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Continue EE or change to Physics and Astronomy

  1. Feb 27, 2012 #1
    I'm currently a second-year student in EE at a large state school (top 30, I think). I chose EE when I applied, but I never really put any thought towards what major I wanted. I had taken AP physics, etc in high school and was always pretty good in math and sciences, so people told me to go with engineering. I chose electrical because I heard from a couple people that it involved a lot of math. However, now I am starting to question that decision.

    I've found that I have a stronger desire to pursue just physics and am strongly considering changing majors. However, if I did change to physics, I would most likely have to add a fifth year to my BS. This is both good and bad, though. By adding a fifth year I can actually dual-major in Physics and Astronomy with ease, and could probably even add a math major or minor (I've taken a good deal of math classes already). Another potential downside is that the Physics program at my school requires a lot of GECs as well as a foreign language. If I stick with EE, I have no more GECs (and no foreign language requirement), whereas I'd have to take atleast four or five more GECs with Physics.

    Though, my bigger concern with changing to Physics is that I wont be able to find a job post graduation. If I change to physics, I would also want to go for a PhD (I was planning on getting an MS in EE). I've heard many things about EE being a great field to get employment right out of college, so it's tough for me to walk away from that. Ultimately, though, I'd rather do something I love even if it means making less. Also, it's not really a matter of me being able to achieve a physics degree--I'm fairly smart and will work to achieve whatever it is that I set out achieve.

    What I really am asking is this: Is it a bad choice to switch out of EE to pursue a degree (ultimately ending in a PhD) in Physics? I've heard many bad things about people not find employment with Physics degrees, whereas I've heard graduating in EE with a BS even is almost sure to find me employment.

    I'm sure this is a pretty common question that gets asked around here, but there are always little intricacies that change from person to person and it's more comforting to get advice that directly responds to my question. I appreciate any input that is given.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2012 #2
    why not get a BS in physics and then get a MS in a field of EE that's close to physics like solid state electronics?

    I noticed that alot of EE is more like theoretical math, I am not an expert, that's just what I see. Your mileage may vary.

    Of course if you like things like astronomy then that's your call, it has nothing to do with EE, so get your PhD.
  4. Feb 27, 2012 #3
    The astronomy part was more so I could fill out the somewhat open schedule with the Physics degree. In retrospect, I would prefer physics and math; though astronomy is worth a shot. At my school getting a dual physics/astronomy degree is pretty easy given that you're already going for one of them.

    I'm not sure about getting a MS EE after Physics BS -- because I wouldn't go through the trouble of switching over to physics in that case. Thanks for the suggestion, though.
  5. Feb 27, 2012 #4
    Your story is similar to mine. I'm going to still stick with EE but I have a serious physics envy. I honestly can't stand some of these EE classes., especially the digital ones. From what I've heard E&M, optics, and solid state have a ton of physics so that's what I'm waiting for, unfortunately I still have this and another semester of these digital classes. The main reason I'm choosing EE is because I want to work in industry and there's no other degree that trains you better than engineering for that goal.

    Do you know what your career goals are at this point?

    I would love to major in physics but I feel the same way in terms of jobs. What I did to make me feel better with my decision was checked out career services at my school. They have a "Job Title by major" survey. The EE majors hold some very interesting jobs. The physics majors are hit or miss, some got into engineering/science related jobs and others are doing very random jobs. It doesn't say if this was by choice or not but it was enough for me stay in EE.

    From the physics majors I've met at my school most have no clue what they want to do for a career. They usually say "I'm just gonna get this degree and see what happens." To me, that's a very idealist way of thinking and I don't like that. The EE majors are much different, there are kids here that absolutely know they want to be embedded systems, RF or optics engineers. Or if they don't know what title they want they know the type of companies they want to work for.. HP, Intel, etc.

    Regardless, good luck with your decision I know it's a hard one because I'm still second guessing mine up to this point. Physics is just so cool. :smile:
  6. Feb 27, 2012 #5
    Our stories are very similar indeed. I actually was planning on specializing in Electromagnetics/Optics/Solid State given that I stick with EE. I think this choice was spurred by my interest in physics, definitely. However, the reason why I am hesitant about sticking with EE is that I'm not sure how much I want to work in industry. I need to chose by the end of this academic year, because by next year it will really be too late to change. Best of luck to you, too.
  7. Feb 28, 2012 #6


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    If you want to work in academia (as a post doc until age 55), go for the physics PhD. If you want a real job, doing something useful, stay with EE. It is pretty close to being that simple. You will learn physics in either one, but only EE will prepare you to work in industry and do real, useful, employable work. Physics, on the other hand, will prepare you for the politically correct world of academia, proposal writing, endless writing of papers that no one reads, conferences, and one-ups-manshipl.
  8. Feb 28, 2012 #7
    I'd like to further refine my original post as I wasn't necessarily the clearest.

    Astrophysics isn't so much an important aspect of what I want to study, I actually didn't realize the additional courses required from my colleges program at the time of writing. If I were to change, I would switch to a dual degree in Physics and Math, this would add an extra year to my undergrad.

    I feel like these are the subjects that I really want to study, as I am not so much interested in the engineering aspects of EE, but the physics and math aspects. My only concern is that I would have trouble finding employment with such a degree. I would have no problem with going back to get a Masters in Physics or Math, or even EE. However, I feel like getting a masters in EE would be the only worthwhile one of those as a PhD seems to be the entry point to be a practicing Physicist or Mathematician. In that case, it seems redundant to switch majors and go through the trouble of taking several extra GECs to end up in the same position as I would be otherwise (I planned on getting a MS EE already). In addition, I'm not sure about my feelings towards a PhD, as it seems Physics PhDs are graduating with worse and worse prospects.

    So, it seems that I talk myself right out of the switch of majors, which also somewhat leaves me feeling disappointed. However, it is rather difficult to turn away from the perceived comfort of graduating with an EE degree--even a BEng.

    Am I correct in my assessments? Would it really be worth it to further pursue my stronger interests to such an extent? I feel like I am driving myself to the point of insanity while thinking this over. Any insight, advice or comments are still greatly appreciated.
  9. Feb 29, 2012 #8
    I was in the exact same position as you a year ago. I am currently in an EE program. I always had an interest in astronomy, and was considering to switch. At that point i did enjoy EE, but i absolutely hated digital/analog electronics. It only seemed as if i only really enjoyed the math and physics aspect of EE. I was almost decided to make the switch, at that time i had a course in linear control theory and signal processing. These involved a lot of math and physics to some extent (mostly to model dynamical systems). I really enjoyed these, and discovered the field of control engineering which i really had not heard of before, probably because of my lack of interest. I decided to stay in ee in order to pursue this field.

    The point im trying to make is that you should try to explore all your options, before making the switch. EE is very broad.
  10. Mar 1, 2012 #9

    I'm in a similar situation, luckily at my school I can dual major in physics and EE and only have to take 4 extra classes. Which over the next 2 years, that isn't that much more work.

    Like you guys I really do not enjoy my digital circuits classes at all, too much like computer engineering. However, I am really interested in magnetism, control theory, and signal processing. In my EE program we have different specialization tracks and signal processing s one of them. So I'm thinking of going down the signal processing route and dual majoring in physics and EE. So that works out well for me.
  11. Mar 1, 2012 #10
    Wow.. only 4 more classes? I'm envious. My double major would be 10 physics classes. If I convinced my adviser to count my tech electives to physics then it would only be 8 more physics classes.

    It's kinda funny to see people on here hating on digital classes. At my school, it seems everyone loves digital or power/renewable energy. Blah, I say. EM waves are where it's at. :cool:
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