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Electrical Engineering and Physics

  1. Jun 28, 2005 #1
    How tough would it be to double major in EE and physics at a respected institution (say MIT)?

    Paden Roder
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 1, 2005 #2
    I don't know about MIT, but I tried doing it for a while and realized that the teaching style for engineering classes and physics classes are very different, and consequently, that EE was not for me.

    Engineering classes typically focus more on methods and application. For example, in a typical circuits class, you will encounter all sorts of different types of circuits and they will give you equations and transform methods to solve them. There usually is less emphasis on how the stuff works on a physics basis.

    Physics courses are the opposite - more theory and (somewhat) mathematically rigorous, but with less emphasis on application. Now you asked for how tough it would be, and I mention all of this because it will depend on where your interests lie. I started off as a physics major with an interest in EM and state machines. However, I found the EE classes very tedious with lots of homework doing the same tiresome thing over and over. I was use to (and preferred) the shorter physics assignments that would take hours to do and required a lot of sitting and thinking. Granted, I didn't get terribly far in the EE curriculum before I opted out, but I hope that makes sense.

    If you're originally into EE and wanted to add physics, then by all means :) I'm not above shamelessly promoting my major.

    As for course load - it'd definitely possible, and depending on how much AP credit you have, it may not be terribly cramped. Note however, that since you'll only have so many semesters and every college has different requirements for each major, you will probably have little time to take advantage of your school's humanities/social-science classes (all science and math is not all it's cracked up to be - believe me!).

    In general, you'll have to set up the course schedule for your 4 years by the end of your freshman year. It can be quite a burden, especially if you're not sure how difficult courses will be or if they'll conflict. Then there's always the possibility that you schedule a semester that's too tough and need to drop a class.

    Ok - so I've gotten slightly off topic. The moral is - double majoring is more difficult than single majoring. Double majoring physics with EE is more difficult than many double majors. The specific difficulty depends on your ability to manage your time and how you respond to the classes. It's not impossible, but it locks you into a specific schedule, so make sure you want it or you'll waste a lot of time when you could be doing research, co-op, or a different double major. If your school offers a dual major program, you may want to consider that. Make sure to talk to your advisor.

    (I assume that you haven't started college yet.)
  4. Jul 2, 2005 #3
    Double majoring in the sciences and engineering isn't always the best idea. Physics and EE will be REALLY DIFFICULT -- especially time-wise. I'm an EE major with a Physics minor and that's time consuming enough. I don't think you understand how difficult a science curriculum is. Once you start your freshman year you'll be dreaming of free time.

    That's not to say ALL double majoring is not a good idea. Many, many people have successfully double majored in Physics and Mathematics or Biology and Mathematics. However, I have never met ONE person who was doing engineering that was a double major. I've met plenty with minors, though.

    So basically, to sum up my post: Double majoring with EE and Physics will be nearly impossible. You will not get it done in four years, that's for sure. Physics with something else is certainly possible; so is majoring in EE with a minor in something. It's very easy to customize your course of study -- completing it, well that's a different story.
  5. Jul 6, 2005 #4
    Thank you Maxwel and Jelfish for the informative answers. And, yes, my main focus would be physics.

    How tough would you think double majoring would be if I took 5 years with one or 2 summer coarses?

    The thing is, I'm really unsure what I want to be when I grow up. I am really interested in physics, but I feel that a EE degree would give me the industry edge over a physics degree. I plan to get a doctorates in physics before I get into the working world (not including internships).

    Your thoughts are appreciated.

    Paden Roder
  6. Jul 7, 2005 #5
    It sounds like you want to major in physics. Don't just study EE because you want to have financial security. I assure you, EE is very difficult, and it's not something you will be able to do if you don't really want to. If you want to major in physics, major in physics.
  7. Jul 7, 2005 #6
    I agree wholeheartedly with Maxwell. I went into EE & Physics for the same reason, and believe me - EE requires a lot - probably even more - effort than a physics degree (for undergrad at least). If you're only hoping to use it as a backup, it's really not worth it.
  8. Jul 8, 2005 #7
    I know how you feel. I had trouble deciding whether I wanted to do physics or EE, and in the end, went with EE. However, because I enjoy physics so much, I decided to go into the physical and quantum electronics subdiscipline, ensuring that I'd get to take a lot more physics than the typical EE major.
  9. Jul 8, 2005 #8
    I'm happy to hear that EE deals with application and physics with more theory because I often wonder how could an electrical engineer do research. I've always seen engineers as the "D" side of R&D, with scientists, physicists, etc. doing the research.
  10. Jul 8, 2005 #9
    Manchot (or whoever has a good answer),

    Do you think you could still go to graduate school or get a doctorates in physics with the physical and quantum electronics EE degree that you obtained?

    Paden Roder
  11. Jul 8, 2005 #10
    Actually, I don't have my degree yet (I'm still an undergrad). As for your question, I have no idea. Sorry.
  12. Jul 8, 2005 #11
    Many universities offer degrees in engineering physics, you should look into it. The way my school's program (CU-Boulder) is set up is that you take the same physics and math curriculum as an Arts and Science physics major but instead of arts and science electives you take engineering electives intead with the only requirement being you take one junior/senior level engineering lab course (this will require choosing the right prequisites).
    I'm somewhat like you in that I'm not sure if I want to be a physicist or an electrical engineer so my emphasis is in EE that way I'll be prepared for grad school in either.
  13. Jul 8, 2005 #12
    Thanks for the answers everybody. Engineering physics sounds pretty appealling.

    Paden Roder
  14. Jul 8, 2005 #13
    Is Eng Physics the same thing as Applied Physics? Because I want to do Eng Physics, but it's not even offered in my state (Washington) as far as I know. I don't really have money to got out-of-state, so if Applied Physics is Eng Physics at the Ph.D. level, then it's all good...

  15. Jul 10, 2005 #14
    At my college, engineering physics is somewhat related to nuclear engineering - it deals with building reactors, being able to do real-life thermodynamic calculations (akin to chemical engineers) and the like. Please don't think that just because you want to do science and engineering that a field like [insert science]-engineering is necessarily just like [insert science] but with more application. Many times, they are completely different. I couldn't tell you how many people I know who loved chemistry in high school and went for chemical engineering because they thought it was just like chemistry but with more application, or that it would be like being a chemist except they'd make more money. It's unfortunate that most of them hated thermodynamics. Woops.

    I don't want to get too far off topic, but if a person is passionate about physics, then he/she should major in physics. But if money is too important of an issue, then perhaps physics is not the right field. Physics isn't just about lots of math and esoteric equations. It's an intellectual journey that changes the way you look at the world (think about the first time you understood the ramifications of Einstein's Relativity Theory). And of course, during that path toward financial independence, a good paying job is a great incentive, but it can never be the goal. If you truly want to be a physicist, it must be your passion. You must be willing to live off of a high-school teacher's salary if that's what it takes. I understand that many people on this forum may just be starting college and are being pressured by their parents, advisers, environment, etc. to be successful financially and socially, but in the end, only you can judge what truly makes you happy and "successful." Don't do it because it comes naturally. Don't do it because you want to make money. Do it because you can't think of living a life without reveling over another mystery of 'natural philosophy' revealed or even the look on a student's face when you know you've just changed his/her view of the universe. Is that you? Then maybe you should be a physicist. :smile:
  16. Jul 10, 2005 #15
    I want to be a physicist + engineer. I assumed "applied physics" would give me that. I like knowing theory behind something, and then applying that. Is that so hard to ask? :(

  17. Jul 10, 2005 #16
    My post wasn't directed specifically at you. Please don't take it personally. Applied physics as a major typically means that several of your electives will be filled with physics courses that have a concentration in a specific field, like optics, particle physics, solid state physics, electromagnetics, etc. This will depend, of course, on what your school offers. I also know some schools trade off some theory for application if you're an applied physics major. An example would be taking a concentration course instead of quantum mechanics.
  18. Jul 11, 2005 #17
    Well, as far as I know, University of Washington doesn't even have an "applied physics" major for undergrad, so it'll just be "physics" for now and I'll do applied physics for a ph.d. That is possible, right?

  19. Jul 11, 2005 #18
    Sure is. You'd be more than prepared for your PhD. However, I don't think the same curriculums reversed would work out very well.
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