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Schools Double major in physics and EE or do a master's in EE

  1. Dec 21, 2017 #1
    Hi PhysicsForums!
    I was hoping I could get some advice on a common issue amongst physics majors. I am currently pursuing a degree in physics and am halfway through my second year. I have really enjoyed it so far, but I have also developed an interest in electrical engineering recently. Specifically, I am interested in the electromagnetics and photonics aspect of it, though I do like the traditional sub-disciplines of EE somewhat as well. My question is what would be a better educational and career move? I was thinking about possibly doing a double major in both (I do understand it's a heavy workload but I feel confident I can take it on, though it would delay my graduation by a year or longer) or going on to get a master's EE instead as graduate school was something I was considering as well. What would be more beneficial for industry career prospects at this point? I definitely don't want to drop my physics major, I just want to know if I should double major or go on to graduate school and change subjects. For anyone who has gone from a physics bachelors to an EE master's program, how was it? And what were your career options like?
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  3. Dec 21, 2017 #2
    Your plan doesn't make any sense to me. Since you don't want to go to graduate school in physics and want to work as engineer, what is the point of getting the degree in physics? While it's certainly far from gloom and doom for physics majors in the job market, it's no secret that, nationally, engineers are in a better position on average. I think it makes far more sense to just major in EE and then not have to worry about graduate school (and the option is obviously still there).

    As for the double major, I can't imagine that a physics degree is going to add any measurable value beyond what the EE degree alone would. That's a bit of time and money, and risk to your graduation for a physics degree that's not going to make any difference. Again, I see no reason as to why you're set on getting a physics degree when your goal is to be an engineer. Not majoring in physics doesn't mean you have to give it up. You're perfectly capable of studying it on your own.
  4. Dec 22, 2017 #3
    I appreciate you putting a lot of thought into your response and you do bring up some good points. I'm still majoring in physics at the moment because I have a keen interest in learning the science behind how things work. I've heard having a background in physics is seen as a benefit if you want to work in the sector of optics and photonics, no? The EE program at my school has little emphasis on it but the physics program does. So I figured having both backgrounds would be useful. Anyways that was my reasoning.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2017
  5. Dec 23, 2017 #4
    I used to work in industrial R&D for optoelectronic devices. Here's my take on your situation.

    (1) How beneficial physics courses will be depends on whether you plan to work on the device level or on the systems level. If you plan to work on the device level (e.g., design of new optical sources, detectors, amplifiers, and integrated optics), courses as taught in a physics curriculum (such as E&M, optics, and quantum mechanics) would definitely be beneficial. If you plan to work on the systems level, however, where you don't need to understand the guts of the devices, but primarily the inputs, outputs, and transfer functions of the devices, physics courses, while providing good background, are less crucial. Except for the physics courses required for a EE, the subject matter as taught in a decent EE curriculum should be OK.

    (2) A lot depends on whether you want to leave open the option of a PhD, or whether you have already decided on a terminal masters. If a terminal masters, an MS EE is definitely worthwhile and can give you the opportunity to become a lead engineer in industry (particularly if you work on the systems level, but even on the device level). I know others here disagree with me, but I do not recommend a terminal masters in physics ... if you want a lead position in industry with a physics degree, you really need a PhD (always exceptions, of course).

    (3) So, if you want to leave open the option of a PhD program in EE or physics, a dual bachelors in EE and physics would probably be the most advantageous choice. If you know that a PhD is not in the works, however, a good option would be to switch your BS to EE if still possible, take the physics courses that you want for your own enlightenment as electives, and then get a MS EE. If it's too late to switch, then go with a BS Physics with MS EE (you'll need to check the requirements for doing so; e.g., taking appropriate undergrad EE courses as electives).

    In my personal instance, I was more interested in the fabrication aspects of semiconductor devices. I got my BS, MS, and PhD in physics, but took electives (undergrad and grad) in materials science and engineering. But I knew going in as an undergrad that I wanted to head for a PhD physics program, and there would be no benefit in a formal dual major; so I opted to take electives in materials science and engineering to give me more comprehensive training.
  6. Dec 23, 2017 #5
    I appreciate your response. It really helps! I have a preference for device engineering, I like learning about the guts of the system, the science behind it, and how to utilize it in certain applications (specifically in optics, photonics, electromagnetics). I'm pretty sure I want to finish school with a terminal master's degree, as my main goal is to work in industry with optoelectronics. I do prefer having both a strong science and engineering background, so I may pursue both physics and EE. If not as a dual major, then as a bachelor of physics and a masters in EE with an emphasis in optics and photonics.I do have some time to think about this though so I'll keep looking into it. Thanks for your input!
  7. Dec 24, 2017 #6


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    I think you best plan is to get the physics major and do a master in EE (or a PhD in physics). I think doing a double major wont work as you think. Even if you manage to handle the (devastating according to my opinion) study load at the end you ll feel it didn't worth the trouble. A major in physics and a master in EE is the best choice if you want to be part of both worlds, science and engineering.
  8. Dec 24, 2017 #7
    Thanks for input Delta2. I'm gonna have to agree with you. If I want the best of both worlds with good employment opportunities Its likely best if I just finish my physics major in 2 years and move on to grad school in EE. Just got to make sure I take all my electives in electronics. Guess I can call my self an engineering physicist after that!
  9. Dec 30, 2017 #8
    As a graduating senior not going to grad school, get out of physics. Go directly for the EE degree. Feel free to continue the physics degree, but take it as more of a hobby than as a way to a career.
  10. Dec 30, 2017 #9
    Can you elaborate on why? What have you experienced after school to reach this conclusion? I'm curious. And Grad School was part of my plan so that may change my outlook.
  11. Dec 30, 2017 #10
    Absolutely, so firstly this, a BS/BA in physics really is worthless. Unless you minor in computer science, no one will really care for you in the working world. Your options with a BS/BA is to teach at private high schools. Now, if you go on to graduate school for physics, that's a whole lot of research on top of being a teaching assistant, plus your courses. I cannot speak to the rigor of EE grad school though. Most of my experience has come through my research at my university and talking with employers. An EE degree whether it be a BS or an MS is infinitely more valuable and opens up more doors in terms of possible careers.
  12. Dec 30, 2017 #11
    Okay very interesting thanks for the advice. I have heard quite a few horror stories about just getting a BS in physics as far as getting a highly technical job. If you don't mind me asking, what has it been like for you outside of school in the workforce now? Were there particular industries you want to get into but cant? Do you feel your physics degree holds no weight at all? I get curious hearing about peoples experience after graduation.
  13. Dec 30, 2017 #12
    I have not graduated just yet, still a couple months away, but I am applying for jobs now, as is normal. But many places that have applied to have said that the degree only encompasses some of the skill they're looking for. Specifically, I wanted to get into computer hardware engineering. I was told that they wouldn't hire me because I'm not qualified. I tried talking to software engineers at Intel as well, they also told me my degree isn't what theyre looking for.
  14. Dec 30, 2017 #13
    Ah I see, well I wish you luck on finding a job. I wouldn't conclude that it's worthless just yet. Finding a job is usually goes like this "no no no no no no yes no". Im sure you know this already though. I have thought about computer hardware engineering as a possible career before, but within the realm of solid-state physics, like semi-conductors. Not sure if thats what you meant when you were talking about computer engineering or if you meant system design or something.
  15. Dec 30, 2017 #14
    I mean this is from industry professionals. Get your EE degree bud, you'll be much better off
  16. Dec 30, 2017 #15
    Got it got it. Alright well I appreciate the advice, it's definitely something to consider.
  17. Dec 31, 2017 #16
    If you can't double major in Physics and EE, you should at least find the time to do a minor in EE. That way, when you get to your masters, you won't have to spend up to another year in the program because you don't have the core EE classes already.
  18. Jan 2, 2018 #17


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    You don't even need to do a minor in EE. A few classes would greatly help if you plan on getting a masters degree in EE. Speak with an EE professor and/or your advisor to determine what classes would be most beneficial (since you are a physics major, there may be some crucial holes and need plugging).
  19. Jan 2, 2018 #18
    Thanks for the input rwm4768 and donpacino. Yeah If I don't have time to do a minor in EE then I'll definitely talk to an advisor so I can get the crucial classes I need. Hopefully there arent too many remedial classes if I want to focus on photonics and electromagnetism in EE grad school.
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