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Civil Engineering or Astrophysics it's decision time.

  1. Jul 5, 2009 #1
    edit: I've decided to stick with CE. Though I do love the study of the universe, I don't think I would be able to hand graduate school and all the research that is packed along with it. The books I've read are enough to satisfy my interest in space and time. During this economy, I think I'm better off with getting my B.S. and snatching a job right away. Thanks for the insights you guys!
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2009 #2


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    High paying astrophysics jobs (government, NASA, private sector) usually require a Ph. D., so you might want to take that into consideration.

    With a B.S. in Civil Engineering you can pretty much join the workforce and get a decent paying job right out of college.
  4. Jul 5, 2009 #3
    Seeing this, I would recommend the astrophysics route. I think of astrophysics as far more beautiful, wonderous, and endless in its possibilities of things to discover. Civil engineering is of course very practical, but I'm not even for sure on the market for civil engineers.

    I would not worry about the market anyways when trying to decide on a career. Do what you love. If you do choose to do astrophysics, you will need to go on to get a Ph.D. to get the most out of it, in terms of job placement and intellectual growth. To be honest, one of the most secure jobs out there is a graduate student. Once you are accepted into a Ph.D. program with funding, I think it is very, very difficult for that funding to be cut off. The only time funding cuts hurt physics or math students is the reduction in the number of new students accepted. You won't be "laid off" if you keep your grades and performance up. You basically will be granted around 5 years to learn high level astrophysics, teach basic courses, and have the relatively relaxed responsibilities of a student while having great security when you think of graduate school in terms of a job (which it sort of is). Go for it! Any UC school is highly respected in physics and mathematics.
    I was a double degree student in electrical engineering. I did an internship in engineering and spent a summer doing a research program in mathematics, so I got a good look at both disciplines in action. I dropped the engineering degree and added a physics minor. I am now I a graduate student in mathematics and will possibly do mathematical physics.

    I absolutely love it. The schooling is very intense, but this is good. I am not told what I have to study in the way that I might be restricted to what I might work on at an engineering company. The freedom of both a graduate student and professor is wonderful, especially compared to the restricted life of working in industry. If you don't want to be a professor, you can always work for government or private labs. The job security for a professor is also excellent once you land a job.
  5. Jul 6, 2009 #4
    I'm worried that space exploration has been swept under a rug these past 10 years. What are astrophysicists doing these days?
  6. Jul 6, 2009 #5
    Astrophysicists do a lot more than space exploration, here is a site that'll give you an example of the kind of research Astrophysicists do.


    Also like thrill3rnit3 said, if you do plan on taking Astrophysicists you will need a PHD to work in that field so you should factor that in your decision.
  7. Jul 6, 2009 #6
    I'm a PhD student in particle astrophysics (which I guess is half high energy and half astrophysics). I can answer questions if you'd like. I can also answer questions about switching majors in an Asian household...if you count American-born Indian as Asian. :)

    Anyway, there's one thing I should warn you about. Astrophysicists don't do much in the way of space exploration. I've never had to do anything with NASA, nor have I built anything that went aboard the space shuttle. In fact, I've never done anything that's even remotely associated with manned space exploration. I guess the closest thing I'll do to space exploration stuff is analyze data from the Fermi Gamma Ray Satellite. Astrophysicists are physicists. We study science questions and probe space to learn more about fundamental physics. My area of research is especially physics-based, since I'm essentially a particle physicist with a telescope. I guess you could do observational astronomy if you want just map out the night sky. But if you're interested in boldly going where no one has gone before and all that stuff, I'd recommend working for NASA rather than becoming an astrophysicist. Almost all the people I know who work for NASA are mechanical engineers. It's not the same thing as civil, but probably closer than physics.

    Still want to be an astrophysicist? If so, then I've got mostly good news for you: you don't need to change majors. You do, however, need to get a PhD, which is an investment of at least five years in graduate school. The bright side is that you get paid to go to grad school, so you don't need to go into any student debt. You won't need to take any undergrad courses in astronomy either (I never took a single astro course when I was doing my undergrad, and I'm doing well as a grad student). You will, however, need to have some basic coursework in physics. I don't know how much physics CivE majors do, but you'll likely need four semesters in freshman and sophomore physics, plus a couple of advanced undergrad courses (like mechanics and E&M). You can get accepted into most grad schools without having a complete undergrad physics education, though they'll usually make you take some senior undergrad physics during your first year of grad school (probably quantum and stat mech).

    Now about employability. I'd wager to say that a PhD in astrophysics is somewhat more employable than a BS in civil engineering. The caveat is that you might not necessarily get a job that involves doing any physics. The last statistic I read said that about half of all physics grad students end up getting academic positions. A lot of high energy physicists and astrophysicists end up becoming programmers, software engineers, or (surprisingly) computational biologists. So majoring in astrophysics in grad school doesn't necessitate that you'll get paid to look through telescopes for the rest of your life. If all you're worried about is employability, the astro PhD is a good way to go. But if you're dead set on being a professional astrophysicist, it's really a roll of the dice.

    Anyway, what I've said is based on my experiences and the research I've done into employment possibilities. So when you read this, remember that it's only one data point.
  8. Jul 8, 2009 #7
    Hello arunma, after reading your post (sorry that I deleted my original post!) do you mind giving me your email? I would like to ask some questions since you have experience living in an "Asian" household with the typical "Asian" parents. I also would like to ask you about Physics in general, school, graduate school etc. Thank you very much, well appreciated.
  9. Jul 27, 2009 #8
    If you're interested in speaking to CE's in the Navy, check out the link below. They can answer some of your questions now that you've chosen your path, and perhaps be of some help in general as you move forward.

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