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Is a Physics degree right for me?

  1. Oct 20, 2014 #1
    Hello! I am currently attending Utah State but transferring to a community college in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon for spring semester due to family and financial complications. I really want to attend University of Oregon next year. To my understanding they have a very good Physics program there. I've always wanted to get into engineering but they do not offer any engineering programs there. I like the flexibility that a physics degree would offer me. I am wondering if any of you would recommend getting a degree in physics and then going to graduate school for a degree in engineering. I'm just a lost freshman right now trying to figure everything out. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 20, 2014 #2
    I would not recommend that. If you want to be an engineer you should get a degree in engineering. Consider Oregon State in Corvallis. They have engineering and they have internship opportunities. I think that would be a much better choice considering your goals.
  4. Oct 21, 2014 #3
    Despite what people say here, math and physics majors get into engineering masters programs (and get engineering jobs!) all the time; but you need to do remedial coursework to get you up to speed on the basics when you start graduate work (which will be relatively easy to pick up, applying that knowledge is a different matter unless you have experimental research experience). Now if what you're getting is an associates degree, doing it in physics and moving on to an engineering program at a 4 year university is fine. It surprising to me that a state university doesn't have engineering programs, but if that is the case a physics degree in undergrad and moving on to an engineering masters can work (it's obviously not as ideal as an actual engineering major if that's your goal, but again it's better than nothing). If you choose to do this, I would suggest getting into some sort of experimental research involving electronics or programming so you have hands-on experience. I would also speak to an adviser at your schools, good luck.
  5. Oct 22, 2014 #4


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    I think this could be a good idea if you enjoy physics somewhat. Going into physics would open up a lot more options for you (if you decide you aren't fit for engineering 2 years later) but try to take as many engineering courses as possible.
  6. Oct 22, 2014 #5
    I'm not really sure what you mean, but I don't think a physics degree offers any special flexibility. I know when I was a student the physics department made statements claiming something like "the general skills one learns in physics are applicable to a wide range of careers". That isn't even remotely connected to the reality I've experienced in the world outside of universities. Even if there are a wide range of careers physics could be useful in (whatever a vague statement like that was supposed to mean), I think the total number of jobs where it's useful is more important and I doubt it's that many. That's my experience anyway.
  7. Oct 22, 2014 #6
    That's my experience too. Just taking a couple years of engineering classes opened up more options for me than two degrees in physics did.

    I think engineering has more flexibility and options available than physics. What physics does open up more than engineering is the ability to move into a physics PhD program. That is what a physics BS offers that an engineering degree doesn't.

    Also, in my estimation, the people who do tout flexibility and options from a physics degree are usually academics or students. That is, people who haven't had to rely on any of this so called "flexibility".
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2014
  8. Oct 23, 2014 #7
    I know physics majors who ended employed as engineers out of undergrad, but they did the 'right' things such as learning programming, electronics and other hands on skills during their research internships and didn't shoe horn themselves into abstract research areas that don't have industrial applications. You can go up to the PhD level in physics and not have 'useful' skills for anything outside of academia, that doesn't paint the entire field as something that is useless for jobs, and by the same token the shear act of acquiring an engineering degree isn't this magical ticket to jobs that some jaded physicists tout it as. Either way, if all you have is a degree, you're going to have a bad time in the current market.
  9. Oct 23, 2014 #8


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    I think there are two distinct issues here between physics vs engineering -- one between flexibility and options course-wise and career-wise.

    In general, engineering programs (at least those that I'm familiar with in Canada) tend to be very highly structured, with a large number of required courses that all students take from first until third years, and thus doesn't really give students the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses outside of their field. By contrast, most physics programs that I'm aware of require a specific set of courses in math, physics, etc. with enough electives open for students to take a wide variety of courses to either minor or double-major in (the same is even more true for math programs). Depending on the choice of electives taken, a physics degree could allow the student to acquire marketable skills that could lead to more flexibility career-wise (e.g. double-majoring in computer science and physics -> software development; chemistry + physics -> chemistry careers, medical physics, etc.)

    But I agree that in general, engineering programs are far more employable than physics degrees, since engineering degrees are applied, vocational degrees which specifically prepare their students for careers in the engineering field.
  10. Oct 23, 2014 #9
    Im talking about flexibility with respect to employment, not classes. That said, my physics programs were both pretty strict in requiring loads of quantum, E&M, stat. mech and classical mech. with little room for extra classes. I took a lot of extra classes anyway and took an extra year for both my BS and MS because of it.
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