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Mathematics has no place in Engineering curriculums

  1. Jan 30, 2015 #1
    Why in God's name is there such a pervasive prevalence of mathematics in just about every mechanical engineering curriculum in the world? It strikes me as profoundly useless for 99% of the engineering community in industry today.

    It's easy to teach. Historically it was the only language with which to solve engineering problems. It's an arbitrarily difficult subject to fail and scare students on.

    All of the above reasons are the real reasons, in my eyes. And none of them are particularly good ones!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2015 #2
    Um, because mathematics is ubiquitous in mechanical engineering. Thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, finite element analysis, dynamics and controls are all heavily based on calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra. Not even sure if I'm talking to troll or not because the premise of this thread is absurd.
  4. Jan 30, 2015 #3

    Quantum Defect

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    Mathematics is critically important to doing just about any kind of science.

    With that said, I think that the teaching of mathematics to "scientists-in-training" could use with some tweaking.

    At my university, everyone had to take the same mathematics courses (Calculus, Linear Algebra and Differential Equations). I found the Calculus and Linear Algebra courses to be really useful to me in my later life as a scientist, but the Differential Equations course I took was another story -- very much focused on existence and uniqueness proofs. As a physical scientist, I would have been much more interested in a more applications-oriented course. "I know that the solutions exist, because the equation I have is modeling a physical system that I know has a solution. Rather than proving the obvious, I would really like to know what the solution is, so I can learn something about the world!"
  5. Jan 30, 2015 #4
    Understandable, yet I am dead serious. Somebody needs to understand the calculus and differential equations on that I am in agreement. I on the other hand (and the majority of the engineering community) do not need to understand the calculus or differential equations in order to apply computer-aided engineering software to solve engineering problems. Stop being so elitist and academic in the assumption that everybody in the real world got time for that! They don't. User-friendly tools and a good dose of common sense and teamwork is the goal towards success in engineering.

    Knowing the underlying mathematics adds almost zero value because it is an unnecessary abstraction. Important to all in the past, important to the few in the present.

    What are interesting topics to teach mechanical engineering students? Requirements engineering, Project/Portfolio Management, Risk Management, Systems Engineering, Design for Six Sigma, etc. Those are real topics that have real value and unlike mathematics that benefits only those few software developers. These are the topics that should be taught to every student, not mathematics.
  6. Jan 30, 2015 #5
    Quantum, I think so
  7. Jan 30, 2015 #6
    That's a problem.
  8. Jan 30, 2015 #7

    jim hardy

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    I must've been lucky.
    Where i went to engineering school the math books selected were very practical-focused.
    One chapter would introduce a concept and give the derivations
    the next chapter presented real world problems to be solved using previous chapter's principles.



    Differential equations was particularly enjoyable for its rate and harmonic problems, and its drop-in equivalence for electrical circuit problems( i was EE).

    Math educators in engineering curricula would do a great service to the barely average students like myself by selecting texts that emphasize application of math.
    I went round and round with one professor over his endless "mathematical tap dancing" and dearth of problem solving.

    Now to OP's complaint:
    I always tell my ME friends:
    Man up, You gotta Just Do It.
    Take solace that unlike us poor EE's you can at least see your parts move...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  9. Jan 30, 2015 #8


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    These subjects sound like something you see taught in various professional development seminars. You know, the stuff which is called 'continuing education' for engineers and other professionals.

    You can't teach everything in an undergraduate curriculum. And your education is not expected to cease once you get your diploma. For licensed professional engineers, it's like a requirement or something that each takes a certain amount of continuing education:


    Even if you are not licensed, it's not a good idea to rest on your laurels after getting an engineering degree. There's always something new coming along, and you've got to stay current with your field.
  10. Jan 30, 2015 #9
    < Mentor Note -- Insult deleted from post. Insults are never permitted at the PF. >

    This forum is an eyeopener for me as it gives me a glimpse into why and how the state of education came to be what it is today. Goes without saying my point of view is that one does not need to 'just do it' and it is precisely such thinking that creates mindless robots afraid of looking at things as they really are, instead of as they are purported to be.

    I am a firm believer in the power of intuition. Learning should be easy, things should click quickly. If they do not then there is a chism between the desired end goal and the teaching method and/or teaching curriculum. It being hard and blazing yourway through it with tedious tireless study is not something to be proud about, it's not a badge of honor and it's not a sign of discipline or the 'right learning attitude'.

    It's ignoring what your brain is telling you all along: "Stop learning this stuff. It sucks."
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 30, 2015
  11. Jan 30, 2015 #10

    jim hardy

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    Sounds to me like a recipe for dilettantism.
  12. Jan 30, 2015 #11
    The perfect excuse, dilettantism. For every second you spend figuring out mindless equations you could be optimising your engineering processes. You could be solving problems faster by focusing on value added activities instead of mindlessly beavering away at your equations.

    It is a fallacy to assume total understanding of engineering problems can not be achieved without knowing the math. As engineers we are not physicists and we are not scientists, in those field things might be different. But not in mechanical engineering!

    Do you have any idea at all how many students come out of a mechanical engineering degree, studied it for 3 years or more, and don't have a clue about issues and problems faced in industry? They are not preparing students for real world problems. No mathematics, no bullshit. Just results.
  13. Jan 30, 2015 #12
    Engineers are applied scientists and the language of science is math. This anti-intellectualism needs to leave engineering in a hurry.
  14. Jan 30, 2015 #13
    The language of engineering is computer software.

    In order to engineer and design one needs to visualize spatial environments by means of solid modeling, one needs to be able to look at the entire system performance of the cybermechanical system by using 1D/3D co-simulation tools and all this in an effectively stored, shared and ultimately traceable way. One needs to derive proper requirements, one needs to work together with all relevant other departments like services and manufacturing. It is a very big puzzle and that is precisely what makes it so satisfying.

    Not a single line of code or equation ever needs to be exposed to the practising engineer. That is the language of engineering.
  15. Jan 30, 2015 #14

    jim hardy

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    Having worked forty years in industry i am painfully aware how many glib, incompetent, know-it-all BS artists make it through school..
    They're easy to spot: they treat everyone else as subordinates not peers.
  16. Jan 30, 2015 #15
    But that is not their fault, students are net neutral. Think an empty Word document. They can be taught well or taught poorly and they have little say in the matter. I am 26 myself and dropped out of high school so for what it's worth that is my situation.

    I do not believe subordinates nor peers are good words. How about, equals. Understanding young engineers can yield new fresh takes on things and experienced engineers can impart valuable lessons learned. You are doing them no favour by belitteling them. You need us young guns, and we need you guys too.
  17. Jan 30, 2015 #16

    Stephen Tashi

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    You could say using software is the core of many vocations. Perhaps this is just an issue of terminology. Do we give title A to people who learn software packages and title B to people that can write them?

    The general practice in most subjects is that academic education is more abstract and general that specific work practices because work practices change faster than general knowledge. (e.g. Design for Six Sigma is trendy, but I've seen in come and go in workplaces) The refuge for people who don't want a general education is the path of "certification". People take tests to get certified as Windows Administrators, Cisco technicians, users of particular software etc.

    There is a certain selectivity (call it elitism , if you want) in requiring job applicants to have degrees. It takes certain skills ( intellectual, social and practical) to jump through all the hoops needed to get degrees. If you require a degree, you miss hiring a few good people but you eliminate considering a lot of people who are never going to work out.
  18. Jan 30, 2015 #17
    You're right. And I am not an idiot because don't underestimate that I understand all too well that putting heavy emphasis on using software makes people think of you as a mere 'button pusher' or 'cad monkey' however I consider it the perfect high level conduit through which to understand and apply engineering.

    The reason it is more general is why it fails, one can not be all things to all people. This kind of thinking transforms us all into mindless automatons. The entire foundation of formal schooling is outdated.

    It takes skills to jump through the hoops to get a degree but I assure you--critical thinking is not one of them. Or you'd never have put up with it, in the first place. Not in the year 2015 at least. And I say this as a European where schooling is heavily subsidized. Even when it's offered very cheap I still will not touch it even with a 10 foot pole!
  19. Jan 30, 2015 #18


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    Out of curiosity, do you have any engineering experience at all? Engineers do not simply run software - they have to understand the basis for why the thing they are designing works, and understand the process they are using. This almost invariably involves math, frequently at a fairly high level.
  20. Jan 30, 2015 #19
    < Mentor Note -- profanity edited out of post. Profanity is not allowed at the PF. >

    You're absolutely in your right to ask that question, I've been working at an engineering consultancy office for 6 and a half years and I've seen some things I like and some things I don't. I must add that as a disclaimer, I live in Belgium so every exciting engineering opportunity ain't here, you know? Germany will ensure they get all of that.

    Also let's stop all of the high horse nonsense. Most companies are run by politics and employees that only value job security, I have been at some major OEMs and this is the reality. The engineering departments which--in theory, should be fantastic places to work--in reality just often ain't!

    I think companies need to be proactive in knowledge management. You can't expect every person to join your company to be a superman. You have (as a company) the God given responsibility to make sure your knowledge is documented for new engineers to easily pick up and use. So the 'need to understand the basis' thing is unique for every company and business/industry and can not be relied upon by some school to automagically impart on students through meaningless noise (i.e. mathematics)

    How does it invariably involve math? Give me one reason, just one. I dare you!
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 30, 2015
  21. Jan 30, 2015 #20
    Try to take an upper level engineering course without taking at least Calc 2. Any of them. If you can't succeed without taking the math, isn't that explanation enough already of why the math is necessary?

    Or is your argument that since some software exist to solve some engineering problems, human engineers have no need to be able to solve them. So how can you ever know when you've arived at an incorrect result? Furthermore, this is the same logic as "Why do I need to know how to add things when calculators exist?"

    Engineers without the math training to utilize the established equations would be horrible engineers. If you want to talk about the bottom line and business, let's talk about it. How good is it for business when you get sued for having a faulty, poorly designed product created that not a single human ran a single equation for, and thus they could not have possibly known what was wrong? Think about it: Have you ever used a calculator or program and arrived at an error? What if you can't even possibly know why that error exists or what it means, or even recognize that there is an error? And honestly, if you're a company and you can hire the guy who DOES know the math and has gone through the rigor and understands what the software is doing, or the guy who can just kinda plug and chug but knows more about business, who are you going to hire for your engineering position? It's a no-brainer.

    Finally, I'm terribly confused where you got the idea that engineers aren't scientists. What is engineering if not applied physics?
  22. Jan 30, 2015 #21


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    Thread closed temporarily for Moderation...
  23. Jan 31, 2015 #22


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    After a Mentor discussion, this thread will remain closed. It is based on misinformation, which is not allowed at the PF.
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