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Would I like engineering?

  1. Sep 14, 2009 #1
    I'm a high school junior hopelessly confused about the college search process. I definitely want to major in either math/science or engineering, but I'm having trouble deciding which would be a better fit. My favorite subject is by far mathematics - I love both concrete problem solving and proofs. The pure logic of math is just wonderful, and I always feel happy after I do it. However, I've recently discovered a renewed interest in chemistry thanks to a self-study I am doing from Linus Pauling's General Chemistry, which is much more fun than my horribly boring regular chem class.

    The thing is, there really aren't careers where you just solve AMC-type problems all day. I do NOT think I am cut out for academia in math, because while I enjoy proof and theory I am really more of an analyzer. Applied math is a much more tempting option and one I am strongly considering; the operations research angle interests me.

    Engineering is the typical career suggested to those students with talent in math/science. I am definitely interested, but I have a few concerns:

    1) Most of the engineers in my family are mechanical or aeronautical, and I just don't think I have what it takes to do what they do. I know people who just have this visual sense for how mechanical parts fit together; I don't. I'm the kind of person who always pulls on the door that you have to push. And while I enjoy playing with an Erector set, that kind of kinesthetic stuff just doesn't give me the same thrill as solving a difficult math problem.

    2) I've heard that engineers often don't really appreciate proofs. I just love that kind of logic - would this make me a bad fit?

    3) Can engineers go to graduate school and still get a job without being "overqualified"? I really have no idea at this point about whether I want to go beyond a bachelor's, but it would be nice to keep the option open.

    Electrical engineering (systems and power) is the most appealing field because it is very mathematical. My new taste for chemistry makes chemical interesting too.

    One interesting option is a program like Engineering Science at the University of Toronto, which has a more rigorous and theoretical grounding in science as well as engineering. Are there any other, similarly intense programs (besides Caltech's famous core)?

    A double major with * engineering and math is also an interesting option, but I worry that I would lose the opportunity to pursue either subject in depth.

    What are your thoughts?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2009 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    One could major in engineering physics and/or applied mathematics, and one could pursue a career in computational physics. There is very little, if any, use of proofs in engineering, which applications based. There are perhaps proofs in theoretical physics, and maybe some in the theories used in computational physics.

    If one wanted to do proofs, then perhaps a math program would be the best choice.
  4. Sep 15, 2009 #3
    you suggest computational physics. isnt physics in its different forms still pretty rigorous in visualization?
    and to the OP perhaps it will become more clear come senior year. i didnt know until my freshman year in college. your mind will change alot even over the next two years.
  5. Sep 15, 2009 #4
    Thanks for your thoughts. I don't necessarily feel the need to do actual proofs as part of the job, but that kind of pure logic is great and I hope to do something similar.

    Is it easier to start in engineering and change to a science/math major or vice versa?
  6. Sep 22, 2009 #5

    I've thought a little more about this over the past week, and I think I've learned a little more about my way of thinking. Proofs appeal to me because I am a perfectionist. I live life in an orderly fashion and try to keep things clear and simple. A proof is really just a precise, carefully designed logical thought process.

    I don't actually need to do proofs as part of my schooling or work - the goal is just to capitalize on that perfectionist instinct and make it useful. I've heard that nuclear engineering might actually be a good fit for that type of personality, but I'm not unduly worried about specializations right now - there should be plenty of chances to think about that during the first year of college.

    Looking at most first-year engineering programs, I ought to have the chance to study some math that year and not lose too much time (especially since I'll have AP credits coming in). It just seems to make sense for me to start out as an engineering major. If I like that, I can stick with it. If not, I know several people who transferred from engineering to math and graduated successfully.

    Back to the AMC prep :P
  7. Sep 22, 2009 #6
    You will probably hate engineering, and grow to hate life itself as the time passes. But don't fear young one, for we can sit in the rain together.
  8. Sep 23, 2009 #7


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    Science Advisor

    A lot of institutions offer double degrees in engineering and science so there is the option for double majoring in engineering and math namely pure math.

    At the moment i'm studying math and I have to say that if you like proofs you will probably want to take a course in linear algebra and analysis in the pure math minor (or major). The applied math is pretty similar to an engineering course as engineering is basically applied science and physics is essentially applied math.

    I'm doing math currently and I find it somewhat boring. Generally I find is that i'm memorising a lot of useful (but boring) techniques to solve different problems. Theres also the conceptual ideas that form the basis for different areas of maths like set theory in probability and discrete math and the "math methods" used in ODE's and PDE's. The reason I find it boring is because it usually takes a few years before you get to really "branch out independently" in math because for the previous years you are hammered with techniques that you will make use of later when trying to solve a problem.

    If you are a good student though you will just do the work and not complain though ;)
  9. Sep 23, 2009 #8
    Thanks for the opinion.
  10. Sep 23, 2009 #9
    my trig teacher(also the calc teacher) in high school originally went for a degree in civil engineering, 75% of the way through she changed her major to pure math. she was a great teacher and extremely bright. my guess is she was in engineering for the money but my god civil seems so boring to me i dont know how she made it that far. haha. no offense to the civil guys. anyways i dont think you'll be happy with engineering, very likely. its math is no where near as "satisfying" as your theoretical math for lack of a better word. perhaps a college math professor would be more along your liking. either way good luck with which ever path you choose.
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