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Engineering or Physics?

  1. Jul 9, 2011 #1
    So I just finished my first year at University of Massachusetts Amherst as a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate. I just kind of chose the major because I found in high school that I was really proficient in math and science (especially physics). I did really well this year and had about a 3.7, so that's not the issue. I just loved my physics classes so much and found that I really love theory. Now I'm trying to decide whether I should go towards that route instead of the Engineering path. I don't know if I'm really the hands on type, but I hated my physics labs and I don't know if I could make it through another one. I think I might really love going into physics research, but I'm not sure. The physics classes, especially the electric/magnetic one, were really pretty tough but I loved learning it and really worked at it and ended up with A's, and felt really good about myself afterwards, as I liked working for it. So should I switch to physics?
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  3. Jul 9, 2011 #2
    Well, this is a very tough question and you could probably talk yourself into either choice and switch back and forth many times in the process.

    Is your goal graduate school and a phD? I think most career physicists earn a phD. For engineering, you can start your career with a BS or continue to graduate school.

    Does Amherst offer a degree in Engineering Physics? This is also a choice to consider.
  4. Jul 10, 2011 #3


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    Why do you have to choose? You can major in physics, but choose a specialization that will give you a lot of engineering skills and knowledge. Fields such as accelerator physics or device physics straddles both physics and engineering.

    See this:


  5. Jul 10, 2011 #4
    I agree with the other advice given.

    At my school, the curriculum for engineering is like a straight jacket. You only get 2 "open" classes, for which you can choose from any other department. Physics, on the other hand, requires 15 credits from other departments and starting your Junior year you are taking 2 physics classes each semester. As opposed to engineering, where you take 4 engineering classes each semester starting Junior year.

    I've calculated that if I chose Physics as a major I could comfortably do an EE minor and end up with 33 credits (~11 classes) in EE. So, as far as classes, I would check your school's curriculum and see what works. I know for me, I'll most likely end up as an engineer for a career but I want to take upper div physics classes for the experience.
  6. Jul 10, 2011 #5
    I've made almost the exact same decision as you have to make. Currently, I've done first year engineering, and I've done two of the math courses required for physics and one electrical engineering course as spring courses. I talked to some of the advisers, and found some overlaps between EE and Physics. Thanks to all that, I'm actually able to squeeze all of 2nd year physics and 2nd year electrical engineering into my 2nd year. If I really like the physics courses still, I'll likely declare a double major in EE and Physics. If not, I'll probably just do a minor in physics. I'm doing it that way because I was told that it's tough to know if you'll really like a physics degree just based on the taste you get in 1st year engineering. The courses that engineering students see as heavily theoretical tend to be what pure science students see as mildly theoretical.

    I think the best advice is to first talk to the guidance counselors for physics and engineering. See if you can do something like what I'm doing and get a real taste of physics before jumping in completely.
  7. Jul 10, 2011 #6
    Amherst unfortunately does not offer a degree in Engineering Physics. And to answer your other question, I was thinking if I stay with Engineering I would go to graduate school to get my masters, but if I switch to physics I feel like i would definitely need a phD.

    I honestly don't even know if I could do this at my school as the ME curriculum is even more straightforward, with only 1 as you said "open" class per semester, which I need to complete my geneds, which I won't be done with until I graduate.

    I honestly don't know if it would be possible for me to squeeze in a whole semester of physics alongside my ME courses, but I wish it was. But I think you're right that I should just talk to my counselor as he knows the curriculum and can probably provide for the best advice. But thanks for the help everyone, it definitely cleared my head at least a little bit.
  8. Jul 11, 2011 #7
    I should add one thing. At my school the way the academic guidance system works is basically that there's one adviser per faculty. The faculty advisers are usually professors who know the curriculum inside and out, but they tend to only know their specific faculty. The reason I mention that is because I made by far the most progress when I got the physics and electrical engineering advisers in a room together to discuss program overlaps. They came up with overlaps that cut down my course requirements quite a bit, and which I never would have come up with those had they not talked to each other. Just make sure you either have someone who knows both programs very well, or try to set up a meeting with two people who each know one of the programs quite well. It will make it a lot less painless to cut your load down as much as you can.
  9. Jul 11, 2011 #8
    Hi, I'm also a student just completed my A-Levels and having a headache whether to continue my degree in engineering or physics. My parents and my brother (who just completed his mechatronics engineering degree) strongly oppose me to study physics. I THINK physics is the real thing for me as I just love to understand how nature works, but they said that with a physics major I won't be able to find a job easily, and won't be able to get into good companies unless I stand at the very top. Just need some advice here as well. Thanks =)
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