General Physics (I and II)
    General chem for physical sci majors and engineering
    Calculus I, II, and III
    Intro to design and manufacturing
    Electronics manufacturing

    Plus some GE stuff
  7. Jun 16, 2017 #6


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    Cal Poly is a great school, probably the best value for money in the country (Texas A&M is also an incredible value). I've worked with a few Cal Poly students and grads and they were top notch. It's a great choice.

    I've worked with Industrial Engineers and from your description of interests it sounds like it could potentially be a good fit. Keep your eyes and mind open though, because once the rubber hits the road and you're doing classes and projects you may find yourself more motivated and excited by something else. Listen to yourself.

    For the most part, all those names refer to aspects of the same kind of thing... a sort of amorphous hybrid of statistics, engineering, and business. It is a strong and growing area as more and more of our economy (and lives) are getting optimized.
  8. Jun 16, 2017 #7
    Thanks, I'm in CA so I get in-state tuition at Cal Poly. I think switching majors within the engineering college would be pretty doable so I can do that. It's just that many schools don't offer IE at all. I've had to cut down my college list significantly to keep it to schools with an IE program (or OR or systems engineering). I saw one guide to the different types of engineering majors that said manufacturing engineering is the same as IE, but Cal Poly has separate majors for both (but in the same department). How close are they?

    MIT offers a MechE degree where you choose a concentration, manufacturing being one possibility. MIT is definitely a reach for me, but if I got in I think I could put together an IE-type program? They have a supply chain management graduate program, but I don't think I could use that for the concentration though because it says it has to be undergrad courses. I know that I might want to switch, but I can't switch to a major that isn't there...
  9. Jun 16, 2017 #8


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    These different majors all overlap a ton. At my school we had separate Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering majors which were very similar except the Computer Engineering required more software courses. I imagine it is the same at Cal Poly (you have to look at the list of required courses). I don't think it is terribly critical that you get the exactly "right" major as they overlap so much. You will really choose your focus in grad school (if you choose that route).

    A MechE degree is a lot different from IE, though. Much more a focus on traditional engineering topics and less on statistics, optimization, queueing and so on. It all depends on the focus and your interests.

    I just want to reiterate that you shouldn't put too much pressure on yourself to pick the right one, especially since you don't know what you really enjoy yet. They overlap so much. Even in a traditional engineering curriculum you can tailor it to your interests by what electives you choose.
  10. Jun 16, 2017 #9
    The OP sounds like an IE to me, perhaps with a focus on Operations Research. Its good stuff, and has a lot of future.
  11. Jun 16, 2017 #10
    Yeah, that was kind of my concern with the MechE program, these are the non-concentration non-GE courses for that:
    - Intro to Design
    - Mechanics and Material I
    - The product engineering process
    - Dynamics
    - Systems and controls or introduction to mechanical vibration
    - thermodynamics
    - intro to heat transfer
    - fluid dynamics
    - numerical computation for mechanical engineers
    - Engineering Mathematics
    - Measurement and instrumentation
    - Electronics for mechanical systems or micro/nano engineering laboratory

    Cal Poly has many more general engineering requirements though too, here are the full requirements (it's just one page)

    I'm definitely open to changing my major later, I just want to be sure that I have options. I can go from IE to math basically anywhere, but I can't go from math to IE at a school that doesn't offer it. Right now I'm trying to get my college list nailed down so that's my main concern at the moment.

    Thanks for all the help!
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