Let's say I'm interested in fluid dynamics, specifically in fluid-structure interactions -- and I want to get into modeling, simulations and experiments. I am a mathematics student by training, having taken yearlong courses in introductory analysis, linear algebra, complex variables, and a semester of probability theory, stochastic calculus and fluid dynamics. I don't have much training in physics or engineering other than some decent research at a lab at our dept (our math department is well-regarded, especially in the area of fluid dynamics).

I feel I most naturally fit into a PhD program in the computational sciences / engineering space, given my math background and lack of physics and engineering background.

However, I also feel that joining a more traditional mechanical / aerospace engineering department as a PhD student would perhaps allow me to work "deeper" ... and be more of a domain expert, picking up the necessary mathematics and computational methods and modeling skills as needed. I think I much prefer this strategy, letting the fluid dynamics applications drive my graduate work in mathematics and computations.

How can I decide whether to be a computational scientist in a computational science PhD program or in a more traditional mechanical / aerospace engineering program and pick up the computation skills as needed?

(Let's assume that I can get into both computational science programs and mechanical / aerospace engineering programs ...)

  • $\begingroup$ If you choose your department wisely and pick up a co-advisor, you can split the difference, especially in a field like CFD. You might try asking this question here: academia.stackexchange.com. $\endgroup$
    – Richard
    Aug 26, 2019 at 20:17

1 Answer 1


I dont think there is a universal answer. In a computer science or math department you might get caught up in oversimplified problems about which you can prove things but which lack the complexity of "real" problems. In a physics/engineering department, the emphasis may be on getting some sort of answer at any cost, maybe from commercial programs. Read up on departments of all kinds, find out the relevant faculty and read some of their recent papers. Go after somebody who you take a liking to. Mention that faculty member in your application, in a way that makes it clear that you really have read and appreciated those papers.


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