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Engineering switch to physics

  1. Oct 20, 2011 #1
    So I've been contemplating switching my ME major to physics for months now, and I'm still having trouble deciding. I really love physics, but I don't want to regret switching. I've read in some sources that Physics majors are extremely employable, while some claim that it's a worthless major. I've also read almost every thread on this site about the physics vs. engineering debate, so I won't ask the same question. Rather, I would like to know if anyone has actually made the switch from engineering to physics. Do you regret it? What did you do after that? What are you doing now? Any response would be extremely appreciated, as I feel like at this point I'll never make up my mind.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2011 #2
    I was in a similar boat and almost switched to physics during 1st year. Ended up staying in engineering but majoring in engineering physics.

    I don't regret staying in engineering. Doing eng phys still let me take a bunch of physics/math courses I was really interested in (quantum, e&m, numerical methods) but also learned practical stuff (circuits, optics, general engineering design etc.). Plus eng is an accredited professional program, so it opens up a lot of doors towards getting a job. Having that stamp that employers are looking for is important.

    A lot of the big and medium sized companies nowadays use automated keyword scanners and HR departments to filter resumes. If a position asks for a degree in engineering and you don't have one your resume could be filtered out in many cases before a human even sees it.

    It won't be impossible, by any means, to get a job, you'll probably get one, but it will be more difficult.

    I do know one classmate that did switch to physics, he's getting a PhD now I believe.

    One of my coworkers has a BSc in physics and now works as an electrical engineer (designing boards, programming firmware, etc.), so yes, it is possible.
  4. Oct 20, 2011 #3
    I, more or less, did the other way around: physics -> engineering. I know a professor that started in mech E, got a PhD with physics, and then went to ECE as a professor. People do it all the time, which is not to say that the switch isn't seamless but that it can be done.
  5. Oct 20, 2011 #4
    I was initially in Physics, then I switched to Electrical Engineering, and now I miss physics....
  6. Oct 21, 2011 #5
    I'm a senior physics major at a large state university. I'm looking towards graduate school but have been looking for some jobs as a plan b just in case. I have several friends who are burned out by academics and are looking for full time jobs right now.

    From what I've gathered, physics majors are extremely employable. Back in the day (per-recession from what I gather) jobs were common, so a company diversified by hiring the occasional physics major instead of an engineer. They weren't hiring physics majors in huge numbers, but there weren't huge numbers of physics majors to complain.
    The problem is that few people are hiring these days. More to the point, the physics major skill set is not directly employable. Yes, all us physics majors took circuits. We learn about transistors, op-amps, filters and what not. But we can't compete with EE majors who spent most of their degree on that stuff. And there are plenty of EE majors (young and old) flooding the market.

    But not all hope is lost. I've talked to a few people from the classes that graduated before me (and who had no luck getting jobs). Most of them have enrolled in engineering masters programs and have found the work much more straightforward compared to their physics degree. I'm not sure what their job prospects are going to be when they finish, but they claim their physics background was much more rigorous then their current engineering classes.

    If I were in your shoes, I would try and double. I've taken a few engineering classes and talked to some friends who are doubling in either physics or math with an engineering. None of us think engineering courses are anywhere near as intellectuality demanding as high level physics/math courses (... flame war?). I'm not trying to say engineering is harder/easier. Just more... straightforward. ABET accreditation seems to have standardize exactly what students have to learn, so professors and textbooks teach directly towards that.

    Few other thoughts:
    1. the physics degree seems designed to prepare you for one thing: physics graduate school. Engineering had to deal with real-world/employers, so they changed their curriculum to insure graduates would be employed. Physics undergrads got funneled by physics professors to work for other physics professors in physics graduate school.
    2. if you drop engineering, pick up programming. the physics degree seems to have been built in the 50-60s, so its overwhelmingly pencil-paper.
    3. I, personally, would have doubled with computer engineering if I could go back. In part for job prospects, in part because I want to learn more about programming, electronics, and signal processing. These topics would probably help me in my graduate research. (again, too much pencil-paper).
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