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Math + physics or EE or both?

  1. Jun 29, 2014 #1
    Hello, I recently just became admitted into the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and while I am still waiting for Financial Aid to come through I will most likely be attending there this fall.

    I applied as a Electrical Engineering major and I would like to double major or possibly triple major in some of these topics; physics, math and electrical engineering.

    I am mostly interested in mathematical physics topics but I would like to stay as employable as possible so that is the reason for wanting the EE major.

    -Is it possible to just do Math and Electrical Engineering and go into mathematical physics for Graduate school? I am also interested in theoretical physics, quantum optics and plasma physics (which is what UAF has a lot of).

    Are there certain physics courses I should take on top of a EE + math degree? I will be getting a minor in Russian or Japanese so I will be very busy, but will do what is needed.

    Here is the EE curriculum for UAF:
    EE F102--Introduction to Electrical Engineering--3 credits
    EE F203--Electrical Engineering Fundamentals I--4 credits
    EE F204--Electrical Engineering Fundamentals II--4 credits
    EE F303--Electrical Machinery--4 credits
    EE F311--Applied Engineering Electromagnetics--3 credits
    EE F331--High Frequency Lab--1 credit
    EE F333W--Physical Electronics--4 credits
    EE F334--Electronic Circuit Design--4 credits
    EE F343--Digital Systems Analysis and Design--4 credits
    EE F353--Circuit Theory--3 credits
    EE F354--Engineering Signal Analysis--3 credits
    EE F471--Fundamentals of Automatic Control--3 credits
    ES F101--Introduction to Engineering--3 credits
    ES F201--Computer Techniques--3 credits
    ES F208--Mechanics--4 credits
    EE F412--Electromagnetic Waves and Devices--3 credits
    EE F432--Electromagnetics Laboratory--1 credit
    EE F461--Communication Systems--4 credits
    Approved engineering science elective**--3 credits

    And the curriculum for the physics major; ( the basic physics courses (cm, em and modern) are not listed here)
    PHYS F220--Introduction to Computational Physics--4 credits
    PHYS F301--Introduction to Mathematical Physics--4 credits
    PHYS F341--Classical Physics I: Particle Mechanics--4 credits
    PHYS F342--Classical Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism--4 credits
    Complete 6 credits of MATH electives at the F300-level or above. (MATH F314, MATH F421, or MATH F422 are recommended.)*--6 credits
    Complete the following:*
    PHYS F313--Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics--4 credits
    PHYS F343--Classical Physics III: Vibration and Waves--4 credits
    PHYS F381W,O--Physics Laboratory--3 credits
    PHYS F421--Quantum Mechanics--4 credits
    PHYS F462--Geometrical and Physical Optics--4 credits
    Complete 6 credits from the following:*
    PHYS F471--Advanced Topics in Physics I
    PHYS F472--Advanced Topics in Physics II

    So what do you guys think I should do? Any opinions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 29, 2014 #2


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    I recommend you pick one and stick with it. Don't double major. You will very likely be in over your head if you double major. From what I remember, you are still in precalculus or just started doing calculus. You have no idea what lays ahead of you. I have a little more perspective than you since I have reached my upper division, and it is enough in itself to do one engineering major.

    I think you underestimate what is really involved in each of these classes. It looks fun as a community college students looking at course titles and credits, but once your in the classroom and getting homework assignments and exams, it wont be as fun as it is now.
  4. Jun 29, 2014 #3


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    You may have to think about what you really want and make some sacrifices here. Yeah, it's tough finding that balance between getting an education that is both interesting to you and employable, but don't go the professional student route.

    The natural way of things will narrow down your options considerably anyhow (i.e. scheduling conflicts, internships) and you will be forced at some point to choose possibly only one of those majors.

    If employability is your major concern, stick with EE and minor in one of the languages, try to double major in math if you can (I'm sure a math minor would be easy enough as an EE major). But leave physics alone. Take mathematical physics or whatever you want here and there if you can squeeze it in, but don't aim to minor or major in it.
  5. Jun 29, 2014 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    The stereotype for double major is "someone with broad interests who is willing to do extra work". The stereotype for triple major is "flake who can't make up his mind". Like many stereotypes, it is not completely made up from whole cloth.

    If you want a graduate degree in physics, you should major in physics.
  6. Jun 29, 2014 #5
    You have to take some of the same courses for any of these degrees at first. Calculus, physics, maybe matrix algebra or ODE. Wait until you have to make a decision, b/c you may have learned more about your interests.
    Pretend you have made a decision based on all the info you have, to say go the physics route. Check your feelings. How do you feel about that decision? Good? Then go with it. Many will not agree with this advice, but you are not Mr. Spock. You have to like what you do. I was given this advice and ignored it, to my regret. My personal belief is you cannot take too much math.
  7. Jun 30, 2014 #6


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    I agree, double majoring with math is probably a good idea if you are interested in mathematical physics. But double majoring with physics is a bit odd, it's like, I can't choose if I want engineering or not. You are choosing engineering so double major with math if you want to but take classes that apply to EE and relatedly to physics, like complex analysis, functional analysis, diff geom. Remember that college can be a huge vortex, you can exit it with huge debts and no clear direction.
  8. Jun 30, 2014 #7


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    Getting a EE major may make you "more employable" than physics or math. But getting a double (or worse, a triple) major may make you less employable by a company that wants to hire an EE focused on "practical" real-world engineering, not a would-be academic who needs to pay the rent.

    As V50 said, stereotypes are not always accurate, but if you are selecting 5 interview candidates from a pile of 500 job applications, betting with the odds is often a good strategy.
  9. Jun 30, 2014 #8
    I wanted to do a double major at first (EE+math or physics) but then I realized how silly that was.

    If you wanna be near the top of a field it's harder when you're splitting your efforts up. I would perhaps minor in something more practical with EE, say computer science....or do what I'm doing and take extra classes from the graduate selection or do research if you have time. Maybe if you take extra pure physics take some extra solid-state physics to help with semiconductors...or take a complex math course and a linear algebra course (both will help greatly with EE). Also if you want to pursue grad studies in EE then learning PDEs wouldn't be a bad idea.

    Don't spread yourself too thin before even realizing what you would like to pursue in full depth.
  10. Jun 30, 2014 #9


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    food for thought...
    2/18 of my BSEE graduating class are currently getting a graduate degree in physics.
    getting an undergraduate degree in engineering and a phd/MS in physics is still an option. Granted your ee degree will be more applicable to some parts of physics than others.
  11. Jul 1, 2014 #10
    Assuming you graduate with degrees in physics, math, and EE in 6 years, here are some disadvantages to the outlooks you are considering:
    1.) Physics grad school: Comparing yourself with a physics major who is finishing his degree in 4 years and has research experience, you are applying 2 years late with no particular knowledge that pertains to what grad schools desire.
    2.) Employment as engineer: Similarly, you are getting employed two years late (less money), with two possibly useless degrees that may not at all apply in your workplace. Besides, employers want a prepared engineer who specializes in a certain area (EE who specialized in microelectronics, for example), which may come to a disadvantage to you.

    The only way I would consider double (triple) majoring is if financial aid and scholarships cover all your costs during the time it takes for you to finish the degrees. But usually in public universities, financial aid gets cut off after 4 years.
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