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Engineering Is engineering the wrong path for me?

  1. Mar 27, 2012 #1
    Let me just start by saying that engineering is a great field and I respect what engineers have done/are doing for society. Hopefully by the end of this (very long) post you will understand the position I am in and will be able to share your thoughts as to what I should do and what my options are. I am currently a freshman in biomedical engineering but I'm starting to second guess my decision. In high school I became interested in physics and the interest has only intensified over the last couple of years. Becoming a physicist has almost become a distant "fairy tale" for me... I fantasize about being a physicist and studying physics for the rest of my life, but I know that this is probably not the most realistic vision due to the current conditions of the job market.

    I chose engineering because I knew that it would contain some physics but also be a marketable degree regardless of whether or not I ultimately decided not to go to graduate school. My original goal was to keep my options as open as possible while studying something that I enjoy. In high school, I didn't have the opportunity to take any calculus and therefore was afraid of jumping into a physics program. Well, last summer between senior year and 1st year of undergrad I decided that I wanted to try to learn calculus. I bought a cheap calc book off amazon and began reading and to my surprise, something clicked! I became obsessed with reading this book and found the concepts to be so elegant and clear. I was dedicated to learning the material to the point that I would read for about 10 hours a day, just reading and doing problems, for a couple of weeks. Because of this, I ended up doing well in calc I (top grade in the class of 400 :wink: ) and I currently have the top grade in my calc II class. Now, I know that this isn't really saying much because it's just intro calc and I am not some super genius, but I am VERY dedicated to learning this stuff. And I have come to realize that anyone can learn pretty much anything if they are interested enough to spend the time to immerse themselves in the topic. For instance, I am currently trying to get ahead in some basic linear algebra (with guidance from my calc teacher) with a decent amount of success so far...

    Coming into university, I was unsure if I would really like college enough to continue on to graduate school. This was another reason I wasn't sure if I really wanted to pursue physics because I knew a PhD would likely be the only route. Well, having almost finished my second semester of college, I feel like this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I never want to stop learning. I basically spend every hour that I'm not in class studying... My friends think I'm pretty weird but I have no problem with studying for 10 hours straight. When I finish my homework, I begin reviewing or starting working ahead. I am starting to realize that I'm not so interested in engineering and its applications, but rather learning and discovering. This realization has caused me to wonder if engineering is right for me. And as far as research goes, I am currently in a computational neuroscience research lab but just starting so I can't say much about it yet. I can say that I did research in high school and it is what sparked my interest in science in the first place!

    Anyway, so all was well and good until this semester. I am taking my first engineering class. It is an engineering graphics class using AutoCAD and I absolutely hate it! I am doing well and have an A, but it is so bland compared to math. I don't want to base my whole opinion about engineering on one introductory engineering class but it has made me think a little bit. One thing that has really turned me off of engineering is the lack of interest from my fellow classmates. Many of them have absolutely no interest whatsoever in what they are doing. They simply want the degree so they can watch their banks account fill up... Which is not necessarily a bad thing just sad if that's the main intention. In contrast, all of the physics majors I have met are VERY interested in their studies and are excited to learn the material. I fell as though I would thrive in this type of environment.

    So basically I wrote this whole thing for the sole purpose of hearing some outside thoughts about the situation that I'm in. I gave this outline of my recent thoughts and experiences so that you all would have a clear picture of what I'm going through. Hopefully your opinions will also help others who are in my shoes as well. Sorry about the very long post but I also use writing as a sort of therapeutic tool!

    Anyway, I appreciate your help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2012 #2
    I'm a little farther along than you and I'm second guessing my decision of engineering as well. Unfortunately, last semester was the "decision semester" for me. This semester I'm taking 3 engineering classes and I can honestly say I don't like them at all. I'm holding out for certain classes within my EE program that are supposedly "physics heavy" but we'll see. The good thing about engineering is that these kids get jobs in their fields. I've heard many stories already of seniors snatching up some nice jobs. I've only met a handful of physics seniors and they're all going to some type of grad school (law, medicine, physics, engineering). I'm not sure if I'm going to grad school or not so I think engineering is still the right choice for me.

    If I were you I would try to get into an upper level physics class and an upper level engineering class in your decision semester. I know if I did that last semester I would have had an easier decision to make because it probably would have been physics.. lol. Good luck
  4. Mar 28, 2012 #3


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    I had the same problems as you before.

    For me the solution was to let my mind explore explore explore until eventually I realized I didn't want to do physics at a higher level. It bored me. I only liked the math, so I changed focus, and now I am ending up wrapping a PhD degree in an applied math field.
  5. Mar 28, 2012 #4
    I appreciate the reply. I felt the same way about graduate school but I've come to realize that I will more than likely end up in graduate school whether i stick with engineering or not so that has become less of an issue for me. Bioengineering requires graduate school in most cases because its so broad. I wish I could follow your advice about trying out both upper level engineering and physics but I'm afraid I won't be able to do that any time soon. Unfortunately, I must make my decision after this next semester if I don't want to fall behind in one or the other.

    So do you see yourself in research or industry? Personally, I envision myself working in research whether it is in a national lab, R&D in industry, or academia I am not yet sure. This is another reason that I becoming less hesitant to switch to physics... I wonder if it is more difficult to switch to physics for graduate school from engineering undergrad or vice versa?
  6. Mar 28, 2012 #5
    I still plan on taking some physics classes. The only problem is I can probably only take 1 physics class a semester to keep my workload/time constraints down, if that. Also, I only have 2 free classes for my EE degree. I would check with your engineering adviser to see if you can substitute any physics class for an engineering one. For instance, I can take optics from the physics department to replace the EE one. If I can persuade my EE adviser I might be able to get away with a couple more subs.. :cool: One of my EE friends from another school was required to take Optics and QM 1 from the physics department and he could also take QM 2 as a technical elective (not free). Then he also got 2 free classes on top of all that. Double majoring of EE and Physics at his school wouldn't be that much of a stretch.

    I don't know anything about research so I'm not sure yet. I plan to get into a physics research group next semester but if they deny me I will try for an engineering one. So far I plan on going into industry.

    I'm not sure about switching from physics to engineering. This semester there was a applied math PhD student that was switching into EE undergrad and he got destroyed in Circuits and Logic design classes. He ended up dropping both.. Physics might be different but I would think there's a learning curve either way. In engineering classes, things are taken at face value and they must be learn quickly then applied. That is not my learning style and I believe that's why I'm frustrated.
  7. Mar 28, 2012 #6
    I'm just tickled that you guys are asking these questions at the right young age. I wish I had done the same and not ask profs or counsellors, because they just don't know. I have a BS and MS in engineering. I went for the MS because I thought it would open opportunities and make engineering fun. It didn't. Engineers are not scientists and the reason they get paid a lot of money is because of the tedious responsibilities they can handle involving a little more smarts than secretaries. Very few get the cool jobs we read about. It certainly does open opportunities but you have to sell yourself like there's no tomorrow. In school, they wouldn't tell you this if they could... And they can't because they don't know. If you want to get rich, be an accountant, database admin, or programmer and make physics your hobby.

  8. Mar 28, 2012 #7
    The physics and EE departments at my school are actually set up in a way that allows the completion of a dual degree in 4 years. The problem is that I'm not necessarily interested in EE and would rather spend my electives taking biology classes. (I'm interested in molecular biophysics possibly for grad school). The dual degree leaves basically no room for electives to be chosen from outside the two departments. On the other hand I did talk to both my adviser and the physics advisor and while I wouldn't be able to double major with bioengineering and physics, I would be able to take quite a few physics classes as a bioengineer. The problem is that I still don't feel that i would have a sufficient background to do physics in graduate school. It seems like there is just so much necessary basic foundation in physics that it would be hard to be a successful physicist without it. Also as a physics major I would have more free electives to put towards biology, biochemistry, and biophysics. Or possibly even programming or a couple of bioeng courses.

    I'm guessing you've looked into a dual major at your school?
  9. Mar 28, 2012 #8
    Ahh I see. That's similar to my school as a physics major, I could take a fair amount of EE classes (~8) to fulfill an "applied physics track." I've definitely looked into double majoring but since the EE degree is pretty tight in terms of freedom I would have 19-20 credit semesters to finish in 4.5 or maybe even 5 years. For my sanity, I can't put myself through that much stress.

    Engineering classes eat up a lot of time. Every time I estimate how long a project in my classes will take it usually turns out to be doubled or even tripled.
  10. Mar 28, 2012 #9
    Yeah that definitely would NOT be worth that much extra stress/time in my opinion. So in your engineering classes are there a lot of group projects or individual? If group, how many typically in a group?
  11. Mar 28, 2012 #10
    Very interesting. It's nice to hear from someone actually in the field. It's also nice to hear that I'm not crazy for being so concerned this early on! I appreciate your input and its definitely something I'll keep in mind while making my decision.

    Can I ask what your BS and MS degrees are in? Also what is your job currently?
  12. Mar 28, 2012 #11
    All of them are group projects usually of 3 people. The projects choice of software changes between classes which makes it frustrating to try to accomplish something efficiently. For instance, our circuits class this semester recommends that we type up the projects in LaTeX. After struggling with that for a couple hours we switched back to Word and wrote it up much faster. Another class uses LabView for it's projects. For computational work, some use MatLab while others prefer Mathematica. The last thing I want to deal with is learning (or relearning) software when a project is due in a week. I guess in the end I'll be able to throw all these programs on a resume it's just annoying when deadlines are approaching.
  13. Mar 28, 2012 #12
    Wow I didn't realize they would ALL be group projects... I'm not one for working in groups especially when it comes to grades. That's definitely a good thing to know though but at least the groups are small.

    What engineering classes are you currently taking? Also what are the more physics based engineering classes you were talking about earlier?
  14. Mar 28, 2012 #13
    Circuits, Logic Design, Embedded systems and Calc 3. From what I hear, the most physics oriented EE classes are E&M, photonics, and solid state. I'm fairly certain that once I get into those classes I'll become obsessed with those subjects and my worries about my major decision will disappear. :cool:
  15. Mar 28, 2012 #14
    Well don't leave us hanging, what was the book??
  16. Mar 28, 2012 #15
    I thought you would never ask! Calculus: An Intuitive and Physical Approach by Kline... Many people hate on it but I loved the old style of writing. Gets straight to the point.
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