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Engineering Physics

  1. Nov 26, 2011 #1
    I am the father of an excellent young man. He is a junior in high school and is starting to look at colleges and possible majors.

    His natural interest is in pure physics, but he is smart enough to realize that engineering provides more career opportunities. Since money is an issue with his mother and I, we are both blue collar types, and assisting him with paying for college is going to be difficult even with scholarships.

    My question. Our state university, the University of Maine, offers a BS in Engineering Physics. What the heck is Engineering Physics? The faculty brags that it is one of the few ABET accredited Engineering Physics degrees in New England. What does that mean?

    He appears to be interested in Mechanical Engineering if a Physics degree doesn't make financial sense.

    Thank you for your input.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2011 #2
    any real engineering degree is more financially viable more so than any other science degree around, including physics.

    ephys at maine is listed as:

    49 cr Mathematics and Basic Science (Chemistry and Physics)
    49 cr Engineering and Engineering Science (including Physics Lab courses)

    with some other stuff at the end. . .

    so it's like half science / half engineering essentially. probably a mix between mech/electrical.

    ephys is definitely cool, and a lot of really smart people i knew at school majored in that, but they were rather free to indulge themselves, seeing as they weren't hard pressed to get a high paying job right away, and since most planned on going to grad school, having high enough scores/grades in these difficult classes to still be well off.

    and the thing is, if you are smart enough, or work hard enough, it's possible to get scholarships and grants. so if your son does well academically, he could be in a position to turn a partial scholarship into a full one by the time he is in college a few semesters.

    my advice would be to pursue a regular engineering degree unless he likes more of the pure physics once he gets to college, and wants to go down that path, as that would be more financially marketable. mechanical being exactly what you would expect it to be, much like physics 1 (ap physics ab) and electrical if he likes math a lot more (diffeq) and phyiscs 2 (ap physics c).

    im an engineer though, so def get the input of the physics guys here, they really know that area the best.
  4. Nov 26, 2011 #3
    Thank you Highway.
  5. Nov 26, 2011 #4
    np, im a big fan of pursuing what you want to, despite financial obligations, but on the other hand it's quite possible to make six figures with a BS/MS combo in engineering I would think.

    I think the main argument for pursuing what you enjoy is that it makes it more favorable for you to work harder, and therefore do better.

    Also, another aspect of Mechanical, is that it is the basis for Aero and Nuke (same with chemical, with respect to nuke) so if he is later interested in one of those two fields, he has the opportunity to pursue them in graduate school if he chooses. Then again, the same goes for bioengineering and biomechanics. I guess what I'm saying is that even with a "plain" or "safe" BS in MechE, he still has a world of career opportunity.

    I guess the main thing though is what aspect of physics does he like more? The mechanics or electricity and magnetism. . .

    Sorry for the detailed posts, I'm just procrastinating on finals prep. . .
  6. Nov 27, 2011 #5
    Thanks for the information.

    He seems to view math as a necessary evil. He is good at it, but doesn't overly enjoy it. His natural interest in physics is in the theory and the attempt to understand how everything fits together.

    He has done the work. AP high school math and science courses since freshman year. Good grades. If he truly falls in love with college physics, then we will find a way.

    Does ABET accredited program in Eng Physics mean that he would qualify to take the EIT or PE?

    Thank you for taking the time to respond.

    How does Engineering Physics differ from a regular degree in Physics?

    Thanks again.
  7. Nov 27, 2011 #6


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    Engineering Physics involves more applied physics or applied technology than perhaps the amount of theory that one might learn in a physics program. The wikipedia article is a reasonably good description of engineering physics. One may also look into the Society of Engineering Sciences.

    A general overview - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_physics

    See also Society of Engineering Sciences - http://www.sesinc.org/

    One can compare the engineering physics curriculum vs physics curriculum at some universities that offer both.

    University of Illinois
    Engineering Physics

    U of Wisconsin
    http://www.physics.wisc.edu/undergrads/handbook.pdf (Undergrad Physics Major Handbook)
    Engineering Physics
    http://www.engr.wisc.edu/ep/engrphys/curriculum/curriculum.pdf [Broken]

    Engineering Physics

    One normally takes the EIT, now FE, in the senior year of an engineering program, or perhaps during the early part of graduate school. The PE is taken after a few years experience working with/under a professional engineer.

    The PE is offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying https://ncees.org/Exams/PE_exam.php

    See also the National Society of Professional Engineers
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Nov 27, 2011 #7
    Thank you for the information Astronuc. Very informative.

    I recall thinking that I was smarter than my father when I was a teenager. In my son's case he really is smarter than his father.

    Any idea on whether an BS in Engineering Physics meets the criteria for being a licensed professional engineer? I couldn't find the answer in the material on the links that you gave me.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer.
  9. Nov 27, 2011 #8
    You should ask the university specifically for that question. But I would bet a million to one odds that it is an accredited engineering degree.

    Another option that might be available at the university is a "general year".
    Most universities have a separate first year "general" engineering program that is a bit tougher and goes alongside other engineering degrees, so that you can choose to specialize at the end of first or second year.

    The universities engineering department is a good idea to get in contact with.
  10. Nov 27, 2011 #9
    our school had freshman year be identical for all departments, and students who entered as freshman couldn't declare a specific discipline until the end of freshman year.
  11. Nov 28, 2011 #10
    I am currently an ENGP major. I am also in NROTC at Tulane University, and slated for Nuclear Engineering after commissioning. I am also being recommended for a R&D job at a base this summer. I'd strongly recommend this major because it will prepare him for almost any engineering field and even physics field if he decides to go to grad school. It is the most broad engineering major, and he can narrow his sights after college, and possibly look into engineering management as well.
  12. Nov 28, 2011 #11


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    Normally the approach is to receive an engineering (or engineering physics) degree from an ABET-accredited 4-year university program, then take the EIT (Engineering-in-Training), which is now called the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering), optionally obtain a graduate degree, then practice a few years under the supervision of an engineer (usually licensed), and then take the PE exam. One obtain a license in the state of practice/residence.

    Regarding the exams:

    I encourage any engineering student to take as many mathematics and physics courses as possible, particuarly in the upper levels. If possible, take courses in materials science/engineering, and other engineering disciplines as there is interest.

    While my background is primarily nuclear engineering, I also took upper level and graduate courses in mechanical, electrical, aerospace, and materials, and applied math. I had started my undergrad program in physics with focus on nuclear and astrophysics, then migrated to nuclear engineering.

    Compuational physics is a critical area these days, so knowing the fundamental physics of materials and how they behave in their intended environment is the challenge, as is developing the models of the materials and systems, and operating environment.
  13. Nov 28, 2011 #12
    Thanks to all of you for taking the time to post.

    The information has been very helpful.
  14. Nov 29, 2011 #13
    I earned an Engy Physics degree some 10 years ago now. For me, it was essentially a physics degree with an engineering minor. I chose computer science.

    As for coursework - I literally took every class the pure physics majors had to take (except a foreign language requirement) plus the engineering college mandated classes (e.g. engy statics, drafting). I also had to take many of those upper level math classes with the math majors and pure physics majors - but not with the engineering majors. The credit hours I took in computer science were the exact number of hours and from the same course list as for a minor. Also, where I went to undergrad the engineering physics degree is awarded by the engineering college and not college of arts & sciences; however, I was given a physics adviser, not an engineering adviser. Taken in sum, it shows that the degree, at least where I went, is more of a physics degree than an engineering degree. That said, things change - it could be different now.

    In the years since, it's been a little bit of an uphill battle describing what my education was to employers. Most people haven't heard of the degree, or make, usually poor, assumptions based the name of the degree. The term "Engineering Physics" is a little awkward: how do you engineer physics? Create a universe? Anyhow, the degree is certainly a mix of the theoretical and applied. You get the theoretical in the physics and the applied in the chosen engineering. It opens you to both worlds, but (from personal experience) you're more likely to find a job after graduating in the field of your chosen engineering (physics typically requires more school).

    As for your question about licensing: Since not all institutions apply to have Engy Phys accredited, it is important to find a school where it is if the engineering route is important. As long as the degree is ABET accredited he can go take the FE (EIT) exam right out of school, otherwise he'd have to wait some 2-4(?) years after graduating. After passing the FE, 4 years experience, and any state requirements then you can take the PE. One thing to consider about professional engineering, though, is that the requirements for a PE are changing in, I believe, 2020 to require a masters.
  15. Nov 29, 2011 #14


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    This really depends on the state laws that govern licensure. Here's a useful link for Maine's requirements. Some states require that one possess an undergraduate engineering degree that is ABET accredited, and others don't. There are also states that will allow a prospective PE to sit for the exam after working under a licensed PE for a certain amount of years. Needless to say, it's going to be difficult to determine where your son will be working later in his life, so I'd say, if he wants to work in a position that requires PE licensure, then he should obtain a degree from an ABET accredited program.
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2011
  16. Nov 29, 2011 #15


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    Thanks for that input.

    See also this thread - https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=550580

    There is a question about whether ABET accredits Engineering Physics programs. I believe it's possible through their Applied Science Accreditation Commission (ASAC), but there is not guarantee - http://www.abet.org/types-of-programs-abet-accredits/

    For example -
    http://www.pacific.edu/x10464.xml [Broken]


    Here is an interesting approach at Brown University - Engineering and Physics

    Brown does have ABET accredited engineering programs.

    For ABET accreditation, see - http://main.abet.org/aps/AccreditedProgramSearch.aspx/AccreditationSearch.aspx
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  17. Nov 29, 2011 #16
    Thanks again for everyone taking the time to respond.

    This is from the University of Maine's website.

    http://www.physics.umaine.edu/programs/degrees/undergrad.htm [Broken]

    It says, as we were told during our visit, that their B.S. in Engineering Physics is the only such program that is ABET accredited in New England.

    Our son is still in the early stages of making these decisions. He seems to have prepared himself well with course selection and grades in high school.

    Your replies have helped his mother and I better understand this process. I am a Plumbing Heating and Cooling contractor and while I am subject to the demands of engineers frequently, I have never understood the specifics of the "Engineer's world."

    I have tried to encourage him to find something that he is passionate about. If you can manage to make a living doing what you enjoy, it makes life much easier. However, it will be difficult enough for us to help him through 4 or 5 years of college. From what I have read, it is almost impossible to find meaningful employment in the pure physics world without a Ph.d.

    Thank you again for all of the time that you have taken to answer our questions.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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