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Career Advice(The bout between Physics and Engineering)

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  1. Aug 3, 2014 #1
    Hello,
    I'm new here and currently a 10th grader, and unlike many of my friends I've known what I want to be since the 4th grade, only it's an endless bout between the two heavyweights of Physics and Engineering. Math has always come fairly naturally to me and have never gotten less than an "A" in the subject and my science classes are the same way. So I have a few questions,
    1) I've always assumed that physics is more researched oriented while engineering is (for lack of a better word) industrial. Is this the reality?
    2) Can someone explain the lives of both of these professions?
    3) How will studying both of these fields differ?
    4) Finally (for now) how would you suggest a possible academic path (dual major, on of those 5-year accelerated programs, choosing one, etc.)

    Thanks so much!!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 3, 2014 #2
    1) You could say physics is more blue skies oriented, meaning that physicists acquire knowledge about the universe for the sake of the knowledge itself. Engineering is about using established science to make useful products. There's places where this intersects, engineering is full of research in order to make better products, and there's plenty of physicists making engineering systems in order to acquire data more efficiently.
    2) I would say they're very similar (except for a pay gap between the two depending on the type of physics/engineering you're doing and the politics going on).
    3) Studying the two involve calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, probability, statistics, computer programming and the relevant science for your discipline. A physics undergrad is more theoretical while an engineering undergrad is more experimental (though you do both theory and experiment in both).
    4) If you want to do both in some way look at programs that call themselves engineering physics or applied physics, they have the combination of a physics undergrad and an engineering undergrad built into the program. What you choose depends on what you want to do after and how much you like it. Some people really like mathematical rigour and derivations with their physics and they become mathematicians or theoreticians; some like playing with toys and become experimental physicists or they become engineers (depends on whether they like 'pure' or 'applied' science).
     
  4. Aug 3, 2014 #3

    jedishrfu

    Staff: Mentor

    Both can be academic and both can be industrial. Physics can be theoretical or it can be applied. Applied is not necessarily at the depth of applied engineering. Engineering explores many topics now from mechanical systems to electronic systems to nanotechnology and robotics.

    Read about them on Wikipedia to see the range of topics then look at where your interests lie and see which field lines up more.

    On many exotic projects physics researchers and engineers will often work together. Some examples would be the space telescope projects or the space station.
     
  5. Aug 3, 2014 #4
    I certainly enjoy the more hands on environment that comes with experimental physics and I'm leaning towards such. However (and sorry for another question) what would be some real world jobs/projects/experiments that one would undertake? And on another note what's the pay difference in the two?
     
  6. Aug 3, 2014 #5

    jedishrfu

    Staff: Mentor

    By the time you get out the pay will have changed to make any advice here totally obsolete, but now they are comparable when you can find a physics job in industry. Engineering depends on your major, right now petroleum engineers are in big demand. There are definitely more engineering jobs in industry. Defense industries use a lot of applied physicisits.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2014
  7. Aug 4, 2014 #6
    1. Generally true, but you can go to industry with physics, and vice versa you can do research in engineering.
    2. Sorry, I can't tell you too much.
    3. They don't differ a lot the first two years. But for physics, you need to have grad school in mind, so you will have to do a lot of research. For engineering, you need to have employment in mind so you will work a lot on professional/technical skills and perhaps internships.
    4. Generally speaking, double majors aren't recommended, since you don't get to specialize in a single field. 5-year accelerated programs are much preferred in both employment and grad school admissions I think.
    But if you plan to double major, I suggest you start preparing now: try to take as much college credit classes as possible (AP, dual enrollment, community college) so that you are ahead when you enter college. The classes I recommend are AP physics both mechanics and electromagnetism, and AP calc BC, which are the physics and math for freshmen physics/engineering majors. If you decide to go further, you can also take from a community college physics 3, linear algebra, and differential equations, which are sophomore material. This head start will help you double major more easily.
    The necessity of a head start in double majoring I must emphasize, as the concern with double majoring without a head start is that it will force another year or two of undergraduate studies, which is a lot of money and on top of that financial aid gets cancelled after 4 years I believe. On an accelerated program, the head start isn't as necessary (although it is always good). I recommend just getting good grades and getting involved in engineering communities/societies/events, internships, and making valuable connections.
     
  8. Aug 4, 2014 #7
    Ok, what kinds of research would a say nuclear or aerospace engineer do? Also, can someone tell me smaller D1 schools or any D2, D3, or NAIA school that are considered well respected in these fields, as I'm a track runner and probably not fast enough to race at the big powerhouses that have the great programs, but will probably be able to run elsewhere. Thanks again!
     
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