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Engineering jobs with a Physics degree

  1. Jul 6, 2013 #1
    If applying for engineering jobs (excluding civil) would there be any benefit in having one of the following degree titles over the other?

    a) Physics BSc

    b) Physics with Astrophysics BSc

    In other words, would it be preferable to have one instead of the other? Or would it make little difference?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2013 #2
    The details of your BSc don't matter, you will struggle to get an engineering position with a straight science degree instead of engineering.

    A more important question is: why do you think you could apply to an engineering job without an engineering degree or remotely similar training, at least in principle?
  4. Jul 6, 2013 #3
    I had thought Engineering was one of the main areas Physics grads went into, along with Finance, Computing and Medical Research.

    Possibly I'm wrong...?
  5. Jul 6, 2013 #4
    It is a very small minority, check AIP statistics on employment avenues for physics bachelors in the United States. I recall it not exceeding 10-15%. Convincing potential employers that you're just as qualified as an engineer to fill an engineering position is an uphill battle that keeps getting tougher in this economy. "Contacts and networking" will allow you to bypass HR filters, but then again they would still work even if you had a humanities degree.

    If you want an engineering job, get an engineering degree. While it is not impossible, do not count on getting one with just a physics bachelors.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2013
  6. Jul 6, 2013 #5
    If you had a phd in physics, you MIGHT get a job doing research and work along side engineers, but not an actual engineering job. The coursework in an engineering degree feels a lot like physics, so if you would rather do engineering I would highly advise getting a degree in it.

    That being said, there plenty of research positions that are offered for engineers and physicists interchangibly. The fact is that a research job isn't like industry engineering.
  7. Jul 6, 2013 #6
    I didn't know that.

    I'm currently on a Physics degree, so I'm just wondering which of the degree titles I mentioned would be most beneficial to have upon graduation. That is, considering that I most likely will not be working in the field of Astrophysics, since that is a small field in comparison to Finance, Computing, Medical Research.
  8. Jul 6, 2013 #7
    Thank you for this.
  9. Jul 6, 2013 #8
    I had a look at AIP and on page 4 of the link below it states, "The largest private sector field of employment for physics bachelor’s is engineering."

  10. Jul 6, 2013 #9

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    Yes, but that works out to less than 7% of the physics grads - say 400 people. (The 400 may well include double majors.) That's 0.1% of the engineering hires: 99.9% of engineers hired do not have degrees in physics.

    If you want a job in engineering, you should major in it.
  11. Jul 6, 2013 #10
    One of my fellow engineers in my department has a physics BS. He was a physics Ph.D. student and collaborating with our group and just kind of drifted away from his studies and into doing projects for us. I'm not sure we would have interviewed him had he just applied with his background. He was only able to get the job because he had done good work with us.

    I agree with the advice that if you want to be an engineer, get an engineering degree. There are some skills and knowledge that are important for being a competent engineer you just don't learn in a physics BS program so there is a reason why employers generally want to hire people with engineering degrees. Of course you can learn them on the job but employers these days want to do the minimum training of their new hires possible.
  12. Jul 6, 2013 #11
    Something to note about those statistics is who they exclude,

    That adds up to 32%! So 32% of recent physics grads are either unemployed, part-time employed or doing what they did before graduation. I'm not sure why they exclude all these people from the statistics. The cynic in me thinks its because they want to "sell" physics to prospective young students more than they want a fair assessment of what you will be doing after your physics degree. I'm sure they think there is good reason to ignore one third of graduates in their statistics...
  13. Jul 6, 2013 #12


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    I agree. I have been at my job for over a decade and have been reasonably successful there, but today my company would not hire someone identical to me right out of school. And my degrees were all in electrical engineering - just not the best choice of specialty!

  14. Jul 7, 2013 #13


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    You need to understand the aim of this report, which is out of those who are EMPLOYED, what are the distribution of the areas they went into. You'll notice that they also ignored those who went on to graduate school, which is quite a significant percentage!

    The AIP has a bunch of other statistics that you can easily read that includes those who are left out in this one.

  15. Jul 7, 2013 #14

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    Further, had they included part-timers in that statistics, I am sure the peanut gallery would be complaining about that! "How can you believe anything there - it mixes full-timers and part-timers!"
  16. Jul 7, 2013 #15
    Why is that? They have nice pie charts of the sub-categories.
  17. Jul 7, 2013 #16
    Yes, I know. Its a pdf about initial employment with a physics bachelors. Of the 32% they leave out, 27% are employed so I dont understand what you are going on about here. Also I think unemployed grads are quite relevant to the topic of employment with a physics bachelors.

    I have read a lot of the AIP statistics. Which one are you referring to that includes those who are left out? I dont recall that one.
  18. Jul 8, 2013 #17
    The answer to virtually all of the "Can I get a job doing X if I have a degree in Y?" questions are "Yes, it's probably *possible*, but it's much easier if you just get a degree in X in the first place."
  19. Jul 8, 2013 #18
    I couldn't imagine doing the work of a physicist with the knowledge gained from an electrical engineering degree.
  20. Jul 8, 2013 #19
    I went on a rant about this before. It just flabbergasts me that instead of getting an accredited engineering degree and take physics as a minor people think they can just take a physics course and get an engineering job.
  21. Jul 8, 2013 #20
    What do you imagine a physicist does? What are you considering to be "the work of a physicist?" In the work I did many years ago, I built various equipment. Among many other things, I bought various electronic sensors, built circuits to control and use them, and wrote the software to display all the results. It seems very likely an electrical engineering degree would prepare you for this.

    I know several electrical engineers (phds) who do work on quantum cascade lasers, and one more who does work in quantum computing.

    A physics degree is a lot like a generalist engineering degree. It gives you much of the basics of many different types of engineering. It shouldn't be too much of a stretch to think that you can hire a generalist to do specific work if you are willing to provide some training. In a world where engineers are in short supply, physicists would make great utility players.

    We don't live in that world, however, and if you can find someone already trained to do the job, you aren't going to grab a physicist instead.
  22. Jul 8, 2013 #21
    Here is a solution: Get a degree in Engineering Physics!

    Just don't expect it to be very much fun, and count on it taking five years instead of four. But at the end you will have mad respect and a whole bunch of potential jobs!
  23. Jul 9, 2013 #22


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    I guess most people prefer to take the easy route. (I mean the demand for learning physics is not as high as the demand to learn engineering, and there are some people that got accepted to UG physics and not to UG engineering because low marks; I know that that's what goes in my country, don't know how it goes elsewhere).
  24. Jul 9, 2013 #23
    Usually the people I know that try to take this route are very smart people, like the guy I was talking about earlier is a physics major but he has taken:

    Strength of Materials
    Heat Transfer

    So far and he will be in Fluid Dynamics with me in the fall. Basically he just used his electives to take engineering courses because he wants to go to grad school for mechanical engineering and the school told him he would need to take remedial engineering courses before being admitted. Personally it makes more sense to change majors, he has decent grades because he is on the Life Scholarship and is Presidential Scholar. Not sure why he is bent on being a physics major
  25. Jul 9, 2013 #24


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    If it is not possible/practical or is simply too late to switch to an engineering major, I doubt whether your degree says "physics" or "physics with astrophysics" makes much difference at all. You will need to demonstrate to potential employers that you can do more than solve quantum mechanics and/or cosmology homework problems. I would first look at which of those two programs you listed are most successful at placing their graduates in industry jobs, and chose that one.

    If they are essentially the same, or if you cannot find the information, then I would look at which program provides more opportunities for undergrads to get significant laboratory experience building and assembling experimental equipment, writing software to control hardware and process measurements, and analyzing data. This can be in professors research labs, or in summer internship/research opportunities, etc.

    If the two programs are still equivalent, I would then look at which allows you to take the most applicable coursework. This may mean less quantum mechanics and more computer science, electronics, lasers, experimental techniques, statistical inference, engineering elective courses, physics/astrophysics laboratory courses, etc. Perhaps it is possible to minor in some other field like electrical engineering or computer science - I don't know how much that helps, but it probably wouldn't hurt.

    Whichever program you end up in, do your best to get the kind of lab/internship experience I mentioned above. When you write your resume that experience may get you the interview, and once you have the interview it gives you something talk about.

    best wishes,

  26. Jul 9, 2013 #25


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    In all honesty, perhaps the reason your friend/acquaintance doesn't want to switch undergraduate majors is because of the bureaucratic hassle involved in switching between faculties/schools.

    As far as I know, in practically all colleges/universities in Canada and the US I'm familiar with, engineering and physics are taught in different faculties/schools, each with its own admission standards and registrars (that is how it is in my alma mater). And often in many schools, engineering degree programs are offered on a "restricted enrollment" basis, where only a limited number of slots are open for undergraduates to be accepted, making it tougher to switch into engineering from another faculty, even if he/she has the grades and course background.

    Given all of that, if I were him I would have done the same as he is doing now.
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