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Mechanical engineering major problem

  1. Jan 30, 2015 #1
    I am currently a freshman getting my undergrad in Physics, but I want to be a mechanical engineer. However, my school does not offer a degree in mechanical engineering. I would consider transferring out, but I have a full ride. The physics department at my school is also fairly good and they offer a lot of undergrad research. I don't know if transferring would be worth it in the long run. Should I just bite the bullet and stay at my school and try to become a mechanical engineer with a physics degree, or should I transfer? also, I really want to do hands on work, building and creating things.
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  3. Jan 31, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    I went to an undergraduate school with a very good physics department as well as a very good engineering program. I had two friends who were physics majors as undergrads. They went on to get PhDs in applied physics at Stanford. I believe that if you looked at what both of them do now, you would have difficulty telling them apart from engineers. You can do significant "building and creating" as an experimental physicist. I would recommend that you look into getting into a research laboratory as soon as possible. Talk to people at your home institution, and look at opportunites available through other venues: e.g. NSF REU site programs: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/list_result.jsp?unitid=69
    NASA probably has similar programs for undergrads. I know that NIST does. I believe that the DOE laboratories have these too.

    Most high-level Engineering and Science today is quite interdisciplinary, and I do not think that an engineering graduate program would turn up their nose at a good student with a BS in physics with significant research experience. You would bring a "package" that would be appealing.
  4. Jan 31, 2015 #3
    Thanks for the advice! I just want a career that offers the opportunity for design and fabrication that mechanical engineering seems to offer, and this seems like a good fit. Would I have any trouble moving up in this field without a PhD?
  5. Jan 31, 2015 #4
    I'm confused by what you're asking Drew. If you're asking if you can get a BS in physics and be hired as a mechanical engineer the answer is not likely. If you want to go to grad school in mechanical engineering with a BS in physics you'll probably get in without much problem but you'll have to do some remedial work. It's fairly easy stuff but you will need to be able to communicate with engineers. As far as your last question about a PhD, most engineers in industry don't have PhD's, that's primarily an academic degree. An MS in engineering is generally considered a terminal degree for most who don't want a career in academia.
  6. Jan 31, 2015 #5
    I was wondering If I would need a PhD to work as an experimental physicist. I feel like a masters in mechanical would be my best option. Do graduate schools give any funding to students getting a masters in mechanical engineering? also will I miss out on a lot of jobs because I wont be able to take the PE test?
  7. Feb 1, 2015 #6
    Do you have the interest to take classical mechanics, electrodynamics, statistical physics, and quantum mechanics, although you probably won't find their application in your job as a mechanical engineer? The only things these classes will provide you are deeper understanding of the world and the ability and perseverance to solve hard problems (which I say yes to. You might not).

    If you also say yes, then go for physics! Here is my opinion, the best route: do your physics degree while also taking useful courses as a mechanical engineer (solidwork, programming, etc...) and also engineering courses, if they have any. Since you have a full ride, you can probably use the money, which you would have used for your undergrad tuition if you transferred, for your master's in mechanical engineering. You'd be a bit behind on mechanical engineering coursework, but I think the best thing that a physics degree provides for you is the ability to solve hard problems: I think you will have no problem catching up to those engineers.

    By midst of your sophomore year, you might have an idea of whether you should continue your physics degree. If you think you shouldn't and want to transfer to pursue an ME degree, then the curricula of the two degrees are similar in lower-division, so you should have no problem in transferring.
  8. Feb 5, 2015 #7


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    What degree to take?

    Figure out where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Then concentrate on that.

    So you mention a variety of things from building things to designing things to being an experimental physicist. You should try to look around and find the kind of job you want. Academic or industry? Research lab? If lab, then industry, university, or maybe government run? Fermi Lab or automobile design? Or the testing lab for a consumer testing agency? Or something at NASA or one of the private space companies?

    Google is your friend in this search. Type in some terms that sound like things you might like to do. Find out where they do those things. Find out what prep those people have for that job. Maybe even email them and find out what they look for in new employees. Even if you don't wind up working for that company, it may be good info for being in that line of work.

    When you know that you will have a clear picture what to study.

    So, suppose you wanted to be a research physicist at Fermi Lab. You probably want to go physics all the way, and head for a PhD. And you probably want to pick up both as much math and as much lab time as you can get. If you were more inclined to be one of the technicians at Fermi Lab, maybe a guy who designs and cares for something like cryogenic magnets in the ring, you may want a specific kind of engineering. But you would need to know where you wanted to be to decide.

    Also, try to keep a "plan B" in mind. So that means, try to pick up transferrable skills. These days that usually means learn something about computers. But it also means, lab time and class time. If you know how, for example, to re-build a large electric motor, that might get you in the door at a variety of labs.

    And don't neglect the "soft skill" category. One of the more valuable classes I ever took was inter personal skills.
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