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How difficult is Mechanical Engineering? Do you do math every day?

  1. Jun 17, 2014 #1
    Hi All

    Please excuse my naiveness in advance, I am a year 12 student and I have a few (may be stupid) questions for current mechanical engineers.

    How difficult is it? I am currently studying mathematical methods (second highest level of math we can possibly do, and a prerequisite for any uni engineering course), English, physics, chemistry, business management and IT applications (I am in VIC, AUSTRALIA) I dislike math and physics very much, but I love designing and building things. As a mechanical engineer, do you do complex math daily? What about in the course you did at uni?

    I am just trying to gauge whether I should peruse this career path, or whether it contains a very high level of math and physics and thus will make me miserable for the rest of my life...

    Thanks in advance
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2014 #2
    All engineers at my school go through
    Calc 1
    Calc 2
    Differential Equations
    Linear Algebra
    Vector Calc

    Most of these weren't too bad as long as you attend lectures and do the work you should be fine :)

    Past that I can't really comment being in Electrical (which is the most math oriented). The impression that I get from my buddies who went into mech is the math never got any more complicated than those classes.
     
  4. Jun 17, 2014 #3

    Borek

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    You can't design anything without math and physics, which is why all engineering courses are heavy on both.
     
  5. Jun 17, 2014 #4
    If you hate math and physics, I would advise looking into something more along the lines of engineering technology, which is less theoretical and more focused on practical skills.

    Caveats: Technologists have a lower salary than engineers on average, but often start off with better pay at the beginning of their careers. Like many jobs, engineering technology jobs are gradually being outsourced to other countries. But, there will always be some local work available.
     
  6. Jun 17, 2014 #5
    Not really, but it depends on what mean by the word heavy. I did majors in electrical engineering and physics, the physics and math in the EE degree was relatively dumbed down for lack of better wording. Oh sure, you need calculus and differential equations to understand the process of doing the laplace transform on your circuit elements to eliminate the derivatives, same with the use of fourier transforms for signal analysis. I used solid state physics and e&m for electronics and electromagnetics and power systems obviously, but again nowhere near what I would call 'heavy'. I imagine RF engineers are going to be using both to a much higher degree than others, but still the rigour of an engineering degree is in the actual engineering and making your projects work. The math and physics is used to understand the language IMO.
     
  7. Jun 17, 2014 #6

    Borek

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    Heavy in terms of OP claiming "I don't like math". Sure, there are much more math heavy courses, but even the simplest engineering courses use math all the time. Often a simple one, nonetheless math.
     
  8. Jun 17, 2014 #7

    Chronos

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    Mechanical engineers do not need to do much math from scratch, in my experience. There are tables designed to do the heavy lifting - like load calculations. Knowing what tables exist and when to use them is a very practical skill. You need to understand how these tables are generated to use them properly. You also need to be cognizant of special circumstances, which frequently arise - like combinations of load factors and thermodynamic considerations. Many mechanical engineers enjoy a long, productive career without needing to do much in the way of brute force calculations. Finite element analysis [FEA] software has greatly simplified the process over the past couple decades. You still need a solid knowledge base to properly deploy all the tools available to an ME.
     
  9. Jun 18, 2014 #8
    Thank you all for your replies, I really appreciate it!

    So to any of you who are actually mechanical engineers, what do you do? Do you enjoy your job? Do you find yourself doing complex mathematics on a regular basis? I currently do a fairly high level of math, and as long as the majority of the course is no harder than intermediate calculus, do you think I will be fine?

    While I dislike math, I am not particularly bad at it. I am however, easily confused in physics. Does physics come up in mechanical engineering as a course or in the job itself (I understand there are different jobs and thus different circumstances, but generally)?

    Thanks
     
  10. Jun 18, 2014 #9
    I know theoretical physicists who've taken pleasure in telling me what math can do to it itself. As long as one can use it, I'm not sure it's a prereq that one needs to like it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2014
  11. Jun 18, 2014 #10

    Borek

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    Agreed, but from the initial post it was not clear to me whether OP can, or can't use math. Way too often I see people claiming "I dislike math" when what they mean is "I know nothing about it".
     
  12. Jun 18, 2014 #11
    I should have been more clear at the beginning, I dislike math but I can do it. What I am trying to determine is whether a very high level of it is needed daily as a mechanical engineer. The same goes for physics.
     
  13. Jun 19, 2014 #12

    donpacino

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    It really depends on the job.

    There are many engineers that rarely use complicated math. The most complicated they get is some excel spreadsheets and some math for the odd cad model or two.

    There are other engineers that constantly use advanced high level math on a daily basis.

    It is really up to you what types of jobs you want to try to get.

    note: You still need to make it through the advanced math in school
     
  14. Jun 19, 2014 #13
    It's not so much that you have to spend a large part of your day powering through maths. It's not like academia where you do one equation after the other. Unless you're a specialist in that area, maths and equations will probably make up a smaller part of your job than you'd anticipate.

    But in order to get there you need a degree, which is heavy on the maths. You need your degree because it teaches you the background behind what you're doing, and helps you develop your technical and problem solving skills. If you didn't have that background, your use as an engineer would be very limited.
     
  15. Jun 19, 2014 #14
    Thanks a lot for that, it makes perfect sense. Do the courses also involve a lot of physics? And finally if you could, can you try rate all the different major engineering branches from least to most difficult in terms of math and physics in the course and in the job? Thanks!!
     
  16. Jun 24, 2014 #15

    donpacino

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    All engineering courses involve physics. That being said, engineers tend to make shortcuts using assumptions.

    One very simply example of this is Ohms law
    'V=IR' is actually a shortcut that makes certain assumptions
    ohms law is actually much more complicated, however for 99/100 EEs, V=IR is enough.

    You may find that as you go through engineering courses, many assumptions are made and you will begin to work with tables or formulas that will do much of the 'heavy lifting' for you.
     
  17. Jun 24, 2014 #16

    donpacino

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    As for most difficult to least difficult, all branches of engineering will use similar amounts of math and physics (due to the fact that most branches are so broad).

    In general it can be said that fields such as nuclear and electrical are harder than mechanical and civil due to the fact that you cannot 'see' what is going on
     
  18. Jun 26, 2014 #17
    While in the curriculum, you must gain a firm foundation in mathematics. It is the universal language of science & technology. It starts with developing strong skills in algebra & trigonometry in order to manipulate everything competently. I found all the subsequent courses' concepts (derivatives, integrals, etc.) were intuitive after that.

    Don't fear mathematics. Swim in it. It is and will be your lifetime friend if you let it. Your negative view of it may only be the result of a poor instructor.

    The old gray haired engineer in me says that the most important reason for gaining strong background and competency in math is not the math itself. But the mental discipline and problem-solving mindset that is developed through studying math. IMHO that is the real value.

    Working in the "real world": YES, I use "math" everyday...in a manner of speaking. It is manifested in the form of how to attack problems, planning a solution strategy, logical thinking, etc. etc. etc. But rarely does it ever involve working out formulas or performing integrals or derivatives or anything like that. Mostly, any type of engineering analysis has the formulas already developed in some sort of handbook. It is the task of the engineer to find or determine the numerical values of the quantities of the variable in that formula. The primary value a trained engineer brings to a company is the experience gained over time to be able to determine real, intelligently-selected, practical, and useful quantities for plugging into those formulas. When on the rare occasion that I actually must develop a formula on my own, well I just get giddy with excitement because it so rarely happens. For example, I once had to develop a series of robot path points (in {X, Y, Z, RX, RY, RZ} coordinates) for a radially-expanding spiral polishing path, constrained to an elliptical object with 3D curved surface shaped like a potato chip. It was fairly heavy math involving CAD data of the object and homogeneous coordinate transformations. That was a really good day.
     
  19. Jun 26, 2014 #18
    Thank you all so much, especially tygerdawg, that would have taken a lot have time and effort for you to write, I really appreciate it! I suppose you're right, now I think about it my dislike for math is the result of having my current teacher this year. His explanations and examples leave me frustrated and clueless, most times having to sit on my own, with the internet or paying a tutor to try help me understand . All years up until now I was fine. But from you guys that's all I need to know, I think I'm gunna go for mechanical engineering. Thanks all for your time as I've said many times before - I really really appreciate it :) cheers
     
  20. Jun 26, 2014 #19

    Borek

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    Check other parts of the forum - we help for free :wink:
     
  21. Apr 24, 2015 #20
    This is one of the most difficult technical courses out there. Logical thinking, strengths in Math/Sciences/Physics, lots and lots of common sense, patience and most of all focus are the kind of investments you will need. If you are missing one, don't take the course, you will just ruin your life.

    i am a graduating mechanical engineering student
     
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