Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

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whereswalden90
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Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby whereswalden90 » Tue Nov 16, 2010 6:58 am UTC

I am a physics major who wants to become a mechanical engineer. As a junior, I'm starting to freak out about grad school and the rest of my life and all that fun stuff. Since there's no one at my school who could give me guidance as to how to best achieve this, I turn to the fora's collective experience.

What courses do I need to make up? I'm already taking dynamics, thermo, E&M, and electronics here, and those will be fairly thorough. I have the opportunity to invent a research project that would result in me learning some mixture of statics, structural mechanics, and/or materials, but having never encountered this material before, I have no Idea what these designations even mean. Where do I start? What is reasonable for me to expect to accomplish in my remaining year and a half here?

Also, what about grad school? Does having a stronger background in physics make me a more attractive candidate does the fact that I didn't actually attend an engineering program make me a less attractive one? Will I have to make up any courses in between? I would like to get into the more researchy end of engineering, dealing with earthquake-resilient structures or tensegrity or something like that. Does that make a difference?

Thanks in advance! I apologize for the stream-of-consciousness-esque disorganized nature of my post.
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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby Sagekilla » Tue Nov 16, 2010 7:10 am UTC

Well, I'm a junior at the moment too (Physics / Computer Science major) and I can relate to the freaking
out about grad school and such. From what I know, being a physics major doesn't really hurt you at all if
you wanna do something like engineering. Since you've taken a fairly solid amount of physics, if you were
to switch to engineering (which may require an extra year of college depending on how lucky you are)
you'd fit in just fine.

The general trend is that Physics majors have a good toolbox to handle a wide variety of problems, and
they can usually solve most problems you throw at them.

Engineering majors though, are really good at solving a subset of problems (I'm really generalizing here),
since in a given area you'll need to solve similar problems over and over again.

But, that doesn't mean if you just graduate with your degree in Physics, you won't be completely hopeless
if you go to grad school for engineering. Just about all my Physics professors have told me that being
a Physics major doesn't hurt me at all if I wanted to pursue engineering.
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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 16, 2010 7:43 am UTC

Is there a mechanical engineering department near you? Look up their programs, find one you like, contact someone there.

Really, just go there, tell them you'd like to go to their program, and ask what you would have to do. People like it a lot if you show interest in their field. If you have another one and a half year, you could do a lot to prepare. Athough as sagekilla says, you might have to do a bridge year of some kind.

One thing: make sure you go there in person. If you ask question by email or phone, you'll get business answers.

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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby jmorgan3 » Tue Nov 16, 2010 7:55 am UTC

I would recommend asking some professors who work on earthquake-resistant structures what they think.

Here's a couple from my university:
http://www.ce.gatech.edu/people/faculty/451/overview
http://soliton.ae.gatech.edu/people/jcr ... earch.html

Send them (and anyone else you find) a brief, courteous email that explains your situation and ask what courses they recommend taking and what other advice they may have. At worst, they will just ignore you. Don't mention my (pseudo-)name, btw.

As for my own advice, I'd recommend taking a System Dynamics and Controls course, like this one. The standard text in the field is Ogata, but I personally didn't like it.

Are there any engineering schools near you that do earthquake research? If so, contact a professor and ask if you can do some undergrad research in their lab.
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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby Solt » Tue Nov 16, 2010 9:53 am UTC

whereswalden90 wrote: I would like to get into the more researchy end of engineering, dealing with earthquake-resilient structures or tensegrity or something like that.


It might make more sense for you to do civil engineering with these interests. However, I'd still take a linear system control course for the earthquake stuff. Well, start with classical controls. Well before that even a signals and systems aka dynamic systems and feedback course. If you only take one course in this field, it should be the pre-requisite to Automatic Controls.

whereswalden90 wrote:I have the opportunity to invent a research project that would result in me learning some mixture of statics, structural mechanics, and/or materials, but having never encountered this material before, I have no Idea what these designations even mean. Where do I start? What is reasonable for me to expect to accomplish in my remaining year and a half here?


Statics, mechanics of materials, and if possible, strength of materials. That progression should give you a solid undergrad-level understanding of the materials and structures side of engineering. The first two are just solving for forces in static structures. The last one is on the vagaries of how materials get their strength and how they act in various circumstances. For example, how is steel made and why is it strong, what causes materials to fail, what kind of behavior can we expect from engineering materials. Probably don't really need that one if you can't take it.

So basically you are only missing three classes- statics, mechanics of materials, and dynamic systems and feedback. Otherwise, follow what the other posters said. fyi, E&M is never used in ME or CE.

whereswalden90 wrote:Also, what about grad school? Does having a stronger background in physics make me a more attractive candidate does the fact that I didn't actually attend an engineering program make me a less attractive one?


Yes to both. In the end you probably balance out to being a regular candidate- no advantage, no disadvantage. You will actually have a head start on the math, depending on which classes you take. For example a dynamics and controls focus is heavy on linear algebra theory and I know physicists have to use that quite a bit, while MEs use very little in undergrad.
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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby Zamfir » Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:31 pm UTC

If you want to do a specialization that is involved with much experiments, a physics background will be a benefit. Physics undergrads tend to have much more experience in setting up and running experiments than engineering undergrads.

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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby gorcee » Tue Nov 16, 2010 1:04 pm UTC

Majors are these things that people use in college. The problem is that students, because they're so focused on their major (and that of their friends, and the differences therein), start to believe that the world is compartmentalized in that way.

It's not.

My uncle and my late aunt both did advanced degrees in mechanical engineering (Masters for one, PhD for the other). Over their career, they worked in glass fracture mechanics, ceramics (my uncle wrote a book on ceramics), metal alloy fracture mechanics, and finally, the mechanics of teeth (ie, how to design tools/materials/procedures to minimize risk of cracking teeth during dental procedures). Again, they did not study materials engineering or biomedical engineering. They were mechanical engineers by training.

I guarantee you that they did not learn one single thing during their undergraduate careers that had anything to do with what they spent their careers on. Sure, they had to take the same undergrad mechanics of materials courses, but that's about it.

I myself started as an aeronautical/mechanical engineering major, and due to several factors, graduated with a degree in Applied Math. I work for a small company doing engineering R&D. I've worked on aircraft structural analysis, control system design, on-board diagnostic algorithms, neural network classifiers, corrosion analysis and vision therapy.

What's my point?

Once you have the paper in hand, whatever your degree was in matters substantially less than what getting the degree means. Having the degree means you've proven yourself to be capable of thinking in such a way that solves problems. Engineering students aren't taught engineering that will actually be (very) useful in the field; instead, their taught material that they aught to know in order to think about much larger, more complicated real world problems. Physicists learn something a little bit differently, but in the end, you are still trained to be able to solve certain types of problems. Ultimately, what an employer looks at, and what they care about, is your ability to: communicate, analyze, solve, and deliver. In other words, if you're smart, you'll be able to figure out the things you need to know in engineering classes. Fundamentally, it's just applying math to solve problems in certain ways.

I'm a mathematician that learned to think like an engineer. You can be an engineer that learned to think like a physicist. Trust me, these are incredibly valuable skills to have.

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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby jmorgan3 » Tue Nov 16, 2010 6:51 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:If you want to do a specialization that is involved with much experiments, a physics background will be a benefit. Physics undergrads tend to have much more experience in setting up and running experiments than engineering undergrads.

How many lab courses do physicists have to take?

Solt wrote:fyi, E&M is never used in ME or CE.

At the very least, E&M is required to understand how to set up instruments. There are quite a few fields of mechanical engineering where E&M is vital.
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Re: Mechanical Engineering, or, A Crisis in Profession

Postby whereswalden90 » Tue Nov 16, 2010 9:53 pm UTC

My 101, 102 and modern physics were lab courses, as will be my dynamics and E&M classes. My school also offers two courses called Intermediate and Advanced lab which cover experimental design and data analysis through experiments in every (and I mean every) field of physics. I'm taking both.

Thanks for the advice, guys. I really appreciate it.
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