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Electrical Engineering or Physics

  1. Sep 16, 2015 #1
    TL:DR Jump to the bottom for express version.

    First off a bit about myself. I'm a 25 year old guy from Danmark. I have spent most of my late teenage years and beginning of my 20's, dabbling in different, none schooling things. I have been self-employed and made a living from Online Poker (2 years), Website Management (Buying/selling domains and websites,sometimes optimizing them and turning a profit either through ad generation, or reselling optimized sites for a profit), freelancing, and I even made living for 3 years playing video games (Not nearly as fun as it might sound). Basically lived off my hobbies.

    However I have always had a deep fascination with physics and science in general. I'd spent a lot time reading and listening to science communicators, watching documentaries, but I always considered myself too unfocused to ever stay with schooling for long enough to go anyway. I'd always lose focus 4 months in, and have an idea for another hobby job, and all the humanistic classes you are forced to take in gymnasium, definitely didn't help either.

    However at 24 I decided mere off and superficial knowledge wasn't enough for me anymore. So I went straight through what we here in Denmark call gymnasium (the prerequisite for university). Usually this takes 3 years, I did it in 1½, with A's (highest grade given in Denmark) in Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Biology, and Math. However I didn't get Physics and Chem at the highest lvl (we have 3 tiers in each different class. 1, 2, and 3 tier (1 = 1 year, 2 = 2 years, and 3 = 3 years), as going from 2 til 3 tier, is generally only possible in a few gymnasiums, and finish as fast I wanted, didn't allow for it.

    As the summer hit, and me being 25 now, I decided I couldn't waste another year on just upping my Physics and Chem tier from 2 to 3, which are prerequisites to studying physics at both The University of Copenhagen and the University of Roskilde.

    So I applied to The Technical University of Denmark, to study Electrical Engineering, got assumed as my median grade is much higher then required, and I have been doing this for 3 weeks now.

    Heres my problem, I have been feeling bad about this decision ever since I made, and in these few weeks its only gotten worse. I feel like I made the wrong decision, letting my age decide rather then doing what I really want, and it has completely sapped me of my energy and focus. No matter how much I try to focus on my lectures and clases, my mind automatically wonders, planning how I can get into Physics next summer.

    There is also the concern that our parliament just made a HUGE law change, effectively preventing us from switching focus, once we pass our first semester (We decide our Bachelor focus at the very beginning, and each bachelor, and the none obligatory classes we pick during those 3 years, decide what we can study as our Masters). Furthermore, physics and engineers do not get their education in the same places here, so picking engineering or physics now, locks me into that thing for good.

    (If you want to now why, read this part, and if not, just skip this parenthesis; The reason they doing this, every level of education here is paid by the government, and we get paid a salary for studying. We do pay 45-65% tax though, so "free" might be an overstatement. This law change was made, in an effort to prevent people from rethinking what they want to study, and get them through the educational system faster. I think it'll horribly backfire, but we won't know for a decade or two)

    So my question to everyone out there is; can i justify taking the final tier classes in physics and chem, and go on to study physics next year, or do you think, considering my age, that settling for Electrical Engineering, and getting into the job market faster is the right move? If I go on in EE, I'll goal is a Masters, but if I study Physics, I'm thinking I'll make the effort to get a PhD.

    Thanks in advice for your time and advice. Also I apologize if the wording, and/or spelling is less the stellar.

    TL:DR Version: I'm 25 years old and is currently settling for studying Electrical Engineering, because I think I'm too old to be able to afford 1 additional year, on getting the classes required gymnasium level, to be eligible to study what I really want, which is Physics. Is settling the right call?
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2015 #2
    The question is: what do you like about physics, and what do you know about doing physics, and, in turn, what do you not like about electrical engineering?
  4. Sep 16, 2015 #3
    This really a hard question to answer, as I couldn't possible know enough to answer the question until after I have a degree. However in my mind, EE as a discipline that focuses more on practical application and when emphasis on electronics, where as physics dabble more in fundamentals, more broadly, and more on theory. While physics on gymnasium level is probably equivalent what Americans would call high school physics, that is to say not very academic, and probably not a very apt measure of what higher level physics is, I'll drove on my experience with it regardless. I noticed that what I loved about physics there, was that it answered questions I had had all my life, and it does with numbers and precision. Its all well and good to know the universe is expanding for example, or that the universe is "flat", but to actually dig a bit deeper, and find out how, we know this, and what it actually means is entirely different. This is what droves me to the conclusion that I want to study Physics. It answered questions, and each time it does, it provokes further questioning, at least to me it does.

    EE doesn't seem to do that on the same level. While electronics, and programming fascinate me, and while I'd probably want to take some classes on it, it doesn't seem to resonant with me in the same way.

    If am I wrong in my presumes, and lets face I might very well be considering my position is one driven by emotion, and not by informed reason, please do let me know. If however I'm right, then the question stands. Can I at my age, afford to spend another year before going for my degree?
  5. Sep 16, 2015 #4
    Eh, well, what you can afford to do at your age is up to you and how you want to live your life, and only you can decide that. Given that the average lifespan is ~76+ years and rising, one year really isn't that much.

    Technically you're correct in that physics deals more with theory than electrical engineering, but that does not mean all physicists do theory, and it does not mean no electrical engineers do theory. For instance, advanced control theory is extremely mathematical, communications theory is quite mathematical and requires plenty of probability theory, antenna and RF engineers know Maxwell's equations like they know their best friends, and solid-state device engineers I'm sure will need to know an increasing amount of quantum mechanics in the coming years.

    Sure, they're interested in learning the subject to apply it, but there's nothing wrong with that. After all, very few physicists are sitting in an office pondering the origin of the universe or the true nature of reality. For the most part, they're sitting in labs, running experiments, running simulations, consulting with colleagues, writing papers, writing grant proposals, visiting conferences, etc. The ones who deal with elementary particles are not nearly as numerous as those in condensed matter physics, and many of those guys are concerned with potential applications. At top-tier schools, there is a huge amount of overlap between solid state physicists and electrical engineers working in solid state devices, for instance.

    Of course, I'm quite biased since I study electrical engineering. If astrophysics is what interests you, then, well there really is no substitute in electrical engineering.
  6. Sep 16, 2015 #5
    Funny how you picked exactly what I would probably pick as my focus xD Also in no did I mean to suggest that one exclusively does one thing over the other. What I meant to convey is, that Physics seem to open more of the doors I at this moment in time, want to open, and should my priorities change, I'll have an easier time breaking into another applied field with a Physics degree, then I would be able to break into cosmology as an engineer.

    At the end of the day, your advice is; Don't underestimate engineering, but do what I feel is right, and don't let age determine it, correct?
  7. Sep 16, 2015 #6
    This is true, but don't completely rely on it. If you develop marketable skills with a physics degree, then you can probably rely on it, though. It also depends on your geography, and maybe sub field. People in experimental condensed matter physics probably have a better chance of working in, say, national labs or industry than astrophysicists (who would probably be more suited for statistical jobs).

    That geography thing is, of course, an issue. I am the least qualified person on this planet to comment on what the job market is like for astrophysicists in Denmark, so maybe that's something you'll want to get data on.

    As far as spending one extra year in school, as long as you're not going broke doing it (which, if your tuition is free, you probably aren't), I personally don't think it's that big of a deal. But everyone has different priorities and ideals in life, so that's up to you.

    Yes, do not underestimate engineering, but do what you feel is right. You won't get rich doing physics, but you won't get rich doing engineering either (some Fortune 500 CEOs or inventors/entrepreneurs notwithstanding...)

    But remember what Richard Feynman said: "I don't know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough."

    You might end up switching to physics and not liking astrophysics at all, but loving condensed matter (I've said it 3 times so far, but I say it because this is where I believe most of the interesting stuff in physics comes from!:biggrin:). You might love astrophysics. But you don't know, so always go into big decisions with a backup plan.

    Then again, I could just be a guy on the internet who has no idea what he's talking about and who doesn't know what the best thing for you to do is. That's where you come in.
  8. Sep 16, 2015 #7
    It all seems very sensible, even if you are just a guy on the internet xD But you definitely on to something with the "I don't know", which is always I'm thinking physics. If astrophysics turns out not to be my thing, I'll know pretty early enough to switch focus within physics.

    I was planning on taking some programming and and some more applied classes as well. Like you said marketable skills are important, and I'd definitely be planning for that.

    One thing I know about Denmark, is that EE's will almost always be able to get a job within their field, where as with a degree in physics I'll probably have to look into some sort of mathematical or engineering work, but for a career I don't see that as a problem. Money however doesn't motivate me, and as such I'm simply not the type of guy who can study something, just because I know it has job security within its field.

    Regardless of my ramblings, your feedback is much appreciated :)
  9. Sep 18, 2015 #8
    You seem like a smart biscuit, when I was first looking into what to study out of school, I wanted to get into physics, but my marks were horrible at best, so that was out of the question. The fools did let me do a BTech electrical engineering however, and honestly I have zero regrets.
    That was some time ago, now I'm 30 and have enrolled to start a physics major in 2016, largely due to me simply losing interest in my current profession. This would be distance learning as somebody has to pay the bills.

    At 25 you are still very much a youngster an extra year or two is nothing, at 30, I've got 7-8 professional engineering years behind me. My mom, at 55, has more professional years ahead of her than I have behind me, it may seem like a pointless analogy, but it helped me make the decision to pursue something I might otherwise have felt "too old" to undertake.

    My point is, you mentioned money doesn't motivate you, so do what you want, because you may change your mind anyway. You could become a successful EE and an arm chair physicist or turn physics into a career. As axmls mentioned it's a decision only you can make, but I don't believe, when it comes to education, there is a wrong one.
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