
Re: Q: Engineering or Math?
Posted:
Nov 18, 1997 11:34 AM


charles loboz wrote:
> As an exphysicist I wholly second the quote below, which I consider > the > most important part of your mail: > > > You can't see the connections between engineering problems > > if you haven't first been exposed to the problems. In my personal > > experience early exposure to really valuable mathematics is somewhat > > > wastedI did not have the engineering experience to see where that > > mathematics would apply. I did not really appreciate higher math > until > > after I had practiced for a whilea situation you find yourself > now. > > I have seen numerous times similar situations. Personally I think that > > learning much math is a 'leap of faith'  you have to _trust_ your > lecturers that it really will be necessary one day. Plus  you do not > really know what of they tell you is important and _how_ it is > important. > During my course I was initially exposed to 'too much' mathematics. > Then we > went into physics  which required _different_ mathematics than taught > in > the 'pure maths course'. Later then I had to _relearn_ parts of maths > from > the pure maths course  because it was necessary. I wasn't alone in > this  > at least 80% of my friends had exactly the same opinion. The only good > > thing about all these was that we learnt very quickly that you can > pick up > any maths you need  if you have to. > > So there is a delicate balance between what and _when_ to study. As > one of > my lecturers  a pure mathematician, strangely enough  said: this > (series > of lectures) is not to make you into mathematicians, but to give you > mathematical _culture_, so later you can go on your own.
[SNIP]
> > Obviously there are deep connections between various topics in > > engineering, and the fundamental language used to explore those > > connections is mathematics. In my experience the more mathematics > you > > know the more connections you see, which leads to a greater > capability > > to solve engineering problems. > > > > So you should study more mathematics first, right? > > > > Probably not! You can't see the connections between engineering > problems > > if you haven't first been exposed to the problems. In my personal > > experience early exposure to really valuable mathematics is somewhat > > > wastedI did not have the engineering experience to see where that > > mathematics would apply. I did not really appreciate higher math > until > > after I had practiced for a whilea situation you find yourself > now.
[SNIP]
I guess the ultimate answer is that there is no miracle recipe. I am a mathematician (math thesis) working as an engineer (currently for a software company, formerly for the french meteorological organization), with both theoretical math training and engineering training (Ecole Polytechniques, others...), and have taught maths in an engineering school specializing in computer science.
It is my personal (student) experience that trying to infer the math from physics "facts", in the classroom, is a complete waste of time. As former posters said, they didn't have the patience to learn math before plunging headlong into waters too deep for them, so they had to backtrack and re(?)learn their maths in order to progress.
The problem, in fact, boils down to the fact most math teachers do not feel obligated (or capable), of giving a wide enough array of incentives to their students to pay attention to their course. Remember that for most mathematicians the math to be taught is the justification of the course, while for engineer its what can be done with the math that is the justification. There is also a distinct lack of modelisation courses, which are possible both from an engineering and from a math side, and which in nature are quite different from the lame "inference attempts" of most physics curricula.
However, math, like any abstract field of study, is a welcome ingredient in any formation, as it leads one, if properly taught, to "learn to learn", which is the only way to stave off knowledge obsolescence (i.e. you might thus keep your job longer...).
Finally, as I am currently paid for, new engineering tools frequently come about as a results of new developments of math theories.
It frequently pays to do more of what one does best, but in the end, no one but you can make your choices.
Hubert Holin holin@mathp7.jussieu.fr hh@ArtQuest.fr
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