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Will my math major keep me out of engineering REU's?

  1. Oct 22, 2012 #1
    Hey I'm a mathematics major and I am going to be applying to nuclear and aerospace engineering, astronomy, and physics REU's this summer. Most of the programs ask specifically for physics, chemistry, engineering, and computer science majors but make no mention of math majors. One of the main reasons I decided to do math was because math shows up in every science field, so I thought, "why choose a specific science when I could become a master at the tool which all of them use?" (that and my school does not offer physics or engineering).

    So will my math major keep me from being accepted into REU's in other fields this summer? I'm honestly not very interested in going and busting my *** at a Math REU in combinatorics or something like that which is pretty much inapplicable to the real world.

    I got an email from a lady at Penn State and she said they do not "typically" admit math majors, but they will take my application into consideration. She said math majors generally do very well in their N.E. Ph.d program, though.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 22, 2012 #2
    I never quite understand posts like this.

    Why didn't you become an English major? After all, most scientific papers these days are written in English!

    Yes, being a math major will be a major drawback trying to get an engineering or physics REU. It would be a major advantage in getting a math REU though. None of this should be surprising.

    As for math majors doing well in the nuclear engineering Ph.D. program at Penn State, you should take a quick look at their FAQ. One of the questions says that they *do* accept physics majors, but they expect them to take half a dozen or so undergraduate engineering courses as prerequisites before starting the regular graduate load. I assume a math major would be in the same boat.

    If your goal is to be in the sciences or engineering, you are in the WRONG MAJOR. If your school does not have a physics or engineering major, you are in the WRONG SCHOOL. Transfer while you can!

    There is nothing wrong with being a math major, of course. That is, if your goal is to be a mathematician.
  4. Oct 22, 2012 #3
    I take a somewhat different view. Yes, it's going to be very hard to do anything in a scientific field with just a mathematics degree, but having a mathematics degree is a fine jumping off point for a masters in the field you really want to go into. It's not traditional to do so, and you'd have a lot of catching up to do, but it's your best path into engineering at this point.

    The reason for this, of course, is simple. If I showed you the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid flow, you'd probably have a decent idea what they were after a short period of time familiarizing yourself with what each term meant and how it was derived. But would you have a clue what a boundary layer was? What a Reynolds number is? What wake turbulence is? How to model any of these? What the difference is between compressible flow and incompressible flow, and when you can assume flow is in one category or the other?

    No, not really. And those are just a few very basic examples from one small subset of aerospace engineering, let alone something perhaps even more physics-intensive like nuclear engineering. The fact is you wouldn't have built up an engineering intuition, and that's why they don't typically take math majors.
  5. Oct 22, 2012 #4
    Unfortunately I dont recognize any of those equations...

    But I'm sure I could learn them rather easily. Would it be enough to just take my winter break and work through the problems in a good intro to nuclear engineering, fluid mechanics, or thermodynamics book?

    Or do I need the formal coursework? Sometimes it feels like I have screwed myself by going to a college that doesn't offer the field that I dream to work in some day. It's really too late to transfer at this point.
  6. Oct 23, 2012 #5
    No, it isn't. If you end up with the wrong degree and are unable to do what you want, it doesn't matter how quickly you graduated... you'll be unhappy for a long time.

    If your goal is engineering or science, you need to move quickly *now*.
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