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Engineering Physics or Just Physics

  1. Jul 22, 2009 #1
    Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    What do engineering physicists do? What do "plain" physicists do? I have to select a major for college. One of them says only "Physics" and I'm confused as to what that's supposed to mean. What will I do for a job for each of those majors?

    And if there are any large job opportunities, salaries, etc., differences between the two, please tell me :P
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2009 #2
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics


    no help out there?
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    engineering physics makes money, plain physics doesnt.

    ep has more math too.
  5. Jul 22, 2009 #4
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    thanks! :D

    what do you do as an engineering physicist and as a plain physicist?
  6. Jul 22, 2009 #5


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    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    Uhh yes to the engineering physics/physics thing definitely. A university degree in physics usually leads to graduate work which usually leads to some kind of professorship at a university. Engineering physics undergraduate may or may not lead to a PhD but jobs are often outside of academia and do make a good deal more money than a professor. Job opportunities are probably brighter with an engineering degree as well.

    I'm really not on board with the statement that Engineering Physics has more math though. I myself am on my university's physics track but have always thought of it being the other way around, with the physics major having much more rigorous mathematics. At least that's the way it was at my previous uni, we kind of laughed at the engineers for just wanting results of the mathematics and nothing more. A lot of people do go above and beyond the simple major requirements of mathematics, though.

    There are a lot of people here who have completed both kinds of degrees and can tell you about the differences a lot better than an undergraduate like myself can, so maybe they'll pop in and give their two cents.
  7. Jul 22, 2009 #6
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    Thanks for the reply!

    So basically, if I go for plain physics, I'll end up teaching in a university or something? And if I go for engineering physics, I'll do more "practical" work?

    Hopefully they do :)
  8. Jul 22, 2009 #7


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    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    At the PhD level basically for just the physics degree. Teaching in a university + research, more or less. Of course you can take jobs doing other things, but likely you won't be using what you learned as a PhD student.

    It's about the difference between engineering and physics at this level for you though. After all, engineering isn't much more than applied physics. A physics degree deals with the fundamental principles of things, and an engineering degree in how to use them to create things, basically.

    An example would be a physics major studying quantum mechanics as a physical theory, with all its intricacies and nuances, beauty, relation to other theories, problems it poses, etc., while an engineer might study quantum mechanics in reference to how to build a quantum computer, or how to build semiconductors using the principles of quantum mechanics.

    Of course there are many different sub-fields within both the broader engineering and physics titles, but the general distinction is the same. Hope this helps.
  9. Jul 23, 2009 #8


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    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    No, if you go for engineering physics is is EASIER to get a job doing practical work. There are plenty of physicists that now work in very "abtract" fields (cosmology etc) and teach at university that studied EP as undergraduates.

    If you decide to go for a PhD in won't matter in the long run if you studied "plain" physics or EP, but if you decide instead to go work for a company it is usually easier to get a job if the name of your degree includes the word "engineering".
  10. Jul 23, 2009 #9
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    Which program is better at the school you are/will be attending? That's what it came down to for me. I am currently a EP major and I'm working in a lab studying "Supersolid" 4He, and topological insulators. Not applied physics (engineering physics) at all.
  11. Jul 23, 2009 #10


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    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    The original poster is getting some pretty poor advice in this thread, in my opinion.

    Engineering physics is a growing branch of engineering that relies more heavily on current topics of interest in physics than say civil or mechanical engineering. It has a very wide definition and the topics covered in the degree can vary somewhat from school to school. In contrast to physics, I might argue that there is more emphasis on development as opposed to new directions in reseach, but the two fields are obviously highly interchangable. A physics undergraduate degree will generally cover a larger variety of physics topics, whereas the eng phys degree will have to incorporate more general engineering topics.

    The advantage of the engineering physics degree is that it can qualify you to become a professional engineer. This isn't necessarily the case with a physics degree.

    With respect to employment, to say that "engineering physics makes money, plain physics doesn't" only perputuates a myth. It is not backed up with any vaild evidence what-so-ever. Engineering physics is a professional degree and for those looking to get into the engineering profession immediately after a B.Sc., this is the avenue that will offer the most opportunities in that direction. Physics is an academic degree, and those who take that route, should in my opinion, at least be considering further work in academia. However, statistics from the AIP suggest that people who graduate with physics degrees do in fact get jobs and end up with salaries that are at least comparable to those of engineers.
  12. Jul 23, 2009 #11
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    It's the other way around for me: I think I'll be picking which colleges to go to depending on which major I'm choosing (that's if they accept me :biggrin:).

    thanks! I'm pretty sure I'll go along with engineering physics now.

    btw, is computer programming somehow related to engineering physics? I'm interested in that too and will probably do a minor in it.
  13. Jul 23, 2009 #12
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    Here's one thing you should consider above all others:

    An engineer creates no more and no less than a scientist, but, what an engineer creates is typically intended for direct use by the public. With this comes significant risk, and with this risk comes the pay. This is the same reason that doctors, lawyers, and the like get paid well. If you are a scientist who adopts a position of significant risk, the pay will increase accordingly.

    An engineer is no more and no less "practical" than a scientist. An engineer must consider economic viability just as a scientist must consider economic viability, but the economies with which they deal are those of the public and those of the scientific community respectively.

    Both scientists and engineers make incremental improvements to their creations and the creations of others, and occaisionally discover or invent something great, neither of these actions being proprietary to one or the other.

    So there is no simple answer to your question.
  14. Jul 23, 2009 #13
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    What's the risk?:confused:
    That you produce a monumental failure in designing something and as a result huge resources are lost?
  15. Jul 23, 2009 #14
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    Consider that nearly everything you use has been engineered. Now consider how many things you have used that have failed; consider recalls, and the like. The paper trail often leads back to the engineer.
  16. Jul 23, 2009 #15
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    I have to say I don't really see the point there? Who else is it going to lead back to? Maxwell for developing the physics of electromagnetism? The CEO who pushed the faulty product? Obviously if theres a problem with the product it is the person who built its "fault" (I use this in the sense that it could have easily been an unrealistic deadline imposed by management that led to the mistake or the like)
  17. Jul 28, 2009 #16
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    What I believe romistrub is getting at is the liability factor.

    Imagine being the engineer responsible for a bridge collapsing, a leaky gas tank exploding, a plane's door tearing off, etc.

    To quote Dilbert, "The goal of every engineer is to retire without getting blamed for a major catastrophe."
  18. Jul 28, 2009 #17
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics


    What happens if you are responsible for a big, bad accident? Isn't the worst thing that can happen is that you get fired? Will they attempt to sue you too?:eek:
  19. Jul 28, 2009 #18
    Re: Engineering Physics or "Just" Physics

    I have never ever heard an economic theory that suggested that the higher wages of engineers, doctors and lawyers is related to the amount of "risk to society" the professions entail. It's certainly no where near the standard reason given (market pressures and demand). If you've got some evidence to back this up I'd love to see it but until then I think you just made that theory up.

    P.S. Responsibility to the public? Anyone remember the A-bomb?
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