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BS in Physics to Engineering Career

  1. Nov 21, 2014 #1
    So I am about to finish my BS in physics from UCLA (University of California Los Angeles). I do not want to be a physicist anymore. I am wanting to get into the engineering field for a living and realize it is hard to break in with a physics BS. I also realize that if I get a masters in engineering (probably mechanical) I will never qualify as a "PE" or whatever since I don't have the Bachelors in engineering.

    Does anyone have knowledge or experience of exactly how hard it is for a physics Bachelors to get a job in the engineering field, say, mechanical, test, or systems engineer? I heard test and systems engineer are possibilities for a physics BS. Or, if I were to end up having to get a MS in mechanical engineering, would have the same or similar opportunities for employment as a BS in mechanical engineering?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2014 #2
    From my experience, getting a job is a stochastic process. It's always been through a professional contact or colleague that I already had a relationship with. Someone tells the employers that I am talented or competent (i.e, lies), and that's how the job comes about. It's also more about whether or not you have the relevant skills that the employer needs to get a job done than your credential. That's just my experience though -- it might be smart to go talk to the career people at UCLA, or go to some of their job fairs.

    At one point I worked an internship with a bunch of systems engineers. A lot of the 20s-30-somethings in the office were working and going to grad school at the same time. The company was paying for their schooling, and immediately set them up with a pay raise upon completion. Sounds stressful, but it might be a good way of getting school financed.

    What skills do you have that other people care about as a BS in physics?
  4. Nov 21, 2014 #3
    Well, I mean I don't really have any engineering relevant skills that a normal engineering major doesn't have and more. I understand the fundamental physics principles and theory better in general, but that's not gonna get me the job. It's like I'm a handicapped engineer lol. But my concern is, say I do get a MS in mechanical engineering, will I have the opportunities a new BS in mechanical engineering would or would I be at a disadvantage? Would the disadvantage at least be relatively negligible and would finding a mechanical engineering job be a relatively stream lined process? I don't want to waste time getting a MS in engineering and still have a hard time getting a job. You mention having a company pay for my education, what type of position would I have to be in at the company for them to offer to do that? I'd have to get hired first and that's the problem.
  5. Nov 21, 2014 #4
    Physics is a skill -- don't discount that. You're a problem solver.

    Did you do anything outside of your major requirements, e.g. research projects, internships, etc.?
  6. Nov 21, 2014 #5
    I had one 10 week summer internship at the Department of Energy national laboratory Fermilab.
  7. Nov 21, 2014 #6
    woah, cool! fermilab is legit. did you get a recommendation? what type of work did you do?
  8. Nov 21, 2014 #7
    Just had to do some data acquisition, soldering, circuitry, and write a report on what I did all under the supervision of an electrical engineer. I can get recommendations or references whenever I want but I've already applied for some mechanical engineering positions and internships and I get denied
  9. Nov 21, 2014 #8
    I'm probably just gonna go get my masters in aeronautical engineering actually since it's always been my favorite type of engineering. Unless I get a good engineering job offer somewhere right out of UCLA.
  10. Nov 21, 2014 #9
    In my opinion, and experience, its very hard to get a job as an engineer with a physics BS. The notion that "physics is a skill" sounds good, but for the most part employers want tangible, marketable job related skills. Finding eigenvalues is not a marketable skill There is no reason that a physics grad is an inherently better problem solver or thinker than a grad from a different program.

    Don't discount the engineering MS completely. There are engineering jobs that don't require or care about a PE. You will likely be at a disadvantage compared to the "real" engineers, but it can work. You can also study for a BS in engineering. That is what I did after getting two degrees in physics. After years of applying and many hundreds of failed applications I was able to sneak my way into an engineering job while being in an engineering BS program.

    With just a BS in physics, consider technician jobs. That is what you are more qualified to do than be an engineer. But you should still expect stiff competition. When we interview technicians we reject plenty of people with multiple degrees and year/decades of experience.
  11. Nov 21, 2014 #10
    Thanks. Yeah I'm probably going to have to spend 2 more years in school and continue on to a MS in aerospace engineering and apply for aerospace engineering positions afterward.
  12. Nov 21, 2014 #11
    I was in a similar situation in my career. My career history looks like this: BA in physics, got tired of school and worked programming computers (consumer applications) for about 6 years. Got bored with that and went back to grad school to get my MS and PhD in Aerospace Engineering. Worked in Aerospace for about 5 years before being seduced by computers again (the pay was much better). At least this time it was embedded systems, which is definitely more fun. Finally ended up combining both fields by working on satellites. As far as a BS in physics and an MS in Aero, I'm not sure any employer will care. You'll have to make up most of the basic undergrad Aero courses, so you should be on the same footing. For reference, it took me 3 years to get my MS: 1 year to take the undergrad courses and 2 years for the grad courses and a thesis.

    Good luck and have fun. I know grad school was one of the most enjoyable parts of my life, albeit a very poor one ;).
  13. Nov 22, 2014 #12
    how does that work will the university make me take the undergrad courses first?
  14. Nov 22, 2014 #13


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    Not everyone working as an engineer has a PE. I've been working as a engineer for 35 years and have never thought about getting licensed. There are only certain things which an engineer does which require PE licensure (such as advertising yourself as an engineer, teaching engineering in many states, or working for the government as a engineer in certain circumstances, etc.) The rules for licensure vary by state, so I would contact the state licensing group and explain your educational circumstances before automatically assuming that you couldn't ever be licensed.
  15. Nov 22, 2014 #14
    Hmm, well according to salary.com and bureau of labor statistics I would be satisfied with the salary of aerospace engineering in California. Annual mean wage is around 116k according bureau of labor statistics.
  16. Nov 22, 2014 #15


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    Your internship experience sound very good, but I also agree on checking to see what else you need for PE and try get it if it doesn't require too much. If the job market is flooded with engineering graduates, the people looking through CV's are less likely going to bother with applicants with other degrees, unless you have networks in the company which would probably be more valuable than anything else.

    Also, try contact the potential companies you may want to look for and talk about your situation.
  17. Nov 22, 2014 #16
    I know people who had ugrad degrees in Math and switched to Electrical Engineering in grad school and are now working at Intel. Friends of friends did physics BS and did Nuclear Engineering in grad school and now work for the Navy. When I was still job searching in undergrad, Lockheed martin had positions for physics majors by name for systems engineering and programming jobs (they liked the physics majors ability to do mathematical modelling). Depending on the grad program, a physics BS would be good prep for a mechanical engineering masters where they'll probably have you take remedial ME courses like Heat Transfer, Fluids, and such like. I'm not sure how it is in California, but I'm not sure every state requires an engineering BS to get the PE (though most do). It's also not even necessary for every job, an engineering masters will open plenty of doors. Your fermilab internship work will look great on a resume for engineering jobs if you sell it right.
  18. Nov 22, 2014 #17
    Mine did (University of Illinois). As for becoming a PE, it's probably not something you want to do if you plan on working for a company. Too many decisions that are out of your control means your extra liability isn't worth any extra pay. The company you work for should shoulder the burden of liability, not you. (I had a structures prof who would take one class and just discuss why we shouldn't be PEs.) Of course, if you hope to go out on your own, a PE might be useful. But I never wanted to do that, so it's not something I ever considered. I've never met any PEs working in any of the companies I've worked for.
  19. Nov 22, 2014 #18
    I know several engineering PE's that work for companies. In most cases getting their PE meant a step up in pay and responsibility, but that certainly isn't always the case.
  20. Nov 22, 2014 #19
    There have been questions around working as an engineer with a physics BS on this forum for over a decade. Most people who try either don't get work or are disappointed with the results. I fell into the second category.

    There are definitely a few outliers who make it work. I personally have a feeling this switch was easier 20-30 years ago.
  21. Nov 22, 2014 #20
    Yeah I'm planning to apply to systems engineering jobs I hear that's a possibility for physics majors. I'm hoping to just get a job so I don't have to go to school right away I'd like to make some money and time off from school and just go back if I need to.
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