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How does one know if he/she is a scientist or an Engineer?

  1. Feb 26, 2015 #1
    There is a lot of overlap between the physical sciences and Engineering. They both want to know how things work. What is the mindset/philosophy/clues that allows one to know that they are more well suited to become one instead of the other?

    I know internships/classes/projects/other methods of exposure allow one to know, but I'm just saying mindset/philosophy wise, what are some clues? For example, could it be that one is more suitable to become a scientist is he wants to know how and more suitable for engineering is he wants to know how to?

    Is the desire to build a prereq for Engineering? Is Engineering suitable for those who DON'T want to build but love to know how things work? Does the Engineer want to know how things just for the sake of building, and the scientist wants to know how things for the sake of quench curiosity?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    If you like building or fixing things then you'll like being an engineer. If you get distracted and want to know why something works the way it works then you're probably a physicist deep down.

    The tricky part is which kind of physicist. If you like to do thought experiments then you'll like theoretical physics but if you want to really work with the equipment and measure stuff then you're a born experimentalist.

    Some folks sit on the fence of being theoretical physicists who develop and run computer models because the math is too difficult to tease apart,and because you can have tangible results that you can play with for your investigations.
  4. Feb 26, 2015 #3


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    I think you find the answer at your boundary of uninterest. Where do you start to not care? If you want to know how the world works, but only to the extent that it is useful in creating things, then you're an engineer. If you want to use math so long as it helps you understand the world, but you don't really care why it works, then you're a physicist. If you want to prove that things work, but you're willing to accept basic things that are obviously true, then you're a mathematician. If you want to argue everything and don't care whether it means anything or not, then you're a philosopher.
  5. Feb 26, 2015 #4
    I don't understand this compartmentalization in the sciences. I think it is both unrealistic and silly. Here is an example: I love mathematics, I like understanding why math works, but I think writing proofs is boring. I love understating why physics works, but at the end of the day I get great satisfaction out of building things. At the same time, if I only build things or use basic math/physics with no theory, I feel very unchallenged intellectually.

    What am I? Who cares. There are no rules in life (despite what many may say and think) that state if you are X, you must like Y.
  6. Feb 26, 2015 #5


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    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Science and engineering are not mutually exclusive in terms of who will enjoy or be successful in either field.

    I don't think it's even fair to say that if you say, enjoyed playing with lego as a kid that you'd make a better engineer or if you read a Brief History of Time that you're in line to be a physicist.

    And even if you could take a test that would definitively tell you you should be a sceintist, what does that mean you finish your schooling, can't get a post-doctoral position, but are offered can find a decent job working as an engineer?

    Really the only context where this makes a difference (and is perhaps the context of the question) is to consider what factor can help a student decide which path to take when faced with plotting out an expensive and arduous post-secondary education. In this kind of a context I would:
    1. Look at the projects that you've taken on so far, particularly ones that you've chosen on your own.
    2. Consider the books/articles that you've read and generally like to read. If you haven't read some biographies of great scientists and engineers, that could really help. At the magazine rack (virtual or real) do you prefer Popular Mechanics or Popular Science?
    3. Go to undergraduate open houses and investigate their programs. Engineering schools will often have teams that compete in various competitions designing robots, or vehicles or computer programs etc. Do these interest you, or would you rather spend a summer in a laser lab or running computer simulations involving quantum dots?
    4. How important is it for you to graduate into a specific profession? There are relatively few companies that look for physics graduates compared to engineers. That doesn't mean that physics graduates are unemployable or homeless, compared to other science majors they tend to do very well, but they don't have a specific profession to enter after undergrad and most will end up employed doing something that is not physics.
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