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Engineering I'm torn: Engineering vs. Physics

  1. Sep 27, 2012 #1
    Yes, I have yet another thread asking for advice, and yes, I am also adding to the list of threads on this topic. I suppose having an audience to talk to will help me clear out my head before I even get responses, however, I would definitely like some advice.

    I'm currently torn between engineering and physics. Engineering appears to be the "easy" route. I've got lots of interests and I feel like if I became an engineer I could quickly get through school and dig right into it. I also have a passion for designing things.

    However, with physics my goals are a bit loftier. I am hopelessly curious about questions of existence, and I feel like physics is the only way to actually bring me closer to a deeper understanding about the way things are. However, I also feel like it will subtract from my time. The only way that physics will be more fruitful than engineering for me is if I end up actually doing things that are on the fringe. And, I'm not certain that I want to put the time in for that. I'm also not certain that I'm consistently diligent enough to go through the rigors of grad school. I've had my spurts (70 hour week in the library studying for a test, getting a B in a class that 90% of the class failed), but I also have had my lazier periods where I'm not as motivated.

    That sense of mystery gives way to curiosity, and thus physics often feels like more of an impulse than a passion, sort of like reading a good story, and you just want to see what happens next. The problem is, you can be basically certain that you'll never reach the conclusion of this story.

    And that's where I hit my motivational wall of "What's the point?" I rather like the process of designing things much more than I like the process of experimentation. I absolutely love solving practical problems with creativity and ingenuity. It feels like I'd just be missing that mystery and satisfaction of curiosity. Whenever I see a design problem, my immediate instinct is to jump in and try to figure it out myself.

    I just have a hard time discontinuing physics because I love that too! I don't have time to do both in the way in which I would do either one. If I do physics, it needs to be balls deep, years of grad school, academic physics for fundamental questions. If it's engineering, it has to be more straight engineering. The way in which I would like to do either one doesn't really appear to be something that would be mixed in engineering physics. And, I want to make my final decision rather quickly so that I can move along.

    Thank you for reading.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2012 #2
    What about computers? Do you like coding? Because if you do you can go for research in quantum computing which involves both computer engineering as well as theoretical physics.
  4. Sep 27, 2012 #3
    I did enjoy the small amount of coding that I have done. But, I think this also comes down to more of a lifestyle thing as well. From everything I hear about academic physics is that the pay isn't wonderful in comparison to the amount of sheer work that you have to do and schooling that you have to do to get there. I'd bet that a physics Ph.D. is an order of magnitude tougher than most other non-science doctorates, which are still considered demanding.

    And like I said, I have other interests. But, theoretical physics has been of interest to me. Unlike other people, instead of shying away from conceptual thinking, I am rather drawn towards it. I've taken an interest in analytical philosophy and straight logic, so theoretical quantum mechanics might not be such a bad choice for me.

    That leads me to the question: do theoretical physicists have more schedule flexibility than experimental physicists? That might lead me to theoretical physics instead. I mean, don't think that I think that I'll be screwing around as a theoretical physicists as some people seem to think is the case.
  5. Sep 27, 2012 #4
    This is so far from the truth. I knew many EE's at my undergrad school that had an incredible amount of work during their terms and they also performed as well (some much better) in physics and math classes than the physics/math majors.
  6. Sep 27, 2012 #5
    I'm not only talking about schooling.

    I'm talking about career flexibility and the amount of time spent in school. To do anything interesting with physics, you need a Ph.D. With engineering, to do something interesting you would be best off with a masters, and to do something lucrative, you only need a bachelor's. What I mean by easy is lifestyle out of college: probably single, having an easier time finding a job than a physics major, and after finding a job, making more money and working (somewhat) less hours than the physicist for less years in school. Obviously the amount you work varies greatly, but nonetheless, engineering appears more flexible in most ways.

    The rigor of undergrad courses is actually a very small factor in this decision. And as far as who I've met as engineering majors, I feel like the range of intelligences I find is greater. It's like the very smartest and not as smart tend to be engineers in my math classes. Physics majors seem to deviate less, and there seems to be a smaller proportion of extremely smart physics majors at my school (though they obviously exist).
  7. Sep 27, 2012 #6
    I think you already answered your own question stating that engineering offers more career options and pay....

    That being said, If you want to get payed more go engineering. Everyone has different values. I myself don't care very much about money and I don't care how hard I have to work even if I am not getting payed enough for it. Also, I have my whole life to pursue a career in physics so the time it takes for me is irrelevant. BUT that is just me

    You can alway learn physics on your own
  8. Sep 27, 2012 #7
    I think you're right, and I think that second statement I didn't omit says why for me personally.
  9. Sep 27, 2012 #8
    I consistently worked 60-70 hour work weeks as a graduate student in theory, BUT I got to chose my own hours, more or less. Experimentalists, depending on the type, often get tied to equipment in the lab for specific time periods, which can require long nights, for instance.

    After grad school, most theoretical physics phds don't find jobs in theoretical physics, so flexibility depends on where they end up. My data mining job is an 8-5 sort of thing.
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