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Choosing between Majors/Minors (Employability)

  1. Nov 16, 2009 #1
    This is my first post here, and I hope to regularly contribute, though the majority seems to be well above my intellectual level at the moment.

    I am currently an undergraduate freshman Physics (BS) and Mathematics (BS) double major at a very small private school. I am currently taking Calculus I, General Physics I (calculus based), and various liberal arts courses. I absolutely love my classes, and everything comes very naturally, almost innately. The physics program is quite small - there are roughly 900 undergraduate students in the school, with fewer than 10 physics majors - which means that while the program is less prestigious, it is much more personal, as often the 400 level courses have as few as 2 or 3 students. Mathematics is slightly larger, but generally the same. I currently have a 3.9gpa, but it will probably settle at 3.7 or 3.8. I love how it's set up, and am really enjoying it.

    But as much as I love my courses so far, I'm worried about the job outlook for my degrees. Graduate school is a possibility, but I'm still not really sure. I have no idea what I want to do when I graduate, but I want to be as prepared for anything as possible.

    Is my math major going to help with admission to grad school (physics), or vice-versa? I have heard opinions on both sides of the issue. It will require about four more courses on top of my physics major, three of which are in pure mathematics. I am also considering a minor in philosophy. I think I would enjoy it - but would it look pointless to a graduate school or prospective employer? It would only require four courses - one of which I am taking now. And the third option is either electrical engineering or computer engineering. I do a lot of programming on my own - though I have no formal education in it at the moment. Which of these majors/minors (Physics, Math, Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Philosophy) would make for the best general-purpose college transcript? I love all of these subjects pretty equally at the moment, but need to choose the right courses for next semester. Any thoughts?

    - Jack
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 16, 2009 #2
    Wow I hate when I accidentally delete my posts...

    Anyways, welcome to the forum :smile:. You sound a lot like I did a few years ago. I graduated from a liberal arts school about twice the size of yours in '08. I came into school with an interest in physics and in positioning myself for a career after school. We had an ABET accredited engineering program, which a school of your size may not have, and I ended up going for the mechanical engineering degree. I did this as a compromise between physics and finding the type of job I wanted. In addition to mechanical engineering, I double majored in philosophy and minored in models and data (applied math). I actually ended up being able to pursue more interesting physics through the philosophy major than the engineering major.

    To start with the math double major - it will absolutely be helpful for grad school in physics, engineering, math, applied math, business, etc. Philosophy may or may not help for grad school in physics or engineering. It's hit or miss, and I would guess it's mostly miss. Philosophy, including philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, and epistemology, is actually very relevant to theoretical physics, but more math and physics are probably valued more highly. The foundations of quantum physics also fall squarely in the realm of philosophy, along with the nature of reality etc. I was able to write an honors philosophy thesis on quantum mechanics and reality, which was co-read by the physics department. I thoroughly enjoyed philosophy, and being able to read a book and call it homework during an otherwise endless sea of problem sets is a godsend.

    As far as the business world is concerned, you should have no problem with any double major combination of fields you listed and a high GPA. It all depends on the job you are looking for. Physics oriented jobs mostly require a PhD, although I'm sure there are some small highly technical firms out there where physics is the preferred undergrad concentration. Having said that, I can't think of any job where a physics grad would be accepted and an engineer with the appropriate concentration would be turned down. The opposite, however, is not true. Many engineering jobs require an ABET accredited degree. An engineering degree is also proof that you have analytical problem solving skills applicable to the real world. The accreditation ensures the engineering degree conveys a base level of work ethic not necessarily guaranteed by other programs. Employers recognize this, and I recommend you search this forum and the American Institute of Physics and Bureau of Labor Statistic websites for some base salary information etc. Employers also know the (relatively high) base salary for engineers regardless of the field you end up in and typically compensate accordingly. There is a very tight range on engineering starting salaries.

    If you are considering the job market after undergrad, philosophy is an amazing complement to engineering or physics, and I highly recommend it. I started off slower with my GPA but finished with a 3.6 overall and 3.8 in my majors. Having a double major in engineering and philosophy, I was able to interview (and withdraw) or receive offers from corporate rotational programs in aerospace engineering, industrial operations management, and corporate finance. I also withdrew from final round interviews with a top management consulting firm. If it were an option, I absolutely would not trade my double major in philosophy for a 4.0 GPA. A philosophy double is really an amazing way to show companies that you are not the typical nerdy scientist or engineer who can't write or communicate. It turns you into a valuable intellectual business person who also happens to be able to do multivariable calculus and engineering design.

    I suggest you think about the type of job you're looking for. I'll probably apply to business schools in a year. If you decide to go that route, I highly recommend engineering and philosophy. You'll get (and demonstrate) the analytical and communication skills business schools are looking for, and can get a great job out of college to boost your resume. If you can add some leadership experience and maintain that 3.7+ GPA with either physics or engineering and philosophy, you'll be a good candidate for something like http://www.hbs.edu/mba/admissions/2+2/" [Broken] program. Engineering + philosophy is also the perfect preparation for law school, especially if you tell them you're interested in patent law.

    For more on engineering job options check out http://www.trincoll.edu/StudentLife/CareerServices/students/eng_resources/ [Broken], especially the "Everything You Need to Know..." paper.

    Good luck, and let me know if I can elaborate on any specific option you may be interested in.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Nov 19, 2009 #3
    Any thoughts or updates for us? What'd you go with :smile:?
  5. Nov 19, 2009 #4
    Thank you so much for such a detailed answer! I have an appointment with each of my advisers, and I have a lot of questions for them. Since my school only offers Electrical Engineering or Computer Engineering, I feel kind of torn.

    Would it be worth it to stay an extra year in order to graduate with a third major (Electrical Engineering)? Sadly, it is not ABET accredited. Ideally, it would be Mechanical Engineering, but that isn't offered...

    So my options now are basically:

    -Double Major (Physics, Electrical Engineering)
    Minor in Mathematics
    Possibly a second minor in Philosophy

    -Double Major (Physics, Mathematics)
    Minor in Philosophy

    -Triple Major (Mathematics, Physics, Electrical Engineering)
    I would probably have to stay five years.
    Extra thesis?

    Of course, each major would be a BS.

    Any combination that seems particularly strong or weak? One I didn't think of?

    Thanks again for your help!
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2009
  6. Nov 19, 2009 #5
    After 2 majors, it's my opinion that a third (or two minors) probably dilutes things rather than being more impressive. For engineering, the standard stats and advice will all only really apply to ABET accredited programs. ABET is required, for example, for later obtaining a PE license. I would look very carefully at the placement record of your department. Maybe even try to speak to some graduates. Without ABET, your mileage may vary drastically depending on the particular school.

    EE and CE are close enough that I wouldn't suggest doubling. CE is usually considered a subdiscipline of EE. EE is usually more general and less restricting on the job market, but of course if CE is your thing you won't care about more EE focused jobs. Overall they are very similar.
  7. Dec 2, 2009 #6
    Thanks for the advice. So, yesterday I finally met with my Mathematics adviser. For now at least, I'm going to stick with Physics and Mathematics. I think I would have preferred majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a second major or minor in physics or mathematics, but of course, Mechanical Engineering isn't available at my school. I considered computer engineering or computer science, but everything is in C (not even C++), and I don't want to sit through "Hello World" intro classes.

    If I graduate with a BS in Physics and BS in Mathematics from a small private school, then do I stand a decent chance at employment in a technical, non-research and non-teaching job? Or is it mandatory to get a MS in Physics or Engineering first? I really love where I'm going to school, but there are only two engineering majors available, and I don't think it's even ABET accredited. Do employers look at courses taken, or just at degrees? I'm actually planning on taking a few engineering courses as electives (Robotics, Circuit Theory, etc), and might consider dropping Mathematics in favor of a BA in Electrical Engineering.

    The requirements are listed here:
    http://www.enc.edu/undergrad/academics/programs/engineering/index.htm" [Broken]
    http://www.enc.edu/mathcs/courses.htm" [Broken]
    http://www.enc.edu/undergrad/academics/programs/physics/index.htm" [Broken] (A couple courses changed this year - Modern Physics II is now simply Quantum Mechanics)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Dec 2, 2009 #7
    Don't! Seriously, if the degree doesn't have ABET accreditation, it's not worth much more then the paper it's printed on. Take the courses as an elective and see if you're really into it, and if you're serious about EE, get a masters in it. At my school, that usually means an extra year of coursework where you take some staple undergrad EE courses. With dual majors in physics and math, you should have a decent chance of getting into an EE masters program, and an accredited degree in math carries far more weight than an unaccredited one in EE. (Oh, and same holds for ME-just go for the masters if you really want a degree in it.)

    Depends completely on the job, but usually the MS is critical to career advancement not original employment. Talk to recruiters at the next job fair your school has, and try to get some internships.

    By the way, I think a philosophy minor is a brilliant way to stand out because it indicates that you've got good communication skills, which a lot of company's say they're looking for when hiring.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009
  9. Dec 2, 2009 #8
    Agreed, although some specialized jobs will require a master's. With math and physics from a small school you may have to work a little harder to be competitive for jobs, but it's certainly doable. At the undergrad level employers are typically looking for engineers, so you may have some convincing to do. Internships are probably to best way to do that convincing. Additionally, many full time positions will require that you have completed an internship.

    Employers typically won't look at your transcript, but they do care about your major and GPA. I put an "Additional Coursework" line on my resume to highlight relevant courses outside of my major. Doing something like that is an option. When it comes to getting an interview, if it isn't on your resume, it didn't happen.

    Math specific jobs do also exist, but they are often found within engineering departments where HR is used to looking for engineers. They can also be found in smaller more technical companies, which there are many of in the Boston area. These companies probably won't be recruiting though. You'll have to go find them.
  10. Dec 2, 2009 #9
    I haven't found this to be true for EE degrees. One thing about EE's is that a lot of jobs for which EE's are hired for don't require state professional licensure and that makes the EE employment very, very different from other engineering fields.

    Having said that, I think it's a bad move to stay an extra year to get a EE bachelors. You are better off getting a physics/math bachelors and then spending two years to get a masters degree.
  11. Dec 9, 2009 #10
    Well, I spoke with one of my advisers, and made my decision. At least for now, I'm planning on keeping my Physics & Mathematics majors, and I'm going to add a Philosophy minor. Because of my Honors courses, I'm already taking a couple Philosophy classes anyway, so it will essentially only add two courses. I can't complain about a two course minor!

    I'm planning on graduate school, but it's still not set in stone. I'm also going to make sure that I take some programming or engineering courses if possible, in case I decide to try and go into engineering for graduate school. I signed up for a Robotics course for J-term (three week course in January - 6.5 hours/day), and I'm probably taking a programming course or two next year.

    And I'm also starting to work on some applications for summer research/internships. Can't hurt to start early!

    Thanks for all your help! It made my decision so much easier!
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