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Going to graduate school for physics or back to undergraduate for engineering?

  1. Sep 27, 2014 #1
    I am about to graduate soon with a double major in math and physics. I have always wanted to go to graduate school for physics, but recently I did an REU and all I did was program the whole time and hated it. Also, I have been noticing that the overall job outlook seems horrible and many people have to leave the field in order to get a job to pay bills. I am wondering if it is even worth it to go to grad school or if I should just go back and pick up an electrical engineering b.s and study physics on the side as a hobby. Anyone else in/have had a similar situation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2014 #2


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    You can always study physics (or anything else) on the side, but you gotta eat. If the double major in math & physics doesn't appear to provide you with viable career options, your time and money would be better invested in studying something which could prove more lucrative.

    When we're kids, we all want to be a fireman, or something else, which is perceived as glamorous or exciting. The trouble is, there are only so many jobs available for firemen, and only so many people who are qualified to take such a job. Somebody always winds up selling insurance or used cars to make a living, often not by choice.
  4. Sep 28, 2014 #3
    There is physics in EE (E&M and solid state namely), but lets set the record straight if you hate programming you're in the wrong fields because you won't be escaping it regardless of what the name of your degree says (if you stay in such technical fields). Don't let the romantic vision you may have of physics cloud your mind about the existence of the dirty/boring/tedious/grunge work you will have to do in creating meaningful scientific output. You don't need a BS in engineering to do an MS or Phd in it if you have degrees in physics and math, but you will need remedial course work to get the basics down (circuit theory, analog electronics, digital electronics, signals and systems for EE). I would suggest physics majors look into military contractors and national labs since they often look for physics major by name. Regardless of what some people here have said on the topic, I think a physics PhD is very marketable but it has to be to the right people and you'll have to be doing the 'right' sort of research that can be marketed to industry/govt/military/etc and not so abstract that it could only be an academic interest. I have a physics degree and I'm not the only one in my graduating class that got picked up by military contractors (I'm sure my double major in EE helped but the point still stands I feel).
  5. Sep 28, 2014 #4


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    What is it about programming that you hated? I wonder if you might find you dislike engineering for much the same reasons. I know I did. Also, for some EEs, like those who write firmware, their entire job is programming.

    Your REU experience may not accurately represent what you'd do in grad school. I wouldn't write off grad school based on just that one experience. The job prospects for Ph.D.'s is indeed dismal if your goal is to get into academia. On the other hand, if you don't mind going into another field after you graduate — perhaps head to Wall St. to help engineer the next financial collapse ;) — the job situation improves.
  6. Sep 28, 2014 #5


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    I don't know any EEs that don't do at least some programming... for many it is a primary job function. I'm an analog design engineer, about as far away from software as you can get, yet I do a lot of programming (scripts for simulators or automating test equipment, Verilog for small digital blocks on my chips or for FPGAs on the board, Matlab for system exploration, etc etc).
  7. Oct 1, 2014 #6
    Maybe there's just a coding barrier for you? My first programming experience was being tossed in the deep end with a tough problem and beginner unfriendly language, but after coding a bit more with a beginner friendly language on somewhat more tractable projects I've come to enjoy it more.

    Physics PhD's are fairly employable though from what I can tell; all of the PhD's at my undergraduate institution I have known have immediately gotten some kind of job. One is a sales rep for laser equipment, which isn't the most exciting thing in the world, but it's also not the most boring thing in the world and I hear it pays well. Another guy is working at Raytheon after doing experimental nuclear physics, which apart from moral considerations is probably pretty cool stuff. The most recent grad I know, who worked on protein folding, is working for a bank on algorithms for detecting credit card fraud. All of those jobs are decent and interesting sounding to me.

    My institution has a much more applied focus, however. Perhaps if you do pure high energy particle theory at Harvard things are harder? I honestly don't know enough to say.
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