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Graduate School: Physics or EE

  1. Jun 28, 2010 #1

    My final year of my undergraduate career in Engineering Physics (essentially a physics degree with a few engineering-specific courses thrown in in the first two years) begins in the Fall and I'm now looking ahead to graduate school. Based on my work experience thus far, my ultimate goal (for now) is to end up in industry working on solid state devices and/or nanoelectronics.

    As the thread title suggests, I've been looking into two options for graduate school: continuing strictly with physics and applying for a PhD program in physics, or slightly changing my direction and going for a masters/PhD in electrical engineering.

    I have comprised a few key points that I am considering between the two degrees:

    Physics PhD Advantages:
    • Possibility for a career in academia in the future if desired
    • Broader options for a career (many fields in physics versus simply electrical devices)
    • Includes more fundamental theory (more intellectually satisfying)

    EE Master's Advantages:
    • Shorter degree (assuming I only get a masters)
    • More attractive option for employers in industry (this is an assumption - I would love for someone to confirm/deny this)
    • What it lacks in breadth physics-wise it makes up for in depth concerning electronics

    The main issue I would love for someone to clarify is the difference in obtaining a job in the solid state/nanoelectronics industry between the two degrees. I think I would prefer continuing with physics as it is more intellectually satisfying and provides many more fields as career options, but I feel that an EE degree naturally lends itself towards industry and would make finding such a job easier.

    Opinions from people in either field would be much appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2010 #2
    Shameless bump. No opinions on the matter?
  4. Jul 2, 2010 #3

    The way I see, that there are few select school in EE that cover Nanoelectronics (includes solid state devices, since most devices nowadays are made in submicron regime) it from Physical view in depth.

    My background is in EE but currently i'm in the same field as you (MSc level).Physical Nanoelectronics is of interest for me.
    I am more inclined toward having a graduate degree first (MSc) in Physics, then deciding to go for a PhD or not (be it EE or Physics).
    To a large extend this depends upon the university which you will be attending. For example, good EE schools that offer lectures & has focused research in the field: UIUC, Arizona State Uni, Purdue in the USA,, TU Vienna & ETH Zurich in Europe.

    Even in EE schools, you will find Physicists.

    As a physicist, you have the advantage of understanding the underlying theories in depth.
    I have noticed that you mentioned two options, either PhD in Physics or MSc in EE. How about MSc in Physics ?

    In my opinion, go for what you love most. Thinking about future employment is pointless (many would differ with my thought), since you can't know the shape of the future, e.g. there might be an economical collapse in the Semiconductor Industry.

    A hot Topic in Modeling & Simulation of such devices/systems where the quantum theory applies most (e.g. Non-Equil. Green Functions), is very hard for engineers to tackle. As a physicist you have actually a huge advantage.
  5. Jul 18, 2010 #4
    Thanks for your input. In the USA at least, you typically decide after your undergraduate degree whether you want to pursue a Master's or a PhD. It is unlikely that I would decide to go for the Master's and then decide to also get a PhD.

    Regardless, the main point I would like some light shed on is the feasibility of getting a job in industry with an advanced physics degree. I know people do it, but would it be much more difficult to obtain such a job with a physics degree as compared to an electrical engineering degree?
  6. Jul 18, 2010 #5
    The kind of jobs will be different, but if your grad research is in an overlapping area (e.g. devices, electromagnetics, fibre optics, imaging etc.) then I don't think that will be the case either. But I imagine that with an advanced physics degree in something very specialized and which goes on a tangent to your engineering background, will make you suitable only for a very specialized set of jobs. I think the job market in physics is competitive when it comes to academia, as there are a fairly large number of highly qualified people competing for a much smaller number of positions. Jobs in some areas of theoretical physics are plentiful while in other areas are scant. I am an engineering graduate getting into physics grad school, and I think a lot depends on the area you intend to specialize in. It is quite natural to be worried about this, but then there is a small amount of risk in every choice.
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