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#1
Old 01-22-2003, 12:05 AM
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Most difficult majors in engineering/sciences

When I was in college, there was a clear progression of engineering majors. ChemE was considered the hardest. IE (Industrial Engineering) the easiest. (Well, actually there was also Packaging Engineering, but they never got any respect at all.) This was never based on anything factual of course. It was just common wisdom passed down from year to year. But pretty entrenched as far as that goes.

Is the order different at other schools? Or maybe the whole concept of an order was unique to the school I went to. (Doubtful!)

Not to limit this to just engineers, how about within other areas, like the sciences?
#2
Old 01-22-2003, 01:21 AM
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My ex g/f double majored in Chem and BioChem... at VaTech... definitely a lethal combo if ya ask me.
#3
Old 01-22-2003, 03:02 AM
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At Illinois there was a broad range. The harderst were considered to be any that were combined disciplines.

Aeronautical Engineering and Chemical Engineering were the hardest, followed by Mechanical and Civil, with others all bringing up the rear. Industrial, Materials Sciences, Nuclear, and General.

There's also the Computer Engineers, Computer Sciences, and Electrical Engineers that fell in there bundled together, but they were always their own animal. These were more based upon your affinity for computer concepts, some thought they were teh easiest, other thought they were impossible. From a workload and competition standpoint I'd put them between the Aero/Chem and Mech/Civil teirs.
#4
Old 01-22-2003, 07:53 AM
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When I was at Purdue, Nuke Engineers were thought to have it the roughest while "InterDisciplinary Engineers" had the cushiest ride. As I understood it, IDEs took classes from all the engineering schools, but no depth in any of them. They were even mocked by the Industrial Engineers.

I majored in Aero - I'd say it was somewhat demanding.
#5
Old 01-22-2003, 09:57 AM
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Im going to have to go with Biochem as up there. At Va Tech, many people come hear thinking "I'll be an engineer or a comp sci person" 70% of the people that start in those programs, dont end up with a degree in that program. I think they have the highest attrition rates, but I think its because somebody assumes because they can write an email they can do anything. Plus parents are pricks about forcing their kids down a path their not into (another story). So attritian rates IMO arent the best gague. Maybe if you could filter out those who werent cut out for it period from the bozos who know what their doing, you could get a rough gague from attrition.
#6
Old 01-22-2003, 10:19 AM
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At my university it was a case of if your department was based in a particular building you deserved any amount of respect and awe. The two departments were Electrical & Electronic Engineering and Chemical & Process Engineering.

I was a Chem Eng person it was kinda tough
#7
Old 01-22-2003, 10:48 AM
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I took ChemEng in Germany, and I remember being really jealous when we'd still be working in the labs (woithout Airco!) at 5:00 PM, while all the Architectural students from the building next to us would be spending their afternoons at the University's swimming pool, checking out the Biology major babes. Even the Electrical Engineers didn't seem to work as hard as we did.
#8
Old 01-22-2003, 11:19 AM
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At the University of Wisconsin, Chemical Engineering was generally accepted to be the hardest of the bunch. I started out on an engineering track there and I remember being presented bar graphs that showed that ChemE's took the longest to graduate on average. I believe it took nearly seven years for a former roommate of mine to get his Bachlors in ChemE, but that included some semesters off for internships.

However as a Computer Science major (which is a Letters & Science degrees at Wisconsin, not engineering), I found that the EE/Computer Science double majors seemed to be the biggest gluttons for punishments.
#9
Old 01-22-2003, 11:30 AM
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Chem eng was considered the hardest at Queen's. I think mining was considered the easiest.
#10
Old 01-22-2003, 11:49 AM
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ChemE and EE were considered the hardest at UVA. Interestingly, it was also common wisdom that ChemE girls were the second-hottest, right behind the systems engineering department. Coincidentally, sysE was afforded no respect whatsoever.
#11
Old 01-22-2003, 12:13 PM
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Ex-CS prof checking in. There has been a tremendous number of people thinking that getting a Computer Science degree is the easy road to riches. The overwhelming majority of people declaring themselves CS majors don't even know how to program. (It's like declaring yourself a Math major without knowing how to add.) Giving the large numbers and crappy backgrounds, many CS depts actively try to flush as many out as possible, preferably in the first 2 years. After all, what are you going to do with 1000 incoming students but room for only 400 majors total?

One place I taught at had as a goal a 50% flush rate in the first year and a 60% flush rate on top of that for the 1st 2nd year course.

I don't know of any discipline that has ever done anything comparable. OTOH, what the students were being asked to do was in no way all that hard for true computer geeks. Just weeding out the posers and wannabes.

(Another fun factoid from my past: another place had 1 in 4 incoming frosh wanting to be CS majors. We didn't have an undergrad CS degree.)
#12
Old 01-22-2003, 12:18 PM
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I majored in math and physics, but most of my friends were engineers. If I recall the pecking order correctly, EE and AE were considered the hardest, closely followed by Chem E, Mech E, and Petroleum Engineering. Civil and Industrial were at the bottom of the heap. Few of my friends could handle the mathematics and abstract thought required in math and physics, but I always thought that was more related to not wanting to waste time with things that weren't "practical". My course load was definitely easier than that for most of the engineers. Within the sciences, the perception was that math and physics were the hardest, followed by chemistry and biology. I don't think most people ever considered sciences like geology. (For whatever reason, biology had way more women than the other sciences, with math a poor second.) Math requirements seemed to determine the orderings. Probably the reason biology was considered easier than chemistry was that biologists took and easier set of calculus courses, which weren't designed to weed them out.

I think which major is harder is more related to particular talents than anything else. All of the engineers took a maximum course load, and most had to work hard. Is organic chemistry harder than analog to digital conversion? Oddly enough, Chem E's seem to find the former easier, while EE's found the latter.
#13
Old 01-22-2003, 01:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ftg
Ex-CS prof checking in. There has been a tremendous number of people thinking that getting a Computer Science degree is the easy road to riches. The overwhelming majority of people declaring themselves CS majors don't even know how to program. (It's like declaring yourself a Math major without knowing how to add.) Giving the large numbers and crappy backgrounds, many CS depts actively try to flush as many out as possible, preferably in the first 2 years. After all, what are you going to do with 1000 incoming students but room for only 400 majors total?

One place I taught at had as a goal a 50% flush rate in the first year and a 60% flush rate on top of that for the 1st 2nd year course.
That sounds consistent with my experience. FYI, I majored in math, but I would've had a double major in CS if it had been allowed. I wasn't in the engineering school, so no dice.
#14
Old 01-22-2003, 01:31 PM
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The EE's are usually out of the building by midnight-1am. Not that what they *do* makes any sence to my humble ChemE self, but my classmates and I put more time in, on average, I think.

They're the only ones who come close though. So in my mind the pecking order goes: ChemE, EE, BioE, MatSci/Engineering Physics, CompE, MechE, Industrial/Civil/loser bridgebuilder engineering. (Please don't kill me for that last one, my sister is thinking about doing "loser bridge building engineering" and I have to start teasing her about it now.)
#15
Old 01-22-2003, 01:36 PM
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At Penn State, 20+ years ago, all of the engineering schools attempted to flush out 50%-60% of the students. A number that was consistent with other large engineering departments. Mostly it was done through the introductory calculus classes. The CS department did not take those classes, if I remember correctly. Of course, back then, hardly anyone showed up having written a program.

I will say, as a professional programmer and former physicist, that physics is harder. Much of programming involves figuring out what some other bonehead did. Physicis involves figuring out what God did.
#16
Old 01-22-2003, 01:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by SlowMindThinking
I will say, as a professional programmer and former physicist, that physics is harder. Much of programming involves figuring out what some other bonehead did. Physicis involves figuring out what God did.
And at least the boneheads will occasionally write comments.
#17
Old 01-22-2003, 02:05 PM
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Probably Comparative Literature.
#18
Old 01-22-2003, 05:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by fiddlesticks
At the University of Wisconsin, Chemical Engineering was generally accepted to be the hardest of the bunch. I started out on an engineering track there and I remember being presented bar graphs that showed that ChemE's took the longest to graduate on average. I believe it took nearly seven years for a former roommate of mine to get his Bachlors in ChemE, but that included some semesters off for internships.

However as a Computer Science major (which is a Letters & Science degrees at Wisconsin, not engineering), I found that the EE/Computer Science double majors seemed to be the biggest gluttons for punishments.
Things are still pretty much this way. IE's (Industrial Engineers) are called "Imaginary Engineers." I'm in Biomedical Engineering, which sounds scary. However, I get the impression that it's thought to be a relatively wimpy type of engineering.
#19
Old 01-22-2003, 06:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ftg
OTOH, what the students were being asked to do was in no way all that hard for true computer geeks. Just weeding out the posers and wannabes.
As a former computer science major, I can say that this process definitely works. After a semester of struggling with Assembly language (and three semesters before that of struggling with/hating Java), my professor decided that I couldn't "think like a programmer," and said so one morning when I went to him for help on some study guide questions. I changed my major that afternoon.

Anyway...for my university, ranking from hardest to easiest:
Nuclear/Aerospace E.
Chemical E.
EE/CS/CE
Mechanical E.
Physics/Mathematics
Biological/Agricultural E.
Textile E.
Industrial/Civil E.
#20
Old 01-22-2003, 06:34 PM
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EE/Computer Science: the most pointless of double majors. Also one of the easiest, because of the substantial overlap in in-major electives.
#21
Old 01-22-2003, 07:26 PM
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Re-Electrical Engineering

So, what you're saying is that I can't teach myself EE with those books they sell at RadioShack?

On a serious note-
I don't want an EE degree or to make a living at it. But, if I want to be able to fix my own appliances, expand my capability to repair my computer, and build bat detectors, theremins, and such, how much studying do I need to do? At what point does calculus become necessary?
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#22
Old 01-22-2003, 08:16 PM
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At McGill, honours mechanical and electrical engineering were the toughest. Chemical was up there, civil and mining were thought to be somewhat easier. I'd say all of them are sorta tough, and 30% attrition rates pretty standard.
#23
Old 01-22-2003, 09:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Christina25
My ex g/f double majored in Chem and BioChem... at VaTech... definitely a lethal combo if ya ask me.
My sister graduated with degrees in Chem and Bio, and could have graduated with another degree in BioChem if she wanted to put another two quarters into it. Both degrees where BS's, and was from VATech.
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#24
Old 01-22-2003, 09:11 PM
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When I graduated, my university the ranking was BioE, the CompE, then EE, then ME, then the others. This was largely because the dean who created the CompE degree requirements was a sadist. (Physics and EE if I remember correctly, in other words, a semiconductor head.)
#25
Old 01-22-2003, 10:55 PM
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No one has mentioned this...

I'd put up the Structures series of courses (Civil or Mechanical Eng, Structural concentration, usually - or just Structural Engineering.) against any other course of study you can name as the toughtest...until they teach you some shortcuts with Finite Elements.

...Any course named "Advanced Stress" just can't be topped!
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#26
Old 01-23-2003, 02:03 AM
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DocCathode, I can't really answer your question, however I can say that since the the second semester started, I have had to use calculus in my fundamentals of electrical engineering course. Not like the ones they show in physics class for derivations, but for practical problems like the electric field created by a line charge (power lines), Gaussian surfaces, etc.

I'm saying that only because it was a bit of a surprise to me, which is actually a good thing. It's nice to actually start to apply stuff I've been learning. So since calculus is a requirement for fund. of EE (which is supposedly a standard first year course around the world), I imagine once you want to start making your own electronic circuits you would probably need it. However, to be a computer repair tech or electrician I imagine it involves no calculus at all.

Here's the order of difficulty of first year admissions at U of Waterloo:
Software Engineering
Systems Design, E&CE
Chemical, Mechanical, Civil
Enviro-civil

Here's the impression that I get of difficulty in upper years:
Mechatronics
Electrical
Chemical
Comp
Systems Design
etc.

I omitted Software Engineering because I don't really know. They are more part of the Math faculty than Engineering I would say.

As for the sciences:
Physics
Pure Math
Applied Math/Computer Science

are probably the hardest, but computer science majors (who are under the math faculty), have a very light schedule. My roommate has 19 hours a week, and I have 31. FWIW, I'm in comp eng.

Side note: apparently the weeder course for chemical and civil engineering in the second semester is the C++ course. It has to be one of the worst structured courses I've seen in my short college career. First assignment: use a GUI and draw a bunch of crap using functions in the #include file. However, they haven't been taught functions or objects yet, so they basically extrapolate from examples in the textbook to suit their needs because they have no idea what any of it does.
#27
Old 01-23-2003, 02:30 AM
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I attend RPI, and it's funy how many of you seem to rank EE as a harder major, cause here it's looked down upon by the rest of the engineering department as one of the easiest majors (second obly to computer systems engineering, of course.) I switched out of the EE program because I like electronics and computers, but I found out the hard way I don't want to make and research them for a living. I Transferred into the Biomed department, with a concentration in mechanics. Anyways, here at RPI, the rankings seem to go:
ChemE
NukeE
MechE/Biomed/Electric Power
Aero/Industrial/Civil
EE/ComSys

And then there are dual majors, like AeroMechE and EECOmSys, which are a joke because both require about two more classes than a major with just one of the two. Other majors are pretty much ALL considered easy compared to engineering, with the excpetion of architechture, which while not hard, is a lot of tedious work.
#28
Old 01-23-2003, 06:46 AM
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From a curosry glance at the posts, ChemE seems to be at the top a lot. It was ChemE at my school, but we didn't have a lot of majors.
#29
Old 01-23-2003, 06:57 AM
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I did Comp Sci at UMR in the early 80's. Not only did we have our own weed-out course, we had to take the EE weed-out course too. At that time Aerospace, EE, and Nuke were top of the tree with ME, CompSci, ChemE, and Petroleum next, with Civil and Ceramics last. In the sciences, it was probably Physics, Chemistry, then Geology. The chemistry folks would refer to the ChemE's as 'recipe readers'.

Here's a lame engineering joke - What's the difference between a mechanical engineer and a civil engineer? The ME builds weapons, and the CE builds targets.
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#30
Old 01-23-2003, 09:24 AM
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Phoenix, what did you change your major to, if you don't mind my asking?
#31
Old 01-23-2003, 01:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by javaman
Phoenix, what did you change your major to, if you don't mind my asking?
I changed to Mechanical Engineering. The only programming course in the curriculum is Fortran (got an A+); I also have to take an "Intro to Electrical Engineering" course before I graduate.
#32
Old 01-23-2003, 02:35 PM
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My rankings go from hardest to easiest: (this assumes comparing the top students in each discipline, which is not me)

Pure math
Applied math
Math/physics (this could be higher depending on the type of math
and physics you do)
Physics
Electrical Engineering
Engineering Science
Chem/Bio/Mech/Civil Engineering
Chemistry
Biology

I did 2.5 years of Aerospace engineering (which was basically electrical or mech with a couple of extra courses depending on what stream you did) and then switced to math/phys. My marks dropped quite significantly (especially the math) when I made the switch but I found math/phys more interesting.

For a lot of scientists the ranking goes according to the level of abstractness.
#33
Old 01-23-2003, 02:52 PM
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I will add that the engineers took more courses and worked longer hours, but I never remember being quite so stumped on a concept in engineering. I had to in some cases take the physics version of the engineering courses I had already taken to get the credit and the physics version was much harder. For example I took Thermodynamics in engineering and got an A+ then took it in physics and got a B.
#34
Old 01-23-2003, 04:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Jeep's Phoenix
I changed to Mechanical Engineering. The only programming course in the curriculum is Fortran (got an A+); I also have to take an "Intro to Electrical Engineering" course before I graduate.
Fascinating. I didn't major in CS or engineering, but I've been programming for most of my professional life. Programming, definitely, and what I know of a CS major, seems much easier than a major in any traditional engineering discipline. So much so that I can't imagine an engineer having a hard time with Java.

On another note, why are Industrial Engineers sneered at? Or is that a UL?
#35
Old 01-23-2003, 05:18 PM
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Well, what's the really hard course in Industrial Engineering?
#36
Old 01-23-2003, 05:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by SmackFu
Well, what's the really hard course in Industrial Engineering?
Well, IANAE, but don't IE's have to take pretty much the same core of natural science and math courses as all the other engineering majors? To those of us outside the profession, it's that more than your specializations that make Engineering seem so mysterious and difficult.
#37
Old 01-24-2003, 03:11 PM
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Is the 50-60% flush rate for Computer Science relatively common? Because if it is, then damn, I'm feeling proud!

Sorry, but I'm one of those "poseurs" or "wannabes", I guess. I never had programming before entering the CompSci program at my university because my high school never taught programming, and I didn't think I could do it on my own. I'm much more inclined to natural languages, history, writing, etc (you know, the humanities stuff that engineers here roll their eyes at, but then they can't write a decent sentence to save their life. I should know, I have to tutor them). My mom almost insisted I go to this university since my brother went here and "he turned out just great!" (nevermind the fact that I am not my brother), and I didn't want to piss her off since she was taking on loans to help me pay for college, so I did. It's a tech university (but not a Technical Institute) mainly focusing on engineering. I've always liked computers, so I figured that if I "had" to go here, I'll pick CompSci (I later tacked on a Humanities dual degree so I can remain sane, but I digress).

And I'll admit, the first programming class, I loved it. The prof was wonderful and explained everything. It was like solving puzzles. But after that I had incompetent profs (even the people who knew what they were doing were getting confused by them) who taught next to nothing and shoved us to the next class in the line.

This was fine for the "true computer geeks"; they already knew the stuff. But for a lot of us, we TRULY wanted to learn it, but we weren't able to. Then I got to Data Structures and didn't know 80% of what I should have known beforehand (and a good deal of the class was in the same situation, due to those previous professors). The DS prof is actually competant, and he put us through the ringer.

But I made it. I passed and I learned. And I'm still here in the CompSci program. I still don't know as much as those "true" geeks, as you put it, but dammit I'm proud that I've lasted.


And at my university, Computer Engineering is considered the most difficult, I believe, followed by Chem E and Mech E, then going to EE and on down the line. Ironically, I don't know where the CompSci program is in that scale (there are three different CompSci degrees, one focussing on programming, another on networks, and another on something else).
#38
Old 01-24-2003, 07:16 PM
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My university (UIC) also had weed-out classes for engineers also. the core curriculum had two EE courses--both with 50% drop out rates. The first was basic circuits whic I didn't find really difficult, but the second was digital electronics. 25% 1st test, 25% second test 50% final for a grading profile. I failed the first and second tests miserably, but couldn't afford to drop it. So I got a group of fellow losers and studies all night. I must have received 100% on the final because I finished the class with a "C". This EE wannabe quickly became an ME after that class.
#39
Old 01-25-2003, 12:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by ftg
One place I taught at had as a goal a 50% flush rate in the first year and a 60% flush rate on top of that for the 1st 2nd year course.
That's sad. I like my alma mater better: impossible to get in, but they don't kick you out. The toys were fun, too.
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