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Physics Can't decide between Electrical Engineering and Physics

  1. Aug 6, 2018 #1
    I comprehend that the above statement is not phrased as a question even though it contains the appropriate symbol, and that is because even if it was, and an appropriate answer was given, i believe i still would not be able to make a decision. It is more a reflection of my current mental state, one of uncertainty and lack of assertiveness, than an attempt at getting a valid answer. Thus, the problem is probably psychological rather than not, hence the answer may be found by reverting to a sane mental state, and not by seeking a logical answer. I have one more semester before I have to make a decision, but I do not know what it will be. The more i dwell on it the more confused I become, as if what i am seeing is a painting from the "Abstract Expressionism" movement. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated, especially if it comes from people with PhD's in Physics and/or Engineering. Also, my favorite area of physics is Nuclear Physics.
     
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  3. Aug 6, 2018 #2

    analogdesign

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    I have a PhD in Electrical Engineering and I have the privilege of working closely with nuclear physicists on instrumentation and detection projects. A few datapoints:

    1. The nuclear physicists I work with typically went to the best schools in the USA and had extensive postdocs. The environment I work in (a national lab) is pretty much the Major Leagues for physicists (if you forgive the baseball analogy).

    2. I went to a good regional but not world-class graduate school. If I didn't work here I could make way more money and be in demand in Silicon Valley. There isn't a lot of demand for Nuclear Physics out there.

    3. I focus more on delivering a working system. They focus more on *what* we are measuring, but at the end of the day, we both spend a lot of time in the lab making it work.

    To sum up, my job is amazingly interesting and I'm lucky to have it. If I couldn't make it here, though, there are tons of interesting high-paying jobs out there for someone with my skill set (PhD in analog electronics). If I were a nuclear physicist, I would be in my early 30s before I knew if I could get a career position, and if I couldn't I'd probably try to get an engineering job (and be 10 years behind the folks who got an MS in engineering). On the other hand, I am an engineer, I don't do physics.

    Obviously no one can decide but you, but if you're on the fence that says to me you don't have a burning need deep in your gut to be a physicist. You're interested in both. In that case, Engineering is a wise move. But again, only you can answer this. But to stress, I'm a good engineer but I'm not the "World's Greatest". The nuclear physicists here ARE the "World's Greatest". Think about that.
     
  4. Aug 6, 2018 #3

    Choppy

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    Why is the choice split between electrical engineering and physics? Why not a program like engineering physics?
     
  5. Aug 6, 2018 #4
    The choice is a result from the illogical part of my body that deals with the things I like.
     
  6. Aug 6, 2018 #5
    What do you enjoy and what degree level do you intend to pursue? If you are considering a graduate (Ph.D.) then you will have some opportunities to guide your research into an area that would overlap. A Ph.D. is expected to have a broad background that overlaps into other disciplines.

    Your career goal: University, National Lab, Corporate Research, Corporate R&D or just good old fashioned (and enjoyable) engineering plays a role as well. More details will help others chime in to offer their advice.

    I have a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, but I have spent my entire career working with LEDs and Solid-State Lighting. I personally wouldn't call it work as it has been enjoyable for me the entire time (so much for stereotypes).
     
  7. Aug 6, 2018 #6
    Hey!
    Generally, I enjoy pushing my brain (intellectually). Which ties into the degree level that I would like to pursue, because I want one that challenges me, and based on my academic performance so far, I think a PhD is that level. As far as career goal, I do not have one at the moment, but I do know that the answer includes creating new ... things!
    Congratulations on having a "job" you like!
     
  8. Aug 6, 2018 #7

    ZapperZ

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  9. Aug 6, 2018 #8

    analogdesign

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    That is what an engineer does. The engineers where I work create new *things* that physicists use to do their research.

    That's not bad advice, but in my experience Accelerator Physicists are much more Physicist than Engineer. Where I work, some Accelerator Physicists do R&D on new techniques and simulation but the RF systems, the magnet development, the detectors, the DAQ, and so on is mostly done by Engineers.
     
  10. Aug 6, 2018 #9

    ZapperZ

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    In my experience, with the group that I worked with, both electrical engineers and physicists ended up doing almost the identical work. We all went to the same particle accelerator schools and took the courses that we want to specialize in.

    Zz.
     
  11. Aug 6, 2018 #10

    analogdesign

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    Interesting. That's different from where I work. Forgive me, but it seems like you're making an argument for Electrical Engineering. If you end up doing identical work, wouldn't it make sense to study the field that gives you more flexibility? An EE can do any number of things, and certainly make a lot more money in industry than in a National Lab. It sounds like studying Accelerator Physics would be self-limiting prematurely.

    In other words it sounds like you have two choices if you want to work in Accelerator Physics:

    1. Study Accelerator Physics --> get a job doing accelerator development. If you want to work outside that area, (e.g. hardware development) you need to explain why you're "jumping fields" in your resume.

    2. Study Electrical Engineering --> get a job doing accelerator development, or any number of a thousand other things in case your interests change
     
  12. Aug 6, 2018 #11

    ZapperZ

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    I have no issues in recommending someone into EE if that person wants to pursue accelerator science. I have done just that on this forum before.

    Zz.
     
  13. Aug 6, 2018 #12
    I am getting a PhD in solid state device physics in an engineering program. I do physics simulations of semi-classical and quantum transport in devices and materials. I was also recently put on a quantum photonics project.

    Some of the work I do is the fast track to industry; other work that I do is the fast track to joblessness unless I perform spectacularly. 10 of my advisors former students are professors, most doing theory. One with his PhD in EE now works predominantly on the theory of topological materials and such like and is quite highly cited, so he moved to foofy physics.

    I honestly think the career system for physicists is royally broken. As has already been mentioned there are many areas where EE's do the same work and are paid more simply due to the vagaries of HR departments. There are also far more, higher paying jobs in EE departments than physics departments, often without even doing a postdoc.

    My strong suggestion is to pursue a PhD in EE doing applied physics (or Mech E/MatE/ChemE). Probably either experimental or computational. In both cases, if you really want, you can eventually transition to making contributions to theory and get published in fancy journals like Phys Rev if you please; my adviser, who started doing experimental electronics, does precisely that, although he is extraordinarily rare (has an equation in quantum transport named after him, has published ~900 papers, probably has an h-index far above 100, for whatever those useless metrics are worth).
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018
  14. Aug 6, 2018 #13
    Engineering physics isn't good, you won't get hired into engineering positions and physics graduate schools will probably look down on you.
     
  15. Aug 7, 2018 #14

    symbolipoint

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    Would members discuss that, to support or deny it? Make a new topic if necessary. Is "Engineering Physics" really a half-assed combination degree which employers and advanced schools find dubious?
     
  16. Aug 7, 2018 #15
    As a blanket statement this is wrong.
     
  17. Aug 7, 2018 #16

    StatGuy2000

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    @Qurks , on what basis are you making this conclusion? What evidence do you have that engineering physics isn't a good program?

    Specifically, what evidence do you have of the following:

    (a) Engineering physics graduates don't get hired into engineering positions,
    and

    (b) Physics departments look down upon engineering physics graduates applying to graduate programs
     
  18. Aug 7, 2018 #17
    Simple, you're less qualified in any particular engineering discipline than an engineer which majored in it while simultaneously being less qualified for physics graduate schools than someone with a BS in physics. This doesn't mean you can't go, you can and will probably be accepted but if your goal is to be "industry ready" it's pointless degree other than the fact it has the term engineer in the title.
     
  19. Aug 7, 2018 #18
    Lot of opinion and not alot of evidence.
     
  20. Aug 7, 2018 #19

    StatGuy2000

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    I agree with @clope023 here in post #18 -- you present your opinion without providing any evidence that engineering physics graduates are less qualified than those with a traditional engineering specialty, or that they are less qualified for physics graduate schools.

    Pardon my language (and apologies to the PF moderators beforehand), but this seems to be a whole pile of BS -- and I don't mean Bachelor of Science! :rolleyes:
     
  21. Aug 7, 2018 #20
    What position is an "engineering physics" graduate qualified for and how does their knowledge compare against competitors? You could make an argument they may know some more about physics, maybe some additional QM but at the undergraduate level no one cares, you're not going to get any position with it. Conversely the things they don't take are actually employable skills.

    Here's an example of the Berkley curriculum:

    http://engineeringscience.berkeley.edu/engineering-physics/

    It's a watered down physics degree without real practical skills.
     
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