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Is a bachelor in Physics a good idea for Engineering?

  1. Feb 23, 2015 #1
    Hello!
    I am a senior High School student from Spain.
    The next year I'll start university, and I am full of doubts.
    Personally, I am absolutely fascinated about Physics. I want to study it to learn about the world, why it is like it is and so on... I have seen the subjects and I think they are all interesting.
    However, when I think about the job I would like to have, the first thing that comes to my mind is engineering. Like, ideally, I would like to work in research and development of some scientific project. Yet, I´ve look upon the subjects and engineering and they are more focused on the applications rather than on "why".
    I had planned to get into a Physics degree (4 years) or into a Math-Physics degree (5 years) here in Spain, do my best to get the best GPA I can and then apply to a good Engineering program somewhere in the USA.
    I would appreciate if you could give me your insight!
    Regards :oldeyes:
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2015 #2
    I think the default answer for "is a degree in X good for doing Y" is that having a degree in Y in the first place is better. Considering your particular case: Research in physics starts at the PhD level. So doing a pre-PhD physics degree to then switch to engineering is somewhat pointless (from the perspective of wanting to do research).

    Dealing with the "how" ("... to get things done") instead of the "why" ("... things work the way they do") is also research and development being done in research project (arguably more that the "why"-part, at least budget-wise). So from what you have said (wanting to work on research projects) that should not scare you away from engineering.
     
  4. Feb 23, 2015 #3
    If you're concerned about not learning "enough" physics in an engineering degree, don't be. You will learn loads of physics in an engineering degree. You could also easily take an elective course in some higher area of physics if you want as well, like an introductory quantum mechanics course or a physics-oriented EM course that could whet your appetite.

    If you want to design and refine things, go for engineering. If you want to work on foundations research, go for physics PhD.
     
  5. Feb 24, 2015 #4
    No! Engineering has it's own accrediting body in the US that is separate from the schools. You will need to take licensure exams that require an ABET accredited degree. While you can get around that, it often requires work experience. This can be incredibly difficult to get without having a degree from an ABET accredited school. If you're interested in engineering, and want to do it as a profession, get the engineering degree. Just load up on physics electives.
     
  6. Feb 24, 2015 #5
    The above post is very true, but also keep in mind that many engineering jobs simply do not require a P.Eng designation, however in some domains it is basically mandatory.
     
  7. Feb 25, 2015 #6

    QuantumCurt

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    Many schools offer an Engineering Physics degree, which may be of interest to you. One of my friends is doing Engineering Physics (at UIUC) and he's going to be taking at least some of the upper level classical mechanics, E&M, and quantum mechanics. However, it differs in that about half of the upper level physics classes that would be taken by a physics major are instead occupied by various engineering courses.

    And to reiterate a previous point, if one wants to do engineering, one should major in engineering. It's certainly possible to go from physics in undergrad to grad school for engineering, but one would have a disadvantage in comparison to their peers because there will be a lot catching up to do with the basic engineering course material.
     
  8. Feb 26, 2015 #7
    Hello! Thank you for your replies.
    Unfortunately where I live there isn´t the Engineering Physics degree. I was very attracted the dual degree in math and physics because I see it very generalist.
    I thought that doing that would allow me to choose between a lot of fields to specialize when going to grad school. When I look into admissions webpages of grad programs I see that plenty of them accept physics undergraduates. However, I am just speculating...
    One more question: you´ve said that if I would need to do a lot of catch-up if I decided to switch from physics to engineering and I´ve read somewhere that it could take a full year or so... is it true? it seems to much...
     
  9. Feb 26, 2015 #8

    SteamKing

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    While there is some overlap in the courses required for a physics degree and an engineering degree, in order to get an engineering degree you will have to take the engineering courses.

    You haven't stated what particular engineering field interests you, so the number and difficulty of the engineering courses will vary. For instance, a civil engineer will probably only be required to take a couple of courses in basic electricity, which might also be taken by a physics major, but an electrical engineer will have more take more required courses, everything from electronics to power engineering to whatever elective courses which are the student's desired focus in that discipline.
     
  10. Feb 26, 2015 #9

    QuantumCurt

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    Many engineering students aren't required to take anything beyond basic introductory physics. A lot of them don't even have to take the whole sequence. Many engineering students only take the first couple of semesters of the introductory sequence. This varies quite a bit from school to school, and between various fields of engineering. The majority of the courses in most engineering majors are engineering courses though.

    Here are some various degree programs and their courses. This is all based on requirements at UIUC, as it's what I'm most familiar with.

    Electrical Engineering -

    General Chemistry
    Calculus I, II, and III
    Intro to Differential Equations
    University Physics I, II, and III

    That's a total of 31 hours. Then there are approximately 50 more hours of engineering and electrical engineering courses.

    Mechanical Engineering -

    General Chemistry
    Calculus I, II, and III
    Intro to Differential Equations
    Linear Algebra
    University Physics I, II, and III
    Statics (intermediate classical mechanics)
    Dynamics (intermediate classical mechanics)

    That's about 29 hours. Then there are an additional 60 hours or so of mechanical engineering courses.

    Specialized Curriculum in Physics

    General Chemistry I and II
    Calculus I, II, and III
    Differential Equations
    Linear Algebra

    University Physics I, II, and III

    Upper level physics
    Classical Mechanics (2 semesters)
    Electricity and Magnetism (2 semesters)
    Statistical and Thermal Physics (1 semester)
    Quantum Mechanics (2 semesters)
    Upper level physics labs (2 semesters)
    Plus physics electives.


    There's a great deal of difference here. A physics major prepares one to go to graduate school in physics. The things that you'd have to catch up on to go into engineering are on the order of the 50-60 credit hours of engineering courses required for those two fields of engineering. With the heavier physics knowledge, a lot of the engineering courses would be made much easier, but it's still a lot of material to catch up on.
     
  11. Feb 27, 2015 #10
    There's no need to do 50-60 credit hours to catch up to do graduate engineering work when coming from another stem discipline like math or physics. If one were doing electrical engineering for instance one should take signals&systems, circuit analysis, analog and digital electronics and some courses related to the specialization of their choice like power, communications, or whatnot but that's about it for undergraduate catch up, hardly 50-60 credits worth since you take specialized coursework in your masters degree. Back at my alma mater I knew math majors who only had to do the bit of EE course work that I suggested and they did masters in EE specializing in nano-technology and are working in the semiconductor industry. This is pretty common policy.
     
  12. Feb 28, 2015 #11
    Physics and Engineering are two different fields of study. Physicists do not study methods of design or the economics and ethics that engineers use. Conversely, engineers do not study the sorts of esoteric things that a physicist would be concerned with. Scales of the astronomical and subatomic are usually of little concern to an engineer.

    Yes, you could eventually become an engineer if you studied physics, but you'd need years of additional, documented experience mentored by professional engineers. And because you would not have a formal degree in engineer, you'd probably do well to sit for the same exams that registered professional engineers take (The Fundamentals of Engineering and then later the Principles and Practices exam).

    Thus I concur with all the comments above regarding the differences between these fields. If you think you would like to get in to engineering, study engineering. If you are truly fascinated with Physics, then study Physics. These fields may look similar, but the actual practice and daily work is quite different.
     
  13. Feb 28, 2015 #12

    ZapperZ

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    This is a VERY odd question. If you wish to eventually do Engineering, why won't you simply do your undergraduate degree in engineering? Or is this not obvious enough?

    Here's a simple lesson: If you wish to either do A in graduate school, or work in the field of A, it is EASIEST and most direct to major in A! If you majored in B, C, D, E, etc. and eventually intend to work in the field of A, it is more difficult, and more challenging. It is difficult enough as it is already to go the direct way. Why are you putting more challenges in front of you to go the long way?

    Zz.
     
  14. Feb 28, 2015 #13
    Your simple lesson there is good, because in my experience the opposite can be tossed around the physics department. The myth that a physics grad is more qualified to be an engineer than an engineering grad is often perpetuated by both physics students and professors.

    When I went back to school for engineering after physics the only physics classes that counted toward engineering were the lower division university physics classes and one intro circuits class.
     
  15. Feb 28, 2015 #14

    ZapperZ

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    You and I must revolve around very, very different circles. In all my years being involved with Academia and Academic staff, I had never heard of that argument! I have heard of argument being presented on why physics major CAN and possibly get into engineering (and similarly, the reverse), but NEVER heard that a physics grad is "more qualified" to be an engineer than an engineering grad.

    I don't even know if this even require any kind of explanation. The fact that engineering and physics are two separate programs, even if they overlap a little, is ample evidence already.

    Zz.
     
  16. Feb 28, 2015 #15
    I don't know... You work at Argonne right? I spent some time there. ;)
     
  17. Feb 28, 2015 #16

    ZapperZ

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    Then I'd like to know who at Argonne has that type of opinion, because I certainly haven't met any. And I've been here, on and off, since 1995.

    Zz.
     
  18. Feb 28, 2015 #17

    Dale

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    Then study engineering.

    When you travel, you first pick a destination and then you choose the best route to get there, you do not first pick a road and then hope that it leads to the destination you want.
     
  19. Feb 28, 2015 #18

    Vanadium 50

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    The only place I have heard that is here.
     
  20. Mar 1, 2015 #19
    If you only get a BS in physics future employers may think you had to stop your physics education because you were a very poor physics major and weren't allowed to go on for higher degrees. In that case the best you can do is get a job as a technician for real engineers!
     
  21. Mar 1, 2015 #20
    I got a dual BA degree in Physics and Math then went on to get an MS in EECS. This path has served me well in my lifetime career since it made it easy for me to adapt to several sub-career paths including computer programming and modeling, logic design, logic simulation and emulation, VLSI design and verification and engineering management. The only negative was having to take 12 undergrad units of EE before being admitted to an EECS program in grad school.
     
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