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Engineering physics?

  1. Oct 4, 2009 #1
    Well, the idea of pursuing a PhD program in physics is sounding more and more ridiculous every day. The hope was to eventually get research job in academia. However, the competition for such jobs is outlandish. My advisor made the point that if he graduates a student with a PhD every year of his career of 30-40 years, that's 30-40 PhDs for his one job position. The supply just isn't there to meet the demand.

    So, I could fight like a rabid dog for a graduate position at a decent school, work my *** off for 4-5 years making barely enough money to survive, then fight like a rabid dog for a post-doc position, and then fight like a rabid dog for a tenured position, and THEN, for the rest of my career, fight like a rabid dog for grants, maybe spending 5% of my time doing actual research.

    Yeah, I think it's time to consider the alternatives.

    I've always hated the idea of working in industry, as I can't help but think that it would be an intellectually-bankrupt environment, but it's not like academia is going to provide that glorified career dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge either. Maybe industry ain't so bad?

    My ideal industry job would obviously be that of an engineer. Hell, I'd probably make a better engineer than a scientist anyway. Perhaps if I could do it all over again I'd probably do a degree electrical engineering. It's probably too late to switch now (maybe not), so I'm considering the physics BS with an engineering emphasis and possibly an electrical engineering minor. Is this something that you can get a good engineering job with? Or would I still end up using my residual programming skills that I have gained from classes or research positions here and there in a cubicle as a code monkey, as a lot of physics graduates seem to end up doing? I know very little about industry jobs as my focus all along has been on, perhaps foolishly, my dream academia job.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 5, 2009 #2
    This is definitely doable and basically what I did.

    When I went to undergrad, I knew I wanted to do physics, but not really sure what to pursue after BS. Industry, academia, teaching...

    I actually took a couple of years off after my BS (got a completely different MS - non science/engineering). After deciding that that wasn't the way to go, I applied to several positions that were looking for physics backgrounds just to get a job.

    At least for me, my job is a hybrid between electrical engineering and physics (design of xray tube components and technology). Electron beams, magnetic interaction, computer modeling and simulations, lab experiments and data collection + some electronic circuitry and detector technology thrown in.

    I think if you do a minor in EE or even an MS in EE you would be a very marketable asset. You'd just have to find the right job/industry. Some industries where interesting work is going on: medical (imaging), communications (rf/microwave), magnets (for particle accelerators, etc.).....
  4. Oct 5, 2009 #3
    Nice. That kind of job sounds right up my alley. The closer to the realm of science, the better. Academia jobs are probably the closest it gets, but in finding work in academia there's a lot of crap that I probably don't have the patience or the academic fortitude to deal with. Plus, as much as I don't mind living the impoverished college life, it's getting a little tiresome to have to worry about how the hell I'm going be able to afford to eat for the next few months.

    Are such jobs relatively ample? How long did it take for you to find a job?
  5. Oct 5, 2009 #4
    You know, I honestly don't know how the supply of jobs are. With the economy right now, it's probably hit or miss. Depends on when you graduate. I was lucky in finding my job, from the time I started looking it took about 2 months maybe. Don't really remember, that was back in 1997. If you're willing to relocate, I would think that finding a job wouldn't be too hard.

    One thing that I would give as advice to any student in the physical science or engineering: learn as much as you can about computer modeling of systems (finite elements, finite difference, boundary element, etc. and general programming). Whether you use it or not, it is a great tool to have on your resume'.
  6. Oct 6, 2009 #5
    I thank you for your advice, I shall keep that in mind.

    Some articles I've read claim that there's a shortage of engineers, but I have a feeling that that's propaganda to try to get more people to go into engineering. A "shortage" probably just means that companies can't higher them for dirt cheap.
  7. Oct 6, 2009 #6
    If you're interested in doing research for the dark side, check out http://www.ge.com/research/. Browse the careers and check the requirements. There are interesting research jobs in industry with funding behind them. There are also a lot of other options if you want to be more of a straight engineer. An ABET accredited engineering degree or an MS are usually required for most positions at larger companies though, unless you can get in through the back door doing analysis work or some other technical job.

    As for your comment above... engineers are some of the highest paid graduates, usually by a large margin. Salaries in straight engineering generally do not increase as fast as in other fields, but engineers are also in demand in those other fields (such as consulting, finance, and management). Good engineers are still finding very reasonable jobs.
  8. Oct 7, 2009 #7
    All of the engineering programs at my school (UMNTC) are ABET accredited, but I don't believe that includes the engineering physics degree, since that's a B.S. and not a B.E.E.

    I'm considering changing to electrical engineering, but I reckon it would take at least two more years after this year to finish. I've floundered about in college for long enough already!

    I just had a thought: since I already have a B.S. in math, I don't get grants for financial aid anymore while I'm working on another B.S. for physics... however, if I switch to a B.E.E., I think I would be eligible again. Hmm...
  9. Oct 7, 2009 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    That's true.

    And that's childish. 5%?
  10. Oct 7, 2009 #9
    Ah, Vanadium 50, you old curmudgeon, you. I knew I could count on you to take my hyperbolic rhetoric so literally.

    Then again, given your dream-crushing pessimism that you seem so prone to, I figured you'd agree with me this time.
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