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MS in Physics VS. MS in EE - in terms of employability

  1. Jun 8, 2012 #1

    I am currently an undergraduate student of electronics and communication engg. in India.

    I have been extremely interested in physics since high school. I was planning to go for graduate school in physics.

    But I read a lot about the job prospects with a physics Ph.D. and considering the fact that it's highly likely that I won't be able to make it to the top 20 universities, given my current profile, a phd in physics to me seems like a decision that I might regret having taken.

    So now, I'm thinking of getting either an MS in physics (this would buy me two more years to decide wether I wanna go the phd route or not) or getting a MS in Electrical Engineering.

    I would like to know the job prospects of both of these degrees in US and Canada and elsewhere in general.

    As in what kind of jobs will I be able to get with either of these degrees, what kind of pay can I expect with either of these degrees, and basically, which degree would fetch me a higher paying job, more easily.

    I am not looking for responses telling me not to make decisions based on financial prospects of a degree.
    Being able to earn relatively good money with relative ease forms as important a part of my satisfaction as much as my interests do.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 8, 2012 #2
    The MS in EE will fetch you a higher paying job, more easily.

    If all you are concerned about is job prospects, engineering wins every single time.
  4. Jun 8, 2012 #3
    I had guessed that. But the job prospects are not "all" I'm concerned about. They are an important part of the equation but not all that concerns me.

    I am also deeply interested in physics. So if, the job prospects of an MS in engg. is only *marginally* better than those of MS physics, I might actually want to go for the MS physics.

    So what I am looking for is some stastical information, some data, that reflects the difference between the average payscales of those two degrees as well as how easy it is *relatively* to get a job with MS engg. , as compared to physics.

    Basically, if there isn't a very significant difference in the employabilities of both these degrees, I might want to go in for the MS in physics, else I might chose EE.
  5. Jun 8, 2012 #4
    If you are hired with an MS in physics, the chances are you won't be doing physics. People with Ph.D.s get the jobs doing physics. You will probably doing something like computer programming or possibly engineering, albeit without a matching credential.

    So suppose you want to hire an electrical engineer... who will you hire, the guy with the MS in EE, or the guy with the MS in Physics?

    Honestly, this is a bad choice. You should be choosing between a Ph.D. in Physics and an MS in EE. The way you've put it, there is really nothing to recommend physics here.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2012
  6. Jun 8, 2012 #5
    Anyway, I should have pointed you to http://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm, the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Search for physics, electrical engineering, computer engineering, and software development. Pay particular attention to the *number* of jobs for each category, and note that the entry for physics says that the entry-level degree is the doctorate.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2012
  7. Jun 8, 2012 #6
    You could always do a PhD in EE, in sub-field that is related to physics?
  8. Jun 8, 2012 #7
    First of all, graduate work in physics really means a PhD. Your employability after a masters in Physics will be poor (at least in India) than with a masters in engineering. I hope you understand that most people in engineering will be content with a masters degree only because it just takes two more years and it helps in the long run in getting promoted in the workplace, etc. Bachelors are..well, bachelors. Not to mention the fact that a masters in science in India is actually considered a part of undergraduate education.

    I don't know what you mean by wanting to 'earn relatively good money with relative ease'. If you just mean that, then neither engineering nor science will help you. Note that I mean real engineering jobs here. The chances that you are going to make enough money to buy a sports car or an estate are slim to none, if you chose either of these academic professions. You'll have to be patient (and save :-)).

    However, a vast majority of the graduate students, postdocs and professors I know in engineering as well as science (I make the distinction, only for you) earn enough to live quite comfortable lifestyles. Stories of people who do not get jobs with research experience in pure physics are greatly exaggerated (again, I will not even care to address outliers here). You need enough money to sustain yourself (and in some cases, a small family). And the system gives you that much.

    It wouldn't help you. Most schools (as you express interest in the US graduate school system) will want you to stay for a PhD and you will probably get an MS "on the way". That is just how the system is, and it makes sense to be honest, if you are interested in science long enough to be able to do research.

    Statistics will not help you at all. If statistics tells you that an EE degree is better (as it most likely will), will you go for it? Is your interest in physics limited to wanting a masters degree in physics?

    The bottom line is that if you are absolutely unsure of wanting to do a PhD, I think you should go for the EE degree since you seem to be leaning more toward it (with physics playing a close second mostly because of the name). If you discover your interests are not in EE, you should simply quit and apply to physics graduate school. No decision is the right one, till you make it, and then stick with it.
  9. Jun 9, 2012 #8
    Just a personal take, but, in my experience, employers are after more than just the type of degree you have. It's to with your attitude and how you sell the skills you have gained.

    I have an astrophysics degree and yet, in a previous depressed job market, I got engineering and software job offers that my engineering and software colleagues got rejected for.

    Simply by getting a physics degree, you've demonstrated your ability to learn and grasp complex subjects. Then there's the coverage of your degree (and all the ancillary stuff such as programming that isn't 'core'). I made good use of the fact that I'd covered semi-conductor theory and practical electronics, optics, mathematics, programming, design of experiments, use of test equipment, etc, etc and pretty well convinced my interviewers that astrophysics was the best engineering degree money could buy - way more flexible than the average dull, unimaginative, stuck-in-the-mud EE grad. :devil:

    Then there's "you"; be interested and enthusiastic for new opportunities (within reason, that is ... bouncing all over the place like a manic puppy probably won't go down too well).
  10. Jun 10, 2012 #9
    Thanks a lot for that link. The difference in the number of jobs is nearly ten times.

    This is frankly depressing.

    I have previously read a lot online, as to how the only real problem with a physics Ph.D. is extremely slim chance of a job in academia, and that if one is willing to look beyond academia, all's good.

    But the stats tell a totally different story, so now I am highly confused. My probelm really is that I am a really safe player, and so would want to get job security (a good one at that) by my mid 20's.

    I know I am just not going to be content with a financially mediocre life.

    So, I guess, as of now I'm going to work towards both physics and EE and apply for both the graduate programs next year and chose according to where I get selected for which course.
  11. Jun 10, 2012 #10
    Well, all that I have read online over the years seems to suggest otherwise.
    Maybe, you are talking of a very specific university, a very specific place?

    Also, I don't really see how a 30-40k postdoc, when you've turned 30, can be justified as "comfortable".

    The starting salaries of bachelors in engineering is somewhere around 50-60k and only grows beyond that.
    The figures are similar for business schools.

    By the time most of these "engineers" or "mba's" turn 30, they would easily be somewhere near the 100k mark.

    I simply don't understand how I could spend "six" years in grad school, and then manage a 30-40k postdoc and live off that for the next five years atleast, without job any job security.

    Sure, interests matter. But what I don't find appealing is, playing with my life, getting myself in a hole in my 30's and end up in depression/frustration.

    I'd rather pursue my interests as hobbies then, rather than go to such insane lengths to satisfy them professionally.
  12. Jun 10, 2012 #11
    Focussing on financials is something im totally cool with, but if thats such a big factor of your decision, maybe you should come up with a number that you want.

    If your goal is, for example, to earn 50k a month by the time you are 25 on a relatively stable job, then thats something we can work around. Being vague yields vague results.

    On an MS in EE, its easier to find a job where you actually do EE. "Real" physics jobs dont exist because not many firms build a particle accelerator for their employees to perform fundamental research on. Finding a job with a physics bachelor or physics ms or physics phd is not at all hard. you just have to understand that you wont do physics.
  13. Jun 11, 2012 #12
    Since my interests within physics itself lie more towards theory, rather than experiment, i guess the only jobs that involve theoretical physics would be those within academia. Unless i make it to the top 10 grad programmes, i don't see much of a chance of my making it in academia anyways. So i am cool with doing non physics jobs.

    But the thing is, wether i take up MS in engg. Or phy. Grad school, i am most likely going to end up in a non physics job.
    Now if its relatively quite hard to find the kind of jobs with a physics MS, that i would be able to easily get with an engg. Masters, then i don't see much of a point in going fora physics degree, even though i am interested in physics, it's not going to help me in terms of employbality.

    As for putting a number on the salary, yeah, i would say something around 50-60k as a starting salary at around the age of 25-26, i.e. by the time i graduate with a masters, with a scope for good growth, probably somewhere upto 90k or something in 5 or so years.
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