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Underemployed Liberal Arts Grad Thinking About Going Back for Engineering/Math.

  1. Oct 24, 2012 #1
    A little about me:

    I graduated with dual degrees in Psychology and English about two years ago. Since then, I haven't had a professional job which pays a good wage and have even had employers tell me that I need a stronger math proficiency. I heard that engineering and math/based fields are in hot demand, so since these degrees haven't given me anything I was thinking about going back.

    Here's the problem: I don't really have a good aptitude with math. I have always struggled with it for as long as I could remember, even when I got private tutoring from one of my high school teachers. I had a stint in a pre-med program at my university to become a psychiatrist, and while I did ok in the biology courses, the physics and chemistry courses absolutely destroyed me and ruined my GPA. I was pretty much forced out of it but managed to get some of my lost GPA back when I got back to my English program.

    I am tired of being underemployed. There has to be some way that I can have a better aptitude with math. I have gotten a practice book from the library but I still find grasping the concepts a bit difficult. My strongest traits have always been centered on my writing and reading comprehension, but based on what I have read in many forums (i.e. Liberal Arts grads spend four years partying,) I feel like that is nothing. I didn't go to parties, and I worked my butt off to get those degrees (I struggle with learning and test taking.) Is there any way that I can get better and grasp this stuff better than in the past? Maybe if I force myself to like this I can get a better degree and better job prospects. I don't want to be stuck in retail and in my parents' house my whole life.

    Thank you for any advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2012 #2
    I've always been strong in history and English. Additionally, I've continually struggled with mathematics since childhood.

    When I was 16, however, I decided to dedicate the rest of my high school career to math and science. I graduated with good marks in math. Although I do not feel satisfied with my knowledge of physics and chemistry, I also got decent marks in these subjects.

    The difference between us is that you are already finished university and I am not yet in university. (I've taken a year off from the educational system to work and also study on my own.) My goal is to become an engineer also.

    I'm not sure if your situation gives you an advantage or disadvantage with respect to me or not. Either way I am also someone who was not born into mathematical prowess and I like to think that I'll someday be at the same level as many of the people who are considered 'math people.'
  4. Oct 25, 2012 #3


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    The thing about engineers is that they have a tendency to enjoy math, science, and or solving difficult problems. If these things don't interest you, then you'll find a very hard time to stay motivated and focus through a whole engineering program. It's intense, even for people who do enjoy all the things above. With that said, if you still want to pursue an engineering degree, you can overcome your math difficulty.

    Studying science and math require a different way of studying than perhaps other fields. Think of it as writing a paper. You can read about the proper ways to write a paper, good techniques, better ways to phrase things, rules of grammar, etc. However, it's one thing to read it and another thing entirely to sit down and write a paper. Sure you can just write it once and call it good, but I suspect if you want to write a good paper you need to spend time to write revision, ask people if ideas were presently clearly, and write and rewrite it until it's up to a reasonable standard.

    It's the same way in mathematics. You can read about how to solve problems, why things are true etc and you can understand all these concepts, but the true test of understanding is solving a problem on your own. It takes many hours of working through examples, understanding each step, following along with the author and justifying each step to yourself. Then you have to find problems, solve them and justify each step. It's tedious, but in my opinion, that's how someone learns math. Of course, sometimes you get stuck and you can't reason through the author's logic or problem, so it's ok to ask for help, and we're here to help if you need it.
  5. Oct 25, 2012 #4
    From my experience this is not that accurate, for math at least. Of course some engineering students enjoy math but a good majority don't. They just like the applications that math gives us. As an engineering undergrad non of your math classes will require you to be creative in your solutions, unlike undergrad math courses for math majors (so what I've heard). All you'll need to do is memorize procedure to solve a question if the form of the equation given is x or y, for example. If you can graduate from university you can easily do undergrad engineering math, if you give a decent effort.

    As for math vs engineering degree, IMO an engineering undergraduate degree is more easily marketable and you won't need to get a masters if you want a decent job. Just my opinion.
  6. Oct 25, 2012 #5


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    I didn't mean to imply that they enjoy all of the above, but interest in at least one of these seem like something that a prospective engineer would have.
  7. Oct 25, 2012 #6
    One great resource for improving your math skills is Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org). It has tons of videos and practice problems for arithmetic through calculus, all free.

    Learning math is all about practice. The best way to get better is to figure out the specific things you struggle with, then practice those things until it clicks (sometimes easier said than done...).
  8. Oct 25, 2012 #7
    I can empathize. Let me ask you, as you are apparently more verbal/communicative: have you tried to go through all the various math texts available at your level to see if there is one written in a style that is easier for you to understand? Often it is important for someone who lives on the page to have a written source for learning, and some of these books seem designed to communicate in spite of rather than via human language. This comes up often for me, as I am a visual learner- I am lost if I have to depend completely on a lecture to explain the material. Than if the text also sucks, you are out of luck both ways. So I would advise that first you know exactly what your understanding of math is (be clear on this:a lot of trouble people have with higher-level math comes from algebra mistakes, just go back to the point you can grasp with ease and start there- no shame in success, right?)and then find an appropriate text that you feel comfortable with. Sometimes you can understand an idea best after seeing the way it is displayed differently in two different texts, so even try to have a couple on hand.
  9. Oct 25, 2012 #8
    This idea that some people are good at math and some people aren't I think is bull. I used to think I was bad at math in high school (never made better than a D), but once I got into lots of math/physics and it was all I was doing, I got good at it. It's a skill that you develop, like playing an instrument. Just jump into a STEM program, it's like boot camp, you will come out of it with math skills you never knew you had.
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