And the answer that I have finally arrived at is yes and no.
Engineering involves a diverse range of competencies, some of which require complex math skills. Each field inevitably requires particular proficiencies – civil engineers need to have a good grasp of trigonometry, whereas aerospace engineering entails lots of model validation and performance testing. Essentially you will need basic competency corresponding to the type of work you want to be able to do. So, of course, it certainly helps to be strong in math and science when studying engineering (I know from experience that the math modules in any type of engineering at university can be intense).
This, however, is not an invitation to give up. If you want to achieve your goal of becoming an engineer, in whatever field, you need to be able to apply yourself to a subject (even one you do not think you are naturally talented which maybe math…). Innate ability in academic subjects does not beat out perseverance and focused practice. In the real world, engineering problems are open-ended and require many cycles of trial and error.
From my experience, the great majority of the solutions you propose and think through will be bad ones (even if you are a maths genius). And that’s okay! Developing the sort of grit to keep trying, even after you’ve tried the same problem hundreds of times after endless days of debugging and redesigning, is really what it takes to become a successful engineer.
To summarise, yes – math ability is important and helpful but should be considered a bonus, not an unattainable necessity. A good engineer is creative, analytical, practical and driven. Engineering is not about being ‘good at math’ – it is about having a passion for understanding how things work and interact.
This piece was written by Grace Alexander, Design Engineering student at Imperial College London.