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Smarter Chinese students go into engineering rather than physics/math?

  1. May 15, 2009 #1
    I've heard that Chinese students with high entrance exam scores flock to engineering because of jobs. Those who scored less well often settled for physics or math (each major sets its own score requirement). This seems contrary to the situation here. Math and physics are much more respectable; even in engineering, electrical is slightly more impressive than mechanical or civil. However, in China, because of the building boom, civil engineering and construction management attract some of the smartest students.

    Chinese seem to think much more practically than Americans; they're more concerned about landing a job with good pay rather than enjoying their majors... How true is this (especially for Chinese grad students in this forum)? Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2009 #2


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    There's your answer... You can't believe everything you hear, right?
  4. May 16, 2009 #3
    What makes you think that Americans aren't just as concerned? I know plenty of people who decided not to go into science (and all went to engineering instead) because of the job opportunities and pay.
  5. May 16, 2009 #4
    When you say this seems contrary to the situation here, where exactly are you referring to? North America? If that is the case, you are mistaken. Engineering degrees are likewise more difficult to get into and are in general paid more here. This is because smart people... well actually most people, regardless of ability, are attracted to where the money is. Hence, if you've got more people wanting to be engineers you raise the admission requirements... basic supply and demand.

    I don't know many Chinese, but my guess is Americans are the most practical. We are raised from youth to worry only about material gain and nothing else. How else is math/physics more respected? For its difficulty and potential? Sure, you might get a handshake. But engineering, for its direct and immediate applicability will bring in the dough. People like immediate results.
  6. May 16, 2009 #5
    “…electrical is slightly more impressive than mechanical or civil.” Oh, sharper than a serpent’s tooth! To say a Civil Engineer is less respectable than an EE is to understand nothing about CEs, and that’s not surprising since they are sworn to secrecy as a means of maintaining their control over world governments. However, as a failed CE candidate, I can relate some of their story without fear of any retribution other than perhaps the garrote on a dark street corner.

    Even as a small child, I knew the intellectual and moral superiority of CEs and I set my aim on that lofty pinnacle. Alas, I was not as worthy as I desired and was rejected by my first choice of schools – Perth Amboy A&M – and was glad I had selected as a “safety school” Harvard, the Tulane of the North. I applied myself diligently to the coursework and thought my wondrous future assured until it gave time for the qualifying exam all CEs must pass before entering their junior year. I failed, miserably and dramatically. Fortunately I had acquired great memorization abilities from years of doing “plug and chug” problems and can, to this very day – perhaps 60 years after, still give a verbatim record of that exam, to wit:
    1. Using no more than 3 monosyllabic words, explain the rules of rugby.
    2. Construct a thermodynamic process diagram for an isothermal potato gun.
    3. Construct an 8X5 matrix suitable for transforming a six lane highway into a one lane parking lot (Hint: Consider making one of the diagonal elements an orange barrel).
    4. Discuss 3 significant differences between a gas grill and a D9.
    5. Using classic reduction ad absurdum, explain why pushing a rope reduces to the trivial case.
    6. Using any non-Euclidian geometry, construct a graphic proof that a Dodge truck is superior to a Ford truck for checking out seat covers.
    7. Construct a 5-cycle log-semi log graph showing optimal astrological signs for slump tests.
    8. Disassemble a theodolite and show why it is metaphysically impossible to turn an angle.
    9. Using a topographic map, develop a drainage plan that has a 68% likelihood of involving water.

    Ashamed and beaten, I turned to the balm of mathematics. I began small, doing ODEs before the sun was over the yardarm, but that only led to more and more, until soon I was smuggling Lie Groups across the Nebraska border, secreted in the gas tank of a John Deere H. Only timely intervention by a group of CEs from Drexel who had inadvertently wandered west while closing a plot around Phil’s Cheesesteak stand saved me.

    After years of therapy I was able to accept myself as only a chainman, consigned to wear the denigrating white hardhat rather than the coveted orange, unable to attract a breeding female (who did know the size of a Pickett log-log mattered), scarcely able to kill a six-pack of Corona on the way to work. But, at least I was on the periphery of the noble profession – Civil Engineering – rather than being forced to work with EEs.

    And so, hear my sad tale and learn. Learn not to think of EEs as impressive – think of them as they really are. Think of them wearing white socks that don’t match, think of them driving ’84 Yugos to impress girls, think of them as people who can never remember which plane they left their pole in.
  7. May 16, 2009 #6
  8. May 17, 2009 #7
    You've got to understand something about a lot of Chinese and Indian students. We're raised in a culture of poverty, even if we're not poor. Its ancient wisdom in the homeland that you either have to be a doctor or an engineer, if you're smart. That's where the money is, and you have a much higher chance of starving homeless if you're not one of the two. Its a cultural issue that explains why there are so many Indian pre-med and engineering students (don't know as much about the chinese, assuming its the same way).

    Theoretical and academic jobs don't have the same conventional wisdom behind them!
  9. May 18, 2009 #8
    It's true. For chinese students (not just China), becoming a well-paid professional is something that has been ingrained in our culture. Becoming a doctor is at the very top. Probably to do with some confucian value. Accountants and engineers are also pretty well-respected. Law is also quite attractive a prospect. The common opinion is that studying science is what you do when you can't get into a profession - a view encouraged by lower entry requirements, especially down under. This irritates me somewhat. I had to fight tooth and nail to convince my father to consent to my switching into pure maths. Fortunately, some awe is reserved for mathematicians and physicists based on their "awesome difficulty". Needless to say, asian parents blow fuses if you decide to do humanities.
  10. May 18, 2009 #9
    HAHAHA!! So true, my parents are actually more Americanized than most, but my dad looks down on me even becoming a lawyer (if its not doctor or engineer it better be physics research!)!! Physicist is respectable enough though, for its difficulty and the fact that my parent's generation grew up in Cold War India where Soviet scientists were looked upon as demigods.
  11. May 19, 2009 #10


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    I find it interesting that something like 1/3 or 1/4 of the current members of the Politburo of China have engineering degrees (at least, according to Wikipedia / their official bios). The last two Presidents (head of state) and Premiers (head of government) have also been engineers. Incidentally, this might explain the emphasis placed on (and huge popularity of) massive (size and price-wise) public works projects.

    Perhaps engineering in China is seen as the stepping stone to public service / power? (In Taiwan / the Republic of China, it seems that most recent Presidents have been lawyers)

    EDIT: I had a friend (in Engineering undergrad) who was huge into technocracy, and I mentioned that if he wanted to see technocracy in action, he might want to take a look at 'Communist' China--for good and bad
  12. Apr 23, 2010 #11
    WTF ? Were you being serious. I like the story though. I am studying civil but considering EE.
  13. Apr 23, 2010 #12
    electrical is slightly more impressive than mechanical or civil in North America really ?

    Is not north america sort of in construction boom ?
  14. Apr 23, 2010 #13
    It's most 1st generation/immigrant children. My family's from the former USSR, but humanities wasn't really an option for me either and they're worried about my brother 'cause his degree is in political science.

    I doubt it. It gets slightly more torture points because it sometimes has the heaviest credit requirements out of the three, but that's about it.
  15. Apr 23, 2010 #14


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    a_man you resurrected a year old thread and your first reply is about not getting a joke. Secondly, EE is hard in and of itself, but the hardest of all engineering fields is Chemical Engineering.
  16. Apr 23, 2010 #15
    That's definitely subjective.
  17. Apr 23, 2010 #16
    lool.. chinese people concerned more about money.. it depends really..
  18. Apr 23, 2010 #17


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    I wouldn't be surprised if the OP's assertion was true. It certainly is true in India. The pecking order (average desirability, determined based on the order in which programs were filled by takers of competitive college entrance examinations) in India about a decade ago (probably similar now) was roughly:

    Computer Science/Engineering > Elec Engineering > Mech Eng > Chem Eng > Civil Eng > Physics/Chemistry/Math

    When you're in a third world country employability is a bigger concern than it is in the developed world.
  19. Apr 24, 2010 #18
    but it is true... my dad is chinese and he was really good in math and physics, he helps me a lot in my studies but he choosed to become a lawyer because his dad wanted him to be ..
  20. Apr 24, 2010 #19
    I've heard this before but what makes ChemE so hard?
  21. Apr 24, 2010 #20


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    uhh the first time i took mass/energy balances course i knew i stepped on a landmine of epic brain hurt. There is just so much information, so many theorems that relate to ChemE purely. I switched to MechE and the headache was gone. It was like studying applied physics. If you guys want concrete examples of ChemE topics that will violate you, just let me know i still have the books
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