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Major in engineering or physics..

  1. Jul 3, 2015 #1
    Ok so currently I am going to be starting college this spring at a school with a good physics program. I love physics and engineering and would like to at least get my masters degree in whatever I'm doing. My question is, is it better to major in physics then go to grad school for engineering (or something similar to that) or just major in engineering and then get a masters in it. Would majoring in physics make me more diverse for an engineering Job or would it really matter either way. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I'll answer any questions needed to help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2015 #2
    It depends on the school and the specific strengths of their faculty and the areas of engineering that interest you most. Some Physics programs could be great prep for Mechanical or Electrical Engineering, but few programs are great launching pads for both/either.

    I've got degrees in Physics, but I've worked most of my career in positions typically occupied by mechanical engineers or electrical engineers. My undergrad work was better preparation for most of what I've done in mechanical engineering. My graduate work better prepared me for work I've done closer to electrical engineering. But it was not really about the level of the work, it was about the school and the strengths of the faculty I worked under/learned from.
  4. Jul 3, 2015 #3
    The parts of engineering that interest me are mechanical and computer hardware engineering. The school I'm going to has the best physics program in my state and if I wanted to do engineering I'd have to transfer after 2 years and go to another school.
  5. Jul 3, 2015 #4
    A BS in Physics and an MS in Mechanical Engineering or Computer Engineering will definitely make you employable. But, one needs to consider how to best prepare to ensure you get into the desired MS program in ME or CE program with a BS in Physics. Those two MS programs will likely be looking for different things that may or may not be included in your BS program in Physics. Odds are, you can decide which grad program you want to target by the beginning of your Junior year and make sure you include coursework and research opportunities to prepare yourself well for the desired MS program.

    Of course, the BS Physics -> MS in Engineering approach will take about two years longer and cost more money if you're not on scholarships/fellowships/assistantships. Most students have lots of life changes between 18 and 24, so it's hard to say in advance for any individual what the better plan is without knowing more about their resources, constraints, personal side, and goals.

    I generally advise students who love science and engineering to apply to schools with both good science programs and good engineering programs, but constraints may not allow that in all cases. If you work hard and are good at math, you will have lots of options. If you do not work hard or you don't like math, or you avoid math, you will find the doors to future opportunities closing quickly.

    The challenges of Calculus, Differential Equations, and freshman physics end most aspiring Physics/Engineering degrees very quickly. Read:

  6. Jul 3, 2015 #5
    I don't know much about the areas of engineering you mentioned, but I doubt majoring in physics would prepare you better than actually majoring in engineering. When I was an undergraduate the physics department promoted physics saying it prepared you for a variety of careers. That was pretty much nonsense (sure, physics majors do a lot of different things, but that doesn't imply studying physics prepared them for those things). I majored in physics because I wanted to learn physics, but if I had been undecided between physics and something else and I was persuaded to go with physics because of that I'd be pretty bitter. I'm doing fine as a software engineer, but it has nothing to do with studying physics. I was as prepared to be a software engineer the day I graduated high school as the day I got my PhD.

    I'd suggest only majoring in physics if you want to learn physics, if you're on the fence between physics and something else, I'd go with the something else. If you get an MS in engineering, I'd guess it wouldn't matter what your undergrad degree was in, but if you change your mind and decide to not go to grad school an engineering degree would probably be easier to sell to employers.
  7. Jul 3, 2015 #6
    My experience is that since most engineers majored in engineering, the ability to think like a scientist allowed me to approach a variety of engineering problems much differently from the other engineers. Engineers tend to focus heavily on the desired features and the design to provide those features. As a scientist, I tended to be much better than most engineers at designing experiments and approaches to figure out why a given design was not delivering the expected features and performance. Engineers with engineering degrees also tend to believe too strongly in their assumptions and the accepted operating principles of their disciplines. Engineers with physics degrees are more willing to question the assumptions and accepted operating principles when something unexpected happens.

    I've also had the chance to work as the only colleague with a physics degree among mathematicians and among biologists. The difference in training and perspective has always proven useful. Mathematicians, biologists, and engineers do tend to recognize the strengths that a physics degree brings to their disciplines. The challenge for the person trained as a physicist is to learn how the people in those disciplines are thinking and approaching the problems in order to communicate effectively and to be willing to sort through all the tools in your toolbox to make meaningful contributions. The biggest risks are failing to communicate and developing tunnel vision thinking one hammer will drive in all the funky screws in the other disciplines.
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