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I Kind of Hate Engineering

  1. Jun 18, 2012 #1
    I was very gung-ho about a year ago and have undertaken what most of my peers consider insane course loads and as a result I have completed 3 semesters of Mech. Eng. in 2. However, after doing most of the meaty courses in my degree I think I HATE engineering.

    This may seem like a sweeping generalization but the students do NOT want to know anything about WHY they are using an equation etc...but are fully content just memorizing it (seriously 99% of my peers are like this). I know some are going to say--"so learn it on your own"--well, sadly, a by-product of engineering education is a ridiculous amount of busy-work (useless assignments that 99% of students just use Solution Manuals for and ridiculously long labs and tutorials).

    I've concluded that the mantra of the engineer is "doesn't matter why--just remember this"--I have heard this COUNTLESS times from tutors and TEACHERS alike.

    I also went to shadow a couple of engineers and concluded that they use VERY LITTLE of the math that they studied--this is disheartening, to say the least.

    I'm thinking of making a switch to pure and applied math and/or statistics. I've realized that the only subject that I consistently enjoy and want to learn more about is mathematics; however, I was wondering what the career options are besides graduate school--I would be doing a specialization (more credits than a major). I know that Statscan is a major employer of math graduates; also, being an actuary is possible with the aforementioned degree as well, however, what are the career prospects for such a degree long-term?

    I keep hearing people talk about engineering jobs being super-stable etc..., however, during a few of my interactions with actual engineers they made it clear that it is not as rosy as people claim it is--they said they are subject to ageism (after many years one has too much experience, costs too much and is not worth the investment), they get pigeon-holed and have ridiculous working hours.

    I have a 3.8 GPA BTW--so this isn't one of those "boo-hoo I'm failing posts"--any advice/insight would be appreciated.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 18, 2012 #2
    You have confirmed what I thought after mentoring many young engineers. Their education is not what I remember, and so they have difficulty learning how to be real engineers. Not all of them, but most.
  4. Jun 18, 2012 #3
    That they lack the urge to actually UNDERSTAND the science?
  5. Jun 18, 2012 #4
    Hard to know, long term. If the world economy either sputters along or improves, then the outlook is quite positive. In the case of a zombie apocalypse, actuaries will probably be about like everyone else – delicious.

    It can be a tough field to break into these days, largely because other fields are even worse, thereby sending more students our way. If you can get a few years experience and get credentialed, I think most would consider it a stable career.

    It’s low risk. The exam fees are very low compared, say to a CFA, masters or PhD (and B.S. is optimal for the actuarial career path). Pass a few exams, draw up a separate resume and give it a spin. You don’t have much to lose. Being geographically flexible will be critical.
  6. Jun 18, 2012 #5
    Thanks for the response.

    Quick question: would Statistics or Pure and Applied Mathematics be more valuable in terms of career prospects?
  7. Jun 18, 2012 #6


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    I don't know if this seems obvious or not, but it appears that what you don't like is not engineering, but rather HOW it is taught!

    This is important to realize, because you are discarding the message simply because you didn't like the messenger.

    Note that there is nothing to prevent you from digging DEEPER into any particular topic, equations, etc. You are no longer in high school where everything is spoon-fed. In college, you CAN and are expected to be somewhat independent and pick up on your own whatever it is that interest you.

    Go ahead and switch out of engineering, but make sure you do it for the RIGHT reason.

  8. Jun 18, 2012 #7
    Understood, however, I can comfortably say that PART of the reason I feel like I hate engineering is the TEACHING (you are dead-on--and even teachers aren't too keen on providing extra details on the materials); the other part is related to the physics work--the math is what I enjoy but when it comes to something like Dynamics or Thermo I feel like jumping out of a window (not that they are hard but I just don't find them all that interesting).

    I guess I should have mentioned the aforesaid earlier; I did, however, like Materials Science (but hated Statics, Dynamics, Thermo, Mech. Drawing [this was the worst], Mechanics of Materials). Maybe I hate them because every teacher/TA just said--"do this--use this equation--solve", no awe, no wonder, no thought--just methods.
  9. Jun 18, 2012 #8
    I really understand you when it comes to mechanical subjects. My friends just want the formula, I want to understand where it comes from. I dislike mechanics not because I love math, but because I love logic and being able to relate subjects, things I can't do with mechanics.

    PS I also find motion a little boring to rationalize :eek:. I also prefered materials above all the analitical mechanics.
  10. Jun 18, 2012 #9
    In general? I don’t know. For actuarial work, doesn’t matter. Employers want to see exams passed and office work experience. A mathematically involved major helps getting past HR.
  11. Jun 18, 2012 #10
    Sadly, Luis, the job outlook for Materials Science is bleak--the only subject I enjoyed.

    Thanks Locrian--I think I may end up leaning towards Statistics because Statscan (in Canada) is ALWAYS hiring Stats majors (in case Actuarial doesn't pan out). Starting pay at Statscan is 50k--not too shabby IMO.
  12. Jun 18, 2012 #11
    I had the same problem when I was in undergrad. People mindlessly "applied the formula" but had virtually no insight as to what they were doing, the limitations of their method, and why that method should be used. One thing I did my junior year is take up an independent study with a professor whom I got along with quite well. The result was probably the best decision I made in my undergraduate career. I read many technical papers and taught myself all the in-and-outs of fluid mechanics. I developed such a strong foundation in fluids that I could rival some of my professors with the questions they asked in class.

    Currently I am teaching myself statistical thermodynamics to understand flows on the molecular level. One thing I would love to do, but for some reason cannot find the discipline, is to teach myself abstract mathematics. That will be my goal for graduate work.
  13. Jun 18, 2012 #12


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    Sadly, I work often with the type of engineers that you describe, but I don't think it is like this everywhere. You might consider transferring to a high-caliber school where engineering involves critical thinking, serious math, and creativity. I'm thinking of schools like Stanford, CalTech, etc.
  14. Jun 18, 2012 #13
    ZenOne, I'm completely baffled.

    You're thinking of switching out because the *other* engineers-in-training aren't internalizing the profession the way you think they should?

    If you learn the physics and science but they don't you'll be the better engineer.

    I'm not seeing the connection to why you would switch out.
  15. Jun 18, 2012 #14
    One main problem is that you're not even halfway through your engineering education. All the classes with term projects are in the second half of your degree, where you take all the math and programming and physics that you learned and BUILD STUFF.

    Another is likely your school. My school is rigorous as hell. They work people to the bone, and then some. And not just busywork either.

    Side note: Those who are just memorizing equations and using the solutions manual are the ones who aren't likely to stay in engineering much longer. The projects can and will kill them.
  16. Jun 18, 2012 #15
    No--I'm thinking of switching out because the WAY other EIT's are trying to learn is the WAY we ARE being taught. Teachers and TA's alike have no respect for the foundation of the very material they teach--at least in my experience.

    I'm in Canada and cannot relocate for I have a wife, a part-time job and a family; I go to one of the only 2 English universities in in my area--I don't have much of a choice.
  17. Jun 18, 2012 #16
    I was in almost the exact situation as you in Engineering. I was an ME and hated how the other students acted toward the material. Some classes were actually done in a very respectable way so I do have to commend that. However, the thing that killed it for me was during the Engineering Orientation, one of the speakers/deans made a joke saying roughly "So, you're all here because you love engineering and not for the money right?" Like that's so outlandish that you actually want to do engineering for the sake of engineering.

    I, personally, switched majors to Physics and love the atmosphere much more.

    Now, I'm not saying I made the best decision. Engineering jobs are pretty much hands down more reliable to get than Physics. If you can motivate yourself to want to learn the material for its own sake, then I recommend sticking with it. Clearly, there was something early on that made you WANT to study Engineering. Maybe another engineering discipline would interest you more?

    There are engineering students out there that legitimately want to learn the material that don't use solutions manuals to solve the homework. The one's that do use them are usually just louder.
  18. Jun 18, 2012 #17


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    In our work, my colleagues and I develop thermo-physical, thermo-mechanical, thermal-hydraulic and behavioral models of materials in integrated simulation systems - basically systems of coupled PDEs/ODEs. We have to understand the why and how, and we use a lot of mathematics.

    Engineering jobs are stable for those who excel, i.e., those who are competent, proficient and diligent.

    We prefer to hire folks who know the theory and how to apply it - especially to new problems for which the solution is not currently known.

    I started in physics and migrated into nuclear engineering. Part of both programs was advanced mathematics. I encourage any engineer to take as much physics and mathematics as humanly possible.

    Many of the top engineers I know ended up as corporate leaders or started their own companies. That also applies to a number of physicists I know.
  19. Jun 18, 2012 #18
    We have a huge need for engineers who understand the reasons behind the methods. Those engineers are becoming a rare breed, but they tend to stay employed. Consider becoming one of them.
  20. Jun 18, 2012 #19
    A demoralizing environment will do that to people, I was in the same situation with electrical engineering; everyone and their mother were either cheating, or trying to get the teacher to tell them exactly what will be on the test so they can memorize the answers. It was truly ridiculous and would often make me want to quit and go do math and physics, hell sometimes I would read math and physics in place of my engineering assignments because the material left me with no desire to even look at it.
  21. Jun 18, 2012 #20
    I appreciate all the different opinions--they are all food for thought.

    Clope--you made me think of another thing that everyone does that just bugs me to no end--they study strictly for the final; by that I mean: the finals are all similar from year to year and people just acquire old solved exams and just study those. The aforesaid is NOT learning--I have never looked at a past final--I just don't get it (well I do grade-wise but shame on them AND the school for allowing this).

    However, all the posts indicating the shortage of engineers with an understanding of the material is making me re-think my original position.
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