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Stuck in limbo

  1. Aug 1, 2010 #1
    I'm in a weird place in life, and I thought I'd throw my dilemma out on the table to see if anyone has any advice.

    I have been considering re-educating myself and getting into some branch of mechanical design, because I have a very high aptitude for and love for all things mechanical. I'm even a descendent of probably the most famous amusement ride designer in the history of the industry. I really believe this stuff is in the blood, because even as a little child I would create amusement rides made out of wood, carboard and popsickle sticks, complete with motors and pulleys. I'm talking 6 years old here.

    But I have a severe problem for pursuing a career in mechanical engineering. The problem is that I've always hated math!

    I know this must sound absolutely ridiculous. I have an absolute love for machines and mechanisms, and yet I know that math is core to getting into most aspects of engineering. Of course, this is self-evident. So apparently I have a love for the practical but a problem with the theoretical.

    Is there any aspect of mechanics that a person in limbo like me can be exposed to working with and even designing mechanical products or mechanisms which might be a little lighter on the math? Of course it goes without saying that some math is unavoidable.

    I realize I may well be asking a very silly question, and maybe my intimidation regarding math simply indicates that I don't have what it takes, but it never hurts to ask (except for the possible flames as I am being corrected in my thinking/perceptions).

    FWIW, I am an amateur inventor and I enjoy creating mechanisms for this invention and that, but the lack of math skills is keeping me from moving further. I honestly don't know if it's a lack of aptitude, a lack of confidence, or simple laziness (afraid to bite the bullet and just bull my way through the math). I am willing to face reality even if it means that I must learn that I am simply being lazy or carrying the wrong attitude.

    Fire away if interested, and thanks, even if I'm in for a scolding.

    Edit: Just to clarify, I think I would have no problem with the math if I saw the practical application. I just fear becoming totally overwhelmed with the theoretical without being able to see the practical application. I do believe this is a character flaw of mine.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 2, 2010 #2
    It sounds to me like you're describing the job of a tech - be it at university or in industry. The tech guys I work with in my department are amazing - my colleagues send them designs, and they have workshops to build whatever is needed, and are always helpful in making suggestions about how it might be changed - knowledge that is gleamed through experience, something that often proves invaluable when dealing with a PhD student design!

    Often these types of techs will be proficient in building mechanical designs and electrical designs, as well as having an innate ability to understand how things work - and thus able to improve or repair them.

    Otherwise, are you looking for suggestions for a course to do at university or what?

    Mechanical engineering courses vary from place to place (as do all courses) - but you will be able to find many that are extremely practically based. The problem you have with maths is a typical one - unfortunately, it is often not until you have learned the mathematics that you can begin to understand why it is practical/important. Engineering courses will teach you maths that has practical applications, and that's that. You wouldn't be studying anything esoteric, whether that's immediately obvious to you or not.

    How comfortable are you with computers? Mechanical engineering also involves quite a bit of finite element analysis, for instance. For example, you can set up a system of equations to model stress/strain loading on a particular design - allowing you to refine your design.
  4. Aug 2, 2010 #3


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    I wouldn't give up quite yet on math. When I was a teen, I was horrible at it, I just didn't get it and had no patience to keep trying to figure it out.

    But once I was past 20, it got easier. A lot easier, and in fact enjoyable. I really think I wasn't ready to learn it as a teen - I didn't have the maturity yet.

    From your post you sound like you're not a young kid (sorry if I'm wrong). Maybe your struggles with math were due to taking it when you were too young. Have you tried taking a math class recently?
  5. Aug 2, 2010 #4
    Thanks for the in-depth reply, fasterthanjoao.

    What does a tech guy do at university? What is the typical education level and process for them? Are they in charge of creating student designs?

    To answer your question, I'm very comfortable with computers as I own a network design/computer repair company. I'm also very familiar with 3D design (I've created videos for a company with full assemblies animating into exploded views), along with childrens' animations involving construction equipment characters with "working" hydraulics and other realistic mechanisms.
  6. Aug 2, 2010 #5
    Hi Lisab,

    Let's put it this way... I'm old enough to get Gout, because I have it now!

    I'm just a kid to most of my elderly customers, but to quanitfy it, I'm 53, although an extremely young 53 (most guess me to be in my 30s).

    I think I'll go to youtube and look at some math tutorials and dip a toe in there, although I'm well aware that the quality will vary widely.
  7. Aug 4, 2010 #6


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    Can you be a little more specific? What particular educational options are you weighing?
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