Math Which Engineer Actually Uses the Most Math?

  1. Hey all.

    I am really interested in using math/physics/economics (maybe chem/bio too) to solve practical problems. However, I am not sure which engineering field to enter. I find certain specialties in all of the "big four" interesting. I don't care who makes the most (and I am insulted that that, rather than the actual work is so often used as a selling point in forums and by school departments).

    I want to know: who actually uses the most math on the job? I know that elec/software engineers study the most math in classes, but then I also read that software engs don't actually use the math they learn. They use the reasoning skills that all of that math develops. I want to actually use math. And when I say math, I don't mean cost optimizations either. I don't care about managerial positions/supervising others etc (That is why I am kinda shying away from enviro).

    Is it the electrical engineer with his/her imaginary numbers, the mechanical or chemical engineer with thermo, or the structural engineer who actually uses the most math daily?

    Thanks for any input.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Most of the afore mentioned are ill educated at the tasks they have been assigned, their math skills have become nearly nonexistent, they have become experts at pushing papers that have distant relevance to the physical world, and are perplexed or hostile at attempts to discuss the engineering aspects of their titled role or educational diploma, having scant retention of a dimly recalled and irrelevent education.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2009
  4. You have quite a lot of misinformation.
     
  5. Educate me, then. It is from forums like this that I get the info.
     
  6. Please refine your question, as it is very broad and general. You can find very technical jobs in any area of engineering. If you are worried about this - don't.

    This statement:

    I'm not even sure where to begin on how this is wrong.
     
  7. ^
    Coooool.
    I have read of engineers being disillusioned at how little technical work they actually do, however.

    Thanks.

    Oh, and thanks for the tip as well. I will make any future posts more specific.
     
  8. I have no idea where you heard this. Again, it depends on what kind of engineering role they are doing. Where did you read this?
     
  9. I guess these three links would be the most influential.


    http://www.thelavinagency.com/articles_covers/Devlin/devlinarticle1.pdf
    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com...0-what-type-engineer-requires-least-math.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_engineering#Modern_electronic_engineering

    For the electronic eng article in wikipedia (I know, I know, wikipedia is a free-for-all and is generally not "peer-reviewed"), check under the "Project Engineering" subheading.

    Also, I was talking to a mid-40s or so structural engineer who told me that he could not remember the last time he did a differential eqn. He said that the work was all "procedural".

    I know that these are anecdotes, and there have been more (I just can't track down everything I have read over the past several months). Still, they stand out. I remember engineering STUDENTS writing about how tough their math is. I remember ACTUAL PROFESSIONALS saying that they don't really use it.

    To be fair, when tracking down the above links, I did find that others have asked the same question (I will do a "lit review" before I post next time). The basic responses were that:

    1. Those in design and testing WILL use math.
    2. project engineers/managers may not use much if any of the math.
    3. The math learned is internalized, so you understand mathematical relationships. You won't be sitting at a desk like you were in school.
     
  10. Unless you are designing a new untested complicated gizmo or coming up with a new model for predictive purposes (that is, if you are doing research), engineers in general don't use much math. Design of things are generally done through established codes and standards, and putting together well-tested and qualified components. If you are in management, you may be spending your time negotiating for projects and writing proposals.
     
  11. I would agree with comp math and Nspyred. I'm a project engineer and maybe 1% of my job is calculation, 9% is figuring out what to calculate, 70% is communicating with and managing people and 20% is quality assurance and looking for critical errors.

    After a while you can just look at things in your field, make changes without using math and be more accurate than some dude doing a whole day of calculating. For example, I designed a concrete slab for an unusual situation once on a napkin and gave it to the drafter to draw it up. When she asked where the rebar was supposed to go, I just pointed on the screen. The intern freaked out - then I told him to go ahead and calculate all the shear, moments, cross section of steel, etc.

    24 hours later to the interns amazement I was accurate within 4 decimal places. Kinda freaked me out also to be honest.
     
  12. It really depends - I know that is a lame answer. It depends upon where you work, what your role is, and what you consider to be "math". Let me tell you about my workplace. We mainly hire electrical engineers, physicists, and mathematicians, with some computer-science mixed in, plus a few mechanical, materials, etc. We supposedly specialize in research and development. The reality is that 95% of the interesting work goes to folks with PhD's. I am lucky that I have a PhD (electrical)! Even then, most PhDs spend half (or more) of their time doing work that is not so hard-core technical. My current project is 99% drudgery (they would pay me even less if it was all fun!), but most projects allow me to do interesting technical work for about 50% of my time. I use real math (meaning math beyond elementary linear algebra, probability, statistics, or Fourier analysis) for <5% of my work. There are a few "stars" that do a lot more math, but they are definitely smarter then me, and also have a long history of spending their own time (read weekends and nights!) doing interesting, publishable work that is beyond the work required for thier job. By the way, I find a lot of enjoyment in solving problems that don't require a lot of math. It is the act of technical problem solving that is fun for me. Some engineers find that they like management - I have dabbled in it and hate it.

    I my opinion, being happy at work requires: reasonable people to work with, reasonable work environment, reasonable numbers of work hours, and having the attitude that I will find something interesting in whatever I am doing. As long as I am doing technical work for a few hours a day and like my co-workers (and am not working >50 hours a week) I am pretty happy. With my current project, the only way I stay sane is to teach myself math when not at work! Every job has its ups and downs.

    jason
     
  13. So basically , engineers use very little math when working ????
     
  14. Haha, no. You are the victim of a bit of a joke. Engineers and scientists like to complain about how much time they spending doing things that are not actually engineering/math/science. This is just the nature of the work. You need to spend time writing reports, making presentations, putting in face time with your colleagues, procuring equipment, etc, etc.

    If you can't do the math, you can't be an engineer, it is very necessary for the job. But, depending on the specific thing you are doing, the amount of time you spend running the numbers will likely be small. This is normal. I have a test running right now at work that takes a week to get results, and I will only have a handful of data points. I have another test I will run later that takes 6-8 months, and the data analysis will probably take 15 minutes. There are some specialists who spend a greater proportion of their time doing calculations, if you really want to do this you need to specialize appropriately.

    jasonRF is quite right that it depends on what you call real math. I would define real math quite differently, but I'm in a different field doing different things. I cannot remember the last time I used a differential equation for anything. This is because I do not need to. There is no point in using this technique when a simpler one will get the result I need. However, it is important that I understand them, and understanding the concept gives me insight into how things behave. [STRIKE][/STRIKE]
     
  15. I wish I had the slightest idea as to what you are actually saying here. Then I might rebut. Are you implying that an engineer's education is irrelevant? Or that engineers have "become experts at pushing papers that have distant relevance to the physical world" ?

    Please enlighten me.
     
  16. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    Exactly. Some engineers who go into sales or management may use little math. Other engineers who are responsible for product design, manufacturing or performance use a lot of math.

    I do a lot of calculations, most using automated codes. Some programming might be involved if we introduce a new model.

    Model development involves reading journal articles or reports from experiments then building numerical models (of material properties or behavior (e.g., consitutive models)) from equations that describe the physics of whatever phenomenon being tested/observed, then integrating the model into a multiphysics code to simulate a system. Inputs are taken from measurements and best estimates (environmental (boundary) conditions, thermomechanical and thermophysical properties, . . . .). The ouputs are state variables or observables of the system. This approach applies to engineers in EE, Mech E, Aerospace, Civ E, Nuclear E, i.e. just about any engineering discipline.

    Simulations can be done in order to determine stresses/strains, thermal performance (efficiency and/or degradation), mechanical response to fluid-structure interaction.

    Some projects require more calculation than others. Some projects simply involve discussing better approaches to engineering.
     
  17. I think he means that those engineers who end up doing little math are the less talented ones.
     
  18. Thanks for the responses, everyone. I like writing, and preparing presentations. I just don't want to be stuck in a role in which I just stamp papers, attend meetings and manage technicians and scientists who get to do the technical stuff. I sure as heck don't want to be in sales.

    Keep 'em coming!
     
  19. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    I much prefer the technical work, but I also have to write proposals, write technical reports, run training programs, write papers, and do adminstrative work.
     
  20. Of course, that is not necessarily MY opinion (I don't know enough to formulate one yet). I imagine that people move into mgmt and away from technical roles for a variety of reasons: increase in salary, a different challenge, economic restructuring of the firm, etc.
     
  21. Do you have a PhD? I think I read somewhere before, echoed a few posts back, that the PhDs and Master's degree holders get the lion's share of the technical/conceptualization roles.

    Thnx for the input.
     
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