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Engineering Computer Science/Engineering positions for a physics major?

  1. Jul 18, 2009 #1
    I will soon be starting my freshman year in college studying physics. As I read more and more about the actual career of a physicist, I often see people mention that after getting a physics diploma, they get jobs in engineering and Computer Science positions. I'm pretty ignorant about academia and the professional world, so I was wondering how exactly is it possible for someone studying a completely different subject in school to come out and get a job like this? Is perhaps the work very similar, or must a physics major take engineering classes at some point?

    Could it be said that physics majors OFTEN work in these fields because of a lower availability of physics related jobs? If so, I'm kind of scared. I'm wondering what I'm getting myself into here. The entire practice of switching fields is very bizarre to me.

    Thanks for your help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 19, 2009 #2


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    Better pay probably has something to do with it - I'd imagine that you get more money working in engineering or CS (which are industrially applicable fields) than in actual physics (which could pretty much limit you to academia).

    As for how it's possible: physics makes heavy use of computers these days, so it's easy to pick up some computing experience during your studies as a physics major (let me rephrase: it's hard not to). Not to mention, a lot of physics majors are hobbyist programmers on the side :wink: Probably the same sort of thing applies to engineering.
  4. Jul 20, 2009 #3
    I imagine most physics majors who go into engineering or CS after graduation get some pretty substantial experience with the other fields, at least if they're getting competitive jobs. I imagine a lot of this experience is either in jobs or, perhaps more often, in the form of courses/minors/double majors.

    About 75% of the physics majors at my school are double-majoring, and I believe all the rest have minors.
  5. Jul 27, 2009 #4
    I'm sure that if you know CS as well as a CS major you wouldn't have trouble. Good luck fitting that into your already busy physics schedule! I would recommend looking at job postings for entry level CS positions.

    If you really want to do CS work, start tailoring your education towards that now. I thought I could get away with a summer internship in data analysis and taking the required year of Java and upper division physics coursework that intersects with CS. I took my knowledge and experience to a web design job interview and a Microsoft interview - and was slaughtered.

    I quit applying for CS type positions even though I am 100% confident that I could learn everything and more to get the job done.
  6. Jul 27, 2009 #5
    This may be the greatest question ever. I enjoy the fact physics majors can get into computer science and engineering. If anything getting physics PhD for super smarts and hopes of working in a lab. But if no labs i could pursue my first love-computer work stuff. And Engineering jobs are available everywhere it seems
  7. Jul 27, 2009 #6
    Moving into engineering from physics is not much of a stretch because engineering can be considered applied physics. This is not say that it doesn't sometimes take a little convincing, but it can be done.

    It is probably worth considering whether you might want to go into industry and structure your time accordingly. For an academic track, working in professors' labs and assisting with research will be very helpful, while if you do want to go into industry corporate internships are extremely helpful. You do not need to take engineering classes to be an engineer, but having some engineering classes (substitute CS if you like that better) on your transcript will make the convincing easier. There are specialized kinds of engineering where this does not apply, but if you wanted to do that you could simply enter one of those programs.

    To give an example from personal experience, I decided that the academic world was not for me, so I looked for industrial jobs that would hire physics graduates. I interviewed with a defense company and a medical device manufacturer for the kind of jobs that mechanical engineers do. I ended up as a medical engineer, but many such things are possible. I took the freshman year engineering design seminar, but no other engineering classes. It helps if your school has a preexisting relationship with a company, because it makes it easier to get an interview. This is where the internships come in handy, because you build that critical relationship, and get valuable experience.

    Something that is extremely valuable in industry is statistics, and it is typically very easy for a physics student to fit stats in as part of the required math classes.

    However, since you are still very early in your schooling, you should not fret yet. You still have time to see where your interests and talents lie in greater detail, and then you can pour greater energy into those areas.
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