First of all, what you’re going thru is sometimes called “sophomore crisis.” It happens to a lot of people. You are worried if you’re doing the right thing or not. You’re going thru a lot of introspection as the realities of your choice of major are hitting you.
Even after five semesters, you’re still only starting to specialize. That’s when I began to have the most problems, too. If you like your current subject, hang in there and try and get support from your peers, joining a study group. You’ll find that almost all of the students with the best grades study in groups.
When you graduate, you’ll discover that the specialized training you need on your job, you will receive on the job. The only general training that I use regularly are basics (like Ohm’s law) and calculus, occasionally. The rest is stuff I learn by doing the work, and it seldom requires more complex math and physics than what I was first shown in high school.
Materials Science Engineering sounds pretty specialized. I bet it includes a lot of physical chemistry and thermodynamics. Those were two of the hardest subjects for me, too.
I’m in my fifteenth year in an engineering career, and I struggled thru college, too, finally getting a BSEE with a 2.5 GPA. Before you drop engineering altogether in favor of Philosophy and Film Studies (a real “roll-your-own” degree one of my friends graduated with), consider these questions:
How are your lab grades? If you are good in the lab classes but struggle with the theory, then definitely hang in there. You will be more valuable in the working world than someone who aces the lecture classes, but can’t distinguish their ass from an oscilloscope in lab. I have the good job I have now because my aptitude in the lab showed I was merely incompatible with academia (A+ in almost every lab class, C average in lectures). Get some tutoring or join study groups to keep a minimum C+ average in your lectures.
However, if you are struggling in your lab classes, too, then you should definitely seek another major, something that interests you enough that the hands on stuff is the fun, easy part.
What is your class load? Are you taking too many classes at once? Drop down to the minimum load to be eligible as a full time student; it will mean an extra year to earn a degree, but it will pay off. Other ideas: Find a professor that will let you do undergrad work on his research project in exchange for “independant study” credits. Look for classes like “technical writing,” “engineering management,” “industrial processes,” and other less technical curriculum offered by the school of engineering. Take all the humanities classes you can. The school wants you to be well-rounded, and those “softer” subjects can be a welcome relief from symbol-crunching and all night code fests.
What is your passion? This is a very important question for you to answer, regardless of your major. Are you in your current major because you are genuinely interested in the subject matter? Why did you pick that program? If not, what are you really fascinated by? What would make you get out of bed in the crappiest weather and look forward to going to work? If you’re only in engineering for money or career security, then you are likely doing it for the wrong reasons.
(If you skimmed past the last paragraph, go back and read it now!)
Or is there another engineering program you might be better suited for?
To help answer that last question, consider these associations:
If the problem is that you are having trouble learning the abstract material, like thermodynamics or modern physics, then consider a major that operates more in the macroscopic domain, like mechanical or chemical engineering.
If you’re good at calculus and advanced math, consider electrical/electronics engineering or aerospace, or even physics… especially optics.
If you find physics and chemistry “arbitrary” and requiring too much rote memorization, then consider something more abstract like applied math or computer science.
And finally, like Nuke said, you do have to learn how to think like an engineer. The hardest things to learn are how to let go of your assumptions when facing a difficult problem, how to admit that you don’t know an answer (and need to research it or study it), and how to isolate your customers’ requirements and quantify them so that they can be demonstrably satisfied. Fortuantely, they’ll give you time to learn these on the job, too.
Good luck, whatever you choose.
If I had it all to do over again, I would have been an astronomer. Or maybe a filmmaker. Or perhaps, if I were just doing it for the money and the chicks, a plastic surgeon…