I'm studying industrial engineering, should I change my departement?
July 26, 2020 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm an industrial engineering student. I am a very indecisive person with a lot of interests. Now I'm considering changing my departement but it's a big decision so I need advices.

I'm an industrial engineering student. I just finished 2nd grade. I am a very indecisive person with a lot of interests. When choosing this department, I didn't have much idea about industrial engineering. I just really like math and I choose among engineering departments according to my exam results. The other two parts I had in mind were physics and psychiatry. In fact, I think the physics department is more suitable for me because I find it more interesting to do research and understand the functioning of the universe than to work in a company, which is generally what industrial engineers do. But eventhough I love maths, I'm not sure I love physics enough to study physics, and people who study the basic sciences can become unemployed in my country. About psychiatry: I am very interested in psychology, but I have to study medicine for psychiatry and I don't like biology. I don't know the degree of similarity between high school biology and medical biology, but I've always had trouble memorizing things and I'm better off with numbers. But I like reading books about psychology and I think I would enjoy my professional life even though I had difficulty during my medical education. (I know I can study psychology instead of psychiatry, but the psychology department doesn't seem to me as comprehensive as psychiatry.) Now I enjoy my engineering education since it's maths intensive, but I don't like what industrial engineering specifically concentrates on. I am a bit idealistic person and I guess what industrial engineering serves and its capitalist nature do not satisfy me. I want to be more directly beneficial to humanity. Maybe by doing a master degree, I can turn to the research branches of this department that will satisfy me more. By the way, if I decide to continue my own department, I will graduate after 2 years. If I decide to study physics, I can start physics this year and I will study it for 4 years. If I decide to study medicine, I have to be prepare for the exams this year because my old test result is not enough for medicine. So, I will prepare for the exam for 1 year + 6 years of medical education + 4 years of psychiatry. I would appreciate any thoughts and advice about my situation. Thanks in advance.
posted by confusedconfused to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My undergraduate degree was in math, my graduate degree was in computer science, and now I'm a psychotherapist. Psychiatrists do less therapy and more prescribing because one makes more money that way. It also means that psychiatrists end up getting less experience doing therapy than, say. social workers, so I'd sooner trust the latter, all other things being equal. Also, in practice, psychology students tend to learn more about experiments and research done on animals than on humans. (also, in my undergraduate school, many physics majors were math majors who couldn't keep up).

Just my experience . . .
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:14 AM on July 26

Thanks for the comment. How did you end up being psychotherapist? What did you study after your graduate degree in computer science?
posted by confusedconfused at 10:19 AM on July 26

I worked as a software engineer, got involved with the (then relatively unknown) internet, married a psychologist and went to an analytic training institute.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:31 AM on July 26 [1 favorite]

It does not sound like you are particularly interested in the Industrial part of Industrial Engineering, which is generally about doing very rigorous and precise things to improve business processes. I would also find it boring for the same reasons you do. I started my undergraduate in Computer Science, but also got a dual degree in Psychology, which was a good idea although I didn't really use it much professionally. I'm now working on a Online Masters in Psychology, 15 years after undergraduate.

There are other options for combining Math and Psychology that you may not be aware of. At least in the US Psychiatry is mostly focused on treating individual people, and really isn't about math at all. In school Psychiatry (and Medicine in general) is heavy on math, but once you are out practicing in the real world it is more about being very practical and helping patients. So here are some options you should look at for combining Math and Psychology:

Statistics-heavy Research Psychology. For this you would get a PhD in Psychology and focus on numeric tasks like advanced statistics and doing things like Meta-analysis or other heavy science tasks. I'm working through this path now, and about half of Psychology research is very math-heavy and scientifically rigorous, and the other half is not. There's basically no Biology in this path, it is more about how humans interact and behave.

Medical Research Psychology/Psychiatry. For this you would probably get a PhD in Psychiatry or Neuroscience, and would work on things like pharmaceutical research. This is very Math and Biology heavy. There are a lot of interesting brain imaging studies that tie into this.

Behavioral Economics. For this you would work on an Economics degree and focus on interactions between individual people and things like game theory. This is all math and no Biology and is a bit more distant from actual human subjects. This is usually pretty theoretical

Machine Learning. This is using math-heavy Computer Science techniques to model the human brain using artificial neurons. This is a very new and exciting field, there are a lot of degree options but CS is probably the most common. This is probably what I would have done if I was starting college now, it didn't really exist 15 years ago.

Data Analytics. This is an applied math career and is about using statistical research methods to help companies or organizations to answer specific questions. This has a lot of crossover with Psychology because you're studying human behavior, and is more hands on than then the research positions. I think people usually get a Mathematics or Statistics undergrad and then get a Masters in something related

I don't know which of those 5 paths (or others) would be best for you, it depends a lot on what's available in your local school/country. Also, for all of these paths it really doesn't matter what your undergraduate is in, and picking up a dual degree might be a good idea if that's an option. You can probably go into any of those paths with an undergraduate in Engineering, as long as you also take Psychology courses. They're all more practical than Physics research, which I understand is EXTREMELY theoretical these days
posted by JZig at 11:11 AM on July 26 [4 favorites]

Speaking as a former engineering student who's interacted with many other engineering students in an advisory capacity, I think this is a very common situation - maths-smart, practical kids get encouraged to study engineering without really having a good idea of what engineers actually do and if they'd want to do that. I tell you this as encouragement - many others have walked this path before!

It sounds like you are certainly capable, and you don't hate your classes right now. Unless money is no object, I would encourage you to finish your current degree and pursue post-graduate training that is more aligned with what you actually want to do. For many of us, an engineering degree is just a piece of paper that proves we had the brains and/or stubbornness to slog through a heavy analytical courseload, which comes in handy in all sorts of places. For me, I took as many electives in my other interest (linguistics/speech science) as I could fit in my schedule and got to know some of the professors in that department. I eventually managed to combine aspects of my engineering training with my interests and ended up getting a master's in acoustics with a speech focus (and then life happened, things kind of broke down and now I work in Big Tech. YMMV.) But I would use these next two years to explore different options and pinpoint what you want to do next (JZig has a really great list as a starting point!) so that when you walk out with that engineering degree, you have a clear picture of what you want to do next.
posted by btfreek at 12:08 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who did what I think is called process engineering (a branch of industrial). He gets to work all the way across large, complex sites, and study and improve processes. IDK but I would expect there would be a big people side to that.

A slightly (or very) different newish branch is industrial ecology, usually involving dozens to hundreds of companies to minimize their waste outputs. It was my (self-assigned) major in landscape school.
posted by unearthed at 12:24 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]

Physics is a solid enough major on its own, but if you’re looking at big-time research you’re looking at a lot of grad school, and I hope you like solving differential equations. Like, a lot.

There’s lots of kinds of engineering, and you’re probably still early enough to switch without losing much time. Mechanical is pretty general; you can do all kinds of things. Civil could also be good for you. Chemical or electrical are also out there if you like those subjects (I had a professor once who said that there are two reasons people major in mechanical engineering: one of them is chemistry, and the other one is electricity).
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:10 PM on July 26

I would gently suggest that you consider job prospects in the fields you're interested in. Your end goal should not be a degree, it should be to prepare you for a real world job that's a good fit for you to spend your career in. When you're done with school and working to support yourself and future family, and saving for retirement, where's that paycheck going to come from? I don't love the capitalist nature of society either, but that's the world we live in and there aren't a lot of ways to opt out of that.

My degree was mechanical engineering with an industrial emphasis. There are nonprofit engineering firms (I worked at one, it was great!) I currently work at an employee-owned civil engineering firm that does civic infrastructure projects. Our clients are cities, states, local governments. Is it still working for a company? Yeah, but the things we build are necessary and important for society to function. I'm OK with it.

I know a lot of people who went to school for math or physics and ended up doing engineering, because that's where they could find a job. The ones who actually went to school for engineering have an advantage over the ones who fell into that role later. Honestly, most of us engineers would love to spend our days doing math and research. I know where you're coming from. It pains me to consider that I've used calculus about four times in the last ten years.

I know a lot of process engineers with chemical engineering degrees, who have interesting analytical work in their day-to-day jobs. And for every process engineering team implementing a new manufacturing line in a factory, there are a team of research and development scientists and engineers who created the new process/product/whatever that is being built. Maybe a role like that would be a good fit? Seems like an industrial engineering degree would be a strong start and you could follow with a master's degree in a more specific field of your interest.

(Huffy Puffy, that is a great line about mechanical engineers. Can confirm!)
posted by beandip at 9:13 AM on July 27

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