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Math Undergrad. Grad Math or Engineering?

  1. Dec 28, 2013 #1
    I'm currently an undergraduate (Junior) math major at NYU. I decided to study math for the challenge, and so far, I have loved it. It's been fascinating and satisfying. Having said that, I'm currently at a crossroads. I have absolutely no idea what to do.

    Let me elaborate; I'm not sure whether I should pursue graduate mathematics, or try to transition into something like engineering. I am interested in both. I am drawn to Astronautical Engineering due to a humongous interest in space/space travel/jets etc. However, I am also drawn to the idea of becoming a professor of mathematics. I foresee one humongous problem: getting a PhD in math. Quite frankly, I don't think I'm capable of it. I've done well enough so far (~3.6 GPA in Math, recently got an A- in my Analysis course), but I'm skeptical towards my ability to pursue graduate Mathematics, much less my ability to actually do research.

    So, I'm here for advice. Without exposure to math research, and without exposure to engineering, how should I go about making a choice? More importantly, is there even a choice to make? Can I transition into a graduate engineering program as a pure math major? I've been looking around at some graduate engineering programs (mostly in Aerospace) and most require some sort of undergraduate engineering degree.

    Also, as far as engineering goes, I would also like to explore different possibilities there. Are there any resources that elaborate on different types of engineering and what jobs in those specialties might actually be like?

    If I sound a bit lost or scatter brained, I am, and I apologize. Any and all help is deeply appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 29, 2013 #2


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    To the OP:

    In your post, you are basically asking two separate questions: (1) whether or not a math major can transition into engineering, and (2) whether to choose graduate studies in math or in engineering. So let me address both your questions.

    The answer to question (1) will depend on what courses you have taken thus far in your math program. You had stated that you are a pure math major, but have you taken any applied math courses? (for example, courses like numerical analysis or differential equations -- you had already indicated that you have taken analysis). Have you taken courses in physics or computer science? Depending on your answer to any of the above questions, then the answer is a qualified yes, depending on the specific program offered -- I have known math majors who have pursued graduate studies in electrical, mechanical and aeronautical engineering. It is likely that you will have to take some remedial engineering courses when accepted into a graduate program so it may take you longer to complete a graduate degree, but it is possible.

    It's also worth noting that many math majors have pursued graduate degrees in industrial engineering/operations research (the simplest explanation of this would involve applying mathematical methods to solve optimization problems in business and industry -- it's more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it).

    As for question (2), it would be a good idea to explore a little bit more about the various different areas of mathematical research. My suggestion would be to speak to some of the faculty members in the math department and ask about their areas of research. See if you can apply for a REU or some other internship program -- in this way, you can be exposed to what mathematical research is all about. Based on your experience, then you will be better able to decide whether graduate studies in math would be worth it for you (not to mention that it's a great experience on your resume).

    As for whether to pursue graduate studies in engineering, again, the best way is to talk to some engineering faculty members or practicing engineers and ask about there research or work. See if you can somehow shadow their work if at all possible, so that you can get an idea of what they are doing. Also ask about specific requirements needed to transition from a math major to graduate studies in engineering.
  4. Dec 29, 2013 #3


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    The bottom line is, if you want to do grad level work in engineering, you will have to learn some engineering. A couple of courses on numerical methods and PDEs doesn't count as that, though of they will be useful. (That's why those topics are optional courses for engineers!)

    If you are focussing on pure math, you are heading in the wrong direction, in the sense that the math you are learning will get less relevant as it gets more advanced.

    If you are serious about wanting to switch, your best option might be to do it as soon as possible, i.e. change to an engineering major as your first degree.
  5. Dec 29, 2013 #4
    Thank you for the responses, I really appreciate the help. Unfortunately, switching to engineering as my first degree is not an option as it would require I transfer colleges within NYU and probably delay graduation by 2 years. I have nothing against graduating late, but I would rather do remedial courses in a grad program than to pay the outrageous cost of NYU tuition. I will try to speak to some faculty members and look for a summer REU/research program. Also, I have taken Intro to Programming, Intro to Comp Sci, and I'll be taking Data Structures and Computer Simulation next semester.

    I have a follow up question though, in regards to graduate engineering programs. I've been looking around and it seems most programs are not willing to accept non-engineering students. The ones I have found that do, make a distinction between students awarding either an M.A.Sc or an M.Eng. What is the functional difference between these two degrees?
  6. Dec 30, 2013 #5


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    As for the difference between a M.A.Sc or an M.Eng, that would depend on the specific school you are referring to. From what I understand in at least one school in Canada with the two separate Masters degrees, one of the degrees is primarily project-based and is intended for those who pursue a terminal Masters degree and then work in industry as engineers, whereas the other degree is intended as an intermediate degree which will then lead to a possible PhD in engineering.
  7. Dec 30, 2013 #6

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    Also, while some places may say they accept math majors, that doesn't mean they are competitive. Let me give you an example: when I was in college, it was possible to take all the classes for a math major and all the classes for a Mech.E. major, but without a senior thesis: in that case, your degree would be in math, because the math degree did not require a thesis but Mech.E. did. (Ironically, in that example, one could do a thesis in math, and then get a Mech.E. degree. But I digress) Such a person might be competitive. Someone who does not have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree in engineering, or at least a substantial fraction of one, will not be. And competitive is important. Not everyone gets to go to grad school.
  8. Dec 30, 2013 #7
    As has already been said, a graduate level engineering degree doesn't always make up for the fact that you do not have a bachelors level degree in the same subject. Universities are often more than happy to let people onto such degrees because they pay $$$, even though such a person would struggle to gain an engineering job in industry due to the lack of more practical engineering knowledge.

    If I'm trying to recruit a few entry level engineers, and I have a dozen CVs on my desk, with 11 of them having a full degree in engineering as well as demonstrating that they have been enthusiastic about engineering since before their teens, and 1 who did a maths degree, it's going to be fairly logical to not even consider them against the strength of the competition.
  9. Dec 30, 2013 #8
    I am a math major who will (hopefully, applying this year) be doing engineering in graduate school. I go to a small liberal arts school, but I did a summer REU in nuclear engineering at a top university. My advice is, since you said it is no longer an option to pursue another degree, to focus on taking courses that are relevant to your future engineering program. Take a thermodynamics course and do well to show them that you can do engineering as well as math. I am in a very similar situation as you, being that my university has a math degree but no physics or engineering diplomas, but it was financially advantageous for me to go here. The way I got around this was by talking to my physics professors and convincing them to teach me as many "directed study" courses as possible so that I could learn the core physics knowledge and at least be able to fend for myself once I get to graduate school in nuclear engineering. However, if you haven't even had introductory calculus based physics then you are in trouble. I also had to go to a larger university and commute 2 hours both ways 2 days a week for a semester to take thermodynamics and another physics class. Anyways, it is definitely possible for math majors to make this transition, but not without a lot of extra hardships in the form of taking a lot of extra courses on top of your base diploma which do nothing for your undergrad degree. However, in extreme cases such as mine when the university has no physics or engineering sometimyou have to do what you have to do. But you go to NYU so course availability shouldnt be a problem?
  10. Dec 30, 2013 #9


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    A quick google search shows that NYU has an engineering school (who knew?) so between your math advisor the resources in the engineering school you should have a lot of options. during your next few semesters you may be able to take a few of the core undergrad courses that you will need in order to start grad work in some engineering field.

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