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Need advice -- Physics vs. Engineering vs. Computer Science...

  1. May 7, 2017 #1
    Ok guys here's the deal,
    I was accepted to UC Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, waitlisted at UCLA for Physics as a transfer

    A little background: I know a moderate deal of programming, have taken Assembly Language, OOP, Data and Discrete Structures.

    What I want to accomplish: Create a successful software company, pivot into electronics, work on cool ground breaking tech

    Why I chose physics: Would help me transfer faster, I'm interested in the subject, Elon Musk majored in physics

    Do I have it all figured out: No, I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'd like to put it out to the universe what I'd like to do and hopefully with some faith it'll workout

    So what exactly am I asking from you ladies and gentlemen.
    Simple. In order to achieve my goals, is going the physics undergrad path the right way to go? I really enjoy physics and I want to learn why things work.
    Are there any physics grads that have been successful in the software engineering field?
    I have the option to switch to comp sci at UCSC.
    I also know UCSB's physics program is excellent.
    I understand that I will have to use my extra time to program, work on projects to make me marketable after graduation.

    With gratitude
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2017 #2

    I like Serena

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    Hi Craig,

    Physics as a job doesn't pay well. It's more of a calling, or a hobby.
    Engineering (including software engineering) does.
    So you probably need to make a choice.
    For a successful software engineering company it seems to me that specializing in software engineering is the way to go.
    That said, people with a physics background can still get software engineering jobs as well. If you choose to got that way, it makes sense to specialize in such a way that it involves programming.
    As for electronics, again it's about making a choice. Ultimately you'll have to pick either software engineering, electronical engineering, mechanical engineering, or physics. There's nothing wrong with postponing that choice a little, but basically that is what it boils down to. They are really different areas of expertise, asking for different skill sets and attitudes.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2017
  4. May 8, 2017 #3
    I'm fairly sure this is just a myth. If you got a physics PhD and you work in industry, you get paid well. In my country, very well - about $100k+ as a starting salary. Probably $200k by the time you become senior and enter management.

    And I get the impression that some very research-intensive industries (though granted more on the bio side I think) pretty much require a PhD nowadays to progress your career.
     
  5. May 8, 2017 #4

    analogdesign

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    Why do you want to start in software as a pivot to electronics? They are quite different fields in practice.

    Also, responding to Wminus, if you're one of the few to hit the physics jackpot where you have a career position at a national lab or large research institute (or famous college), then yes, you do pretty well. But most physics grads do not.
     
  6. May 8, 2017 #5
    Well, if you're dead-set on continuing in academia in the field of your PhD then yes it'll be difficult, but my impression is that if you're willing to cross over to the dark side and sell out, then industry will want you. I for instance did an internship under a biophysics PhD who eventually started his own consulting firm in biomedical optics, and is now making mint on old guys with vision problems

    Anyway, to answer the OP: YES, many physicists are excellent programmers. If you specialise in computational physics, and pick your electives wisely (ie algos and data structures, plenty of discrete maths etc) then you'll have no issues what-so-ever getting a job in the software industry.

    However, as analogdesign said, software and electronics are completely different fields. Why the hell would you want to "pivot" anyway, let a lone across such different fields? Firstly, nobody pivots because they want to, they pivot because they must, and secondly, becoming an expert in one field is hard enough as it is, in two fields it's almost impossible. If I were you, I'd just do the physics undergrad and learn as much as I can about business and tech while doing it,, then you'll know more about what you really wanna do and how to do it.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2017
  7. May 8, 2017 #6

    I like Serena

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    Let's be realistic. It's rare that one continues in the field one graduates in, whatever you're studying.
    And it's also rare that a job that actually involves physics pays well.
    A good paying job will be doing something that is entirely different - basically whatever it is that a company requires and for which you have sufficient skills.
    And ultimately a management job - that has nothing to do with physics or engineering whatsoever - will pay the best (if you're any good at it).
     
  8. May 8, 2017 #7

    analogdesign

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    Why do you think a management job has nothing to do with engineering? I manage an engineering design group and while a lot of my time is spent on financial, project management, and "people" issues, I use my engineering education on a daily basis.
     
  9. May 8, 2017 #8

    I like Serena

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    Exactly, the time is spent on financial, project management, and "people" issues.
    The engineering education will be something that is completely in the background. There is no time any more to really dive into any engineering problem. Other people who do have the time will be doing that. The engineering background mostly helps to have more affinity with the people, and in particular support the people that show they know what they're doing.
     
  10. May 8, 2017 #9

    analogdesign

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    I don't mean to be rude, but do you know any engineering managers? The higher-level project stuff is PART of my job, and planning engineering work takes engineering skills and experience, believe me.

    Also, most engineering managers are still technical for part of their time. I'm posting to physics forums during Verilog compiles.
     
  11. May 10, 2017 #10
    Thanks all for the responses.
    As for why I would pivot from software to electronics, I think both fields are extremely interesting. You can design a software product to provide a service to millions of people. In electronics, you can convert abstract concepts into applied physical mechanisms that can also provide a service or role.
    I think working with robotics would be awesome.

    I won't pursue academia because I don't think it fits my skill set and goals. I just find physics very interesting.

    Yes I've taken all the undergrad pre-req courses for comp sci, OOP, data structures, discrete structures, assembly...

    My heart also lies in business, supply chain, finances, hr ... The whole idea of running a business get's me fired up. I also enjoy speaking to people.

    By no means am I a genius though.
     
  12. May 10, 2017 #11
    It also sounds like physics is still a good place to be in order to achieve my goals.
     
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