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Double major in physics and engineering physics?

  1. Oct 4, 2007 #1
    I'm currently debating between majoring in physics or engineering physics. First and foremost I'm interested in the concepts and theories of physical phenomena, which is why I decided to go into physics. However, I would like to study it from an applied perspective as well.

    Looking at course requirements for both physics and EP at various institutions, I've noticed that every single one has a common physics core; however, the majors branch off for topics/courses of choice. The truth is, at this point I'm very interested in taking all of the classes that differentiate physics and EP.

    My question is, would it be redundant to take the upper division options for physics if I am doing the ones for EP? I know it wouldn't if I wanted to take something like astrophysics, but what about something like optics? I was thinking about majoring in EP and taking the options for physics as "electives," where I would technically meet the requirements for both majors.

    Right now I'm taking calculus-based Physics II/Physics B/electricity and magnetism (whatever you call it), and the more I learn about it the more I'm interested to go further in depth theoretically and in practice. If I end up majoring in EP, I'll probably do my emphasis in electrical engineering. A double major in physics and EP does however sound much more appealing to me than physics and EE, because I'll probably go more into theory for graduate school (or so I think).

    So, possible and ideal for me, or redundant?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 4, 2007 #2
    I'd be all over that, but no such program at my institution. :(

    It would really depend on the specific differences in the programs. If you're going on to graduate school, the dual major won't mean crap...but the things you learn probably will.
  4. Oct 4, 2007 #3
    My guitar teacher went for an engineering physics degree (before realizing that he wanted to keep his sanity and switching to business). He said it was essentially an engineering and physics degree combined.

    Anyway, I'm really interested in applied physics, too. However, I've been told that just going into experimentalism will give you all the applied stuff you'd need to learn.

    So in conclusion, I don't know.
  5. Oct 4, 2007 #4
    why do you need to major in both? could you pick physics, for instance, and take engineering classes that interest you? Surely itd be a tight fit for the double major, and theyd make you take redundant classes
  6. Oct 5, 2007 #5
    Out of curiosity, what country are you from erotomania? Here in the US I've never seen anyone looking to hire an "Engineering Physics" major. Are things different where you are? Whom do you plan on working for?
  7. Oct 5, 2007 #6
    It's been a few years, but the EngPhys program where I went to school was essentially a combined Physics/EE curriculum. I always though the EngPhys guys I went to school with were masochists.

    IMO, I think double majoring in both would be quite redundant. You should be able to major in one, and fill any 3rd and 4th year option slots with the physics courses you want to take (if you have room and meet the prereqs). However, if other programs are anything like the EngPhys program where I went to school, the workload gets so heavy that the last thing you'll want to add are more upper level physics courses
  8. Oct 7, 2007 #7
    I'm in California.

    The most common EP programs are usually physics/EE or physics/ME. But it's also important to note it is not a double major in physics and another engineering discipline. Rather, it is a physics degree with a concentration of a particular engineering discipline. I'm debating between electronics or electro-optical communications as my concentration, which fall under the EE option.

    From what I've seen, people don't necessarily hire "engineering physicists." They hire engineers or physicists, which EP majors can easily get jobs in. I know a few EP graduates who got jobs very quickly after completing their B.S. in both industry and academics, and some physics graduates who wish they would have done EP; according to them, an EP degree can get you a job more easily (not that you can't without a physics degree). There are those few special cases where "engineering physicists" are needed, the only cases I've heard of being research.

    The workload is insane, and I am not planning on finishing in the three years that I theoretically have left. Some of the EP majors that I know will finish a semester or two "late."

    I'm planning on going into graduate school, and because of my profound interest in theory, I'd rather go for a M.S. in physics rather than engineering. I think my ultimate goal is research, but I'd like the practical background as well.
  9. Oct 7, 2007 #8
    I doubt you can get hired as a "physicist" with just a bachelors, even if it were pure physics. They likely got engineering jobs. If that's what you want, then go for it. If you want to be a physicist as a career, then the engineering portion won't help too much. You'd likely learn everything you'd need about EE in grad school. And ME isn't that important for a physics grad student.

    From what I've been told, it's also pretty hard to be hired as a physicist with only a Master's degree.
  10. Oct 7, 2007 #9
    Of course you can.

    That's completely wrong.

    If depends on what jobs you're aiming for, but no, it's not "pretty hard," and it's fairly common.
  11. Oct 7, 2007 #10
    Countering baseless assertions with even shorter baseless assertions.

    Nicely done; I'm convinced.
  12. Oct 7, 2007 #11

    I figured someone would say that, but the answers are quite obvious. Look at any statistics anywhere. Look at your fellow classmates who have graduated. Look at physicists around the world. Of course bachelor's degree recipients get hired as physicists, quite frequently, in all fields, around the world. Many, many physicists (physicists, not engineers) I've interviewed have made a point (unasked) to say that engineering courses and skills are helpful in physics careers. Diversification and learning something from a different perspective is always helpful (not to mention marketable on a resume), even if one never intends to pursue engineering careers.

    My reasonings for giving short statements in my previous post was to emphasise the jaw-dropping incorrect assumptions of the poster.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  13. Oct 7, 2007 #12
    My sources are post-docs and a guy who works on software on the project I was working on for a professor, who has a master's in physics (the guy, not the professor). He was an acoustics engineer at Boeing before moving over to software, and then getting a job at the university.

    But let me hear what someone with a bachelors in physics would be doing to label himself as a physicist.

    EDIT: Oh, and the part about engineering courses not helping much. The post docs and grad students I've talked to have basically said the same thing: they didn't know much EE going in, but they learned through osmosis. I can attest to that too. Sure the engineering courses can help (Not the ME though. I can't imagine how it would.), but it's not essential.

    And if you're going to be spending a good chunk of your time doing engineering courses, you get diminishing returns. You'd be better off taking more physics courses.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  14. Oct 7, 2007 #13
    Physics, of course; and employees don't label themselves, they're hired into titled positions. And, actually, I was thinking of several of my female friends (no "himself").

    You need to widen your sources range.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  15. Oct 7, 2007 #14
    Thank you, your opinion is now worthless. You get an F.

    "Solve for X."

    "X = X"


    You need to tell me what a person with a BS in physics will be doing as a physicist.

    Sorry about the "himself", though. I also have several female friends who are getting degrees in physics.
  16. Oct 7, 2007 #15
    No need to be so rude. It took me some time to compile this based on people I know. I can't type at the speed of light.

    Not every one of these people are working as "physicists", but certainly they utilize their physics degrees. Every one of the titles below are held by people who have no higher than bachelor's degrees in physics.

    Education and public outreach for NASA
    Launch Vehicle Integration Engineer
    Physics Instructor at a university
    Flight Controller for NASA
    Spacecraft Systems Engineer
    Systems Engineer
    Flight Dynamics for NASA
    Engineer/Scientist for DARPA
    Satellite engineer
    Systems Engineer
    Optical scientist
    Scientist/astronomer/software engineer
    I don't know her title, but she works in a space science lab making cables and parts for spacecraft

    Edited to add:

    This doesn't give a whole lot of information, but I'm sure you can look up more detailed statistics if you really care.

    Edited again because I forgot three people!
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  17. Oct 7, 2007 #16
    I said you can be an engineer with a physics degree. What you said is that your title will be "physicist". Which I contend you'll be hard pressed to find a job like that. What you learn to get your physics degree, however, can give you lots of job options besides doing physics.

    No where in that list is anybody a physicist. That would entail them doing physics i.e. experiments or theory.
  18. Oct 7, 2007 #17
    On the contrary, I believe every single one of the people on that lists are physicists, because they are directly using their physics degrees in their careers daily. You have a narrow and in my opinion incorrect definition of a physicist. I think we'll have to agree to disagree. Your point of view will only pidgeonhole you, and, and mine will only have a positive impact on my career.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
  19. Oct 7, 2007 #18

    The distinction seems to be that I find nothing wrong with using physics to do something that isn't physics, whether it be engineering, or statistical market analysis.

    Your definition doesn't make sense. What about the people who work those same jobs without a physics degree? Are they physicists? They know a fraction of what your friends know of physics, but still do the same job?

    Are you saying that knowing physics + doing something = being a physicist?
  20. Oct 7, 2007 #19


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    I agree mostly with this point of view: it is very difficult to categorise people into "who's a physicist," and the person who defines a physicist as one working in either industry or academia is rather narrow minded.

    Ok, poop-loops, what would you categorise me as? I have a mathematics degree, and am now studying for a PhD in cosmology in the maths department of a university. Am I a mathematician (I use maths everyday, and am involved in teaching and marking undergraduates), a physicist (I need to use a lot of physics too, thermodynamics, etc..), or would you just call me a cosmologist (which is really a mix of the two anyway)*. Do you see what I mean by the fact that it's very difficult, and not always benficiary, to pigeonhole people.

    [*Ok, so I'm probably just a student, since I know hardly anything yet; but I was trying to make a point by my above words!]
  21. Oct 7, 2007 #20
    I looked this up, but wasn't going to post it. But since you asked:

    Dictionary.com: "A scientist who specializes in physics; a scientist trained in physics."

    Wikipedia.org: "A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics."

    I'm through hijacking this thread, since nothing more I say will convince you. Be careful that your narrow view of what a "real" physicist is doesn't insult the members of the physics community that don't conform to your standards. For further insight, read Sigma Pi Sigma's Radiations feature called "Hidden Physicists." You sound very young and may learn something.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2007
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