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Advice for my brother? Physics or engineering.

  1. Jan 5, 2007 #1
    I need some advice to give my brother, he is at a local 4 year school which is awful according to him. He has no plans to stay there, as he wants to transfer.

    he is extremely interested in string theory and quantum mechanics and relativity. He doesn't know if he should study physics or a type of engineering.

    if he is interested in such what is the best path that he should take.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2007 #2


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    If he's "extremely interested in string theory and quantum mechanics and relativity", then he should follow physics. The problem is: is he prepared to go all the way ? What if at some moment he says: "nah, too much mathematics, i wanna quit"...?

    Anyway, both physics and engineering are not easy to study. But once he'll make a choice, he has to stay with it.

  4. Jan 5, 2007 #3
    If you brother knows anything at all about the string theory then he wouldn't even have to have someone tell him that physics is the only way to go.
  5. Jan 5, 2007 #4


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    He's not going to study string theory or general relativity until graduate school in physics. He'll cover the basics of quantum mechanics in undergraduate school, but will not cover QFT or even QED until graduate school. If he merely has a passing interest in these subjects, he may not have the fortitude to stick around for perhaps six or seven years of education before even beginning to touch them.

    - Warren
  6. Jan 5, 2007 #5
    His interests use some of the most complex and abstract mathematics that we have constructed and rigorously proved. I would assert that his passion for quantum theory and relativity, must be strong enough to drive him to engineer his mind towards a synchronization of thought, encompassing the whole of maths and physics. His curiousity and passion to explore and discover, should be enough to motivate him.

    Unless he already possesses a strong intuition for how the universe operates and a solid grasp of abstract formal logic systems, such as mathematics, he should be prepared to study his maths and physics a couple of hours a day, every day. Perhaps, that's just my perspective. I feel it's important for prospective physics majors to fully understand the amount of work that is required to understand these concepts because I have seen a few people under approximate the amount of time they need to spend on their work and it eventually catches up with them.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2007
  7. Jan 5, 2007 #6


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    complexPHILOSOPHY brings up an interesting point. In my work as an astronomy instructor, I have come across countless people who claim to have a deep fascination for all things physical. These people claim to be passionate about string theory, claim to be utterly awe-struck by quantum mechanics, and so on. When you really begin talking to many of these people, you unfortunately begin to realize their exposure is almost wholly from science popularizations ("A Brief History of Time," etc.), and they have essentially no idea at all what these theories are really made of, or what it means to actually study them.

    These people often literally think that physics students sit around in lounge chairs, contemplating white holes and cosmic strings and time travel all day long. Their impression of what it means to study physics is as much a caricature as a child playing doctor.

    As a result, it makes scientists a little incredulous when they hear about some school kid who's "extremely interested" in quantum mechanics and string theory. The unfortunate truth is that few school kids have any idea at all what it really means to study these theories, and their interest in studying physics may be seriously misguided. You never really hear any school kids raving about how they can't wait to study statistical mechanics -- a class that's much more representative of what undergraduate physics students "really do."

    - Warren
  8. Jan 5, 2007 #7
    Why doesn't he do both- engineering and physics?
  9. Jan 5, 2007 #8
    If he is interested in (I am assuming theoretical as opposed to 'applied' or experimental) quantum mechanics and general theory of relativity, wouldn't it be more beneficial to double major in some aspect of physics and mathematics as opposed to engineering? Would you recommend engineering for someone interested in theory or moreso for an experimental direction?
  10. Jan 5, 2007 #9
    I'm doing undergrad engineering (aerospace) and a double major for science in physics and maths.
    So it's kind of like a double major within a double degree. I don't know if you can do that in the US but you can in Australia. The only downside is it takes ages to get even two Bachelor degrees, let alone PhD or Masters or whatever.

    So if you have 6 years up your sleeve, and have a government payment scheme (or just lots of money) then I reckon go for it. And if you don't like one after a year, drop back to one degree and you're still ahead.
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