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Programs Deciding between Physics or Engineering

  1. Jul 31, 2017 #1
    I'm trying to decide if I should pursue a career in physics in physics or engineering. I'm 17 and will be applying to universities soon and I'm considering the University of Waterloo, Queen's University and University of Toronto. If I continue with engineering than I would most likely pursue mechanical or mechatronics.

    I really have a passion for particle physics and astrophysics and am wishing to achieve a masters and PhD but I'm aware that there seems to be limited job market for these professions. I've done some research and there are a lot of different answers as to how hard it is to find a job, some say it is relatively easy but others say that the market for these jobs will only diminish.I do not plan on having a large family and so money is not such a big concern but I would like a living wage, such as 65,000k. I would like to know how difficult it is and how long it takes to find a stable position in a pure field of physics. Also are the job prospects any different between theoretical and experimental physics.

    It seems like there are greater job opportunities for mechanical or mechatronical engineers, so if I pursue an education in one of these fields than it would be for the job security, I would enjoy a career in these fields and so I would not be miserable but I feel like I would enjoy physics more.

    I've also considered doing a double major, or minoring in physics, but I understand that this would entail a lot of work and am not completely sure about how that would work.

    I'm just looking for some statistics and advice because I'll be applying to programs shortly and am a little stressed. It's a big decision and any input will be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2017 #2


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    You could also consider to make a BA in engineering to learn how engineers think and then a master in physics to learn how to think :-)
    Seriously speaking, I hardly know of any theoretical physicist working as such after his PhD, even less in particle physics.
    When talking about family take in mind that these decisions depend also largely on your partner which you may not have found yet.
    On the other hand time at university will probably be the only time in your live until retirement when you will be free to pursue your own interests.
  4. Jul 31, 2017 #3
    I would certainly agree that there is a difference, but it is not the difference that this comment implies.

    As to which degree you should pursue, I think much depends on how good you expect to be at what you do. If you are willing to work hard enough to be at the top of whatever you choose, you will find employment there. If, on the other hand, you do not envision working that hard and want to be more assured of a job, you need to look hard at where the jobs are more abundant.
  5. Jul 31, 2017 #4


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    In making this decision it's important to remember that what you're deciding on is the direction of your post--secondary education and not necessarily your career (although the two are often correlated).

    Physics is an academic degree. In general a physics degree is oriented towards preparing students for graduate studies in physics. The majority of people who study physics do not go on to become professors, unfortunately. It's hard to give precise statistics on those who do. If you finish a PhD in astrophysics or particle physics, it's best to assume you've got about a 1 in 10 chance of getting a tenured position and that you'll be competing against many highly motivated, extremely intelligent and hard-working people for it. That said, the data indicates that physics graduates tend to do quite well in terms of salaries and job satisfaction when they do enter the workforce, and there is low unemployment associated with the degree. One of the bigger issues is that they aren't usually doing the physics research that they wanted to do originally. The other is that the transition from academia to the workforce can be difficult. A lot can depend on the skills that you pick up during your education.

    Engineering on the other hand is a professional degree. Most engineering programs are set up specifically to allow you to enter the workforce as an engineer.
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