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Nuclear Engineer, Astrophysicist, or both?

  1. Feb 9, 2012 #1
    Hi, I am currently attending UTK and studying in their nuclear engineering program. I think this is a great program of study that will pay off well, even with just a bachelors degree. However, I am really interested in astrophysics. The job market in astrophysics is a little riskier than the engineering side in regards to obtaining non-academia, well paying jobs.

    So my question is, does it make since to get a bachelors in nuclear engineering and then a masters and PHD astrophysics, or should I just skip nuclear and head straight towards astro bachelor, or just forget astrophysics altogether? I would also like to hear from some actual astrophysicists if you happen to be reading this? Any and all opinions or advice would be appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2012 #2
    I'm in the same situation, I really love cosmology and astrophysics but also would like to make some sort of living. Would getting a bs in Engineering and then going for a ms in physics be smarter. Also can you jump for a bs in Engineering stright into a ms in physics without going back and taking the undergrad classes?
  4. Feb 9, 2012 #3
    I would go with a physics bachelor's if you want to do an Astro PhD, unless you plan on taking a lot of the physics calsses anyway (in which case why not double?) At UCLA, I initially was going to do an astro undergrad, but was told physics would better prepare me. Of course, I went in a slightly different direction after my diploma....
  5. Feb 9, 2012 #4
    Thanks for response,

    I was highly considering doubling up on bachelors as well, the nuclear engineering program at utk has a considerable amount of physics tied in already. Maybe I should just go ahead and squeeze in a few more physics classes and decide later on which grad level degrees later.
  6. Feb 9, 2012 #5
    I think that would be best if UT will let us use some of the engineering classes as physics classes.
  7. Feb 9, 2012 #6
    I don't think that's true. The job market is more undefined in that I can't tell you exactly what you will be doing with an astrophysics degree, but I don't think it's riskier.

    A lot depends on what you want to do with your life. If you want stable, predictable, and totally boring (i.e. get a degree in X, do X for the rest of your life), astrophysics is not for you. If you are the entrepreneurial type for whom life is an adventure, astrophysics will work out fine.

    The other thing is that there's "obvious risk" and "hidden risk." I'd argue that you have to be careful about comparing risk because astrophysics has "obvious risks" whereas the risks for other majors is hidden. The "safe option" is often not that safe. Suppose you get a degree in bottle washing and it turns out that there is no job market for bottle washers, it's not as if you are going to get a refund

    It might be a good idea to just major in straight physics. If you get a bachelors in n.e., it's going to make it more difficult to get into graduate school in astrophysics. Also, nuclear engineering and nuclear physics are very different. If you specialize in nuclear physics, then there is a lot of overlap with astrophysics, but it's not going to be that useful as a nuclear engineer.

    When I was an undergraduate, I got a letter from the Navy saying that they would pay me some absurd amount of money (I think is was $25K in cash) if I switched my major to nuclear engineering. There was no explicit catch. I just had to get the degree, and I get $25K in cash, no commitent. Of course, the implicit catch was that I could only work for the Navy if I got the degree. This was 20 years ago, so I don't know if the job market has changed.
  8. Feb 9, 2012 #7
    One thing that's important if you want to do that is to take humanities courses seriously. Take courses on literature, art, philosophy, history, social science. Go into bookstores and read random things. Get involved in student government, eat well, and exercise regularly. Write poetry. Fall in love. Fall out of love.

    The reason for this is that if you want to use your astrophysics degree to do something other than astrophysics, you have to "dig your own path" and reading about French history helps you do that.

    The other thing is that people that are interested in astrophysics are usually interested in understand the universe and Shakespeare is part of the universe.
  9. Feb 10, 2012 #8

    Well you could double major and have lots of options, although this will be less time spent focusing on either major. I'm a physics/math major and I'm taking a nuclear engineering class right now. Its basically intro level nuclear/modern physics with applications. According to my professor, after this class in the major there really isn't much more tie in with physics, and its more just learning reactor theory and how to build reactors....so there really isn't as much physics as you would think. It would "probably" be easier to major in physics and go to engineering than the other way around.
  10. Feb 10, 2012 #9
    I ended up doing a physics undergrad, and did undergraduate research in numerical relativity (basically, a branch of astrophysics). But then, went to grad school in Nuclear Engineering.

    As such, I missed a lot of the engineering implicit in Nuclear Engineering.. my research is more basic physics/materials focused. I don't know the ins and outs of reactors like the kids who did NE as an undergrad. But it was a good path, and I feel I'm qualified for a range of jobs (although probably not astrophysics anymore).

    However, I don't necessarily recommend majoring in physics if you don't want to go to grad school. It's a hard major to land a job with right out of undergrad, but it does make you very qualified for a large range of grad school opportunities. If you just want to get a job out of undergrad, NE is very good right now. I think it's unlikely the job market for NE will collapse, even if we don't see the promised nuclear renaissance, especially if you're willing to work abroad.
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