1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Major choice

  1. Oct 28, 2011 #1
    I am trying to decide between Physics or Engineering or maybe something else for my major in college next year.

    I'm very interested in physics, and figuring out how the world works. I like to find completely new solutions to problems, as opposed to working off of other previous solutions. However, I think I would prefer to keep it as a hobby of mine, and not have a job at a university, which is where many physics majors/PhDs seem to end up. Though research for a PhD, etc. does sound fun, I don't think it is something I would want to work on my whole life.

    What I would love to do is get a physics PhD, then work at a company and do research for them. For example, being some kind of fluid dynamics physicist at Boeing or NASA jet propulsion lab would be something I think I would love (if I could get there).

    Is this a stretch, even for physics PhDs? I realize that these positions are limited and everyone in the field is so talented that it is difficult to get a job. What about if someone has a physics PhD from a top school vs a medium school, would that make a huge difference?

    I might also be presented with an opportunity to get a double major in engineering and physics in 4 or 5 years. I am not sure if this is what I would want, though, because it might be better to just focus on one.

    Please, if you can, give me some advice or answer some of my questions. Thanks a lot!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2011 #2
    Although NASA hires physicists, a lot of the fluid dynamics research is done by mechanical and aerospace engineers. Fluid dynamics isn't a big part of a physics education where as mechanical and aerospace engineers take several courses on it.
  4. Oct 28, 2011 #3
    I was just using that as an example, although I didn't know that. Just curious, what kinds of things would NASA (or an aerospace company) hire physicists to do?
  5. Oct 28, 2011 #4
    They'd work on computational fluid dynamics, signal processing, propulsion - a lot of the jobs go to engineers though.
  6. Oct 29, 2011 #5

    Still looking for advice, if anyone has some.
  7. Nov 3, 2011 #6
    Bump, still looking for advice.
  8. Nov 4, 2011 #7
    Kevin_Axion hit it on the head.

    I'm getting my PhD in physics but I understand that the majority of industry jobs are given to specialized engineers. For something like fluid dynamics, aerospace or mechanical engineering can't be beat. My goal is a little different than yours because I want to get into high level software stuff. Quant, computational physics, etc. If you went into physics for the sole reason to only do fluid dynamics then you're going to be wasting a lot of learning E&M, QM and the like. A physics PhD would give you a wide view of all engineering disciplines, that's not what you're saying you want.
  9. Nov 4, 2011 #8


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Guss, had I been better-informed about U of A, Tucson, I would probably have accepted their scholarship offer. Air-travel was very expensive in the '60's, so I elected to stay here at the local state college.

    What does U of A have going for it? Affiliations with major observatories, NASA programs, and one of the finest on-site optics-fabrication facilities anywhere. Want to be a physicist, an astro-physicist, an engineer? There is a lot of flexibility there. A young friend of mine from Mongolia got part-time work there operating the university's observatory, and helping to build instrumentation for *serious* telescopes. And this was as a freshman.
  10. Nov 4, 2011 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    What are you hoping to hear? In other words, which one of your questions do you feel is unanswered?
  11. Nov 4, 2011 #10
    Thanks, I'll look into it.

    Sorry, I was unclear. How difficult would it be for me to get a good job at a company? What kinds of physics jobs in a company are in demand, or growing? In other words are there any specific areas of physics I should look at for my undergrad/PhD studies?

    Is there a way I can do some research on my own (preferably at a university) while still working at a company?

    Should I try to double major in physics and mechanical engineering, or wait until I'm done with my physics degree to pursue a specific career path? Would I be much better off just going for mechanical engineering and setting physics aside?
  12. Nov 5, 2011 #11
    There is such a thing as physics engineering which may be your answer. I'm not sure about employment rates but it tends to have a mixed curriculum of upper level physics and upper level engineering classes most physics majors don't take. Unfortunately it's not offered as commonly as either engineering or physics alone. The curriculum also varies wildly. Check with the universities to want to attend and look specifically at each curriculum to see if it samples the types of classes you want.

    Personal story: I must also add that I have a friend at my school that takes something like 27 credits per semester, triple majoring in math, physics, and electrical engineering. He's told me that if our school offered "Physics engineering", it would be his only major.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2011
  13. Nov 6, 2011 #12
    Interesting, thanks. I will definitely do some research.

    Anyone else have anything?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook