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Chemistry or Physics?

  1. Dec 15, 2015 #1
    Good evening,
    I'm a student in my last year of high school and I'm still not sure about what I'd want to study later at University. I'm sure I want to do something with science but I am hesitating between chemistry and physics. I think I'm more interested in physics but am afraid it is going to be too difficult for me (my father advices engineering but I'm more interested in the theory so I guess physics would be better). I find chemistry also interesting but maybe a little less than physics. For both fields I'd like to know the different job you could get after your studies. Maybe some could tell me the major pratical differences between both or advice another field.
    Thanks already.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2015 #2


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    People who start studying physics in the university are usually first shocked by the difficulty of the new mathematics they have to learn in uni. In chemistry the mathematical methods are a lot easier. I suggest you try to read some online applied mathematics textbook, like this: http://julianoliver.com/share/free-science-books/essential-engineering-mathematics.pdf , and if the material looks so difficult that you never want to even try learning it, I suggest you choose chemistry instead of physics.
  4. Dec 16, 2015 #3

    Ok. Apart from the math, is there anything else that is difficult ? What would the qualities of a physicist be ?
  5. Dec 16, 2015 #4


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    You and your father are both correct in your own ways. Physics, yes very very mathematical, helps so much for understanding. Engineering is problem-solving to design useful things and to investigate what happened to things that went badly. Engineers will find jobs, often as engineers, or sometimes some type of technician. Chemistry skills and knowledge also are good, since some practicality is found with it, like laboratory work designing materials, measurement of amounts of materials in other materials, applicable to environmental analyses, synthesizing compounds to use as pharmaceuticals, formulating consumer household products, examing samples from production processes.
  6. Dec 18, 2015 #5
    I feel the high schools have physics and chemistry courses but no courses in engineering. When I went to HS, I also was torn between physics and chemistry. I found out the college I applied to (and eventually entered) had a world-famous (undergraduate and graduate) optics program. I thought optics was just engineering. I could not imagine myself designing lenses. Little did I know the University was and still is noted for quantum optics and atomic physics. This is one of the hot disciplines in physics. Optics is not just designing lenses.

    This being said, I think almost young person about to enter college will be biased towards physics or chemistry (subjects they have already demonstrated mastery in) rather than engineering, unless they have a mentor who is an engineer. My advice is keep an open mind.
    Your first courses in either a science or engineering program will likely be Calculus (sometimes called analysis), Physics or Chemistry (depending out your prospective major. In some very strong science or engineering programs both may be required.) Usually you need to fill some distribution requirements so that you get a course in English, or maybe take a intro engineering course as an elective. Consequently, your next couple years will put you in the same courses, whether you major in physics or engineering, or chemistry or engineering. You can decide physics and/or chemistry, calculus, usually English or distribution requirement and perhaps engineering.

    I went into physics, but I have taken several courses in aerospace and electrical engineering. All courses were extremely mathematical, and some EE and Aero E was as "theory-based" as any discipline of physics. Most likely, if your HS experience was like mine, Engineering has not been introduced as a theory-laden discipline. Alternatively, we all know about how physics involves Atomic Theory, Quantum theory, Relativity Theory. Engineering schools do have courses in Information Theory, Quantum Theory for Engineers (usually applied), Chaos Theory etc.

    My suggestion is keep your mind open. You might like engineering. I think it is great that you have a plan before entering college. (I made up my mind to major in physics before I started too). But your first courses are pretty much fixed given your scientific / technical interests, and you can be flexible for awhile.
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