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I would like your opinion.

  • Thread starter ape
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  • #1
ape
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I am 34 years old and will be starting college for the first time this fall. I would love a career in physics or astronomy. However, I am concerned with the fact that I will be some where around 44 years old when I graduate from college with a Ph.D., give or take a few years.
I understand that a great deal of people who strive for a career in physics or astronomy end up in other career fields like engineering. At this stage in my life, being able to find a good job when I get out of college has more weight for me now, than it would have ten years ago.

My question is, would I be better off pursuing a career in electrical engineering/computer engineering and taking up physics/astronomy as a hobby or pursuing a career in physics/astronomy and most likely end up working in engineering field any way?

Thank you for your time.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
lisab
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Just my opinion, based on my experience (and I only have a BS in physics): it's much, much easier to market an engineering degree than a physics degree. If you can convince yourself that engineering would make you happy, do that instead.

Besides, there's plenty of overlap between physics and engineering. And you can take physics classes as electives to satisfy your physics jones.

However, if you *must* study physics because it's the love of your life and nothing else will make you happy, then OK do it...you won't starve.

Just my $0.02.
 
  • #3
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I think you should get an engineering degree and minor in physics. That way, if you need a job 4 years down the road or want to graduate school for physics you can do it.
 
  • #4
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I understand that a great deal of people who strive for a career in physics or astronomy end up in other career fields like engineering. At this stage in my life, being able to find a good job when I get out of college has more weight for me now, than it would have ten years ago.
Let me give you a very blunt piece of advice. If career prospects are extremely important to you, then you do not want to get a Ph.D. Getting a Ph.D. is the equivalent of training for the iron-man triathlon. There are some very good reasons to do it, but it's not going to help your career more than other things that you could do.

Getting a Ph.D. is a lot like joining the marines or becoming a Catholic priest. It's not something you want to do just for good career prospects.

My question is, would I be better off pursuing a career in electrical engineering/computer engineering and taking up physics/astronomy as a hobby or pursuing a career in physics/astronomy and most likely end up working in engineering field any way?
If career is your main goal then the answer is not merely yes, but HELL YES.

If you are totally obsessed about physics and astronomy and are willing to give your life and your soul over to science, then there are ways that you can end up having a decent career, but that appears to be a different question. If you are willing to have physics and astronomy be a hobby rather than an all consuming obsession then you likely do not want a Ph.D.
 
  • #5
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Also the above applies to Ph.D. Physics bachelors are a different animal.
 
  • #6
If physics is your passion & you like it lot then I would suggest to go and take any physics degree...but if you want it as a subject with other subjects like maths,electrical then you can go for engineering...
 
  • #7
ape
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Thank you for all of your help.

I have decided to major in engineering and minor in astrophysics.

As for the exact field of engineering I was thinking electrical engineering, however, I am not sure if it would allow me to do what I would like to do. I would like to work with optical/infrared/radio telescopes, satellites, space probes, robotics, and other things along that line.

Would electrical engineering be the best bet or is there another engineering field that would prove better suited to what I would like to do?
 
  • #8
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I am 48. I have a BS degree in physics. now, I am an MS student of physics.
I dont need career oportunities with physics degrees.
I love physics. thats all.
I dont aim to become a proffessional physicist. I prefer to be an amateur physicist.
by the way I am a proffessional musician.
 
  • #9
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The value of electrical engineering knowledge is that you get to learn the details of the types of systems required to move a Mars Rover, satellite, or radio signal. Whereas a physicist is more inclined to describe the governing physics required to talk to the Mars Rover or satellite.
 
  • #10
ape
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The value of electrical engineering knowledge is that you get to learn the details of the types of systems required to move a Mars Rover, satellite, or radio signal. Whereas a physicist is more inclined to describe the governing physics required to talk to the Mars Rover or satellite.
When it comes down to the decision between physics or engineering, at least for me, "career" is a heavy factor. I love physics, I would like nothing more than to spend the rest of my life uncovering the mysteries of the Universe and I am confident I will in one way or another do just that.

However, by the time I finished my post docs I would be in my late forties or early fifties. In a field that has a very high level of competition for a limited number of positions, I am not confidant that I would be on top. So there is a very good chance that I would find myself doing something other than astrophysics and I would not find it palatable to end up working in finance or a similar area. I would most likely move towards a career in engineering anyway.

Now if getting an education in engineering would allow me to have better career prospects (in engineering) than getting any degree in physics, I am all for it. Besides I think I would love to do practical physics, which is how I view engineering.

If electrical engineering would allow me to build the "nervous system" for the next Mars rover or the "senses" for the next space probe, I would find that extremely interesting and relevant to my love for physics.
 
  • #11
Good thinking ape..
Its always good to do what you love and in better way..
 
  • #12
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However, by the time I finished my post docs I would be in my late forties or early fifties. In a field that has a very high level of competition for a limited number of positions, I am not confidant that I would be on top.
Remember that as a graduate student you'll be doing research. Personally, I think it's cool to spend five to seven years of your life doing the "figure out the mysteries of the universe" thing, even if you end up that you can't do it later. You get your doctorate *after* you've proven that you can do research.

One of my advisors said that the criterion for getting a Ph.d. is that you can convince your committee that you know more about a topic than they do.

One other way of thinking about it is that it might be nice to live on the moon for the rest of your life, but if you can spend even an hour looking down at the Earth, isn't that enough to last you the rest of your life?

In order to get your Ph.D., you will have to prove that you've discovered at least one fact about the universe that no one in the world knew before. It would be nice to keep finding stuff out, but if you can find just one thing about the universe that no one knew before and you find that you are doomed from finding anything else....

Isn't that enough? How many times do you really need to stare God in the face in one lifetime?

So there is a very good chance that I would find myself doing something other than astrophysics and I would not find it palatable to end up working in finance or a similar area.
Well..... It's actually pretty cool.
 
  • #13
ape
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Remember that as a graduate student you'll be doing research. Personally, I think it's cool to spend five to seven years of your life doing the "figure out the mysteries of the universe" thing, even if you end up that you can't do it later. You get your doctorate *after* you've proven that you can do research.

In order to get your Ph.D., you will have to prove that you've discovered at least one fact about the universe that no one in the world knew before. It would be nice to keep finding stuff out, but if you can find just one thing about the universe that no one knew before and you find that you are doomed from finding anything else....

Isn't that enough?
You have a good point. It would be a great experience to be able to participate and be successful in research and earn a Ph.D., I have no doubt about that. It would also be awesome to discover something that no body else had before and perhaps revolutionize our understanding of the Universe.

The great thing about Physics is that it allows one to come face to face with the mysteries of the Universe day in and day out. For instance, the fact that the Earth is not flat is revolutionary, but how many people experience a world that is any different from a flat Earth? My wife says it's because it is flat from our perspective, but I disagree with her. When I go out side I experience the reality of standing on the side of a rotating sphere. At sunrise and sunset I do not see the sun "rise" or the sun "set". I see the Earth move down in the East and Up in the West and all day I can see its movement. I see a ball turning relative to a stationary Sun.

I am not the first man to realize this fact, but there did come a point in time when I did realize this fact for myself and it was more than just mere knowledge, it was visceral. So in a sense I have already experienced that sense of discovery. So is once enough?....well I have to admit it, I may be a physics junkie. Having earned a Ph.D. only to then end up doing something else, may mean some serious withdrawals for me. I can not imagine I would be very happy in such a situation.

How many times do you really need to stare God in the face in one lifetime?
Being a skeptical nihilistic existentialist with pantheistic tendencies, I pretty much stare "God" in the face each and every moment of my life and could not get away even if I wanted to.
 
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  • #14
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That does sound kind of cool. Physics for its own sake.
 
  • #15
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That does sound kind of cool. Physics for its own sake. Too often physics comes off as a purely intellectual enterprise when it should also be emphasized that it can be understood viscerally. Forces, energy, and matter are all around us.
 

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