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I think I can be an engineer but mom doesn't

  1. Jan 30, 2012 #1
    I am currently a high school grad spending a gap year abroad. After much thought I've decided that I would like to become an engineer (electrical, aerospace, or civil most likely). I really like math and physics and I want to help build the future. In high school I took calculus BC and generally straddled the A-,B+ line. It was the hardest class I've ever taken by far, but I really enjoyed it. I did well in Physics; those classes always interested me and it never really got too hard. For some reason my mom thinks pursuing engineering is dumb for me because I got a 3 on the AP Calc BC so therefore I don't have what she believes is the necessary superfreakish math intelligence, and that I'll be completely overwhelmed by the super-geniuses around me in the engineering classes.

    I think I should go for engineering anyway. I really believe it's the right career for me but my mom says otherwise, and I do respect what my mom says. Do you really have to be a super-genius to become an engineer? I think I got what it takes but I did find calc to be really difficult.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2012 #2
    I taught introductory physics for engineers for several years while I was a grad student. Mathematical ability of incoming freshman ranged from "I can sort of do algebra" to "I took undergrad math classes at my magnet highschool." You would be in no way out of the ordinary for an incoming engineer, and if you work hard, you'll do fine.
  4. Jan 30, 2012 #3
    If you really like engineering, then you should go for it. But be sure to work very very very very hard. What one doesn't have in talent, one should make up by hard work.

    And start working hard by reviewing calculus in the summer and to study ahead for Calc II. Believe me, it'll make your life so much easier.
  5. Jan 30, 2012 #4
    Don't ever think that poor grades in school determine your intelligence. There are by far too many variables to consider. For one, a student who does not try hard may wind up with a B, while another student who gave it his all may end up with an A. Now who is smarter?

    Some would say the person with the A, because he received the higher grade. But what people fail to realize is that individuals have different learning styles. The particular environment may not have suited the B student, while it met all of the A student's preferences. Now if the class were instructed by a different teacher in a different setting, the grades may have been reversed.

    Just don't ever let a bad grade ruin your confidence. Albert Einstein didn't do that great in some high school classes. Just figure out what works for you, and try your best. Don't let others discourage you from your goals because in the end, it is you that is going to have to live with yourself and your decisions.
  6. Jan 30, 2012 #5


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    Has your mom got an engineering degree herself? If not, where is she getting her "infommation" from?
  7. Jan 30, 2012 #6
    Definately do it. Parents do not have the right to override your passion for an occupation.
  8. Jan 30, 2012 #7


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    Do it. It's hard work, but if you have the motivation, then you can succeed.

    Your mother seems to be under the mistaken impression that engineering is only for geniuses. I haven't quite figured out if that means she has a complimentary view of them, or if she sees the field as only for un-adjusted "geeks" and "nerds" and is not a pursuit for "ordinary" people (which would be more of an insult). Either way, as others have pointed out, she does not have enough first-hand information to make this assessment.
  9. Jan 30, 2012 #8
    If it helps you sleep at night, I failed my differential equations class last semester. I was an aerospace engineering student then, and I'm an aerospace engineering student now. Don't give up.
  10. Jan 31, 2012 #9
    Mathematics used in engineering is not advanced it usually includes linear algebra , calculus , differential equations but it is easy in general so even if you are not so good in math , you can do well in engineering .
  11. Jan 31, 2012 #10
    When I listened to my moms advice on studying pharmacy, I was miserable. I went with my passion and am now studying mathematics and I love every second of it. You decide. Don't let your mom decide your life for you.
  12. Jan 31, 2012 #11
    Maths is something you learn, anyone can be good at maths with enough practice, since your mom is under the (all too common) idea that you are either born knowing every definition in mathematics or you will never know any mathematics, I wouldn't put too much thought into it.
    If you want to become an engineer go for it!
    Your engineering maths isn't going to be that hard or rigorous anyway :3

    School exam grades also aren't a very good determining factor anyway..
  13. Jan 31, 2012 #12


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    I'd like to echo much of the advice that you've been given. Many of the engineers that I have known were not "geniuses" in the least. The worst of them plodded along trying the same old thing again and again to solve new and unique problems. That's why I could make a living troubleshooting paper machines and Kraft recovery boiler systems. It seemed silly that mills could fly someone in from over a thousand miles away to troubleshoot a problem that their in-house engineering staff couldn't figure out.

    So study engineering, but don't let the strictures of your studies determine the course of your career after you graduate. I really hate to use that hackneyed phrase "think outside the box", but you truly have to do that to be a good engineer, especially in a fast-moving industrial environment. Good luck, whatever you choose to study.
  14. Feb 1, 2012 #13
    The best engineer I personally know did not get accepted to university the first time around because of bad grades in high school and low AP test scores. He did appeal the rejection, got accepted, did a BS in Physics, then went on to get into an engineering PhD at Stanford. He left after his first year because he was getting offers for $150k/year from some company that he started to work with as an undergrad. Eventually, he decided to finish his MS at Stanford, and work another year, before going to Belgium for a PhD in aeronautics/automated flight AI. He is definitely a genius by any standards, and during my time with him at the University, he would continually get the highest grade on every exam. But the main point is, he didn't start like this, and if you were to project what he would become based on his High School grades and AP scores, you would think he would be working at McDonalds by now.

    Now I know most of us are not, geniuses, but as long as you like the subject and are willing to put in hard work, then you will be good at what you do. People who did what their parents wanted usually ended up struggling, hating the subject, and ended up unhappy because they wasted their time at the university. Just do what you want to
  15. Feb 1, 2012 #14
    Obviously, most of us are not geniuses. But the research is showing that we all could be:


    Keys to success: hard work & persistence, and a good mentor.

    Working hard and persisting is under your control. But how do you find a good mentor?

    "All the people who got international fame had invariably worked with a high level mentor."

    "Ability doesn't seem to have anything to do with it. You need to accumulate your experience. Perfect practice makes perfect. If you're out playing tennis and you miss an overhand volley, the game will go on. The next time the identical situation happens, you're not going to be more successful. In order to improve, you need a special training environment where a mentor will give you appropriate shots."

    Ericsson shows that genius status is achieved when one puts in five times extra work and 10 years of effort more than average people do. "A lot of people think (that) highly talented people can become good at anything rapidly. But what this study says(suggests) is that nobody has been able to rise without having practiced for 10 years. In [classical] music right now, it takes more than 15-20 years before they start winning in competitions", said Ericsson.
  16. Feb 1, 2012 #15
    How do you know they weren't potential geniuses? Did they work seriously hard for fifteen years and have good mentors all along the way? Why didn't you become a good mentor and help them improve? (Note - not condemning you at all here - just looking for some background to the situation. I was seldom a good mentor because of time/financial/environmental constraints...)
  17. Feb 1, 2012 #16


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    It wasn't my place to help them develop their engineering skills. As a process chemist I was generally assigned to assist them with their projects, taking samples, monitoring relative concentrations of water and materials in process flows, heat and mass balances, etc. In essence, they were my bosses when they had primary responsibility for an engineering project. We had a couple of very sharp engineers in the technical department, but I always seemed to get paired up with either the imperious jerk (who knew a lot less than he let on) or the earnest-but-average guy who was nice enough, but was in over his head.

    I got hired as a chemist because someone in HR saw chemistry-major on my job application and used me to fatten up the pool of applicants. The lucky break came when the chief environmental engineer broke in during my interview with the technical director, fretting about Pulping's plan to acid-wash the Kamyr digester, which could potentially kill the "good" bugs in the aeration basins of the waste-treatment plant. I asked the director if I could make a suggestion, and he said "go ahead". I told the engineer that he had all the valving and pumping options that he needed to run the entire waste treatment plant in series instead of parallel, and that he had plenty of volume capacity in the sludge ponds to store sediment from the clarifiers. Let them acid-wash, and monitor the pH as the biological components buffer the acid, then bleed "good bugs" back into the aeration basins from the sludge ponds to repopulate the basins. The director asked how I knew that, and I told him that I was a materials inspector during the construction of that waste treatment plant and used to entertain myself by studying the blueprints when things got slow.

    He thanked me for coming in, and I drove home. When I got home, my wife told me to go for a physical with the company doctor and that I was starting Monday.
  18. Feb 1, 2012 #17


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    Turbo's story makes another good point for the OP. A good academic record and book smarts are probably poor predictors of success in the real world. To get the job you need:

    - Experience
    - initiative
    - assertiveness
    - good communications skills
    - ability to work with others

    A B-student who works hard and is motivated and has these skills might easily do better than a genius- level person with A+'s on paper but poor soft/social skills and no practical knowledge or experience.

    Of course, if you're getting more than the occasional C or D, it's time to reconsider.
  19. Feb 1, 2012 #18


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    One of the candidates that I beat out for that job was a newly-minted chemical engineer (with great grades), and he was the younger brother of one of my best friends in college, which I didn't know at the time. He got hired a year later and we became good friends.
  20. Feb 1, 2012 #19
    I know at least a dozen engineers. None of them are geniuses ... sure they're almost all "above average" when it comes to overall intelligence, but clearly they're not people that tower over the rest of the human race with their intellect.

    They all are hard working men and women who learned what they needed to in school and then went on to do their technical stuff in the field. I'd wager that almost none of them could pass a calc 2 final (let alone PDE / vector calc / etc...) if it were administered today.

    I'm not saying that the math skills aren't important, but most of them just went to lectures, did the course work, and then graduated having a bit more intuition about dynamics, electronics, structures, or whatever they specialized in, and then learned more on the job the first six months than they ever did in the 4 years they were in school ... and from what they have told me, used very little of what they learned in school.

    As long as you are willing to work hard and spend a lot of time outside class to study, you'll be fine. The best advice I can give is think of college as a full time job where, even though you may only physically be sitting in a classroom 15 hours a week, you should spend AT LEAST 40 hours total per week doing school work.

    On a final note: the fact that you've had calc and physics already (even though you may have not done super well on the AP exam) is good considering, bare minimum, none of the stuff you see your first courses should totally overwhelm you, which will give you time to strengthen any deficiencies you may have.
  21. Feb 1, 2012 #20


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    So true! My fellow chemists and I used to have to train every newly-minted engineer that got hired. Engineering in industrial settings is highly setting-specific and that's not the kind of training that you get in college. You can get such insights from internships, but we rarely had a new engineer with industry experience. One of my drinking-buddy friends was a new engineer that actually had industry experience, and was a crack programmer in Fortran. Somehow, we never got paired up for long-term projects. The director tended to put strong chemists with weaker engineers, IMO.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2012
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