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BS Physics to BS/MS in EE?

  1. Mar 25, 2013 #1
    Hi everyone. Here's my basic situation: I have my BS in physics, and am seriously considering going back to school for a BS or MS in EE (probably emphasizing on electronics).

    I got my BS in physics in May '08, and took a job halfway across the country (government job, running computer modeling software). After 4.5 years, I realized I was really unhappy with where I lived, and with my job to a lesser degree. Running the software was getting really tedious and repetitive, and I hate tedious repetitive tasks. I've moved back by my family, and have been searching for a new job. I don't think I'd genuinely enjoy any of the jobs I've found that "only" require a BS in physics - plus, there simply aren't a whole lot of those jobs out there.

    I've thought about returning to school. I don't think an MS in physics is right for me - I really don't enjoy most higher-level physics (quantum, thermal, etc.). Learning how the world works is awesome, but I'd really love to apply that knowledge and solve useful problems, i.e. engineering. Electrical engineering appeals to me a lot, particularly electronics design. (I don't think I'd enjoy controls or communications, though DSP could be interesting.)

    A BS in EE would only require 45-50 credit hours, which could condense down into 4-5 semesters. (I've got all the math and general ed courses, I just need the "core" EE courses - I even took courses in optics and photonic devices which will count.) Alternatively, I could start toward an MS in EE after 2 semesters of undergrad "bridge" courses. Add the ~2 years of graduate coursework, and I'd be looking at roughly 6 semesters to get the MS. So that's only really 1 year more than the BS would take. However, I'd still be obviously lacking in a some undergrad EE courses and knowledge compared to someone with a BSEE, which makes me wonder how difficult the graduate-level EE courses would be. Then again, if the courses are really in areas that I don't care about, what's the difference? You can see my dilemma... :)

    I definitely prefer working with hardware, but I don't mind writing some basic code here or there. I'd love to do prototyping or testing in a lab. Computer-based modeling appeals to me as well, as long as it isn't too programming-intensive. (I didn't care for my last modeling job, but that's because I wasn't interested in the stuff I was modeling.)

    So, here are my questions:

    1. Should I go for a BS in EE, or should I jump into an MS program? (I've read about some issues with getting a PE license if your BS isn't in engineering. Still unclear on what my state requires, despite some google searching.)
    2. Could someone with a BS in EE be given a significant amount of input in hardware design, or would I need the MS for that type of work?

    Thanks for the replies! (I'm also talking to an advisor/professor at my old college, but I figure it could be good to get someone else's perspective on this too.)
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2013 #2


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    Just a warning - it is not so unusual for engineers to spend significant time running computer modeling software as well. So getting an engineering degree may not lead to a significantly different job. My job as an EE has waxed and waned - sometimes I get to do really interesting and fun work for a few months or years, and sometimes it is not inherently interesting at all and is just what I have to do to pay the bills. Right now I am in an uninteresting phase and I expect it to remain so for at least a year. I find that my job satisfaction is largely a matter of attitude and work environment.

    Regarding your specific questions, I am not an electronics person (although my degrees are all in EE) - so I cannot comment much on specifics for you, but my guess is that just like many specializations in EE after a few undergrad classes you would be ready for senior/grad level courses if you jumped into an MS program. It could depend on the particular program, though - some departments have specific "core" classes all students are expected to have taken, while other programs are very flexible. You should try to speak with the departments you are interested in to see what their recommendations are.

    Note that other hardware oriented areas may also work for you - your background would be excellent for photonics with perhaps no make-up courses at all. Your physics background would likely be seen as a benefit. electronics was not my thing when I was in school - I ended up taking a number of classes (basic circuits, digital electronics, intro analog electronics, intermediate circuits, RF circuits) and never liked them that much. I loved electromagnetics, antennas, microwaves, radar, plasma physics. Today I find circuits fascinating and have built a couple of small transistor headphone amplifiers just for fun (well, our laptop has a severely current-limited output, so something was required to use it to watch movies!). I get my hands "dirty" at work whenever I have the opportunity!

    Hopefully an electronics expert will comment with more useful advice.

  4. Mar 30, 2013 #3
    Thanks Jason. I guess I shouldn't expect any job to be perfect; every job will have its ups and downs.

    I haven't looked into photonics too much. I did take a graduate-level EE course on optoelectronic devices, but I didn't give it a lot of thought at the time.

    I have checked on the university's website, and I need 19-24 more hours of bridge courses before I could begin the MS program, which requires 30 hours of grad course work (including 6 hours for the thesis project). I'd need the department's introductory semiconductor device course, circuits I and II, linear systems I and II, and electronics, plus the labs for at least some of those.

    On the other hand, the BS by itself would take me 45-50 hours.

    I should hear back from the advisor next week, and I'll go from there.
  5. Sep 14, 2013 #4
    Hello again everyone. So, roughly 6 months have passed since my last posts, and I still find myself in roughly the same situation - unemployed and pondering returning to school for a BS or MS in EE. Finding physics-related jobs in my area is challenging, especially given the economy and sequestration (in contrast, there are a fair number of jobs for electrical engineers). I never heard back from the EE professor/undergrad advisor that I contacted back in the spring; I'm probably going to email him again.

    Here's the way I see it:

    EE BS: Would take 2-2.5 years to complete. Probably not as useful as an MS to an employer.

    EE MS: Would take 3-3.5 years to complete, including the bridge courses I'd need. If I went this route, I'd still be unfamiliar with some of the undergrad EE material (I would miss out on two undergrad CompE courses, plus Electromechanics, Electronics II, Continuous Linear Systems, and the senior project, plus my school's engineering design course - I could always set aside some time to take these courses at some point). I could make some money by being a TA or research assistant, but grad school would probably still cost more money than undergrad, once I factor in financial aid (I still need to do the math on that).

    I'm wondering if anyone else has any input on the matter. Thanks again!
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2013
  6. Sep 14, 2013 #5


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    I'm an electronics engineer. When I was in grad school there was a guy going back with a Physics BS (he had been a high school teacher). He had to take 4 or 5 remedial undergrad courses but he didn't have to go for a BS. I haven't kept in touch with him, but he did have a job he liked in a semiconductor fab last I talked to him.

    In a good school, typically a TA assignment will waive tuition so you could get an MS with very little money (besides the fact that you won't be earning a lot for a few years). I think with a BS in Physics you could do an MS in EE in 2.5 years if you worked hard at it.

    For better or worse, the MS is quickly becoming the entry level degree in EE, especially if you want to do hardware design. For the most part, people with BS degrees end up doing applications, product, or test engineering (at least in the world of hardware developement).

    In my opinion, based on your background, the MS in EE is 100% the way to go.

    Good luck! Any other questions, I'll be happy to answer them. What schools are you looking at.
  7. Sep 14, 2013 #6
    Thanks for the quick reply! I'll have to think of some questions to ask you; I'm sure they're floating around in my brain somewhere. :)

    For schools, I got my physics BS at Univ. of Missouri - Rolla (now Missouri S&T), which is a pretty good engineering school. I'd probably be returning there for the EE degree. It's either there, or somewhere in the St. Louis area (mainly Washington University or Saint Louis Univ.).

    Thanks again, I'll let you know if I come up with any questions for you.
  8. Sep 16, 2013 #7
    Well, I've found one major snag to the Master's degree idea. With the way the prerequisites work, it would take me 4 semesters just to finish the bridge courses, even though it's only 7-8 classes. Add on the 2 years for the Master's program, and I'm in for 4 years. However, in 5 semesters, I can get a BS and be done with it. (There is still the question of whether or not I'd be able to do hardware designs with just a BS though...)

    One more issue with getting a Master's degree: I don't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure Missouri requires you to have -both- a BS and MS in order to get your Professional Engineering license. (i.e. you can't have an MS without the corresponding BS degree if you want to get the PE license)
  9. Sep 16, 2013 #8
    ^ Thats similar to my situation. I have two physics degrees but no PhD and no career prospects. I need pre-reqs for a MS in EE which will take almost as long as the BS. Plus, in the BS program I have more internship opportunities than in the MS program. Also, the BS will open up the ability to get a PE licence. So I am working on starting a BS in EE this fall or winter.
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