Mech Eng vs Physics (Material Science)

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  • Thread starter stechkin
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  • #1
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Hi guys,

Quick background: I'm 26, in Australia, and have a degree in an unrelated field (economics). I'd like to go back to uni next year to study engineering or physics and I'm currently doing an enabling course since I didn't do any of the higher math/physics/chem subjects in high school.

Mechanical engineering really appeals to me, but I'm also interested in materials science. The uni I will probably be going to (Curtin University) has a materials science specialty as part of their Physics degree.

Some questions:
1) Am I at a serious disadvantage starting this late? If I did the straight 4 year ME degree I'll graduate at 30. If I did physics I'd graduate at 29, but from everything I've read you can't do much with just a bachelors in physics so I'd need a masters/PhD on top of it.

2) Is it better to start with a broad degree like ME for undergrad, and then later specialise in materials science for masters/PhD if I choose to go down that route? Is the materials science physics major too specialised for undergrad?

3) Are there many industry jobs in materials science or is it primarily a research field?

Thank you.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
.Scott
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Speaking as a software engineer: it is usually the Mechanical Engineering group where I expect to find the Material Science experts.
The real answer to your question would lie in the curriculum of the ME degree you are considering. Does it (or with electives could it) include a lot of Material Science?
 
  • #3
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The ME degree has a few materials units, but I don't know how deep they go into the subject. From the brief unit outlines and my limited understanding it looks like it's geared more towards the practical use of materials in design - e.g. stresses and strains, failure analysis of metals, basic properties and applications, etc. So it seems it's more how to select the right material for a particular task rather than an in-depth look at material structures and how to create new materials.

The physics course is a basic 3 year physics degree with a 200 credit point stream in materials - 4 core units and 4 electives. From their website:

"This stream examines materials from a unified point of view. It looks for connections between the underlying structure of a material, its properties, how processing changes it and what the material can do. You will study a range of materials, including metals, semiconductors, glasses, ceramics and polymers.

You will also learn about the analytical instruments and different forms of radiation that materials scientists use to investigate the microstructure of samples. These include electron microscopes, X-ray scattering facilities including synchrotrons, and neutrons generated in a nuclear reactor. Computer simulation is another key technology used by materials scientists and you will learn how to apply it to your work."
 
  • #4
CrysPhys
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To: OP.

I can't answer your question directly, because I'm not familiar with the Australian university system. But my word of caution is to seek advice from someone who is familiar with the Australian university system. I got all my degrees in the US: BS, MS, and PhD in Physics, with a concentration in solid-state physics. I also took electives and research programs, both undergrad and grad, in materials science and engineering. At major universities in the US, there are well established departments and degrees in combined "Materials Science and Engineering (MS&E)", typically in schools of engineering. Depending on the level of job you wish to pursue, you can find employment with a BS, MS, or PhD in MS&E in a variety of industries. With a Physics degree, it's a harder sell with only a BS or MS; a PhD opens doors to R&D positions in industries such as semiconductor electronics and optoelectronics.

What you describe as the materials stream in your physics dept is the sort of topics that would be covered in a MS&E dept, rather than ME or Physics dept, in the US (exceptions apply at particular schools).
 
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  • #5
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Some questions:
1) Am I at a serious disadvantage starting this late? If I did the straight 4 year ME degree I'll graduate at 30. If I did physics I'd graduate at 29, but from everything I've read you can't do much with just a bachelors in physics so I'd need a masters/PhD on top of it.
No, I don't think you're at a disadvantage, though this does reduce the net present value of the financial rewards of going through this. You are almost certainly correct that if youg et a physics BS you'll need a Masters or PhD in physics to make it useful. While not as familiar with the Australian system, in the US a BS in physics is meant to be pretty useless (outside of going to grad school); I don't think your degree will be much better.

2) Is it better to start with a broad degree like ME for undergrad, and then later specialise in materials science for masters/PhD if I choose to go down that route? Is the materials science physics major too specialised for undergrad?
In the US that's absolutely doable. I personally would advise against the materials science undergrad; go for ME or Physics.

3) Are there many industry jobs in materials science or is it primarily a research field?
That depends a lot on what route you go down. Fifteen years ago when I was in the mat sci area it seemed like there were jobs out there. I doubt things have changed a lot.

Just please make sure you really know what you're getting into here. My personal experience was BS in physics, MS in physics (with materials science specialty) and a few years in industry. Then I switched to actuarial work and now I lead a data science team. What I'm doing now (as opposed to subject matter) is more interesting than anything I ever saw anyone actually do in mat sci or physics, both of which are filled with truly fascinating topics that are engaged with through vast amounts of drudgery. Maybe you'll feel differently. Just try to make sure before you burn 4 - 10 years of your life.
 
  • #6
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I did a Physics/Material Science bachelors. I actually wanted to get an ME degree, but my school didn't offer it... Until this year! (Dang)
But, after speaking with many of my ME friends, I am pretty glad I didn't. Most of them are just supervisors on assembly lines at vehicle manufacturing plants. Sounds boring and they work tons of overtime. (Just where a lot of people end up in my area. Not a representation of most ME graduates, of course.)

I got an internship with printed electronics, doing research, fabrication, and testing. This was before I graduated, but it was specifically due to my focus in material science that I was chosen over others. Then I was hired as a device development engineer.

It is very hard to get a job with a BS in Physics, quite a bit easier with Mat Sci though. Material science is everywhere, and very important, especially in today's tech development. It is very likely to be research though...
This is all in the US though, so possibly not applicable.
 
  • #7
cronxeh
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To OP:

You are not at a disadvantage, but you should start with the end in mind. Do you want to be an engineer your whole life? Consider a 20 year horizon, if you get a BS in ME by 30, then an MBA by 35, you should be fine for next 20+ years, financially speaking. Obviously friends don't let friends stay and live in Australia, so move to US and get that cheddar.

On the other hand, a Physics degree is kind of a "i don't really know what i want to do at 26", and getting a PhD is a pain after 30, especially if you have a family or some ankle biters by now. Its just not worth the hassle, IMHO.

tl;dr; do Computer Science and get an MBA, take the path of least resistance.
 

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