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What I thought engineering is like and what it actually is like.

  1. Aug 4, 2013 #1
    "What I thought engineering is like and what it actually is like."

    No doubt some of you have seen this image.

    I don't doubt that engineering is not what most people envision it to be which is working with one's hands to build stuff but I do question whether how much of engineering is like the bottom part of the above images. My brother wants to study mechanical engineering thinking he can build stuff with his hands and the like day in and day out. No doubt he, like many other youth, have been given the wrong impression of engineering by attempts of various groups to get kids interested in engineering. It seems almost like a bait and switch when those kids decide to major in engineering then get pounded with math and math and math before getting any interesting hands on projects.

    I plan to study bioengineering so I envision that it wouldn't be so much like the above images as, say, a computer engineer but given the amount of math, calculations and planning involved, I wouldn't be shocked by such a reality of crunching the numbers, reading publications, working with LaTeX, etc.

    Have such realizations of the true nature of engineering put you off it?
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2013 #2
    You're a student, right? What engineering really is, in practice, is sitting in front of a computer 10 hours a day. Sometimes they let you off the chain and you can go into the lab for a few days. Rinse and repeat. :)
  4. Aug 5, 2013 #3
    Yeah, I'm a student and I'm still interested in engineering!

    After all, as a teenager I already am used to sitting in front of a computer for hours on end. When doing homework, it's also on for when I need to do some quick research on a trickier problem or topic.
  5. Aug 5, 2013 #4


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  6. Aug 5, 2013 #5
    It really depends on where you work. For a manufacturing engineer where I work, the expectation is you get off your computer and spend more time actually doing things.
  7. Aug 5, 2013 #6
    I agree it depends on what you're doing, but the vary basis of the designs you build come from those calculations. You don't just go out and build something, so I say the math and complicated equations are a necessary evil.
  8. Aug 6, 2013 #7
    For the record, the math formulas shown in the figure are wa-a-a-a-ay advanced stuff one is unlikely to encounter in an engineering curriculum.

    If your brother wants to go out and use his hands to go out to build something, then he should consider going to trade school and learn carpentry or plumbing or bricklaying. Or go to a Tech College and become a technician / technologist. And also consider the skilled trades such as machinists, millwrights, welders, electricians, etc.

    Engineering is the formal education of applying physical principles to solve problems. To educate folks in some sort of reasonable timeframe (4 years) it is by necessity mathematical. The student is taught how to solve problems through mathematical analysis. Surviving an engineering curriculum will change your brain and turn one into a trained problem solver. Industry has lots of problems to solve, and therefore one may get hired to solve their problems. They are paid well because engineering is darn tough stuff and the survival rate is probably only about 60%. At least it was back in the Stone Age when I suffered through it.

    Real life engineering is in many ways different from educational engineering because of corporate direction, budgets, politics, co-workers, paperwork, and a whole lot of other negatives & positives. It can indeed be a lot of computer time, but also a lot of hands-on work, field work, etc. But the fact of the matter is this: companies pay engineering salaries to trained engineers to do engineering work. The hands-on stuff is done by lower-level trained personnel who are paid lower-level wages.
  9. Aug 6, 2013 #8


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    i wouldn't advise going to skilled trade, im a diesel mechanic. have been for 6 years. and im not going back to school for engineering
  10. Aug 6, 2013 #9

    D H

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    If either one of those was true there would be a whole lot of happy campers in the engineering community.

    The reality is meetings. Lots and lots of meetings, bloody meetings.
  11. Aug 6, 2013 #10
    That'd be engineering Design.
  12. Aug 6, 2013 #11
    I wish engineering will be like that when I'm done, although that seems highly unlikely in most cases. Sitting in front of a computer 10 hours a day sounds really really depressing. Not to mention business meetings or other crap that doesn't interests me at all. The whole thing is just a big contradiction: I study engineering because I love mathematics, but I will not use it often in my (eventual) future job.
  13. Aug 6, 2013 #12
    Don't get me wrong, I wasn't complaining that the job is mostly spent in front of a computer. I love my job. I jump out of bed every morning and I have a real sense of accomplishment and I truly feel I am contributing as best I can to the world. Working in front of a computer can be extremely rewarding.

    It's just that I don't sit at a desk doing a bunch of math or goof around in the lab. Most of my math is done on a computer tool like MATLAB. The stuff I do by hand is limited primarily to simple arithmetic or very light calculus. That said, I have to understand pretty sophisticated math to define requirements and interpret data and stuff like that.

    There are some engineers who work in the field such as applications engineers, manufacturing engineers and the like. But design engineers typically sit in front of a computer. It's not so bad. Most of the hands-on stuff is done by technicians; engineers are too expensive to let them do too much soldering. Really, I am only in the lab to bring up my chips when they come back from the foundry or to help debug a thorny problem. I'm ok with it.
  14. Aug 6, 2013 #13


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    So you could actually solder as well as the technician?
  15. Aug 6, 2013 #14
    Of course not, which is kind of the point. Efficiency demands that design engineers stay in their offices designing while technicians do the soldering and measuring. In the organizations where I've worked, even "test engineers" spend most of their time on the computer designing test cards and test programs, rather than peering into oscilloscopes.

    In my experience, people often think engineers are either solving math problems all the time or hunkered down in the lab surrounded by test equipment. While both are true some fraction of the time, usually an engineer is in a cube or an office sitting in front of a computer. That was my point.
  16. Aug 7, 2013 #15
    That's not a very good reason to study engineering, to be honest.
  17. Aug 7, 2013 #16
    Most is actually school math (assuming most countries' schooling that prepares for university - not sure about US schools): Plugging in an expression for a function P, differentiation of a polynomial (dP/dn), integration of a polynomial (int f(V) dV). The only "math" beyond average school level is the fact that P depends on more than one variable, which is not exactly super-advanced math in this case, either (thermodynamics in general is somewhat advanced, admittedly).
    The calculation looks scary because it includes many letters, super- and subscripts and even a hat-decorator that all do not contribute to the calculation shown. But it actually is quite simple.
    Perhaps it's a good gauge: If you cannot understand the math with a bit of looking at the calculation (of course there is no chance to understand the first and 2nd equation by themselves without having taken a themodynamics course and knowing the context of the question), then perhaps you should not go into engineering. Real-world expressions indeed tend to have this level of complexity. And they are probably not fun if one cannot "see" their relevant structure.

    For the record: I am not an engineer. But I work in a research institute which is heavily (electrical-) engineering-oriented. If I perform calculations on the computer, then the preparational calculations to obtain the equations to put into the computer often are of the shown complexity: relatively many variables but essentially simple calculation steps. It's not what I, or any of us, spends the most time with, though (see others' comments about sitting in front of a computer).
  18. Aug 7, 2013 #17
    You'd likely see this in an upper level thermodynamics (3rd or final year of college) course. I'd be surprised if chemical engineers, bio,maybe mechanical etc wouldn't be required to take some thermo.
  19. Aug 7, 2013 #18


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    awesome video. what are they? a series of real educational videos done by actors for the uk government? pretty funny... and slightly depressing. hehe.
  20. Aug 8, 2013 #19


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    And chances are fairly good you'd see that level of math in some subject or another in most branches of engineering at either an advanced undergraduate (Junior/senior) or beginning graduate (first year of a masters) level.
  21. Aug 8, 2013 #20
    What about Biomedical Engineering? I would imagine the engineers in that field have it a bit more hands on given the nature of their work. Then again, there are different sub fields of Biomedical Engineering.
  22. Aug 9, 2013 #21
    Why not just study mathematics if you love mathematics?
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