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The dark truth about Physics?

  1. Jul 26, 2011 #1
    Hi PF,

    I've been a reader for a while, but a first time poster now.

    As futile as it may be looking for this information on the internet, every source helps. So here goes...


    I've recently had my Mechanical Engineering studies interrupted for amongst other reasons, complete degradation of the education system where I studied, as well as what after years of research and preparation, what seemed like an instantaneous-overnight change in the direction that the classical sciences were heading.

    As clear as it is, I'm at a loss for words and just can't help but ask - Are the glory days really gone? Is it really all about nano-this and bio-that these days? Are there any programs out there on the planet that allow for 'broad' rather than overly specific studies and that don't have a bunch of useless, unrelated junk courses forced at you? Are these types of courses really filled with those who might not be all that much interested in the field, but just do it cause they can and thus see it as an easy access to a degree, thus lowering both the entry and employment chances, as well as an image of the community, for those truly zealous about it? You get the idea...


    Any info from those in either the fields of, academics or actual work in Physics/Mechanical Engineering/Similar highly technical sciences, would be highly appreciated.

    Thanks

    Alex
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2011 #2

    Pengwuino

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    I don't get the idea. What exactly are you complaining about?
     
  4. Jul 26, 2011 #3

    Evo

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    Alpha, your post is as clear as mud. I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you saying that you flunked out because you were allowed to take courses toward a major that you had no interest in?

    Mechanical Engineering is a great field to enter.

    http://www.wantedanalytics.com/insi...d-for-mechanical-engineers-nears-4-year-high/
     
  5. Jul 26, 2011 #4

    micromass

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    Do you mean that research nowadays focuses on narrow, deep topics; while in the past researchers had a broad knowledge of physics and investigated broad topics?

    If you mean this, then that is certainly true. There is so much information out there that one can never know all known physics. One can never even know all physics from his specialization.

    This does not mean that "the glory days are over". There is so much in physics that we do not know yet. So there's a lot of research that we can still do!
     
  6. Jul 26, 2011 #5
    Not complaining - Trying to seek out information in a civilized manner, hence the conciseness and the title.

    Hi Evo,

    It's not that simple. I didn't exactly 'flunk out', but my (dis)enjoyment did contribute to the decision to allow the studies to be interrupted.

    This isn't in US/Canada btw, hence why I note that the degradation of the education system in place, was the overall factor in the (dis)enjoyment. If I had the luxury of picking courses, it would have been far easier:smile:


    My question is: Based on what I saw/experienced, and what I see when I look at an education systems in place, in the likes of US or Canada, I see what looks like a need to be overly specific at the little 'corner' of the the field that you want to specialize in, rather than study in a broad sense. Also it seems that there are a lot of mandatory 'options', of courses completely unrelated to the program(eg Study Physics, but have to take some biology or some language or whatever course purely for 'credits/points', even if it has nothing to do with the program. Seems a bit distracting, no?).


    I've spent quite a few years preparing for Mechanical Engineering, but once I got in, most of what I heard and saw, was that now days an engineer's job is mostly managerial and all about "making current products more efficient, rather than making something new"(In case this sounds odd, it's not. I'm dead serious, more than once source gave same info), or more often than not, associated with all the new nano or bio technologies, and so forth.

    So I'm wandering, where did all this come from? Has this been a 'norm' in the west, as to me and those in my class, it seemed like it all changed overnight, without a tiny bit of warning. At one point it was nice, broad and classical, like it used to stand for decades, then all of a sudden, it's practically a completely different thing.

    If this is the way things are all around, I'm far from not worried, or impressed.
     
  7. Jul 26, 2011 #6

    Pengwuino

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    None of this happened overnight. I have no idea what you're talking about.

    And as others have stated, you can't be broad and general in your studies. You just don't know enough after only really 2 years of study to actually do anything revolutionary. I mean, come on, some of these fields have been around for centuries, do you really think you should be able to create revolutionary things after just 2 or 3 years of study?
     
  8. Jul 26, 2011 #7

    Evo

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    In the US, you must take quite a few elective courses that have nothing to do with your major. In contrast, countries like the UK allow you to narrowly focus your courses on your major.

    May I ask what country you are in and which courses you were required to take that you deem unfair?
     
  9. Jul 26, 2011 #8

    Drakkith

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    I think part of this is the idea that one should be basically educated in many general areas. Many think of it as a sign of being "Educated" and important to have an understanding and appreciation of things like art, literature, and different sciences. I have only taken a few college courses, but I enjoyed the variety of courses I have been required to take. Learning about the history of music was very interesting.

    This of course is only one view. I personally think one should be able to CHOOSE whether or not to take those other courses instead of being madatory. Things like english and math are almost always going to be necessary, as it is important to be fairly literate and able to do basic math at a minimum, but I think once you get past those first few basic courses you should be able to focus on whatever you want. (Note that I am only a little ways into my college education, so I might be incorrect in how some of this happens)

    However I do have to say that you should be absolutely sure that these courses you complain of are actually unnecessary and not simply that you dislike them. And really, what did you expect you would actually do after becoming a mechanical engineer? Create totally new and exciting things? Most people don't need some brand new way of doing things if there is already a good way of doing it. They need you to figure out what they need and how to do it! (I'm not an engineer so I can only guess this is generally how it goes)
     
  10. Jul 26, 2011 #9

    micromass

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    Let me comment on this. I studied mathematics in Belgium, and if you study that, then you can only take mathematics courses (you can take other courses if you pay extra, though) and classes which belong to your minor. Similarly, physics majors take only physics classes. This is a very good system, because you get to study a lot of material, and you will know fairly much when you completed your BS.
    However, I don't think that this is the perfect system. I personally would have loved to take some options like biology. The thing is that you will once have to apply this knowledge. In my later job, I will perhaps need to apply my math knowledge on biology or economics. So by taking options, one can already get used to other fields.
    Studying a language is also not farfetched. I come across research articles in German and French quite a lot. So knowing these languages would actually be a bonus.

    Of course, I'm totally opposed to having to take too many options. But just a few option classes really can't hurt, you can benifit a lot from it.
     
  11. Jul 26, 2011 #10

    Evo

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    Apparently in the UK, you can get your BS+MS in only 4 years because you do not have to take electives. But you finish with a limited knowledge outside of your major.

    In the US, you would have 4 years for a BS and 2 years for your MS, but you would have a well rounded education.

    My friend in the UK knows one thing and one thing only.

    There are pros and cons for each strategy. But it is never bad to have a well rounded education.

    Of course my daughter taking courses in yoga in order to meet her elective requirement is a waste of time and money, IMO.
     
  12. Jul 26, 2011 #11

    Pengwuino

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    Except most universities don't actually give you a well rounded education. The courses that satisfy GE requirements are typically the classes no one wants to teach and no one wants to take. I think I can count the number of GE courses that actually interested me and gave me any insight into the world on my finger.
     
  13. Jul 26, 2011 #12

    Drakkith

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    Who says GE courses need to give you "insight" or whatever?
     
  14. Jul 26, 2011 #13

    Pengwuino

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    The university.
     
  15. Jul 26, 2011 #14

    Drakkith

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    So what exactly do they mean by "insight"?
     
  16. Jul 26, 2011 #15

    russ_watters

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    Sounds like someone got smacked in the face by real life and didn't like it. Yeah, once you get to it, it isn't always what you expect it to be. As one mechanical engineer to another [aspiring], suck it up and deal with it. Real life is not a movie. Your odds of being an inventor of something that changes the world are pretty slim and while you can always aspire to that, you cannot just quit for lack of becoming that. That's much too high a bar.
     
  17. Jul 26, 2011 #16

    DaveC426913

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    Centuries ago, there was only scientist, or philosopher/scientist, who studied all things scientific.

    I'll bet they rued the day when that started splitting up into chemist, physicist, mathematician, biologist, etc.

    This is an endless process. Your current place is in the context of your times.
     
  18. Jul 26, 2011 #17
    Thanks for the replies everyone...

    I never said that, so please stop making up stuff. I'm not talking about fields which were around for centuries(In fact I signed up for mechanical engineering because it is so ridiculously old and stable...especially in today's world), but the changes that they seem to have experienced in a very short period of time.

    Everyone else is being helpful, you seem to be the only one with an attitude problem.

    Let's just say "South Europe". I don't mean to be unappreciative, but from past experiences politics easily find their way into these discussions when specifics are mentioned. I'm sure you understand:smile:

    As far as the courses being unfair, I'm talking more about the whole "mandatory option" idea. Truth be told it wasn't implemented well where I studied, but even if it was, I just find it beyond odd to have something of the kind. That's why I'm worried of the kinds of impact that it can have on the studies, and am looking for opinions/experiences of those who studied in such a manner and actually actively get to apply such knowledge in real time.

    I actually completely agree with that view. The idea of broad knowledge isn't an issue(I love learning different things), but being told when and where in association with something completely unrelated that *I* picked myself, is what really irks and troubles me.

    As far as being a revolutionary - I'm not trying to say that(A few seem to be getting that impression), but at the same time, I'm the kind of a person who's interested in figuring out new and better ways. So mundanely polishing other things, isn't my cup of tea. I'm not saying I want to invent the hyper drive after the first semester, but at the same time, doing almost nothing but making things currently in existence, better, just doesn't cut it.

    This is pretty much the same way the system was in my place. You study this, you do it.

    Hehe...I get that a lot actually. It couldn't be farther from the truth, though.

    Ever since childhood I've been orienting myself toward pretty much this area. A lot of acquaintances, friends, neighbors, relatives, family members, professors, etc etc, do have some knowledge or experience in the types of work(Not necessarily the mechanical engineering or physics in the literal sense, but they did study it or have otherwise applied it in their other careers[My father included - Not even at a college level, yet his understanding and experiences are far more like those that I expected, compared to what my classmates and I were getting/seeing around us]). Everything that I've heard from them(ie All the good old classical, general, non-too diversified(In terms of those options that is) study, etc.), in conjunction with what I've learned the field to be like, myself, has been pretty consistent. It's only after the whole education change came by, that the nature of these profession/s seemed too. That's why I asked if the way that things seem to be(Overly specific and very diversified in terms of indirect things that you learn), is the norm in the 'west' and how does it impact your application of knowledge when you try to move on/research/create? Is it harder? If everyone is super specific in their field, how easy/hard is it to advance(Again in terms of research, funding, whatever the case may be - Do you really have to depend on what's currently in interest/general support or are there still ways to work on things that you are interested in, without living on bread and water)?

    A lot of the students in my class were in the same boat. Their fathers, brothers, whatever, studied in well established fashion. Then all of a sudden things changed and it's still taking some older folks time to get their heads around it all, and accept that what we younglings describe of current nature of things, is true.



    I realize that some of these questions maybe a bit too vague and that you probably don't come across a discussion such as this all the time, but if I could be more specific, I would(No pun intended:cool:). I'm trying to work some things out, and every source I go to, seems to be different these days.

    Thanks

    Alex
     
  19. Jul 26, 2011 #18

    DaveC426913

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    He does not have an attitude problem. Your questions have been unprocessed, visceral. Which is fine, but can you blame people if they're as confused and frustrated as you? If you want a wholly rational response, you'd have to post a wholly rational discussion. I thought this was a work in progress.
     
  20. Jul 26, 2011 #19
    I'm still not sure what the complaint is. On the one hand I hear that the curriculum is too narrow, and on the other hand, that it is too broad. I suppose it's my fault. On the too broad question, it is a result of trying to get a liberal arts eduation. You might do better at a vocational school. On the too narrow question, there is a tendency to learn more and more about less and less until eventually you will know everything about nothing.
     
  21. Jul 26, 2011 #20

    Pengwuino

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    Let me re-quote you.

    The bottom line is that specialization is how the world works and this has been happening for decades. This is nothing new. You're probably under a false impression of the fields of engineering and science.

    Getting anywhere is going to be tough if you're not specialized. No one does research on vague topics and ideas. Current research is almost always about the very small details in massive research areas. Unfortunately, we don't live in a world where one person's contributions could nearly define entire fields or be spread about multiple distinct fields like back in the day. So many people have made so many contributions that the only things left are extremely complex.
     
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