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*Engineering Physics/Astrophysics*

  1. Jun 26, 2011 #1
    I have been reading a lot about Engineering Physics recently and I'm wondering if it accurately fits what I intend to be/do later as my career.

    My intended "dream job" is to work as an astrophysicist, specifically as a researcher. Normally people around this forum have recommended pursuing a physics + maths (or simply physics) degree at the undergraduate level and then of course do a PhD in astrophysics, followed by presumably a couple of postdocs and if all goes well obtain a tenured position.

    The post-PhD situation is what worries me. I don't know why but PhysicsForums has managed to scare me regarding the prospects of becoming a researcher (or landing my dream job). I don't want to become one of those "programmers" with an astrophysics PhD, working for a company doing nothing but a bunch of programming. I also do not intend to enter into finance with my degree, something which oddly enough seems to be a profession in which there are people holding a PhD in astrophysics (certain equations used in astrophysics can also be applied to finance, or so I have read).

    Bottom line: Can I pursue a bachelors in Engineering Physics in order to become more marketable? Will I be qualified for graduate school if I intend to obtain my PhD in astrophysics?

    Something that also fascinates me is building scientific instruments that will help answer questions about the universe - I'm referring to instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope, and many other spacecrafts. Will Engineering Physics open me the door to, let's say for example, building highly specialized scientific instruments for astronomical observations?

    I'm seriously on the fence between Physics/Astrophysics and Engineering. I would ideally like to keep my doors open if in the event I fail at getting a tenured position.

    Your reply will be of immense help to me, I would strongly appreciate any advices you may have to give regarding my situation.

    Thank You,

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2011 #2
    I'd also appreciate if an Engineering Physics/Astrophysics student comment on this!
  4. Jun 27, 2011 #3
    Arguably the answer to both of these questions is Yes.
  5. Jun 27, 2011 #4
    I am an Engineering Physics student at Berkeley. The main difference between that and a regular Physics degree is that an Engineering Physics student takes more engineering courses.

    We are also required a year of chem, a semester of a computer course, another year of math, and for most upper division physics courses there is an engineering/applied option. Engineering Physics is administered by the college of engineering at Berkeley which has fewer requirements for breadth classes so they are allowed to add more requirements for the major.

    I don't know how your program is like, but if you still cover all the basic physics a regular physics does, you should be able to go on to graduate school. I don't know much about astrophysics programs but I imagine if you supplement the major with electives related to astrophysics you should be good (Fluid mechanics, plasma physics, general relativity, etc.). Our engineering physics program gives you enough flexibility to specialize in a specific area. Maybe you could focus into something like aerospace?

    I wish I could be of more help but I really don't know anything about astrophysics.
  6. Jun 27, 2011 #5
    I am in an "Engineering Physics" program, and I can tell you it's the same thing as a Physics degree. The difference between Engineering Physics and normal Physics-LAS at my school is that Engineering Physics has more concentrations besides the normal Professional Physics(which is just more physics). Most students who want to go to a graduate school in a related field choose Professional Physics as a concentration for EPhysics. So as far as *graduate* school is concerned, they don't care what you major in, as long as you have taken the *required* classes and did well.

    I am also applying to graduate school in Astrophysics sometime this Fall. I've done a straight up Physics degree (meaning introductory + mechanics 1 and 2, E&M 1 and 2, thermal 1, and QM 1 and 2). I also am considering taking more advanced math such as Real analysis, differential geometry, and vector & tensor analysis since I want to do something theoretical.

    So as far as my knowledge extends, Engineering Physics will not make you an engineer. Depending on how the program is structured at your school, it might give you more lab experience, but it is not an *Engineering* degree. It's very much theory and really similar to any other *regular* Physics degree.

    If you feel as if you can't find a tenured track or anything that is *that* bad, you can always go back to school and get some sort of Masters in Engineering. I know plenty of people who majored in Physics and did grad work in Engineering. (Electrical Engineering masters with Physics undergrad is a common one.) So don't stress, you have many options as a Physics major. It's one of the reasons I choose Physics :)
  7. Jun 27, 2011 #6
    So you recommend me opting for a Physics degree? Wouldn't an Engineering Physics degree, followed by [hopefully] a PhD in Astrophysics open doors to both my primary interest AND secondary interest.

    My secondary interest being [quoted from my original post]: Building scientific instruments that will help answer questions about the universe - I'm referring to instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope, and many other spacecrafts. Will Engineering Physics open me the door to, let's say for example, building highly specialized scientific instruments for astronomical observations?
  8. Jun 27, 2011 #7


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    Not necessarily. How do you know your dream job is to work as an astrophysics researcher anyways? Do you have any idea what it actually entails? I know plenty of smart, motivated people whose "dream job" turned out to be a nightmare.
  9. Jun 27, 2011 #8
    I'd like to believe that I do have an idea what to expect entering this field. I'm obviously not very knowledgeable.
  10. Jun 27, 2011 #9
    I understand what youre trying to say but EPhysics doesn't involve *engineering* anything. The name is somewhat misleading. It's very similar to a Physics degree. If you want to do something for telescope/spacecraft building, a Mechanical Engineering minor or something a long those lines would help. Maybe you want to double major in Physics and some other engineering discipline. This all depends on how your EPhysics is structured at your school. Normally, EPhysics is just a normal Physics degree in general.
  11. Jun 27, 2011 #10
    I see. Would you consider double majoring in Physics and Aerospace Engineering as the right option?

    To be frank I'm confused between Aerospace, Mechanical and Electrical. Which one of these, along with a Physics major, can help me reach my goal.
  12. Jun 28, 2011 #11
    Physics and Aerospace is a popular one.

    You can do almost anything with Mechanical Engineering, to be frank. It's really broad; I know Mechanical engineers that went on to do Environmental Engineering (Green power, etc.) all the way to cars, machines, etc. Mechanical is general and having the degree, you can definitely work on spacecraft, optical instrumentations, whatever you like.

    All in all, Astrophysics is theoretical and observational.
    Building things is technical and needs specific training, so its hard to specialize in both since that are totally different career paths.
  13. Jun 28, 2011 #12
    Actually, it depends on the university. One of my potential transfer schools has a E.P. program that *is* an engineering degree with some physics. It is ABET accredited and you're required to do a year long design project. If I had to guess this degree would mostly likely have the equivalent to a strong minor in physics.

    OTOH, my current school's E.P. degree is the complete opposite. There's no design required and you can pick ~4 engineering classes of your choice, they even count applied math as those engineering electives. It's almost all physics.

    I'd suggest the OP look at their university's E.P. curriculum.
  14. Jun 28, 2011 #13
    You're absolutely right. I didn't mean for what I said to be taken as general. My school's EPhysics is very just normal physics graduate preparation. It really depends on your school.
  15. Jun 28, 2011 #14
    Can you provide me the curricuclum of such an EP program that is an engineering degree (so that I can know what it looks like, or should look like)? Or perhaps the faculty website of any specific university offering a solid education in this program.

    If you know of any solid university in Canada offering a strong EP program, it'd be nice to know as well.
  16. Jun 28, 2011 #15
    http://www.abet.org/AccredProgramSearch/AccreditationSearch.aspx [Broken]

    On the "Program Area:" drop down find Engineering Physics. Those are the ones closely related to an engineering degree.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  17. Jun 28, 2011 #16
    I've read that a double major in aerospace engineering and physics is an half-baked degree. True?

    Many things seem to point towards that major, because it seems to be the most compatible with my interests...
  18. Jun 28, 2011 #17
    I don't know where you heard that, but I know people who are almost done with doing it. Up to you really. Theres no such thing as a "half-baked" double major. The "worst" type of double major is one where they dont cross-list in terms of classes. You do what you're interested in.
  19. Jun 29, 2011 #18
    I tried looking up on Berkeley's website (more specifically the Engineering Physics web page) and I wasn't able to find a detailed course outline or a typical EP course schedule for the 4 years. As an example, maybe you can provide your schedule so I may have an idea what it looks like?

    Also, you speak of specializing within the EP program -- what do you mean by that, and what types of specializations are there?

    You have also asked me of specializing in aerospace -- I'm considering more particularly in astronautical engineering but I'm not entirely sure if it's convenient enough to allow me to go to graduate school in Astrophysics.
  20. Jun 29, 2011 #19
    http://coe.berkeley.edu/students/current-undergraduates/advising/2011-12%20Announcement.pdf [Broken]

    You can control-f and find the engineering physics program in there. By specializing, I just meant picking my electives in a way so I'm really knowledgeable in a certain area.

    I don't really know anything about astronautical engineering. I think the type of engineering you do depends on what you want to do. You said measurement equipment right? I think a mechanical or electrical path may be a good choice then. I don't know though.

    I know a research group at Berkeley that does research in precision measurements. Maybe you can poke around the website and get some ideas:

    http://physics.berkeley.edu/research/mueller/index.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  21. Oct 4, 2011 #20
    Canada has a number of universities that may offer strong engineering / engineering physics programs. The stronger schools you'll likely find in the eastern provinces, maybe Alberta and the west coast. I've heard that the University of British Columbia offers a strong Engineering Physics program and Aerospace engineering. However, with the course load in those programs, I highly doubt it that you could study a double major. You would have to choose one path or the other.
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