1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How much physics do i sacrifice as an engineering major.

  1. Apr 3, 2006 #1
    Im a senior in high school and right now I have to make a decision between cooper union and stevens institute of technology.

    Cooper: I will have to be sure that i want to major in engineering as opposed to physics if i go here since they only offer engineering. But, its cooper union so i have to give some weight to making this decision soon. Cooper is free

    stevens: i can decide later if i want to major in engineering or physics. Stevens actually even has an engineering physics program. I was accepted into the scholars program which means I would be able to get a bachelors as well as a masters in four years at no extra cost. Are these kind of programs credible or is it just an easy way out that nobody will respect? Stevens costs money.

    The bulk of my indecision i guess is as follows: I really enjoy physics, im taking my third year of physics now and I want to keep learning physics. Thats not to say that I dont have an interest in engineering as well.

    I understand that this is a relative issue that ultimately I need to resolve on my own, but i just wanted to see what people who have gone through this would have to say. What rationale lead you to major in physics as opposed to engineering or visa versa.

    edit: cooper has a dual degree program as well
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2006 #2

    berkeman

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I think you will be better served by attending Stevens and taking both engineering and physics classes to see what turns you on the most. Physics is my first love, but about 2 years into my undergrad I had to decide between EE and Physics, and the extra money of EE is what swayed me. But my physics classes in the early undergrad years were some of the most fun I had in college, and the most rewarding intellectually. In my experience, taking a range of classes is the best way to figure out what you really want to do in your career. Even within engineering there are so many options. When I started my undergrad, I was thinking ME/EE double major, but I soon found that EE/CS was a much better fit for me. Use those first two years of your undergrad to explore and enjoy!
     
  4. Apr 3, 2006 #3
    The thing is that if i were to pick up Engineering as a major I would much rather do it at Cooper. I guess im just going to go to the accepted students assemblies and hopefully one of the schools will just be alot less attractive than the other.

    What kind of courses did you enjoy so much as a physics major? Im looking into whether or not Cooper offers upper level Physics classes as electives.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply.
     
  5. Apr 3, 2006 #4

    berkeman

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    At UC Davis where I did my undergrad, I took all the lower-division (first 2 years) Physics classes that I could. That included a 5-term series that started with the basics like mechanics, dynamics, waves and optics, took us through E&M (before I got it in my EE courses even), through Special and General Relativity and Modern Physics, and ended up in QM. It was a great series. I also took electives in math like Infinite Series and such. I really found my true love in those Physics classes, and I found out that I had a real apptitude for it. A number of times I would score in the top 2-3 on exams in classes with a couple hundred students. I still remember my first A+, which I got on an exam where the median score was 50 and I got a 97.

    I wanted to take upper-division Physics classes as electives, just as you mention. But upper-division EE is so full of work, that there was little hope of picking up any extra Physics classes and still graduating on time in 4 years total for the BSEE/CS.

    I really wish that I could have justified majoring in Physics, but as I said, my finiancial goals were pointing more strongly at EE and the Silicon Valley paradigm. Now that I've done pretty well in EE, I'm considering going back to school to earn a BS or MS in Applied Physics. I'd sure love to get back into it.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2006
  6. Apr 5, 2006 #5
    The standard Engineering degrees have very little physics in them. Usually the first year classes in Newtonian physics, and sometimes a quarter/semester of modern physics, depending on the particular engineering degree. Some of the upper division material may overlap, but not much. Engineering rarely deals with why things work the way they do, its mostly just working with them. However, there is always the option of taking upper division physics elective if you want those classes but not the major, or even double majoring.
     
  7. Apr 5, 2006 #6

    Tom Mattson

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I was an engineering undergrad who went to grad school for physics. I *thought* I would be OK because I used all my electives to take the preparatory physics courses. In fact I almost took enough physics to get a BS degree in physics! I was only missing the course in Experimental Physics, which didn't hurt me at all because I went into theory anyway.

    Back to my point: I thought I would be OK as an engineering major who took a bunch of extra physics courses. But I quickly saw that my problem was that I was competing against a crop of physics majors who took a bunch of extra mathematics courses, and I had to work twice as hard to keep up. It's just something to think about if you want to switch to physics for grad school.
     
  8. Apr 5, 2006 #7
    I'm majoring in EE but I'm also taking a lot of physics classes. I chose EE as oppose to physics mainly because I think engineering is more marketable. You won't learn any theoretical physics from engineering for sure, but most EE programs will cover electrodynamics, plasma, and solid state (for semiconductor only) satisfactorily. So you just need to take 4-5 extra physics classes (mechanics, thermo/statistical, quantum, particle) in case if you want to do more physics in grad school. One thing to keep in mind, as someone else mentioned above, engineering is a lot of work. It might not be difficult conceptually, but often hw/projects will consume a lot of time.
     
  9. Apr 6, 2006 #8
    Heh, your situation is a lot like mine. Originally, I was going to specialize in control systems as a EE major. :yuck: Then, I came to my senses and realized that I would rather do physical and quantum electronics (still as a EE major). So, I took the two quantum classes that are typically reserved for physics majors. Now, I'm realizing that I may be able to take two classes and have an engineering physics degree in addition to my electrical engineering one. Total time spent as an undergrad: three years. :biggrin: Now, in contrast to you, I'm not all that interested in going into physics in grad school: I'd rather go in as a EE. The engineering physics degree would just make me more marketable.
     
  10. Apr 6, 2006 #9

    chroot

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You're not going to learn much "pure" physics in a standard engineering curriculum. Quantum mechanics, nuc & particle, and thermodynamics are the "bread and butter" of undergraduate physics, and you won't take any of them as an engineering student. Of course, you can supplement your curriculum with some electives.

    - Warren
     
  11. Apr 6, 2006 #10

    Tom Mattson

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Well, he did say that Stevens has an "Engineering Physics" program. That means different things at different schools, but I got my BS degree in Engineering Physics, and at my school we were requried to take 2 semesters of QM and 1 semester of upper level E+M from the Physics Department. We also had plenty of free electives which allowed me to take 2 semesters of classical mechanics, 1 extra semester of E+M, 1 semester of optics, and a graduate course in QM, all from the Physics Department.
     
  12. Apr 8, 2006 #11
    I'm also in high school and had a similar dilemma. What helped me solve it was questioning what I really want to do and learn. But I'm a junior and haven't been accepted to college yet, so my selection between engineering and physics isn't as final as yours. I figured I wanted to learn physics but do engineering (yes, its odd but thats how it is), so I'm leaning towards a double major in physics and engineering. Have you given that a thought? Of course, I'm still thinking about it and won't be certain until I'm actually in college.
     
  13. Apr 8, 2006 #12

    robphy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I started college at Cooper Union, as an electrical engineering major, although I was more interested in physics at the time. I convinced myself to go to Cooper for undergrad EE, then continue elsewhere for the MS,PhD in physics.

    While it is a small school, I think its engineering program was good... and I had access to NYU libraries and could take some courses (e.g. math or physics) there as a Cooper student. In addition, Greenwich Village and New York City were lively... Of course, the tuition was surprisingly low. Some interesting reading on this: http://www.wernercohn.com/Chrysler.html (There were no dorms there at the time. I commuted from my grandparents' home in Queens.)

    However, after three semesters, I realized I really like Math and Physics more... (and...ok...the circuits class gave me trouble). (I really enjoyed courses taught by one of the Physics professors and by one of the Math professors. I think they are still there.)

    I was disappointed to learn that the advanced courses in physics listed in the Cooper catalog [which, as an applicant, I was already looking forward to take] are rarely taught... if there is sufficient interest, the course may be offered. Apparently, these advanced courses were on the books from when the Physics department was much larger there. (Later, I learned (at another university) that when a course gets on the books, it was often a struggle to get it there. So, even if the course isn't taught as much, it's often left on the books. This is what I think happened with those advanced courses.)

    With the help of the Physics faculty at Cooper, I took a math course at NYU (PDEs) and a mechanics course (Goldstein) at Columbia in my fourth semester. I transferred out and became a Math and Physics major elsewhere.

    Looking back, if I had to do it again...
    given my list of acceptances to EE programs at that time and factoring in tuition costs, I would do it again.
     
  14. Apr 11, 2006 #13
    First, thanks for the replies everybody.

    Yeah, cooper actually offered physics as a major up until the 70's. Hmm, I took a look at their catalogue and saw some physics classes on it that i would be interested in taking, but i hadnt really thought there would be a problem taking them.

    And im pretty sure that the coop program between cooper and NYU ended and now NYU is working pretty closely with Stevens.

    I think im just fishing for reasons to go to cooper union for some odd reason. I havnt visited either school yet, and i havnt actually gotten a financial aid package from stevens so maybe i wont even have to make a decision.

    robphy: Do you feel that you lost any time switching schools and majors like you did. I mean, did you have alot of catching up to do? did you finish the math and physics major on time?
     
  15. Apr 11, 2006 #14

    robphy

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I don't remember all of the agreements between NYU and Cooper. It may have been that NYU students can major in engineering by taking classes at Cooper... I'm not sure. As a Cooper student, I had access to all of their libraries, use of their facilities, and I could sign up for some limited number of classes at NYU.

    I didn't lose any time switching schools. Upon arrival, I was on par in course-experience with my classmates. Course-wise, I loaded up on as much math and physics as I could get (18-24 credits/semester)...some of them not required for graduation.... mainly because I wanted to... not because I was trying to finish within the next 2 years. So, I could have taken it easy and finished on time. So, I don't feel that Cooper slowed me down at all. If anything, it motivated me to try harder because I felt I had to catch up with my new classmates.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?