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Is it REALLY worth it?

  1. Feb 20, 2009 #1
    Hey PF folks, I'm 17, and I'm a little lost, well I've just been accepted into two universities with different majors, in one it is Engineering and in the other, Physics, oh by the way, I don't live in the U.S.

    I have two plans to choose,

    A: Getting a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, then going for a M.D. in Aerospace Engineering and further a Ph.D. in a Physics related subject.

    B: Getting a B.S. in Physics, then a M.D. and Ph.D. in Physics related subjects.

    I guess it sounds confusing doesn't it? Mixing up pure Physics with Engineering, But I'll explain why:

    I really love Theoretical Physics, I read some books on the topic, and I'm always reading something about Theoretical Physics when I'm on the internet, always learning something new, Theoretical Physics is really interesting. You would logically conclude by now that I should become a physicist then, BUT I also find Engineering a very interesting field (I really love to know how things work), and apparently with many more working opportunities than Physics, due to demand.

    If I'm not wrong, through plan B, I would end up as a theoretical/experimental physicist teaching at an university while doing research, is this correct? Could I end up working for an institution such as NASA for example, instead of ending up in academics? (By the way if NASA hires Ph.D. physicists, what do they do in there?)

    Through plan A I'm not really sure on what I would end up working, but I would have a Ph.D. in Physics and would also be an aerospace engineer.

    What do you guys think about this? Would you go through A or through B? and why?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 20, 2009 #2


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    What's an MD in engineering?
  4. Feb 20, 2009 #3
    M.D. = Master's Degree.
  5. Feb 20, 2009 #4


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    Theoretical Physics is fun, but not really rewarding unless you are at the top of the heap and can get attention whenever you publish. If your goal is to become relatively prosperous with a secure job, you might want to lean toward engineering, because application of your education in a vibrant field can leverage your education into some lucrative positions. As technology advances and social/environmental/economic pressures force businesses to adapt, you can find yourself in some advantageous situations if you have a firm foundation in ME, and establish yourself with some summer internships and then specialize as you move into grad school.
  6. Feb 20, 2009 #5
    In juxtaposition to the above post, I too share your great passion theoretical physics. If it is a true love of yours you should go for it regardless of which is the more lucrative field financially. Also, keep in mind that after the first few years of undegrad you might get a better idea of what it is you could see yourself really doing.
  7. Feb 20, 2009 #6
    My advice: follow your passions, but keep an open mind. You're young - you might love theoretical physics now, but you might find it's very different from what you think it is after studying for a while (I did). Same goes for engineering.

    You should try looking at what professionals in these fields actually do. If you can, visit the universities you've been accepted to, specifically the departments of your majors. If there's no time for that, email some of the professors who specialize in the research you might be interested in, and ask them about their work.

    Whatever you decide, try to get closely involved with actual field work (research) as soon as you reasonably can - this will help you decide for sure if you're on the right track.

    And don't panic too much now. Despite what people tell you, you can change your mind about what you're doing later on if you want the change enough.
  8. Feb 20, 2009 #7
    Very good point Sideways!!

    As further anecdotal evidence, in my own case I thought I would really enjoy a career in IT or programming. I tended to have a pretty good aptitude for both but in the end found working with computers to be tedious and uninspiring, after some soul searching I ended up wanting to follow my childhood passion for science and discovering the nature of things.
  9. Feb 20, 2009 #8
    So you don't live in the U.S. and are considering an Aerospace Engineering Degree...

    First question first: Do you have U.S. Citizenship? If you plan on working for most of the big U.S. defense/aviation contractors or NASA, you must have U.S. citizenship or else you will be unable to attain employment, unfortunately.

    PhD in physics at NASA...depends on what your specialty is. Could be anywhere from research for future exploration to helping out your fellow engineers design new hardware.
  10. Feb 20, 2009 #9
    Are you talking about ITAR regulations, or are you talking about security clearances? From what I've read, it can be difficult for foreign born individuals to get a security clearance even if they have U.S. citizenship.
  11. Feb 21, 2009 #10


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    In the U.S., an M.D. is a medical doctor, someone you go to when you're sick. A master's degree is an M.S. (Master of Science), M.A. (Master of Arts), M.Eng. (Masters of Engineering), etc.
  12. Feb 21, 2009 #11

    Very true, but I'm just saying that it's basically almost pointless if you do not even have U.S. citizenship. Unless you plan on just working with commercial companies that exist in your native country or something of that nature. I would assume that it depends on what kind of work you're doing, but I'm sure ITAR has some regulations with regards to it...for security clearances it's an absolute prerequisite to have at least a U.S. citizenship.
  13. Feb 21, 2009 #12
    B sounds more natural. Also I would go for B because I just hate engineering.

    But someone who loves theoretical physics considering engineering? That's good, better than hating everything, isn't it. Keep your options open - so I think starting out with something that may be applied instead may make more sense.
  14. Feb 21, 2009 #13
    I was really into theoretical physics at your age. Now I'm really into Shakespeare and Dickens (though still read the odd book on physics.) So given the choice again I would probably do English Lit. (with a physics minor!)

    Anyway that's me. Do what you really love at the moment, why would you do anything else? Money? Prestige? Fie! A plague on those two houses!
  15. Feb 21, 2009 #14
    Sad but true, and that's exactly why I'm considering having at least an engineering degree as background, B.S. in Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering instead of B.S. in Physics.
    Theoretical Physics (and even Experimental) is rewarding only if you really stand out from what I hear, and that's why many people give up on going for it, e.g if a person spends 10 years of his life studying (from bachelor's to PhD) Physics, to end up not being rewarded by the Physics Community and earning less than US$ 45,000 seems very frustrating. Meanwhile, a person can study Engineer (B.S.) for 4-5 years and end up earning US$ 85,000 - 135,000 depending on his occupation, company he works for, how long he has been working there etc.
    There is much more demand for engineers and that's why they have more opportunities.

    Well, maybe I didn't express myself very well, when I mentioned the "salary/opportunity question", I didn't mean to get rich as an engineer, all I wanted to say is that I want to earn enough to do things I want and to live comfortably (having a nice house a good car etc, the "american dream" perhaps? I don't know). For example, I love to read about other cultures so I plain to visit at least 1 country every year, but what if eventually I don't get to do it because I don't earn enough to save money? I guess you get the point.

    You are absolutely right, perhaps I'll have a better idea of what I'm going for after a few months/years at the university.

    Good advice, very clever. I'll consider it, thank you.

    First Question: No, I dont. But I'm considering working in the U.S. after getting a PhD (in 8-10 years from now), I haven't even started my undergraduate studies, so I have a long way ahead to get information on how to work in the United States and etc. But probably working in the U.S. shouldn't be so hard, as I know some people that were born here and are currently working there, three of them work at NASA, two at Goddard and the other at JPL (If I'm not wrong).

    Hehehe, I thought you called them "M.D." for "Master's Degree", but that's ok. Thank you.
  16. Feb 22, 2009 #15
    I say option A but I am pretty biased towards engineering. I second the other guy who said your plans may change in the future. 17 is very young and trying to plan out the next 10 years of your life at that age is a lot to do so things may turn out different.

    Ive changed my mind from computer programming to electrical engineering to structural engineering over the years. Didnt slow down my graduation since I switched after the first year. I planned on a physics minor for a while but as I got into my engineering classes realized it wasnt applicable and would be hard classes taking away time from my more important major classes. I did a business minor instead which was very easy, very interesting and yet somewhat useful. To feed my interest in physics I still read some of the popular books.

    If you pursue an engineering related field you will still get to use physics principles. Also a Ph D takes a long time and if say you end up starting a family towards the end of your BS and had to go to work, it would be harder to find work with a BS in physics than a BS in engineering. Or you may just be tired of school as I am after 6 years and rather do design work than get into research. Just keep an open mind and dont feel bad if you have to make a deviation from your plans.
  17. Feb 23, 2009 #16
    I am 18 and know what you're going through. I once had very big interest in physics, but I realized that most theoretical physicists just end up teaching, even though research is exciting. Right now my plans are to go to American College for a B.S. in Computer Programming / Network Administration, an IT job. I will take all of the hard courses in college though that have to do with physics and math, theoretical and applied.

    However, I think you should choose option A because you'll still be a physicist but in a physical and more applied way, even though you probably won't end up discovering anything. You will create and design things instead, maybe even mathematical stuff. You can still always look into the research that other physicists have done, you can stand on the shoulders of giants even without becoming a prestigious scientist. You just need to learn advanced mathematics and all parts of advanced theoretical physics.

    The solution is very simple, your advantages are money and opportunity, and you will still be a physicist, but just not be at the cutting edge of theoretical research. You can read what other people have done, it's enough trust me.
  18. Feb 24, 2009 #17
    I was surfing in google when I found this: http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]

    A professor of physics of the Washington University, Jonathan I. Katz, states that becoming a physicist is a very bad idea.

    One of his lines: "I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs."

    What is your opinion on this?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Feb 24, 2009 #18
    First of all that rant by the professor is ten years out of date. Second it seems like this guy is just a cynic, who has an extremely pessimistic view, his Ph.D. doesn't necessarily mean any expertise on what is best for the people he is writing.

    The key message Katz has is that "a physics Ph.D. isn't going to be exactly what you imagine it is" but I think we all already know that it's not all glory. Yet, neither are the other alternatives he suggest, if you love science, be a scientist don't let this cynical guy betray your dreams.
  20. Feb 25, 2009 #19
    Yep, what lubuntu said.

    I'm a postdoc right now, and I love my work (hard as it is, sometimes). The lifestyle isn't for everyone, admittedly, though; just make sure you know what you're getting into.

    Also, that prof. writes as if the tenure track is the only thing you can do with a physics PhD. There's a lot of national labs, private industries, and other opportunities for those who don't wish to follow an academic track; or teaching at smaller 4-year schools, which doesn't pay as well, but doesn't require the postdoc track.

    I think the author suffers from "tunnel vision" based on his own experience; though there is SOME truth to what he says.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2009
  21. Feb 25, 2009 #20
    Is the insanity factor a lesser problem for the engineering degree?
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