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Engineering, maths and physics. Which one to do?

  1. May 31, 2008 #1
    Engineering, maths and physics. Which one to do!?!

    I've been considering doing engineering for a while but am worried about the flexibility of universities to let you change course.
    If I decided to do mechanical engineering but then realised I preferred electrical/aerospace at the start of course would they let me change courses?
    I want to do engineering because of the job prospects and I'm good at physics and maths (although I have very little interest in the mechanics of cars and stuff like that). I'm just worried that I'll choose mechanical engineering and be stuck in that industry for the rest of my life when I may have preffered doing something completely diffferent. I'm still contemplating doing a physics or maths degree. As you can see I'm not the most decisive person in the world.

    P.S I'm in Britain so I dont think there's all this minor/majoring business at uni. Im studying maths, further maths and physics A levels.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2008 #2


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    In my experience, virtually all the cool engineering type jobs in industry are open to physicists as well as engineers, but the physics jobs aren't as often open to engineers. So if you want maximum flexibility it is physics all the way, but you'll have to be able to see the bigger picture and realise for yourself how you can apply your physics training to engineering situations, as no one is going to teach you that.

    Picking which one is most likely to make you happy is probably the right course of action however. If you're interested in the nature of things and abstract thought maybe physics is more for you, but if you're interested in actually building things and _doing_ rather than thinking, maybe engineering would be a better match. Physics and maths is often available as combined honours, so you could do both if you like (mind you, that had the reputation as the hardest degree in the university at my old place). How about theoretical physics?

    Perhaps visiting a couple of physics departments and a couple of engineering departments might help you decide. The universities are always happy to show off their facilities to prospective students if they ask, so find a university you might like to go to and shoot the undergraduate admissions tutors an email each in the physics dept and the engineering department and go along and visit them both.

    btw we do effectively have major/minoring in Britain too, it's just that it happens transparently: if your course title is "Physics with Maths" then it is a physics major with a maths minor, and if it is "Physics and Maths", then it is a double major. If it is just "Physics" it's a major but no minor.
    Last edited: May 31, 2008
  4. May 31, 2008 #3
    Unfortunately math in HS is no indicator of whether you are good or not at math. Uni math heavily proof oriented.

    I don't know about UK's economy, but a physics degree is not very employable here in America. You would need some kind of advanced degree to be considered. Math may have some more options for you in the world of finance, and is perhaps the most difficult degree. Engineering would have the best job prospects, atleast here, and would probably secure you a job.

    Engineers use the work of physics to create new technology... cell phones, cars, buildings. Think of it as applied physics. [Ie. how much stress can our bridge sustain?]

    Physicists try to understand nature for its own sake applying mathematics. [How can we find the field of a sphere?]

    Mathematicians try to understand math for its own sake. [Prove that a differentiable function is continous]
    Last edited: May 31, 2008
  5. May 31, 2008 #4


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    Most engineering programs have a common first year so you don't have to worry about picking a major subfield right away. Even if you do go to a place where the programs are streamed from day one, the course requiremends shouldn't be all that different. Transferring majors is not the end of the world if you find you don't like your program.

    And keep in mind that your degree doesn't always define your career.
  6. May 31, 2008 #5
    Yes. The fundamentals of engineering are the same. Mathematics, physics, and then expanding on them into technical application and applied problem solving. Most mechanical curriculum (in my experience at least) contains enough elective space to probe out into aerospace, while simultaneously containing some electric circuit theory and electric/magnetic physics. I had to take a general chemistry requirement as well, if it means anything.

    Most universities have a grace period of a few weeks to switch classes if you sincerely want to.
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