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Programs Is it worth it to get a second Bachelor's in Engineering?

  1. Feb 6, 2017 #1
    Ever since high school I have always been interested in technology and hoped that one day I would be working in a field where I would get to build new gadgets and technologies (I had a particular interest in robotics). When it came time for college I was told by my teacher that physics was a great stepping stone to any field of engineering. Throughout college I was also told by various physics professors that one could do anything with a physics degree. So I decided to pursue physics instead of engineering without doing much further research on the matter (this was my mistake).

    However, I'm now beginning to realize that Physics has taught me a lot about how things work at the very fundamental level, and how to solve problems. But that knowledge doesn't extend much beyond academics. For example, I know quantum mechanics but I can't design a laser or a transistor on my own from that knowledge. I know solid state physics but I can't build a microchip or a semiconductor device on my own from that knowledge. I learned how to code a little bit in Matlab but only towards applications to physics problems. I don't know how to program simple AI or machine learning algorithms. I know electromagnetic theory but I can't build an electric motor (If I took the time to read up on all these things then I could probably do them but that's beside the point).

    Essentially by choosing to do an Undergraduate degree in Physics I missed out on all the hands on building, application, and design work that I would have received from an Engineering curriculum. So my question is would it be wise to go back and earn another bachelor's degree in engineering if my end goal is to get into the field of Robotics? or should I look for a Master's program in Engineering? I'm hoping someone who has been in a similar situation can help me out.

    (My only problem with going for a masters is that it seems to be more specialized than a Bachelor's and I would rather know more than specialize in one area, especially If I don't have the prerequisite knowledge to succeed in that specialization.)

    Thank you for taking the time to read and answer. Sorry if this was a bit long, I know there are a lot of posts out there with similar questions to this but I wanted answers relating to my specific situation.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2017 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    That is exactly the point.
    Even if you know how to build an electric motor, you won't know how exactly to build this specific motor. You have to look up things anyway. You might have to look up more. But you can do that. Getting the understanding of the physics behind the motor takes much longer.

    Two random examples from engineering/physics interaction:
    - If you have multiple screws to fix, you should pay attention to the order to avoid mechanical stress. Engineers learn that at university. I did not learn it in physics - but I looked at it, understand the principle, and could apply it.
    - An engineer had 4 datapoints y(x) and tried to see if he could describe the function in a nice way. He chose a 3rd order polynomial, and came to the conclusion "the function matches the data points, the function works!" I had to explain to him that such a function will always fit to the data points exactly - but that doesn't mean it is a good description. That is the type of background knowledge you gain as physicist, and that you cannot quickly learn on the fly.

    Getting a second degree of the same level is rarely a good idea. I would look for a Masters' program. Getting started will be a bit of work, but it won't take 2-3 years like a Bachelor degree would.
  4. Feb 6, 2017 #3
    Thanks for responding.

    I think I see what you're saying: A physics background prepares one to be able to understand anything they come across in the future based on the principles that they learned. Like you mentioned, I could learn almost anything by reading up on it and I would be happy to do that, but don't you think that lacking a B.S. in engineering or at the very least computer science will hinder my prospects of building a career in the area of robotics? Because I won't have that strong foundation that others who have studied Eng. and CS have, nor will I have the degree to prove that I can do the work.
  5. Feb 6, 2017 #4
    You're doing fine, and here's why.

    My adviser is a solid state theoretical physicist. He trains solid state theoretical physics students in the EE department for applied physics. Many of them, without doing a single experiment during their PhD's, have transitioned to experiment in industry or academia afterwards.

    One is now the head of development of a huge, top end semiconductor company's 10-7 nm division, switching to experiment after completing a PhD. I believe 3 or 4 of them are professors of experimental solid state electronics/physics.

    A large industrial R&D group was closed down in the city where he is located several decades ago. They had a theory division, and he knew many of the theorists. They retrained to work in experiment, and got jobs elsewhere.

    If a theorist is in a field where close collaboration with experimentalists is possible, it is generally entirely possible to retrain in experiment with no prior experience.

    Now, if you had gotten a graduate degree, and it was in string theory, I would say you were in some trouble (but not much). But you have a bachelors in physics. This gives you enormous flexibility. I have a bachelors in physics with no EE. With a bit of finagling, I was able to get into a EE graduate program. I may have to take 1-2 undergraduate courses in circuits/signal processing, but that's it. I had previously gotten into a computer science graduate program (one of the top 5 in the world) with no CS undergraduate courses, again, with a bit of finagling, but not much, although I dropped out after loathing it.

    You have to work the system, but a physics bachelors with lab experience opens a lot of doors. You will have to do some footwork to prevent HR hobgoblins from ruining your plans, however.
  6. Feb 6, 2017 #5


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    My first thought is that rather than worrying too much about the details here, you could perhaps try to get into the field of robotics using the education that you have. If you are persistently getting feedback from those hiring in that industry telling you that they need engineering grads specifically, then you know what you have to do.

    A second thought, is that you get experience by "doing." Have you considered joining (or form) a robotics club - preferably a competitive one? This is usually a lot easier while you're at university, but not impossible afterwards. I'm sure competitions would be great sources for information about the industry, and a means for networking. Projects that you build for the competitions would help to build your resume with directly relevant experience. So rather than "physics grad" you become "that guy/gal who built an award-winning conversation-tracking AI who hey-check-this-out also has a bachelor's degree in physics!
  7. Feb 6, 2017 #6
    Thanks for the reply, out of curiousity did you have any engineering or computer science experience under your belt in the form of lab research or internships when you applied to those graduate programs? (basically: what did you mean by finagling? haha)

    I was just asking because although I do have a lot of lab experience (in nanoscience) none of it is in the area of robotics.
  8. Feb 6, 2017 #7
    Thanks, I actually haven't thought about that.
  9. Feb 6, 2017 #8
    I had considerable computer science experience from my lab research, but zero electrical engineering experience
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