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How satisfying is engineering for a theoretical brain?

  1. Apr 27, 2015 #1
    After a degree in business and literature and a few years as a science writer in advertising, I'm going back to school for a second bachelor's. My idea is to go into a physics-related field. Ideally, I'd be an astrophysicist.

    I love physics and plan on graduate school, but knowing how many physics PhDs still go into business and engineering, I'm wondering if it's better to just go straight into studying engineering. Even though the idea of working for a space agency makes me starry-eyed, I know that in engineering I'd rather do robotics/AI rather than mechanical or aerospace. I'm more of a drones girl than a rockets girl, in military terms. I think robots are more interdisciplinary and have more room for improvement than mechanical systems (please prove me wrong). I have done some programming and enjoyed it for its mathematical logic aspect.

    My main strengths lie in solving equations, understanding abstract concepts, showing evidence for my statements, doing proofs, interpreting study results, writing scientific reviews, teaching and mentoring younger colleagues. I love doing those things and am good at them. Design, product development, or working for consumers have never had my fancy and I'm not that great at them as a result. I think my brain is more theoretical rather than design-oriented. I also love space (but in physics, who doesn't?), but I'd rather put up with the politics of academia than with the politics of the military (or with fluffy startups).

    How much satisfaction do you think I may find in the long term if I go into engineering for robotics now, as opposed to a purely academic field like dark energy?

    Your time and insights are very much appreciated.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 27, 2015 #2
    Have you had any beginner experience with robotics? Have you taken any calculus-based physics courses (or might I say, what math courses have you taken?)

    A lot of people find that they like reading about physics more than doing physics, is why I ask.

    If you enjoy programming, you'd probably enjoy robotics. I say this as someone in a robotics research group at my university.
  4. Apr 27, 2015 #3
    I've taken through Calculus III, but no physics classes. Was homeschooled by my grandma who was an experimental plasma physicist and taught me physics and then I tutored my classmates in physics, but that was 10 years ago in ninth grade. But college-level science classes? Only self-study.

    How did you know you wanted to do robotics? Did you have a similar fork in the road?
  5. Apr 27, 2015 #4
    I didn't know, and I'm not particularly in love with robotics. Basically, it was the first research group I joined (I'm in electrical engineering). My interests are more along the lines of electromagnetism.

    But like many students on this forum, I was undecided when I first came to college between physics and electrical engineering (and at some point, math). To me, the deciding factor was and still is the difficulty in getting a job doing physics. Now, that doesn't stop some people from trying, and that's great for them.

    As far as how you decide what you wanna do, just pretend you're done with your degree. You jump out of bed every morning excited to go to work as a....(fill in the blank with what you picture yourself happy as)

    And of course, it's always good to get a feel for what you'd be doing in either career before you make big commitments. Both jobs can be very interesting at their heights, but they both have their boring aspects too.
  6. Apr 27, 2015 #5
    There are lots of very deep and extremely challenging problems in all areas of robotics, I think you would be perfectly happy pursuing that subject.

    At the end of the day physics is really not particularly special compared with other technical disciplines. You really need to find a style you enjoy (working with computers, building mathematical models, engineering experiments etc) and sufficiently challenging problems, and you'll be happy. If you pursue dark matter there are certainly interesting problems, but you can go into robotics instead and have a significantly greater chance of continuing to work on equally interesting problems.
  7. Apr 27, 2015 #6


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    Robots are a mechanical system. As you say, they are very much interdisciplinary, and that includes mechanical engineering.
  8. Apr 28, 2015 #7
    Being an engineering professor or researcher can be satisfying, but if you work for a large company with just a BS, you will be terribly disappointed. You are right to say mechanical systems aren't advancing much. The biggest advances today (and in the near future) will be in biomedical, microfluidics, materials science, and software engineering. "Big Data", which utilizes high speed data processing and interpreting might be lucrative, but I don't know much about that field currently. I also think supersonic/hypersonic research might take off again once space travel becomes more common place.
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