Can't decide between Electrical Engineering and Physics

  • #1
Jose Diaz
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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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  • #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.
 
  • #3
Choppy
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Why is the choice split between electrical engineering and physics? Why not a program like engineering physics?
 
  • #4
Jose Diaz
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Why is the choice split between electrical engineering and physics? Why not a program like engineering physics?
The choice is a result from the illogical part of my body that deals with the things I like.
 
  • #5
Eric Bretschneider
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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).
 
  • #6
Jose Diaz
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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).
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
analogdesign
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As far as career goal, I do not have one at the moment, but I do know that the answer includes creating new ... things!

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.
 
  • #9
ZapperZ
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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.

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.
 
  • #10
analogdesign
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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.

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
 
  • #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.
 
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  • #12
Crass_Oscillator
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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).
 
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  • #13
Qurks
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Engineering physics isn't good, you won't get hired into engineering positions and physics graduate schools will probably look down on you.
 
  • #14
symbolipoint
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Engineering physics isn't good, you won't get hired into engineering positions and physics graduate schools will probably look down on you.
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?
 
  • #15
clope023
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Engineering physics isn't good, you won't get hired into engineering positions and physics graduate schools will probably look down on you.

As a blanket statement this is wrong.
 
  • #16
StatGuy2000
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Engineering physics isn't good, you won't get hired into engineering positions and physics graduate schools will probably look down on you.

@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
 
  • #17
Qurks
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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.
 
  • #18
clope023
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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.

Lot of opinion and not alot of evidence.
 
  • #19
StatGuy2000
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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.

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:
 
  • #20
Qurks
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Lot of opinion and not alot of evidence.

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.
 
  • #21
Crass_Oscillator
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The Berkeley degree is very strong for grad school in engineering/applied physics programs. It is not as good I guess for fancy theoretical physics (not enough fancy math), but that's about it for physics programs, many of whom have experimentalists who work in very applied fields anyways.

I would be very surprised if it had any negative effect on scoring an internship.

Honestly it just seems like a degree for people who intend to pursue a masters or PhD in engineering or applied physics, while not focusing on the more mathematical subfields (e.g. communications in EE or industrial optimization in ChemE). Lack of electronics courses is actually a bit surprising but with technical electives and the instrumentation/microfabrication courses an EP major could pass for a EE reasonably well.

It's not for people who want a four year circuits or software development focus to get a meal ticket in industry.

In short, I guess an engineering physics major ran off with Qurk's spouse to the Alps, because his/her claims are baseless and inexplicably salty.
 
  • #23
symbolipoint
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Will people with an undergraduate Engineering Physics degree tell us the value and outcomes of such a degree?
 
  • #24
Jose Diaz
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I am not going to major in Engineering Physics, but if you want to discuss it on this post feel free to do so! - OP
 
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  • #25
symbolipoint
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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.
Making a good decision needs you to find or identify very clear goals. Will you want to design and test, have/get/find a job in industry? The engineering. Do you want to study and understand? Physics.

That set of remarks is brief, and not really complete.
 
  • #26
Jose Diaz
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Making a good decision needs you to find or identify very clear goals. Will you want to design and test, have/get/find a job in industry? The engineering. Do you want to study and understand? Physics.

That set of remarks is brief, and not really complete.
True, if it was complete, then a logical solution would follow.

My deepest desire is to create something new and relatively profound that has valuable applications, not the superficial "things" like facebook and youtube by the way. It may thus seem that engineering is the answer, but every deep creation is rooted in a scientific discovery. In a sense, the engineer does the dirty work that the physicist does not want to do, rather that coming up with the creation himself.

Even though it is still intellectually challenging and rewarding to reach the level necessary to develop that creation, I find the attribution of the creation to go to the physicist and not the engineer, hence, I think I will be unsatisfied.

Perhaps my view is naive and owing to my young age. If so then that feeling should go away with age, but even then a derivative problem exists Can the engineer be the one to create the "thing".

If so, and without considering the chances, I would choose engineering, and in particular E.E. due to its more mathematical nature.
 
  • #27
symbolipoint
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True, if it was complete, then a logical solution would follow.

My deepest desire is to create something new and relatively profound that has valuable applications, not the superficial "things" like facebook and youtube by the way. It may thus seem that engineering is the answer, but every deep creation is rooted in a scientific discovery. In a sense, the engineer does the dirty work that the physicist does not want to do, rather that coming up with the creation himself.

Even though it is still intellectually challenging and rewarding to reach the level necessary to develop that creation, I find the attribution of the creation to go to the physicist and not the engineer, hence, I think I will be unsatisfied.

Perhaps my view is naive and owing to my young age. If so then that feeling should go away with age, but even then a derivative problem exists Can the engineer be the one to create the "thing".

If so, and without considering the chances, I would choose engineering, and in particular E.E. due to its more mathematical nature.
Good Choice! You tried some reasonable rationalizing to make the choice.
 
  • #28
CrysPhys
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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

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.

"Evidence" requires data, such as:

Over the past 5 years:

(1) The number of students who graduated with an undergrad degree in engineering was A. Of the A students, the number who applied for engineering jobs was B. Of the B students, the number who were given an offer was C.

(2) The number of students who graduated with an undergrad degree in physics was D. Of the D students, the number who applied for a physics PhD program was E. Of the E students, the number who were accepted was F.

(3) The number of students who graduated with an undergrad degree in engineering physics was G.

(4) Of the G students, the number who applied for engineering jobs was H. Of the H students, the number who were given an offer was I.

(5) Of the G students, the number who applied for a physics PhD program was J. Of the J students, the number who were accepted was K.


Then assuming that B, E, H, and J are sufficiently large to give you valid sample sizes, you need to show that

I/H << C/B; and
K/J << F/E.

Any other response is not evidence; merely conjecture, opinion, or supposition.
 
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  • #29
Choppy
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@Jose Diaz one rule of thumb that I find helps is that if you're undecided between physics and engineering, it's probably better to default to engineering. My reasoning is that engineering is a professional degree. Engineering programs are specifically designed to train you for the profession of an engineer. The programs will have internships and opportunities for professional networking that will help to launch your career in a particular direction.

Physics on the other hand is more academic in it's nature. Pursuing physics, you'll get an education in physics. Most programs are set up to prepare you for graduate study in physics. What that means is that when you eventually leave the ivory tower of academia, which is the statistically most probable outcome, you'll have to figure out how to feed yourself. This tends not to be as hard as some people make it out to be. Physics graduates tend to do quite well according the data from the AIP, but there's a lot more that's left up to you. As a physics grad, there's usually more work to convincing people what your skills are and how you help them than there is for an engineering grad.
 
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  • #30
Choppy
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With respect to engineering physics, one thing to keep in mind is that this kind of program varies from school to school - I think a lot more than a discipline like electrical or mechanical. So not all engineering physics programs are created equal. I think it's a fair argument to say that they are essentially hybrid programs and you can't just assume that you're going to get the best of both worlds without some disadvantages. The disadvantages tend to be that you have less room for electives, and you don't dig as deep into either discipline. But that doesn't make them "pointless."

For what it's worth, the engineering physics graduates that I know have all done quite well for themselves, although my sample size is weighted heavily toward engineering physics grads who've gone into medical physics graduate programs.
 
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  • #31
mpresic3
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I am not sure about engineering physics. There seems to be no uniformity in the schools in the programs that I am quite familiar with. First there is the name "engineering physics". Some schools have a program in engineering science, some in mechanics, some in geodesy (from various departments e.g. civil engineering), some in applied physics, etc.

Generalizing, (and this always leads to trouble), I have seen some programs where engineering physics (or what it is called) is a less rigorous program, than either the programs in physics, or engineering. I have also seen some programs where the student has to have exceptional engineering and physics, and good mathematics training thrown in. Unfortunately, the transcript may not distinguish to the employer, whether the program at the particular schools was very rigorous, and strong or a fall back for students from physics and/or engineering who have run into difficulty.

It would be best to take a very good look at a prospective program in "engineering physics" or whatever it is called, and see if it is sufficiently interesting to you.
You may need to consult sources to examine how the programs are perceived by employers.
 

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