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How much math is really involved in engineering?

I suck at math but all I can imagine myself doing is being an engineer. I want to do enviornmental (which is like civil) engineering engineering

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Drew’s Answer

I suck at math also, never got above a C in a math course and had to repeat several. But I was persistent and graduated with a Master of Engineering Degree and am a licensed Professional Engineer. Engineering school is hard. However math is essential to engineering. State licensing boards define engineer as An individual who, by reason of his or her special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences and the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design, acquired by engineering education and engineering experience, is qualified to practice engineering as hereinafter defined and has been licensed by the board as a professional engineer. The board may designate a professional engineer, on the basis of education, experience, and examination as being licensed in a specific discipline or branch of engineering signifying the area in which the engineer has demonstrated competence.

I have a Master of Engineer Degree with Specialization in Environmental Engineering, and worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency for twelve years. In that capacity I rarely used math to calculate, but it was a necessary foundation to understand the tools used for environmental control.

There are a number of other professions in the environmental field including environmental scientist, planner, specialist, etc. You will need to be exceptionally determined to pursue engineering.
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Giselle’s Answer

Hello Ellie Z,

While I do not have experience with Civil Engineering, I wanted to share part of my story.

In high-school and early college, I told myself that I just 'sucked at math.' I wanted to go into Computer Science, but figured since I 'sucked at math', I wouldn't make it so I wrote off CS entirely. I studied Psychology then Economics instead, but it was not until several years later that it really hit me. I 'sucked at math' because I didn't practice it enough; I figured it just came naturally to some, but really when you see people that are good at math, they are the product of practice and learning. Rarely do they tell the story of how long it took them to get there!

So my advice is, you may may not be good at math right now, but you can be! You get better at it with practice and I bet that when you apply math to your chosen field, it will make a lot more sense :)

Good luck!
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Drew’s Answer

I suck at math also, never got above a C in a math course and had to repeat several. But I was persistent and graduated with a Master of Engineering Degree and am a licensed Professional Engineer. Engineering school is hard. However math is essential to engineering. State licensing boards define engineer as An individual who, by reason of his or her special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences and the principles and methods of engineering analysis and design, acquired by engineering education and engineering experience, is qualified to practice engineering as hereinafter defined and has been licensed by the board as a professional engineer. The board may designate a professional engineer, on the basis of education, experience, and examination as being licensed in a specific discipline or branch of engineering signifying the area in which the engineer has demonstrated competence.

I have a Master of Engineer Degree with Specialization in Environmental Engineering, and worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency for twelve years. In that capacity I rarely used math to calculate, but it was a necessary foundation to understand the tools used for environmental control.

There are a number of other professions in the environmental field including environmental scientist, planner, specialist, etc. You will need to be exceptionally determined to pursue engineering.
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Dennis’s Answer

Hello Ellie. Let me answer your question this way: If you wanted to learn a foreign language, say French or Spanish, would you ask if having good grammar skills was important? One answer is: During the course of your language study, you will have to understand a lot of grammar just to relate what you know about in the English language to relate to its counter-part in the foreign language.
In Engineering, of any specialty, we tend to develop mathematical models of the physical world so we can study interactions and options. It is a back-and-forth process: we look at the physical world - then we develop a mathematical model of it. Then we compare the results from the math model to what we can measure in the physical world. When the two results agree, we know we have a good math model, and we can rely on it to a greater or lesser degree to make estimates and projections or do optimizations. But, there are always nuances - we can't always capture some essential factors or concepts about the physical system. So, sometimes, observing the physical system is still required.
Think about the space program. Scientists and engineers had to figure out how to design systems to operate in space, even before they got there to do any measurements or direct observations. But, they were able to make enough observations and make some assumptions, so that they could develop mathematical models. Then they were able to design and develop the hardware and software that were vital to getting the astronauts to the moon and back.
So, math skills are important if you want to be an engineer, but other skills are equally necessary, such as being inquisitive, having a good imagination, and, especially, to want to solve problems. Good luck with your next steps, Ellie.
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Ashford’s Answer

As a recent Biomedical Engineer grad, I’d say that majority of the classes that I needed to take we math based. Even classes like electrical circuits and neural engineering all had fun new concepts to learn but behind them was all math. So if you see yourself wanting to do engineering but struggling with math, the only way around it is getting help from your professors and practice. Because once you learn a concept, the math always stays the same. You just have to learn to approach it from all the different angles and that’s what the professors can help you with.
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Shawn’s Answer

Math is important to a point. You need to be able to do basic calculations and recognize patterns in data plots look similar to exponential or trigonometric patterns in order to understand what the data means.

In my 28+ years of R&D Engineering, it’s been really important to know Calculus I &II, area under the curve and tangent to the curve. The data collected is typically in a spreadsheet which permits simple integration and derivatives via right hand, left hand, or mid point methods and local slope. It has been extremely rare to need to use the transforms for trigonometric or exponential functions. For instance, when the data is from a string potentiometer (measures distance travel vs time) manually calculating the local slope throughout the data will give you velocity and the local slope of the calculated velocity is acceleration. That is really the extent of necessary mathematics.
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Ruth’s Answer

Ellie-
An engineering degree requires several hours of high level math classes. In order to have a clear understanding of how much math is involved I would recommend to go to the website of a University that has an engineering major. Often times on the University website you can find the different majors that are offered and a list of classes needed. This will take time to research on line but it is certainly doable and worthwhile in order to have an accurate picture of how much math you will need for an engineering degree. You may want to enlist the help of your counselor or a teacher. This is a good exercise to run through no matter what degree you are considering. If you are serious about pursuing an engineering career, I would take as much math as you possibly can handle in high school to better prepare you for the college math courses. Don't get discouraged and best of luck to you!
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Jerome’s Answer

It depends on what branch of civil engineering you want to enter. In my experience, highway/bridge design and hydrology require pretty solid math skills; even though most of the design work there is now computerized, you need to really understand the underlying mathematical principles in order to use the programs correctly. Other branches, like landscape architecture and environmental engineering, may have less stringent requirements, but you will still have to know the basics of algebra and calculus.

Don't forget that what you need "in the field" doesn't necessarily match what you need to get through school and pass your licensure exams. Even if your math skills aren't the best, they may be good enough to get you past those hurdles, and then you can concentrate on what you actually need to do whatever job you end up with.
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Camille’s Answer

Hi Ellie,

How exciting to hear about your interest in engineering! I recently graduated with a degree in industrial engineering and my sister just started her degree in environmental engineering.

I'm going to be honest with you, all engineering curriculums are going to require math courses, and especially for a degree like environmental engineering that is so closely tied to and often combined with civil engineering, you will need to take multi-variable calculus and probably differential equations to have a foundational understanding of what these equations are, why we have them, and how we solve them.

That being said, most engineering programs will then teach you how to use softwares and programs that will actually solve these math problems for you, but we first need to understand the "ground floor" of what these programs are doing before we get to use the programs!

As you step into higher level math courses (which are admittedly challenging), I would encourage you to approach to have a positive attitude! Higher level math comes easily to very few people in the world, but that doesn't mean that the understanding doesn't come. If you really want to pursue engineering, then your passion for that will motivate you to find resources in school to help you understand and succeed in your challenging courses.

Best of luck!

Camille recommends the following next steps:

Look up the curriculums for some environmetal engineering courses at schools that interest you, evaluate how many math classes there will be
Seek out tutoring or supplementary support in your current math courses
Look up the tutoring and supplementary resources offered at schools that interest you
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Amir’s Answer

Hi Ellie,

It all depends on which Engineering field are you looking for. From a personal perspective, math and physics applications are not directly applied into engineering, but they enrich and strengthen your analytical skills and way of thinking. For example, Integrals; you don't really apply them directly unless you are a software designers and such, but they help to train your mind on how you can divide ideas or think backward if you know what I mean. In conclusion, i recommend taking math courses as much as you can to enrich you analytics skills, but at the same time don't expect to use derivatives if you are working as a site civil Engineer. So you are passionate about applying math applications purely, then go for math or Economics majors.
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Jason’s Answer

Ellie,

The real core competency of being an engineer is problem-solving, not necessarily math specific skills. Math demonstrates these skills in most K-12 education, but there are plenty of other skill-sets that can help you become a successful engineer. Programming, drawing, attention to detail, even social networking can be key to your engineering career.

Now more than ever engineering education is a broad array of skill-sets and abilities. My experience in Industrial Engineering focuses on process improvements and optimization. This requires some "math", but there are many ways to overcome this roadblock with the online tools and resources available.

Focus on what interests you to be successful, if you enjoy doing it you will be able to overcome any perceived inabilities.

Good luck!

- Jason
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