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Mechanical Engineering to Applied Physics

  1. Feb 24, 2013 #1
    Here's my current story: I'm at CC right now double majoring in Physics and Engineering Science. When I transfer (Rutgers) I will continue to Mechanical Engineering and plan to continue Physics as a minor.

    I am highly interested in Mech. Engineering and I love physics, I would major in Applied Physics but I can't guarantee I will be pursuing graduate school though I really want to (I'll probably be around 30 by the time I graduate with my BS).

    So my thoughts are I will do Mech. Engineering while taking necessary physics classes on the side as a minor that can prop me up if I decide to continue to the Applied Physics graduate route. I figure this will put me in a good position whether I decide to jump right into the workforce or head to graduate school for AP in the future.

    By the way, my ideal career would be researching and working on new technologies and finding ways to apply them, kind of being the liaison between physics and engineering.

    I'd like to see what input you more experienced guys/gals have on this. Thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2013 #2
    A good thing to ponder is where you might like to find yourself after graduation. Do you want to work in a national lab? A university? A think tank? A corporation? Choices you make now can make these possible courses easier or harder later. I tend to look at degree choices as signals for what someone wants, even if the choice may actually be subconscious. Undergraduate majors in engineering usually want to be engineers, and to work in industry. People with graduate degrees in science usually want to work in academia. Usually they don't want to work in industry. It is important to note that these things are "tends to", "for the most part" kinds of trends. Exceptions exist. Like me.

    I will give you an example from my own experience on the path into industry. I have a BS in Physics, and I have worked for 8 years as a manufacturing engineer. Since I do good work and have a good reputation, I am able to recruit students from the Applied Physics M.S. program at my alma mater. When I look for likely candidates, the biggest question I ask myself is: "does this person want to be an engineer?"

    What I mean by this is: are you willing to do what it takes to get product out the door and make money. Much of the work of an engineer can seem unglamorous, particularly early on. Many students who are in science majors really want to work in academia, a very different environment than the usually profit-focused world of engineering. What this does not necessarily mean, is you cannot develop and work on new technologies. I have been able to work on many new technologies as an engineer, and I have two pending patent applications plus a provisional patent application at present. An undergraduate degree in engineering could help you signal "I am interested in developing products or technologies for the marketplace". A subsequent Applied Physics graduate degree could also signal "I've studied a conceptually difficult abstract subject". Some corporations might be interested. Some might not have a box to fit you in.

    I cannot guarantee for you how anyone else might perceive these things. I would probably think this, and if you were to be interviewed by me, I would dig deeper along these lines.
  4. Feb 25, 2013 #3
    Ben - Thanks for the reply

    "A good thing to ponder is where you might like to find yourself after graduation. Do you want to work in a national lab? A university? A think tank? A corporation?"

    If I had to sum up what my dream job would be it would be testing out and discovering new technologies, understanding how and why these new technologies work and figuring out new ways to implement them, most likely a lab setting but not necessarily. The "Engineer" in me wants to understand how things work, how to make them more efficient, find other uses for things and basically take what was "discovered" and turn it into a creative reality. The "Applied Physicist" in me wants to discover the previously mentioned, understand why it works, test it and all while having a deeper understanding of the laws of nature along with what I'm dealing with. In short, I want to be an engineer who can understand and work with/test things on the level of a physicist, if that makes sense.

    "are you willing to do what it takes to get product out the door and make money."

    I'm not sure what you mean, are you insinuating that there's a sales aspect to engineering positions?

    If I was 18 again I would do Applied/Engineering Physics and go the PhD route, but I'm not sure where I will be in a couple of years or if I will have the resources available to continue after my bachelors. I know if I have the MechE degree I will be employable at the BS level while also having some of that intellectual thirst quenched and doing something I would enjoy.
  5. Feb 25, 2013 #4
    There is a sales aspect to most jobs, but that isn't what I was getting at. If I were being pithy, I would say an engineer's job is to make money, while a scientist's job is to make citations. There are many, many complications here, but most of the jobs typically called engineering are intended create business value, while scientists rather focus on advancing knowledge. What I want you to think about, however, is that intending to make money does not prevent you from advancing science, and sometimes setting out to advance science does not guarantee success. You can potentially advance knowledge in either setting, but the overall purpose of your role and the organization can be quite different.
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