Friday, 7 May 2010

An Exchange on the Merits of Mathematics vs. Mechanical Engineering as a Degree Choice, between Cousin James & Your Humble Servant

Cousin James
02 May at 02:33
Hey George could you give me your thoughts and views on doing a maths degree? Because I'm still undecided. I'm contemplating a 75% maths degree with management or economics. A possibility is Mech eng.
Your views would be helpful.

G Dawg
03 May at 01:42
Maths is a hard degree, whichever way you look at it. Only do it if you are: a) a natural mathematician, b) in love with the subject, or c) both. If you possess neither of these qualities, then you are in for a miserable three or four years. That said, a maths degree puts you in a really good position job-wise when you graduate, so it might be worth the pain.
Personally speaking, I suppose I would have come under class 'c)' from above (definitely more b) than a) however), though I can't say I loved every second of my time at university. The work-load was tough and there were times when I wished I'd done something different. Still, I got through it, and I wouldn't change my decision if I were able to make it again.
On a different tack, I suppose I should say that there are a million reasons why someone might study maths at university, and perhaps I've been too black and white in the matter. At the end of the day if you want to study it, do so, and if you are hesitant then perhaps you should think again.
Also, dude, there's really no need to rush. If you don't know what you want to do, keep thinking. Pick up a book, surf the internet, talk to friends, whatever. Hell, if you want to, take another year to think it over. I mean, at the end of the day, it's your life, right?
Hope I've been helpful. Any more questions, fire away.

Cousin James
04 May at 04:36
Thank You very much for your advice, George. It as been insightful.
Do you know anything about Mechanical Engineering, like how mathsy it is, and how respected it is with Employers?
And could you tell me what you got in your degree?

G Dawg
06 May at 18:07
Mechanical Engineering is so incredibly mathsy that I would go so far as to say it is maths. Of course, it is not the whole of maths, though I suppose nothing is. I took myself a lot of engineering courses and I found them to be very interesting, and in terms of difficulty, some people find them a lot easier than the more abstract courses one has to do as part of a maths degree (like Analysis of Imaginary Numbers, Logic, or Number Theory). I mean, even though the courses are just as rigorous and difficult mathematically, they are far easier to relate to. It is the maths of how things move in the world (or in theoretical spaces, most commonly, a vacuum with constant gravity), from air to water to particles to clouds and so on. The movements of the planets might also be covered. Of course, since I did my courses as part of a maths degree, it is natural that my studies were all done with pen and paper, entirely theoretically. In a mechanical engineering degree, I imagine you would have to complete quite a few practical courses as well as the theoretical ones. Designing and building an efficient motor which can run on canola oil or some such thing... I can only guess. I myself contemplated doing an engineering degree but in the end it was maths which charmed me, with its theories and its aura of philosophy. Of the people who end up studying engineering, one hears tales of children dismantling car engines and putting them back together; or building small model steam trains &c. I found the engineering lot to be the kind of people who love cars and boats and planes and things (though, of course, there are always exceptions... Like I said, people study different subjects for all kinds of reasons...). And I would go so far as to say that a Mechanical Engineering degree is quite possibly more respected with employees than a normal maths one. You see, it is actually something one can use in the real world. It would give you a very solid base to go into almost any industry. Banking? No problem. The stock exchange? Cool. And countless other industries, too, no doubt.
I myself got a 2:1 for my degree, so not bad. A 2:2 is the absolute minimum you must aim for.
Just a thought, but have you considered computer science as a degree choice? I would heartily recommend it as a useful and interesting degree, and one suited to a person with a mathematical mind. I studied a bit of computation for my degree and I found it fascinating stuff.
So there we have it. Hope this helps. Sorry I'm a little late in replying, I've been away in the countryside for the past three days.
Genetalius Dawg-breath

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