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Ltryptophan's avatar

If my math skills are pitiful can I still be a Mechanical Engineer?

Asked by Ltryptophan (9102 points ) May 8th, 2012

Thinking about going back to school for Mech. Eng. Math was never my strong suit. So, am I cruising for a bruising?

Physics and Chemistry are also big requirements that I never wanted to study vigorously…

The word Calculus sends a cold chill into my soul.

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17 Answers

Pol_is_aware's avatar

If you like none of those things then what makes you want to be a mechanical engineer?

Ltryptophan's avatar

I like them, they don’t seem to like me! I think that a smart lad if he applies himself can make it through those tough subjects, but maybe that is overly optimistic.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Ltryptophan Well, then, if you want to be a mechanical engineer then you have to study those subjects vigorously and deal with that cold chill. I you can’t manage that then you can’t be a mechanical engineer. There’s really no way around. Perhaps you can start with one class at a community college, maybe get a tutor and see how you do, now that you’ve been out of school for a while. Just dip your toe in the water…

I don’t know what level you are talking about but you will have to have a certain proficiency in math and science to even get accepted into a mechanical engineering program somewhere. They’re not looking for poets. :-) Whether you are taking SATs, or whatever, or GREs, or whatever tests are required to get into these programs, they want you to have some proven level of the skills and proficiencies they are looking for. They need to at least know that you have some chance of graduating, even if it’s only a matter of you not raising their attrition rate.

Pol_is_aware's avatar

Well, i guess having abilities in complex computer programs could nullify the need for manual mathematics almost altogether. Am i kidding? I’m saying, try thinking out of the box. There are plenty of careers that use less technical skill sets that deal with mechanical engineering.

Or, Be sure your passion here isn’t a hunger for challenge alone. Then, try mathematics in a less formal way. Academic mathematics tend to follow a strict guideline. They can force a method of learning that doesn’t appeal to certain intellects. This could be what is holding you back.

prasad's avatar

In four years of mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree, I studied Physics, Chemisrty and electronics in first year. Mathematics was for three semesters (first one and a half year). So, if you think you can bear with it for that much period and push through, then maybe you can go for it.
For Calculus, you can refer Calculus made easy by Thompson; it doesn’t require much prior knowledge. Hope this book will help you turn your chill of fright to ignite your interest in calculus.
Looking from what you say, you would be going for undergraduate course. Graduate course would definitely require much advanced mathematics and numerical methods.
You can find top undergraduate schools for mechanical engineering. Also, you may want to look at top graduate schools for mechanical engineering. Go to websites of these schools and find out about what courses they teach there. From that you would get a fairly good idea of what is going on around.
Could you possibly tell why you want to go for mechanical engineering?

CWOTUS's avatar

If you want to be a Mechanical Engineer (as opposed to, say, a draftsman or a builder or someone else allied with MEs without actually being one) then you’ll have to use math, including advanced math, for most of your career.

Mechanical Engineering is all about stresses, ratios, effects of aging and weathering and other erosion processes, lubrication, pressure and I don’t know what all else, including a lot of estimation to begin (and even to check the completion of) formal calculations – to paraphrase the woman who spoke to Bertrand Russell about the support of the world: “It’s math all the way down!” You’d better like it a lot, and be pretty good at it.

ragingloli's avatar

Pretty much a solid no, for the reasons already mentioned by others.
It is like asking if you could be a good surgeon, despite having jittery hands and haemophobia.

thorninmud's avatar

My son is wrapping up his 3rd year of MechE studies. He got 800 on his math SAT, but still struggled through some of the math he encountered later.

In actual practice, much of the calculation that MechE’s do is performed by software like Matlab, but you will still be required to learn the math behind the software.

Mariah's avatar

I just took an intro course and it could basically be described as applied physics – so, by extension, applied math. Math and physics need to be your friends, I think.

RocketGuy's avatar

I kicked ass in Physics and Chemistry, and did well in Calculus. You will need those to understand Mech Engr concepts.

Linear Algebra was hard for me, only because I skipped Geometry, so was no good with proofs. You would need that if you wanted to get into composite materials (like me).

Differential Equations are a blur to me now, but the general concepts are useful even if I cannot solve those equations anymore :(

MollyMcGuire's avatar

You’re on the wrong train.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@prasad I like design. If I’m going back to school then it will be for something that requires a significant effort. Otherwise, no school necessary.

@lillycoyote yah, poets…most important of all the disciplines ! ! !

My attitude towards math study has never been healthy. So, I think it would be a good thing to confront my discomfort with the discipline of math, and learn to focus on focusing, trying, finishing, and not treating it like a vampire sucking the very life out of me.

Rock2's avatar

I think anyone can learn math. The only requirement is that you want to learn and are willing to put in the time and effort. That what the people who say they love math do.

RocketGuy's avatar

Some colleges actually have a major for Design. You should look into it. Less math, more eyeballing. I almost jumped ship to Design.

prasad's avatar

@Ltryptophan Mechanical engineering core subjects are engineering mechanics, thermodynamics and heat transfer, fluid mechanics, machine design,...and machine design is one of it. I will try to explain it in short.

When a company creates a new product, it starts with market research to know what customers want (comes under marketing). Using these customer requirements, R & D people create a concept (and make and test a prototype). Then, it is job of designers to get this concept from R & D and make it understandable to people who manufacture it. Culmination of design work is the drawing. This drawing contains dimensions, tolerances, specifications (material or any other like surface finish, hardness, etc.). Designers are responsible for fine tuning shape to balance weight/moment of inertia, reduce stresses (physical/thermal) and to ensure it fulfils the requirements with safety considerations. So, that would require mechanics knowledge – stress, strain, etc. in addition to at least basic knowledge of thermodynamics, heat transfer. Maths would come into play here. Depending upon what product/industry, you would require different maths. For example, mould design for injection moulding of plastics, knowledge of Laplace transform will be required. In contrast, for people in manufacturing (almost) no much engineering maths is required. After manufacturing, it goes through quality, dispatch, sales and distribution, and in-between storage.

You may need to decide specifically which design that interests you. Product designers usually do things that I explained in the above paragraph. Of course, they now use computer packages. There are process designers too. They will possibly decide about which manufacturing processes will be used, what kind of machinery is required, what tools and accessories be needed, etc. Industrial engineers design the work-space to make it more productive. Then there is industrial design if you are artistic; probably you wouldn’t need maths here, but you should be good at drawing/sketching. There are typically car designers. You may take a look at following links.

Mechanical engineering design a good book by Shigley.
Industrial design school ranking in US
…from around the world.

RocketGuy's avatar

At UC Irvine, Industrial Design was just called Design. I have an old edition of Shigley from undergrad.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Ltryptophan There’s something else you might want to try first. Khan University. It’s a great resource. It’s online and it’s free. I had completely forgotten about it and it popped into my head today.

Here’s Kahn’s site.

They have video lessons/lectures and demonstrations and also practice problems for each lesson. They have tremendous number of science and math subjects/lessons. You can learn at your own pace, in the privacy of your own home, without the pressure of an academic environment. Maybe that would work for you. You might want to at least give it a look, if not give it a try. Sal Khan is a great teacher and has and promotes a style of teaching that may suit you better. Also, there is a forum/Q&A section for each lesson where people help anyone who has questions or needs clarity about something in the lesson.

If that works for you would have a better foundation and a better chance of getting into a mechanical engineering program if that’s what you really want to do.

Good luck.

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