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Electrical Engineering versus Physics

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Nov18-10, 01:59 PM
P: 181
Hello! I'm a freshman and prospective physics major at a good math/science university. I'm having trouble figuring out whether I should switch to electrical engineering.

Throughout high school, I did a lot of crazy science projects. I was a huge fan of high voltage projects, and so I made things like Tesla coils and capacitors. I was also really interested in chemistry, and so I made thermite and sodium metal (via electrolysis), among other things.

I applied to my school as a physics major, and I am currently taking a difficult first-year physics course (which I am doing fine in). I am not very interested in formal proofs as much as the implications and uses of physics, which I why I have started to think that I ought to be an engineer instead. I don't find math elegant; I just see it as a means to an end, which I am told is a very engineering perspective.

However, looking through the course catalog, I am more interested in high level physics courses and better understanding things like how electromagnetic waves work, instead of things like data analysis and logic/computer systems.

What should I do? I want to pick a major where I'll be inventing things and discovering things as my job, not where I spend the rest of my life buried in math and proof. But I also want to learn about topics that interest me.
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Nov18-10, 03:39 PM
P: 246
I would say compare the contents of bother programmes including the syllabi for the lectures.

Some physics students who have little interest in the involved mathematics and more into applied things, tend to drift into the engineering path as they progress through their study.

A nice option would be an engineering physics degree, but this won't make you an engineer (by no mean this results in not obtaining an engineering job). Some universities have Applied Physics degrees.
Engineering Physics: Applications of physics to real world stuff
Applied Physics: Using experimental methods to study fundamental physics, they work closely with their theoretical counterparts.
Nov18-10, 05:27 PM
P: 473
From my brief experience in EE I'd say physics is much better for people who are interested in learning the fundamentals behind the EE concepts. If you are one of the types who are just really content with "building cool stuff" then do EE.

I'd say do a physics degree and try to focus on lab work and perhaps take a few fundamental EE classes and you will be much more versatile and have many more possible career paths than a pure EE.

But take my advice with a grain of salt as I am someone who shunned the EE path to focus on physics and astronomy.

Nov18-10, 05:30 PM
P: 181
Electrical Engineering versus Physics

Thank you both for your replies.

Would I be able to get involved in Tech and "building cool stuff" if I had a physics degree? My school also has an "engineering physics" program in which physicists take 5 EE classes or engineers take 6 Physics courses, and so if I majored in one, I could do the other. It just depends on what I pick as my home department.
Nov18-10, 05:46 PM
P: 473
Quote Quote by wil3 View Post
Thank you both for your replies.

Would I be able to get involved in Tech and "building cool stuff" if I had a physics degree? My school also has an "engineering physics" program in which physicists take 5 EE classes or engineers take 6 Physics courses, and so if I majored in one, I could do the other. It just depends on what I pick as my home department.
Yea I think especially in EE it is pretty easy for a physics major to get a job that an EE would usually have. In other engineering fields it is a bit more difficult. There is a really a ton of overlap between the two fields. I'd say it is much easier to go from Physics to EE than vice-versa. An EE simply doesn't learn the fundamental science at the required level.
Dec19-10, 11:06 PM
P: 181
I hate to do this, but I'm going to go ahead and shamelessly bump this thread so that I can hear some more perspectives. Sorry for the notifications.
Dec21-10, 05:25 PM
P: 151
I'm an electrical engineering major, and in my opinion, my major ends up being focused far more on designing and making things than about learning about how the world works. Yes, I had to take courses in math and physics, but I was done with those by sophomore year. Most of my upper-level engineering courses involve heavy use of some combination of general computer skills, programming, and computational software (such as matlab, pspice, mathematica, and labview). There's also some focus on learning to communicate in the business world, such as by writing technical reports and doing presentations. I've taken an entire class that basically just taught us to make flowcharts, powerpoint presentations, and write short reports.

Electrical engineering can be very satisfying, as you can see how your knowledge can be directly applied to make something useful. However, sometimes it feels like all I've learned is to use a lot of different software packages and have no idea about the physical principles behind what I design/build. Overall, I like my major, but don't love it.

I can't say much about what it's like to major in physics, but hopefully I've given you some idea of what electrical engineering is like.
Dec21-10, 06:41 PM
P: 61
I haven't finished my undergraduate either but from what I know
physics major is more fundamental
where as EE just take the work of other people, (what has already been found).
common joke my friends who wanted to be EE said "physics do the proof and make formula. We use them"
If you want to be inventive, they're both way to go. Sure you'll have to do more proofs as physics major then EE, but if you want to invent stuff, imo they're worth it.
I guess i'm just stating the obvious xP
anyways, if you major physics major, you don't have to be stuck up with proofs all the time, you can invent stuff after your degree (or before).
Proof is for more for those who want to be pure physicist(and i'm not just talking about degree here).
Dec21-10, 08:18 PM
lisab's Avatar
P: 2,986
I think it's easier to market your skills if you have an EE degree. I'd advise you to major in physics only if it's a true love.
Dec21-10, 09:29 PM
P: 181
Thank you all for your replies! I totally see what you mean, sweetpotato, about EE being more about meeting the necessary prerequisite requirements rather than truly understanding how things work. My concern is that, if I do physics, I won't understand these things any better, and just get left behind.

My problem lies in my math ability. In high school, I was good at math, but not a prodigy by any means. Now that I'm in college, I'm among people who truly are geniuses, and for whom mathematics feels natural. I'm at a unversity with a very strong inclination toward theoretical and mathematical physcis, and I'm worried about getting left behind. I'm doing just fine, but, as lisab pointed out, I don't truly love math.

I agree that physics majors can easily do engineering work, Acuben, but I actually have heard this argument from professors on both sides: from my school, many EE majors go to grad school in Physics, and vice versa. There's even an "engineering physics" minor available, where a student in one of the two takes 5 courses in the other. I would probably want to do this, but I'm not sure what I would pick as my home department.

In thirty years, I want to be inventing and discovering things that truly make an impact on peoples' lives, and I don't know whether focusing on practicality and learning theory along the way is better, or whether a traditional theory-backbone-then-innovation approach, as Acuben describes, would be preferable.

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