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Does it make sense to obtain a physics and engineering degree?

  1. Dec 6, 2013 #1
    Hi all! So I am currently half way through my third year of university. I am studying in a Physics and Astronomy Specialist program at the University of Toronto. I would like to continue on in this degree and finish it, however, I have considered transferring into engineering. This thought occurred to me in my second year but I didn't follow up on it and now that I am in my third year and this idea has popped into my head again, I think I should take it seriously. Ideally, I would like to complete my astronomy degree and then go into engineering and obtain another bachelor's degree. But does getting these two degrees make any sense? Is it really worth it? I ask this primarily because when I am sitting in my lecture hall and learning all of these physics concepts, I always end up asking myself how I could apply this knowledge to the world around me. I guess I'm trying to say that I want to put the theory I learn into practice, which is what engineering is. So, is it possible to get an engineering job with an astronomy degree?

    Part of my hesitation of transferring into engineering is that I don't want to give up on my astronomy degree. I originally intending to go into graduate work but I have realized that I don't want to do research and my GPA isn't that great, decent but not competitive. I would like to go into aerospace engineering and the U of T offers this in Engineering Science which is extremely difficult to get into, and from what I have heard from many alumni and people who have taken it, it is very unnecessary. So I will definitely not do Engineering Science but I would like to do engineering at U of T. So are there any engineering programs, like mechanical, materials, etc, which could lead into work in aerospace engineering? I could go into aerospace or space engineering at Ryerson University or York University, however, these schools, from what I have read, are not yet well recognized in these areas and I am worried about job prospects. York University, for example, has a brand new program. And I don't want to have to transfer my courses to other schools simply because if I had gone to another school my marks in those courses could have been very different (possibly higher because U of T is notorious for its difficulty).

    So my main questions:
    1.Does getting these two degrees make any sense? Is it really worth it?
    2.Is it possible to get an engineering job (specifically aerospace) with an astronomy degree?
    3.Are there any engineering programs, like mechanical, materials, etc, which could lead into work in aerospace engineering?
    4. Are newer, less recognized engineering programs a gamble when it comes to the job market?

    Any and all advice/opinions is greatly appreciated. And thanks for hopefully taking the time to read this long winded and probably poorly structured post haha.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2013 #2
    2.Is it possible to get an engineering job (specifically aerospace) with an astronomy degree?
    I'm not sure, but you'll probably have a pretty difficult time convincing people that you have the necessary skills (unless you're really good at programming or something like that).
    1.Does getting these two degrees make any sense? Is it really worth it?
    If you really want to get a job as an engineer, it might be worth getting an engineering degree. Personally, though, if you went that route, I would question whether finishing the astronomy degree is worth it or not. Consider doing engineering with an astronomy minor rather than two majors. You've probably pretty much completed the requirements for an astronomy minor, so then you would just have the engineering major left (minus whatever overlap there is). It's not ideal, I know, but engineering major+astronomy major really isn't that much more valuable than engineering major+astronomy minor, especially if you want to be an engineer. If you spend the extra time/money to get the full astronomy degree, it'll mostly just be for your own enjoyment.

    On the other hand, you could maybe look at skipping the bachelor's in engineering altogether and just do a master's in engineering. You won't legally be able to call yourself an "engineer" without a bachelor's, but I suspect you won't have that much difficulty finding an engineering job. As far as I know, if you have the grades for it, most engineering grad programs are quite happy to take pure science majors. They'll probably just make you take a few extra courses to catch up. The advantage of this approach is that you would get to finish your astronomy degree, but I guess there's a bit of uncertainty as far as getting into the Master's program.

    3.Are there any engineering programs, like mechanical, materials, etc, which could lead into work in aerospace engineering?

    I don't really know, but I suspect mechanical and electrical would be decent choices (they're very broad programs).

    4. Are newer, less recognized engineering programs a gamble when it comes to the job market?
    I don't know.
  4. Dec 7, 2013 #3
    I can't imagine an Astrophysics degree is going to be a lot of use as an engineer. *Possibly* you might be able to land a technician job at in the research sector. Not really an engineering job.

    If you want to be an aerospace engineer, I would think the most direct route to that is to get a degree in aerospace engineering. Depending on the the coursework for a mechanical engineer, i.e. lots of fluid dynamics, you might be able to fit in, but then again, maybe not. You might just end up working on a valve for use in the aerospace industry :)

    Aiming for a masters program might be the way to go, though you might have to do some makeup courses. Anything you get out of the way now will help out later. I'm also not sure about that bit about calling yourself an engineer legally. You certainly won't have a PE, but you don't get a PE just because you have a BS in Engineering either. If that's a route you want to take, look into the FE, EIT, and PE exams and requirements. I think different states have different requirements, but I could be wrong...
  5. Dec 7, 2013 #4


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    This is completely false.

    Without a bachelor's you won't be able to take the EIT exam right away, but you can still do it. It doesn't even really matter except for civil engineering to get your PE licence. Not to mention companies will also have someone who can sign off on anything that requires a PE signature anyway if needed in their line of work.

    Engineer is a job title, if you get hired as an engineer, well then, you're an engineer reguardless of your academic background.

    You can't put PE on your business cards, but neither can all the schooled engineers who didn't take the PE exam, which comprise most EEs, AEs, MEs that I've ever met.

    That's because technicians actually get stuff done. A technician job would provide you with mobility within the organization to become a engineer with proper OJT.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2013
  6. Dec 7, 2013 #5
    Depending on the organization, you'll find some serious glass ceilings to your advancement. I mentioned the research sector. For example, you might be able to land a job at a government lab as a technician with an astro degree, but you are going to have a hard time moving over to an engineer or researcher without the proper degrees.

    It's probably more flexible in industry once you get your foot in the door, but I don't see them taking too many chances on an bachelors in Astrophysics.
  7. Dec 7, 2013 #6
    Sorry, I don't live in the US so I guess the rules are different where I live.

    I just double-checked, though... where I live you need an undergraduate degree in engineering to become a professional engineer (I don't think you can just take a test, you actually need an undergrad degree) and you can't use "engineer" in your job title if you're not a professional engineer. I personally know a few people who basically work as engineers but aren't allowed to have "engineer" in their title because they have science degrees rather than engineering degrees. One of them was told to remove the word "engineering" from his company name unless he hired a professional engineer to be on staff full-time.

    Honestly, though, those rules don't really affect your career prospects. Nobody cares whether you're a "software engineer" or a "software designer" as long as you have the necessary skill set. I wasn't trying to say that you can't work as an engineer without an engineering undergrad degree, just that there are minor legal things that pop up when you do a master's rather than a bachelor's in engineering. Though apparently those things are even less of an issue in the US.
  8. Dec 7, 2013 #7


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    That depends on the industry, and the country. Where I work, "technicians" means somebody who has done a full apprenticeship training in an electrical or mechanical trade (and that takes as long as a first degree course), not somebody with a BS in the wrong subject. Technicians and engineers both have long term career structures, but the amount of crossover between the two is zero.

    We used to employ a few "technical assistants" who were basically "secretaries who could do stuff like plotting graphs as well as typing" (and were not necessarily female) but over time they have disappeared, just like the company typing pool and the internal mail couriers (from the time before there was email, and a computer on every engineer's desk).
  9. Dec 7, 2013 #8
    I meant something like a lab technician in a setting like a university or a national lab. Often they have a BA/BS or possibly a Masters in physics or something. Places like that seem more open to non-engineering degrees since many of the researchers also do not hold engineering degrees. However, I don't see how you would end up as an engineer unless you went back to school.
  10. Dec 7, 2013 #9
    Thanks for your reply! Well I should point out that my degree is a Physics and Astronomy specialist so I take a lot of 3rd and 4th year physics courses. I actually take more physics courses than a physics major! See and this also concerns me. If you thought that my degree was astrophysics and I might assume you thought I didn't take as many physics courses as a physics major, my degree would mean even less for an employer if they thought that same thing, which is why I also thought of switching to a Physics specialist.

    So I guess you think going for the aerospace degree is the best route. Do you think a degree from schools who are less recognized than the University of Toronto (top 30 in world, and the two universities I have in mind don't even make the rankings) would have a major impact on job opportunities? Although U of T doesn't offer aerospace in its main programs, I've adjusted to school life there and don't want to give up there and go somewhere else, which is why I'd like to get an engineering degree from there.
  11. Dec 7, 2013 #10


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    Then that is something that you would have to be sure to point out in a cover letter.
  12. Dec 7, 2013 #11
    Thanks for the reply! And yes, I just need to take one more course next semester to have the minor completed. The only difference between the specialist and the minor is taking a research course. And I don't even like research! So I guess continuing with my degree just to get the specialist designation is foolish. With an eng degree and the astronomy minor I get the best of both worlds, in a sense.
  13. Dec 7, 2013 #12
    I can't speak about school reputations. I do know that a lot of people say they don't matter, yet many times those are the exact people it matters most to.

    With respect to your major, here's my experience. B.A. in Physics, Ph.D. in Astrophysics, both from 'good' US schools. The Ph.D. work was in a plasma physics program - ALL of my training is as an experimental physicist with literally zero astrophysics courses. Don't ask me why the program was under the astro department. Something to do with the 1950's and the hydrogen bomb. Anyway, after that, postdoc for 4 years. Then spent a year looking for a job in the private sector, which was like repeatedly slamming my hand in the door.

    I've literally had people in industry tell me that they can't hire me because I have an 'arts' degree (see the Bachelor of *Arts*) and they only hire science degrees. I know that's not indicative of all places in the private sector, but there is a mindset out there that if they have an engineering position, they are going to hire someone with an engineering degree, even if you would do a better job. Period.

    I'm of the opinion of that while there are some engineering jobs physicists can do, it's really barking up the wrong tree because while you might be able to do it, convincing an employer of that in this economy is going to be tough. Look for a job where they want your qualifications and you can compete at the top of your game. If your qualifications aren't right for the career you want, I'd start working on the right qualifications.
  14. Dec 7, 2013 #13
    LOL @ "Something to do with the 1950's and the hydrogen bomb." Well to be honest, I'm not even sure what I could do with a physics and astronomy degree other than teaching. I know my quantum mechanics professor has told my class that people in finance like to hire physics people but I definitely don't want to do that. I want be doing or applying science and I'm not sure how I could do that with a BSc, other than an engineering degree.
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