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Is engineering really for people that hate math?

  1. Dec 3, 2005 #1
    I am within a year of the time that I shall apply to a university and decide upon a path for the rest of my life. I love pure mathematics, but I am slightly turned off of applied mathematics (i.e. physics), although the latter might only be because the physics we are doing now is a bit dry. If I could, I would go into pure mathematics as my math teacher suggested, however, I must consider things other than my interests, like my talents. I am good at math, but I am not a mathematical genius and thus I am looking for a field in which I can both satisfy my love of mathematics and still be capable of suceeding. Engineering seems to fit these criteria, however, I have heard things about engineering that suggests those who go into it dont really appreciate mathematics, and only see it as a tool. Would I, someone that enjoys pure mathematics, enjoy engineering? What is the most mathematical type of engineering?
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  3. Dec 3, 2005 #2


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    I am an engineering student who really likes math. However, I would tend to agree with what you've heard. Most people I know in engineering are not interested in mathematical proofs and are willing to just accept hueristic arguments. Even so, I find that enjoying math is an advantage in engineering. My field is chemical engineering and we do a lot of thermodynamics. It's pretty heavy on multivariable calculus, and it always helps to know a few tricks. If you know math very well, then you will understand thermo much better because derivations will make sense to you and you will have a good idea of why things are true. If you are good at the math, you will have to memorize almost nothing and be able to derive most results within 15 minutes as long as you have a vaugue memory of how the proof went.
    That said, I think I am begining to wish I was studying something more fundamental. I take a lot of extra math courses and like them. If you want to study math, then study math. You will probably do well if you like it. Even if you don't do well, don't think engineering would be much easier! It's still pretty hard, and if you have no interest in it, then you are less likely to succeed than in math. Also, physics does get much more interesting later on, so don't discount that.
  4. Dec 3, 2005 #3
    Take courses youl need for both majors such as electives and after having experienced them you will be better able to make up your mind, you can also say that people that go into pure mathematics don't like other subjects, and if you like other occupations as well then you should make a comprimize so you will be happy, engineering as with mathematics can get creative, thats as much as I can say from my experiences.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 3, 2005
  5. Dec 3, 2005 #4
    People with a true interest in mathematics always make the best engineers. If you don't like mathematics, you won't want to pursue study outside of class, which can put you at a disadvantage.

    I am an electrical engineering student with mathematics minor. I'm mostly interested in probability and probabilistic models of communication networks.
  6. Dec 3, 2005 #5
    I am also an engineering student that enjoys math, but I'd have to agree with LeonhardEuler when I say that most engineers do not. It's no matter, because you'll understand (and appreciate) the material better than your peers.
  7. Dec 3, 2005 #6


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    No, not really. One usually does a fair amount of mathematics in engineering, particluarly with respect to numerical analysis, e.g. numerical simulations of nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel, structural analysis, structural dynamics, computational fluid dynamics, couple fluid/structure analysis, and in aerospace CFD of rocket propulsion and fluid-structure interaction.

    The basis of modern analysis is either finite element methods (FEM) or boundary element methods (BEM) in steady-state or transient conditions, the latter being quite a bit more comples, especially when slow and fast phenomena are involved.

    My company develops proprietary material models for a range of conditions and it invariably involves some fundamental mathematics.

    In general, that may be true. However, I believe the appeal of mathematics depends on the individual.

    I would say the most engineers probably go as far as multivariable calculus including partial differential equations and multivariable integral calculus. Some will do linear analysis, and some (e.g. those doing advanced solid and fluid mechanics) may do tensor analysis.
  8. Dec 3, 2005 #7
    I’ve experienced that engineering (mechanical, for me) is the most engaging balance between “pure” and “applied” math. If you don’t like math, you won’t enjoy pure math and the fact of the matter is that applied math is utterly drab!

    Engineering is the cool middle ground, I believe. It requires extensive knowledge and practice of both kinds of mathematics, but using them is so much more interesting and fulfilling within the context of accomplishing something in the world. :smile:
  9. Dec 4, 2005 #8
    I am also an engineering student, and I love math as well (Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics Minor)...But I would tend to agree with what others have said....most of my fellow students (in ME) do not like math. I find it rather disturbing that so many of them absolutely hate math...It dissappoints me as I expected to find some people in engineering that enjoyed the mathematical models behind it as much as I do.

    However, as other have said, you will also know/learn the material better than most everything else.
  10. Dec 4, 2005 #9

    Dr Transport

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    If you are attracted to pure math and put off by applied math, engineering is not for you. Can't remember the last time an engineer needed to prove the existence and uniqueness of a bridge member or circuit. Have never seen a lemma or theorem in an engineering text.
  11. Dec 4, 2005 #10


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    I work in a lab with probably 75% engineers from the more theoretical parts of the field, and although we've locally (in this very corner of Europe) some very theoretically oriented fields of engineering (compared to what is usually understood with the education I'd say), we also have engineers working in 'pure math' (are they engineers anymore .... not really, but "by definition" they are). So suppose the point am trying to make, is that there are also engineers involved with fundamental math and for example in the computational side of things the math is 'deep' and not applied, BUT if you decide to take up engineering make sure that wherever you're going to study it has 'adequately' theoretically oriented programs.

    Go Flames! :biggrin:
  12. Dec 4, 2005 #11


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    You don't get any pure mathematics in engineering.

    I don't know what you guys think pure mathematics, but it certainly isn't deriving formulas, or applying them.

    My girlfriend is in engineering, and I am in pure mathematics... and there is no ressemblance... NONE.
  13. Dec 5, 2005 #12

    Tom Mattson

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    Can you be more specific about what physics you're doing, and what it is you don't like about it?

    That's kind of like asking, "If I like roast beef, would I like turkey?"

    Pure mathematics is such a far cry from engineering (or anything else, except the upper stratosphere of theoretical physics) that one could never satisfy a love of one by doing the other, IMO.

    Definitely electrical engineering. At my alma mater (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), only 3 engineering majors were required to take Advanced Calculus: EE's, Nuke E's, and E Phys majors. Of those, EE's were the only ones who were strongly encouraged to take Complex Variables and/or a second course Linear Algebra.

    It was worse than that in my experience. I taught physics to engineers for 4 years as a grad student at RPI, and today I teach some engineering courses (IED/Statics/Circuits) at a community college. In my combined 6 years' experience in dealing with engineering students, I found that not only are they for the most part disinterested in mathematics, but also in modern physics! I taught a course in modern physics for engineers about a half dozen times in my 4 years, and every semester I made them do a web search. They had to find 2 applications of modern physics to their major and write a paragraph about each one. I kept copies of all the submissions so that I would have plenty of ammo to use against students who claim that modern physics is useless to them. :devil:
  14. Dec 5, 2005 #13
    Look in a basic circuits textbook. The linearity of a resistive/capacitive/inductive network is extremely important, and is almost always stated as a theorem. In fact, half of my analog signal processing textbook was very much formatted like a math textbook.

    In my earlier post, I forgot to mention that I enjoy applied math and physics so much that I was torn between math, physics, and EE when picking my major. In the end, I picked EE, primarily because of the money factor. However, I am still secretly envious of the mathematicians and physicists (though I will never admit this in person), which is part of the reason that I read here. Fortunately, a year ago, I figured out the perfect subdiscipline for me: physical and quantum electronics. It gives me an excuse to take Quantum Mechanics (which I thoroughly enjoy), and also an excuse to read up on my real and complex analysis (to keep up with the physics majors in QM, of course). Plus, I get to learn EE stuff, which I also enjoy. (Having just filled in the gaps this semester, I now have the satisfaction of knowing how a computer processor works from the ground up: from the quantum level, to the transistor, to the logic gate, to the state machine, to assembly language.)

    Oh yeah, while I'm on the subject of QM, I have one thing that I'd like to brag about. I have the highest grade in a class filled mainly with physics majors who are older than me. :) In fact, I'm the youngest non-physics major there. (There are other sophomores, but physics is what they do.)
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2005
  15. Dec 5, 2005 #14

    Tom Mattson

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    Hmmmm....I have a few circuits textbooks, and there are no proofs of theorems in any of them (it is the proofs that Dr Transport are undoubtedly referring to). Of course, you will find "Thevenin's theorem", but you won't see a proof of it. In fact the last time I taught circuits I prepared special mathematical notes to supplement the text. For instance when we were discussing the fact that capacitor voltages cannot change instantaneously, I wanted to point out how this follows from the element law and the fact that the current always has a value.

    I always make the following simple, but convincing, argument.

    * [itex]i[/itex] is always defined. That is, at no instant does your ammeter which measures the capacitor current ever say "undefined" or "does not compute".

    * Since [itex]i=C\frac{dv}{dt}[/itex] and [itex]i[/itex] is always defined, it follows that [itex]\frac{dv}{dt}[/itex] is always defined for a given [itex]C[/itex]. That is to say, [itex]v[/itex] is everywhere differentiable.

    Now comes the theorem...

    * Since differentiability implies continuity (calculus I), it follows that [itex]v[/itex] must be everywhere continuous.

    It's that last bit that I think the circuits books should mention, but they never do. So I fill it in myself. Of course, I make a similar argument about inductor currents.
  16. Dec 5, 2005 #15
    Really? Ok, I have to admit that I've really only looked at one in depth: my analog signal processing textbook (which was only written for the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, and is not published as far as I'm aware). I just assumed that most were written in the same way. Having said that, many of the theorems in my book aren't proven, either: they're just stated. I would just leave the proof to myself as an exercise for the reader (i.e., me). My point, however, stands: theorems and lemmas can be seen in an engineering textbook.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2005
  17. Aug 22, 2009 #16
    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Computer Engineering or Computer Science... At my university both disciplines are required to take a Discrete Mathematics course which is about as close to modern/pure mathematics you can get. That class was about 95% mathematical proofs such as logic proofs, proof by induction, proving countably infinite sets, etc. and about 5% application, we did one lecture on AND and OR gates and we actually proved there operations as well. Although, that course was extremely difficult for me because I'm not very well adept too it, it is almost the perfect compliment to pure mathematics. It's also what a lot of computational algorithms are based on, such as Dijkstra's Algorithm.

    I'm an engineer and I tend to love mathematics, physics, and engineering. However, I think engineers tending to hate math is more of a cultural thing then anything else. It seems that in today's society that mathematics isn't stressed as really being important and many engineers are often kinesthetic learns, which doesn't tend well to mathematics. So I wouldn't think asking people to look up articles on how physics directly interacts with their discipline isn't the most engaging approach in interesting engineering students.

    Although, I don't understand how anybody who like pure mathematics, can't enjoy any other type of math (i.e. applied math)... because it is all mathematics too me. Oh well, I guess I'm just a person that likes anything and everything to do with math. Maybe because I see the power in it and am willing to take how ever long to master it.
  18. Aug 22, 2009 #17
    People who hate math don't become engineers. They become English majors. I did mechanical engineering and it was also very math intensive. We were required to take calc 1-3 and differential equations. Control systems is all linear algebra. Linear circuit theory was required with all sorts of transforms etc. Thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid flow... My lab partner was a math double major and is in a PhD program for math now and 2 of my roommates were physics doubles. A lot of people took advanced probability, numerical analysis, etc.

    Maybe that was just my school? It seemed to me that engineering was for the mathematicians and physicists who wanted to get jobs at graduation :smile:. I suppose it would be different at an engineering school where English or econ aren't as much of an option.
  19. Aug 23, 2009 #18
    If your teacher is suggesting you can go into pure mathematics why do you doubt him? You don't have to be a genius to do the subject you find most interesting! If you "love pure mathematics" then doing something you dislike ("physics/applied mathematics") will make you sick at heart. You cannot satisfy your love of pure mathematics except by doing pure mathematics! If it turns out that you cannot become a pure mathematics professor, you will always be able to get a job teaching mathematics. Or you could go work in a bank, or train up as a computer programmer. In your few years as a student you get the only chance in your life to spend all your time studying what you really want to study. Take that chance!
  20. Aug 23, 2009 #19
    The prerequisites for engineering is usually something like...

    Calc I (limits & derivatives)
    Calc II (integrals)
    Calc III (multivariable)
    Introductory Differential Equations (ODE mostly)
    Applied Linear Algebra

    usually there is two type of Linear Algebra course. Applied is the one for engineering majors and other one is one for Mathematics major. As you guessed, the applied one is rigorous use of Linear Algebra as a tool but the other one (the one for Maths major) is more inclined to proofs and understanding than application.

    ^ None of those prerequisites course teach you "pure maths" stuff so you can't really expect proofs in engineering.

    imo you should give applied mathematics a shot, see if you like it. Perhaps take some applied mathematics course that will count for your degree, even if you want to pursue pure mathematics.
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