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What kind of Engineering?

  1. Feb 18, 2009 #1
    I've just been accepted to both my first and second choice universities as an engineering student. One of them requires me to state my preferred engineering specialty. Right now, I'm tossed up between the third biggies: Electrical, Mechanical or Civil.

    Here's the thing. The whole concept of applying physics to real life situations fascinates me. I'm taking an AP physics course(calculus based) right now and it's really interesting and I'm not finding too much trouble. I'd love a challenge. I heard that EE is by far the most mathematically challenging major. But it also involves the most amount of computer-based courses. I'm not very much into computers at all. I'd like to study the most amount of actual science with the least amount of "other" courses like programming and such. Which field do you think best suits me?

    Oh, and I don't like chemistry much either. Am I better off with a pure physics degree? But I fail to see any career prospects with a physics degree.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2009 #2
    I doubt that EE is more mathematically challenging than the other majors, especially at the undergraduate level. Physics majors probably have the most mathematically challenging classes. Another major which involves a ton of math is mechanical engineering. I'm taking graduate courses in mechanical engineering, and they are as mathematically challenging as any physics course I took.

    I would only recommend a physics degree if you intend to get a graduate degree in physics or medical physics. An ABET accredited engineering degree is the only good choice if you want to be an engineer.
  4. Feb 19, 2009 #3
    If you don't really, really want to do EE and you hate programming, I'd say go for ME or CivE. There will always be some small smatterings of programming involved in any engineering discipline you choose, but EE can be pretty heavy with programming. And beyond undergraduate EE, there is A LOT of programming no matter how you specialize.
  5. Feb 19, 2009 #4
    Medical physics is an awesome job prospect. I majored in physics and minored in biology, meanwhile doing medical physics research at my state university medical center. I'm now a Ph.D. student in Biomedical Engineering, which is a really hot field with major practical application to "real life" both through industry careers and/or academic research. My plan after my graduate degree is to pursue a residency and start a career as a medical physicist. It's the only physics career I know of where you can make $125,000 starting and never have to write a grant if you don't want to (it's a clinical profession so research is optional, depending on what type of institution you work in). Check out www.aapm.org if you want more info.
  6. Feb 21, 2009 #5
    Civil Engineering: Are you interested in the construction business? Do you find projecting bridges, roads, buildings interesting?

    Electrical Engineering: Are you interested in electrical circuits, electronics in general? In EE you can even work with renewable sources of energy which I personally find interesting.

    Mechanical Engineering: In my humble opinion, ME gives you the basis to any kind of engineering field.

    That depends on you. If you REALLY love Physics, go for it, work hard on it, earn your PhD and do research, publish a lot (but remenber that what really matters is the quality not the amount), get yourself known, stand out.

    I'm also deciding whether should I go for Mechanical Engineering or Physics. I really like to know how things work and I like theoretical physics.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2009
  7. Feb 22, 2009 #6
    EE does have more math... atleast than civil.

    Im in civil/structural and really mostly everything we do is algebra based, calculus or above is rarely used in the design courses. Thats not to say it isnt challenging just that in most cases the actual math is not that advanced. It also depends on the university and if their graduate courses are more theoretical (such as finite element analysis) or more practical design courses using building codes, mine is all building code stuff and mostly comes down to algebra mathmatics.

    We dont do any computer programing, though you need to be good with MS Excel and it would really help if you could program Excel macros and Excel visual basic though I havent learned those yet.

    I originally thought I wanted to do EE because I always like electronics, but then found I couldnt stand the electrical/magnetics stuff in basic physics but I loved the mechanics portion... thus I switched to structural engineering. So it depends on what areas of physics most appeal to you as well. Mechanicals use the mechanics as well as the thermo stuff that is in the basic physics courses, so if you like that you can look into that as well.

    Even if you have to list your intended major I am sure you could switch after you get there, the first year to year and a half will have a lot of overlap between all 3 majors so if you switch after the first year you wouldnt be behind.
  8. Feb 22, 2009 #7
    So the gist of it is that Mechanical engineering is challenging(perhaps more than EE) but requires less computer-related material? Yay.
  9. Feb 25, 2009 #8
    To the best of my knowledge (at least at my school) mechanical civil and aerospace students use a lot of simulation software in third and fourth year. Also regardless of what specialty you choose you will be using computers a lot. For example in first year you will probably learn to program in C++, Maple, MatLab as well as learning CAD and 3d solid modeling.

    Be prepared for CAD, if you take mech or cive engineering and find that you cant stand CAD you might want to switch to elec.
  10. Mar 13, 2009 #9

    i'm also looking at engineering (civil for me!) i wasn't sure at first which would be best, but it really is down to what you enjoy the most
    i'd say if you think you'd prefer EE, don't let the computer programming side put you off entirely, as its just one part of it, and in all courses, and jobs even, your not going to love everything.
    another point to consider is that most universities that have a joint engineering department will let you switch between courses, or even take a common first year with bits of all 3, and then let you choose.
    Also, everyone has said that civil is about buildings and structures, yes it is, but theres also a lot more to a civil enginnering course than just buildings and structures (thats structural engineering) in civil, you'll learn about geotechnics, fluid flow + hydrolics, sustainable construction, materials, thermodynamics, heat transfer etc...

    i choose by doing a lot of research and going to university talks on the different subjects, also see if you can contact anyone who works in engineering and have a chat about what they do.
  11. Mar 13, 2009 #10


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    Really? It was not like that where I graduated, except for the building codes. I guess you just didn't decide to take the more advanced courses. I took a couple of grad courses which were mathematically intensive like Stochastic Traffic Assignment Modelling.

    Also, programming is a must. At least knowledge of doing VB Macros in Excel as the minimum requirement.

    I know Visual Basic and Object Pascal (Delphi)
  12. Mar 13, 2009 #11
    The most difficult field of engineering is going to be the one you don't enjoy or have an interest in. If you're dreading every lecture and wishing every assignment was finished it's going to be simple hell.

    The difficulty is also going to depend on the required courses at your institution and the electives you choose.

    That said, if one was to just do the absolute basics for obtaining an engineering degree at my school (UMass), most people I know rate the traditional four programs as follows... (from hardest to easiest):

    Chemical Engineering
    Electrical Engineering
    Mechanical Engineering
    Civil Engineering

    Indeed, EE's and ChemE's both require an additional mathematics course to cover the more advanced math applied in courses within their respected curriculums (again, at my school).

    As far as Physics vs Engineering, I have a different opinion. What similar engineering courses lack in depth of study they make up for in breadth. Sophomore ME or ChemE Thermo makes Sophomore Thermo in the Physics department seem like cake. I'm currently an EE student taking MechE Thermo just out of interest, but I've been following what the Physics sophomores are doing in their class as well through their text and syllabus. Physics students get to go at a much more leisurely pace learning about the whys (not to say the math is any easier), whereas the engineering students are essentially left to do this on their own. The whys in MechE Thermo are essentially footnoted as optional reading and labs on CDs that accompany the text - while we are also expected to tear through 50-60 pages of applications a week using the equations and definitions that are plopped in our laps in the first 60-90 seconds of each lecture.

    At my school, Engineers are also required to have more credits to graduate than a physics major, as well as more technical electives. So while a physics student is taking 3-4 difficult courses a semester, the engineering students are taking 4-5.

    That said, I've purchased some of the intermediate level physics texts used at my school (Griffiths) and I'd say that material is no less challenging based on how far I've got. I also picked up a couple used texts on some senior electives in EE at a local shop and it makes me both excited and nervous when I crack them open now and then.

    Anyhoo, pick something you're interested in and it will be much easier than the "easiest" course you dread. I found dragging myself to African History much more difficult than trying to wrap my noggin' around abstract concepts in Linear Algebra last year.
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