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Whom are applied mathematics for?

  1. Nov 22, 2006 #1
    Hi all!
    I am a mechanical engineering student, in the final year, and am planning to go for graduate study.
    I am a bit confused about what to do for graduate study.
    Indeed, I was attracted to mechanical engineering because of the theoretical stuff it contains like heat transfer, fluid mechanics, solid mechanics etc.
    I am comfortable with the differential equations in these subjects, but I am a bit scared towards the mechanical design projcets and manufacturing etc. I am crappy in doing experiements though I could sometimes made good lab reports.

    So, I am considering whether I should do a mechanical engineering PhD or switch to another program. Currently, applied mathematics seems to be a good choice to me. No experiments (I mean those tangible machineries), theoretical, and versatile in virtually all disciplines.

    But I still hold doubts. I am NO mathematics genuis nor can I say I am good at mathematics. I dislike math when I was a child, but gradually find it "not so bad". I was not doing good in math when I was in primary schools or in junior years of high school. But I seem to be very comfortable with those calculas and algebra in senior level, and I got top scores in most mathematics courses by then.

    But it seems to be a really a challenge (or a joke) to me to do a applied math degree? One who are not really excel at it when child.

    Do you think only smart people can do applied mathematics? I am scared towards pure math....Are the skills required for pure math same as applied math?

    In short, whom are applied mathematics for?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 22, 2006 #2


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    You don't have to be a mathematics genius. If you're interested in it, you'll succeed in applied math.
  4. Feb 27, 2009 #3
    you sound like me. i cant decide between applied math and mech engineering. classes like fluid mech and heat transfer are much more fun than hands on work

    but are there as many job opportunites for one with an MS in applied math as opposed to mech eng?
  5. Feb 27, 2009 #4


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    My humble opinion or guess is it is better to go with your temperament. There may be all these mathematicians with brilliant solutions but it will need people like you to know what problem they are solutions of.
  6. Mar 3, 2009 #5
    It seems to me that either way you will have to combine theory and experiment at some point in time.

    You can create all the models you want but at sometime you're going to have to create an experimental procedure to compare the phenomena to your model. This occurs whether you're doing applied math or mechanical engineering.
  7. Dec 28, 2009 #6
    some professors have told me that for the research areas that are interdisciplinary in applied math and mechanical engineering, like CFD, the difference between the two departments are that the applied math people work on numerical analysis while the mechanical engineering people work more on the actual engineering and physics. But in an area of engineering that uses alot of computations, like CFD, you can do alot of theory and not experiments in a ME department
  8. Dec 30, 2009 #7
    If you don't like to do experiment, that might be a very big sign that you might not like what you are doing. I was a chemistry major before. I was good at the lecture part and got straight A's in the chem lecture for 4 years. But I never like the lab and not getting good grades. I don't know what I want to do at the time and graduated with the degree. I felt so strong that I never even try to apply any jobs. I rather did pizza delivery than to apply for a chemistry job. Took me two years to find my calling...Electronics. I just cannot imagin myself mixing test tube and smell all the chemicals.

    After I graduate, I start looking at my childhood what I like, I like taking toys apart. I was a musician at the time, I like to modify my amplifier to get the "natural distortion" that was before Mesa Boogie and the rest. I like to do expirement on my own and that was how I found my calling.

    My point is in engineering, you have to be hands on all the time, if that's not what you want, you better stop and think. It is never too late to change direction. In real life, there are so many people in a successful career not in the major they study. I make a very good career out of electronics and is still my passion even I retired now.

    Math is the language of science and engineering, you never have too much. I am studying PDE and asking question here right now!!! I am planning to study real analysis and complex analysis after this. With strong applied math background, you open yourself to different field like electronics, scientific programming and others.

    Study applied math for now and take the time to do some soul search on what you want to do.
  9. Dec 30, 2009 #8
    I heard that with an advanced degree, there exist jobs in engineering where you dont have to do hands-on work, but can rather work on computations and modeling, such as in CFD
  10. Dec 30, 2009 #9
    Those are for more senior level. YOu need years of experience to get to that level. There is a biggggggg disconnect between school and the real world, student have no idea what the real world are.

    I spent the first 10 years on the bench instead in my office designing, building circuits and testing. You need the actual result to get the feel of how things work. When you get good at designing, it is like an art. Knowledge from school is like the language and tools. You need alot of the feeling and inspiration to design, come up with new ideas and so on. THis you will never get from the books.

    I was a manager and had interview many engineers, you'd be surprised most of them have no idea even when I asked them really simple question.

    I can give you my example: When in school studying RF and microwave, you learn all the math, circuit, smith chart, network parameters......In real world, the circuit board layout is at least 60% of the design that school never even touch. You have to be able to "see" how the signal flow, where is the image current return........ You never know all these unless you been on the bench for many years, trial and error to get the "feel" of it. Then after that, you can sit in the room and design and have the junior engineer do the building and testing!!!

    The real world design is so different from the theoretical design in the books. If those professors that have PHD and never work in the real world, I doubted they can do a working design on the first pass.

    If you insist on working infront of the computer only, You might find a job in your area I am not familiar with, but I am sure is going to be far and few in between. My experience of working with all the PHDs and mechenical engineers, they spent 80% of their time infront of the instrument, sniffing the dust, building prototypes!!!! Yes, even the director of instrumentation in the company!!!! Where I work, over 50% are PHDs!!!!
  11. Dec 30, 2009 #10
    you're saying even those who get phD's in less experimental areas of engineering, such as CFD, structural or thermal analysis have to spend lots of times doing hands-on work?
  12. Dec 30, 2009 #11
    I don't know your particular area of interest. I am just talking about in general about being an engineer. I don't know what is CFD, but for thermal analysis, I think you do have to have some hands on experience to be able to design a workable and producable design that fit the budge and what is available technologies that you can use.

    As I said, I am an electrical guy, but I have been around enough engineer and scientist to said all these. I could be wrong. It is just my opinion and experience. You be limiting yourself into a very small corner. And if I were to hire someone to do simulation, I would never get a PHD from school with no experience. Rather I'll get an experience guy in the field but no advance degree. But that's just me.

    I can't get into the specific jobs, the question to you: is there a lot of these jobs around? If that does not work out, what is you plan B. Talk to companies that have opening, ask them directly whether they would hire someone just graduate from college with no experience and see what they say.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2009
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