Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What's harder? Math, Physics or Engineering?

  1. Jul 22, 2004 #1
    A friend of mine got into a heated debate on which one of these disciplines is harder. What do you guys think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2004 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Perhaps you should ask Math is Hard ! :wink:
  4. Jul 22, 2004 #3
    Ha! I actually think math is the easiest out of the three. What makes math easy is that it's very well-defined. Yes, the ideas are deep and complicated but you call always fall back on the clean definitions to work your way through. But again, this is based only on my experience.

    In physics, it seems like people make up stuff as they go along. For example, the whole concept of a quantum tunnel seems bogus to me. The whole wave-duality nature of light is also a bit discerning. They don't seem very "well-defined" to me.

    As for engineering, I can't really comment but I would imagine it requires a lot of creativity.
  5. Jul 22, 2004 #4

    Math Is Hard

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    ha ha ha!! It's funny because I used to be frightened of math and science courses because I was so worried my calculations would be off the mark. Now what scares me more are the humanities classes because the grading can be very subjective, and sometimes it all boils down to how much your conclusions agree with the teacher's opinions. With math and science, you either get the right answer or you don't. With humanities and social science, it's more of a gray area.
  6. Jul 22, 2004 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Perhaps it seems bogus to you because you have not learnt all the math bahind it, nor understood the relevance of the experimental evidence for this phenomenon.

    I got my Undergrad Degree in Engineering. I'm doing my PhD. in Physics. And I spend my spare time learning Math.

    LOSER ?
  7. Jul 22, 2004 #6

    Math Is Hard

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Au contraire! A renaissance man!
    What are you going to do with all that knowledge, Gokul? Teach? Research?
  8. Jul 22, 2004 #7
    Gokul, that seems like a smart thing to do since it seems that an engineering degree is overlooked ... when it is compared to a physics degree even in the engineering world =-/
  9. Jul 22, 2004 #8
    What? Humanities are insanely easy.

    You're right. Your grade is dependant on how much you agree with the professor's opinion (being the egotistical jerks they are). My advice is to just go to class and listen to what the professors say (you don't even have to read the selected material). Then when papers are due, just regurgitate what the professors said in class, sprinkled with a few of your own ideas and analysis. The secret here is to disguise their ideas as your own. Then, as the professors are reading your paper, they'll love it because it's their own ideas. They'll eat it up and ask for seconds.
  10. Jul 22, 2004 #9
    Wouldn't math be the hardest since physics and engineering both depend on it?
  11. Jul 22, 2004 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Interesting. I was thinking of it the other way around. Math would be the easiest, because it's just math. Physics and engineering require knowing how to actually use that math for something else. Engineering requires using physics and math, and people's lives hang in the balance, sometimes literally, if the engineers make a calculation mistake.

    I used to make a similar argument about physics, chemistry and biology. I always said biology is the hardest. See, the physics majors just had to learn physics. The chemistry majors had to learn physics and chemistry. The biology majors were required to learn physics, chemistry and biology. So, by that reasoning, I thought biology must be the hardest :biggrin:
  12. Jul 22, 2004 #11
    Good point, you're probably right.
  13. Jul 22, 2004 #12

    Ivan Seeking

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It all depends on the person. I knew people who did well in math but who struggled more with physics or engineering classes. The opposite was true as well. It also depends on what fires a peson's interests. What I love in physics some might call too abstract, or even useless. What interests most engineers I find boring. As for mathematicians, they need to love the math for maths sake. Not everyone does. Note my quote by Feynman below. Though in the end I learned to love it also, for a long time for me, math was a means to an end - a necessary evil.
  14. Jul 23, 2004 #13
    My personal experience is that it depends on one's personal abilities (Aside from departments, schools, universities).

    In Engineering they give you more [home]work, so you're stuck doing lots of stuff, some boring, some fun. The material ain't hard to understand. It's also important to be very methodic and neat about your calculations. To carry through with the calculations with great care.

    You also have to make projects, that quite often take a lot of time.

    In engineering you get prepared for real life work, so you have to do what people in real jobs do: make presentations, show before someone that your project will work and will adjust to the budget... etc.

    In Maths you have more "free" time, but the material is harder to grasp, so might wind up studying one single theorem for hours and perhaps days to correctly understand it. In my faculty, mathematicians have 5-6 hours tests and sometimes they have to take them home. If you ain't inspired, you ain't gonna find the solution.

    In Physics they give you a lot of homeworks to do AND the material is hard to grasp. :-D
  15. Jul 23, 2004 #14
    I find maths the hardest. I'm fine with pretty much everything else, but have lots of trouble with maths. I put this down to leaving school early, never studying it at all really, then heading back to education after the navy with no background in maths at all.
  16. Jul 23, 2004 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    I think one thing you are overlooking here is that mathematicians learn a lot more math, and more advanced and complicated math, than do the physicists and engineers. By the same token, physicists learn more physics than chemists, and chemists learn more chemistry than biologists. I still agree that biology is the hardest, though. There's just so much frickin' fact memorization. Don't get me wrong. I think it's terribly interesting, but I'm just not good at learning that way. All you need is a pen and paper and you can practice math and physics, even chemistry. You can't do that with much biology outside of bioinformatics. Probably why I loved studying genetics, and especially population genetics, so much.
  17. Jul 23, 2004 #16
    You're correct, furthermore, we Engineers and Mathematicians are focused on different things, even when studying the same topic. Generally speaking, the engineer ain't that interested in the theory, he just wants to know how to solve something, with the mathematicians is the other way around.

    Evidently, if you want to study something more deeply, you're going to end up studying the theory as well
  18. Jul 23, 2004 #17
    your definition of engineers seems to be greately different from what it is in my country...
    here, it is a phd. + basically... except for civil engineers in the soft branches like architechture and design...
    other than that, engineers get a phd. degree (and can advance), plus they get practical skills and field work, where the regular phys and chem phd's are almost strictly theoretical educations...
    thus, engineers are considered to have more allround skills that regular phd's and are more abt to getting a job, even in research... so slowly almost every regular science phd. is slowly being transformed into an engineering education...

    anyway... i definitely don't consider biology to be the hardest... what's most hard about it is, that they have to learn an incredible amount of names for all sorts of things... but in reality they don't get much physics nor chemistry... it's mostly about function and how to manipulate... some of our 9-10 semester guidance councellors are from biotech and they really don't know **** about any quantum physical concept, and they're terrible at math... they do know quite alot of chemistry though, allthough it's very specific subjects...

    i'm studying to be an engineer in nanotech myself (which would give me a phd in that major) and i can easily compare my study with the other ones and say that nanotech people got probably the hardest education, maybe save for nuclear physicists...
    we have to learn classical physics of course, but we get more nuclear and quantum physics than the physics phd's, plus we have to learn biotechnology, medico and chemistry so that we can work in more than one field simultaneously... this is simply because it is neccessary. when you work like we do in nanotechnology, it's about creating and changing molecules and switching out atoms in same, which is more deep down than regular biotech and chemistry... we have to know how to insert mutations in dna chains using pcr just like biotech students, but we also have to learn how to calculate energy states of electrons in tiny molecules and structures, and the list goes on...
    we have ridiculously more classes than any other existing education, but that doesn't mean the requirements for our projects are any smaller... we have had a 15% drop out percentage each semester due to the high demands... people flee to biotech where they won't have to learn deeply involved quantum mechanics or to physics where they don't have to learn deeply involved biotech...
    it's pretty freaky...
    but on the other hand, we get alot of funding and alot of benefits that other educations don't have...
  19. Jul 23, 2004 #18
    They are all just has easy and as hard as each other. I find physics and maths hard but have never done engineering. It also depensd on the person. This thread is completely option-based so is going to go in circles a lot.

    The Bob (2004 ©)
  20. Jul 23, 2004 #19
    yeah, but if you consider the requirements of the education, it's a different situation... what an individual considers to be hard is one thing, but then there are requirements, amount of work and the number of different fields...
    btw, math is mostly a tool imo... and physicists have often been the inventors of new mathemathical ideas...
    of course deep math is insanely hard, but the people doing it are 1) crazy about math 2) very good at it... and the same can be said about other fields...
    so i think it's about the amount of work, the number of different fields and the degree of deepness into these fields...
  21. Jul 23, 2004 #20
    Engineering is easy due to its practical nature. Physics is a little bit difficult as there are less "chances" to apply it. Math is difficult as it can't be applied at lower levels. It depends much on the nature of your job in practical life. U r fortunate if your work involves all of these areas.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook