to being a fellow engineer! I've been toying with the idea of continuing with a graduate program in Aerospace Engineering just so I can call myself a Rocket Scientist
But I think I'll stick to CS...
Anyway, it basically all comes down to package management. I personally don't suggest RPM based distros, but that's just a preference. I've found RPM to be inferior to dpkg (deb and apt) particularly with dependencies. So that being said, I stick mainly to Debian or Debian based distros. However, I have lately moved to Gentoo and Gentoo based distros which are source-based. This means that everytime you install something, your computer compiles it according to your system versus installing precompiled packages. This makes everything quite fast, the catch being that it takes MUCH longer to install packages. But the end result is worth it.
So depending one what sort of package management you want to try out, I would start off with any of these distros. Once you're comfortable - you can make things harder on yourself
Debian Based Distros
(Depending on whether you want Gnome or KDE)
NOTE: I wouldn't mess with the 64-bit versions of these particular distros just yet
Gentoo Based Distros - go ahead and get the 64-bit versions
- Desktop Cube thing, just check it out anyway
Here's some screenshots
of different desktops
Also, feel free to hit me up on AIM and I can help you work through some of this stuff - I know I won't be studying anyway...