In an earlier post, I listed all the technical courses I took in my undergrad, and which ones I used on the job.

Of the 40 courses I took, I used at most 8 of them at work. [1]

I like technical topics. I actively seek ways to utilize what I have learned on the job. Anywhere I can use my math skills, I do. This is not a case of “Could have used, but learned it long ago and forgot it.” That’s why the number is so high(!) In reality both I and my employer would have been fine had I not utilized some of that knowledge. 8 is definitely an overestimate in that regard.

The numbers would look even worse if I count all the courses I took in graduate school - I think I utilized only 3 of them on the job (although admittedly one of those courses was the bulk of my job for about 4 years).

Why am I posting this? For a few reasons:

When in school I had been told that most of the math we learn will never be used at work. So much emphasis on calculus, yet most engineers never use it on the job.

The situation is more acute than they claimed. Not only is mathematics not used much, most of the technical knowledge in the engineering courses is not needed for most jobs.

People often complain about having to take too many humanities/social sciences, and one of their complaints is they feel they’re not learning enough of their actual technical major. As this shows, if you’re an engineering student, you are already way overeducated for industry work. Taking more technical courses will not impact your performance at work.

For majors like electrical engineering, it is sad that we probably disqualify many, many perfectly capable engineers simply because they struggle with mathematics. Unfortunately, all that rigor is necessary if you are going to graduate school.

None of this is meant to be an argument that the academic system needs change. It is merely noting what is.



You may think it unfair not to count prerequisites. After all, if I needed to learn calculus and electromagnetics to understand the actual course that I used in my job, then why am I not counting them?

Because in my experience, most people on the job remember only the results of that last course and not the prerequisites. I’ve met plenty of professionals who’ve forgotten basic calculus, even though the technical work they do was built on top of calculus, amongst other topics. They mostly use the final equations/results of a given course and never have to derive the material.