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Want to be an Engineering Student - a few questions

  1. Apr 14, 2012 #1
    Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    I'm a 21 year old young man who has been dealing with trials and tribulations of life. I've been in college since I graduated high school and I've never had a major or career path and I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life (aside from the fact I wanted something exciting).

    I'm a really strong writer and my reading skills are good. I'm gifted in communications, history, government, etc. I can remember dates, names and people say I'm well spoken for my age. It's been this way since, hell -- probably the 8th grade. I was in AP classes in English, Social Studies (Government and Microeconomics) and I also took duel credit courses for college in Speech and Visual Arts.

    But when it comes to math, I'm ashamed. My ACT scores in the math sections were embarrassing. I feel like I was cheated/cheated myself in high school when it came to anything mathematical. I graduated high school falling Algebra 1 my freshman year and when I was a senior, I graduated out of Geometry. I kept telling myself I'm no good at math and I really haven't even given it a fair shot since high school!

    I'm now at a point in my life, however, that I want to commit myself to something I'll see reward for and I've done things over the past few years that made me realize what I don't want for myself. I've been doing a lot of soul searching, or career searching rather, and engineering is always something that's sparked my interest when I was younger. I love learning how things work and I love the idea of finding ways to make things operate and function more efficiently. I feel like I want to go for it and really apply myself. I want to spend hours learning and teaching myself mathematical equations if it means that I will find happiness in the Engineering field and it's opportunities. I'm just intimidated by the difficulty of these classes for someone who isn't naturally gifted with mathematics. Does anyone share a similar story? Can I basically learn math from Algebra up in college and become just as efficient as any other student?
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  3. Apr 14, 2012 #2


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    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    It sounds like you are no good at maths (sorry to be a bit brutal). And you will need to be if you are to qualify as an engineer.

    You are highly motivated to bridge the gap and look like you are on a path to teach yourself the required skills. I salute your determination for that.

    I would recommend that you consider a private tutor to help you build the foundations that you will need to support the learning that engineering maths requires. You should know how to solve quadratic equations, understand basic calculus (rates of change, simple differentiation and integration) and have a good grasp of logarithms before you start a degree in engineering.

    When you don't know what you need to know you could waste a lot of energy and still not cover the basics. A tutor will at least know what you need to know and be able to provide you with those foundations.

    Sorry that my reply is harsh, but I think it is very important that you know how big (or small) the gap is before you commit to a course. You have the motivation to cross a very big gap - but you will need to "see" it to be able get across.

    Good luck.
  4. Apr 14, 2012 #3
    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    Honestly, it's the honest responses that I need.

    I was going to get a tutor for my semesters. I am going to KU in the fall and planned on locking myself in a dorm or at least somewhere I can have school on my mind at all times.
    Though my question is more of is college to late to really start getting a grasp on math and science? Does one need good math and science skills before they decide a career path? Should I channel my motivation elsewhere?
  5. Apr 14, 2012 #4


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    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    There's a huge difference in between the dreamy idea of figuring out how things work and making them more efficient, and being able to get an engineering degree.

    I can't say that it's impossible for someone who is weak in math to succeed in engineering. Maybe it was your earlier attitude, earlier teachers, or something else. There are certainly late bloomers.

    I can tell you that I've always been extremely strong in math. I was on the math team in jr high. I slept my way through calculus 1 in high school. In college I typically tutored students who were in the same classes as myself (I still do). Right now I'm an A student in all my engineering classes and I work my *** off. The math never goes away, just keeps building, or something long forgotten pops back up.

    Unless you were just totally unmotivated when you couldn't do algebra, you're going to have one serious mountain to climb. And it's a mountain that many gifted people don't make it over. Don't take this as a statement that you can't do it, as I don't know and would never say that. It's just fair warning and a realistic statement that an engineering degree is going to be difficult, so you'd better be ready.

    Edit- There are many technical professions that offer a much lower entry price (both monetary and time wise) that would allow you to find out how things work and improve them. I worked as an operator in a chemical plant for 5 years and my experience was priceless. There are many similar fields to go into.
  6. Apr 14, 2012 #5


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    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    I'm really curious about how much of that "dueling" you actually did. That's dangerous stuff!

    The previous response was very much on the money. You have to be be able to do mathematics without really thinking about it. That has to be a tool this is simply at your service all the time, not something that you have to labor to serve, but something that works for you all of the time. The big question is, How fast can you get up to speed?

    There is really no way to know until you try, but you are putting a lot on the line by just plunging in at this point. It would be a lot more reassuring if you had a history of good math results, but you do not. All you have is your own estimate of your determination. Just how much are you willing to put into this in order to succeed? When you see other folks out having fun, are you willing to stay in your room, hitting the books? Sounds like that is what is going to be required. Are you willing to do that?
  7. Apr 25, 2012 #6
    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    Hi, I agree with other posts on this topic in the sense that an engineering degree - no matter what type of engineering - will require a fair deal of mathematics and you will need to be familiar with high school mathematics. Really, you have to be up to speed with the ordinary high school topics (some calculus, algebra, trigonometry, vectors, ...), although I must say it sounds more than it is. However, having studied for an engineering degree myself and having worked as a engineer for a bit (and knowing many people who work in other fields of engineering), I think there is another important issue you should be aware of. Many engineering graduates tend to be quite surprised at the difference between engineering classes at college and engineering practice. Although it depends on your job to some extent, engineering practice tends to involve relatively little mathematics - you may just do plus, minus, times, and the rest is done by the computer. Also, if you don't particularly like mathematics you're not on your own. There are often a significant number of engineering majors who are not particularly good at mathematics, but still graduate.

    What's important to know is that engineering practice may not be as exciting as you think. Many times all you may do is looking up values in tables or spending hours calculating the size of bolts. It is important to get clarity on why you want to study engineering, what you picture the job to be and then getting some realistic advice from engineers in practice on whether the job lives up to your expectations. It is possible that you may not like the reality of the job, and in that case a different career may be better for you. Unfortunately it is often hard to get realistic advice on a career in engineering because the industry tries to get as many young people to study the subject as possible, so many people will try to tell you it's all exciting, innovative, etc. Often, it isn't. You will rarely develop something really "new," such as an engine. Maybe you will work on calculating the size of a beam within an aeroplane, or the size of a shift within an engine, but you probably won't do the whole engine or the entire plane. But don't get me wrong. Engineering doesn't have to be boring or dull, as it may seem from what I've just said. Some jobs can be good, some bad, but it is important to realize that in many ways it is just a job, like any other job, too, with good and bad sides. It rarely lives up to the expectations many young people have when they enter university. To cut a long story short, my advice is to not only focus on getting your math right, but also question whether engineering is really the job you want to do.

    I don't know whether that was of any help, but I wish someone had said this to me when I chose my major - it would have given me to make a much more informed choice.
  8. Apr 26, 2012 #7


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    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    I don't disagree with your post. Maybe I should have elaborated more in my edit along with answering the direct question, although my first sentence mentioned it as well.

    There is certainly a need for many technical positions, and they offer a better opportunity to really work on/with things, to get the feeling that you're fixing/improving something. I certainly got more hands on, practical experience than any engineers I worked with (although I did that as soon as I turned 16 and started working on cars as well). It was typically only the senior engineers that brought us issues to work on, or that we went to with our problems.

    I will second the fact that the vast majority of engineering positions aren't interesting, but that's a reality of almost job. Luckily, I know exactly what I'm going into.

    For me, the degree is the price of admission into the arena I want to work in as well as a little bit personal. I previously started a career to find out what I really wanted. I now have the connections and motivation to make it worth it to spend the time and money to go back to school.
  9. Apr 28, 2012 #8
    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    Agree. I just wanted to make sure to give a more realistic view of the job, in case people, as often happens, expect too much.
  10. May 3, 2012 #9
    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    you don't need to already be really good in math to be an engineer, it's just going to be alot harder. you can learn anything if you put enough time and effort into it.

    but as for being an engineering major, any type of engineering is going to be the hardest of majors compared to any other college major. if you want to do reasonably well as an engineer, your college years are going to be pretty intense, as an engineering student you don't really have any time for anything but school for the duration of your degree. and then if you want an interesting job, most employers only want people with masters degrees, although that may depend on what type of engineering you get into.
  11. May 3, 2012 #10
    Re: Want to be an Engineering Student -- a few questions

    Don't lead some of the responses in this thread crush your grapes too much. If you want to be an engineer (and a good one) bad enough you will get good at math. I utterly failed my ACT's and math classes in high school and I'm now getting a PhD in engineering while 4.0'ing advanced math courses. Hell, most of my colleagues even say I'm great at math.

    Bottom line, realize that mathematics is a tool thats at you're disposal. The more tools you have in your toolbox the more you can accomplish.
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