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PhD in Physics or MSc in Engineering?

  1. Dec 7, 2015 #1
    I have a BSc in Physics, just received it about half a year ago. I decided to take a year off to figure out what I want to do and take the Physics GRE and I'm still a little torn. I love physics more than I thought possible. I like how it challenges me and makes me feel accomplished. However, after the past 4 months of job searching with us a BS, I'm a little disheartened that I won't find a career with a PhD. Is engineering an equally good option for a career?

    I'm looking for some insights and information on software engineering

    Some additional information:
    - During my undergrad, I finished 3 years of part time research in experimental nuclear and particle physics, including a month-long particle internship in Italy to work on a particle detector. So, my career in physics would probably be in nuclear and particle physics.

    - I have a contact at Sandia National Labs that I could use if I get a PhD in physics, I just don't know if Sandia does any research pertaining to those fields.

    - I'm moving to southern California come summer, so I would be around a lot of the Silicon valley companies, which hopefully means some job opportunities and choosing California universities for my next degree.

    Thank you all for the input. I really appreciate it.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 8, 2015 #2
    First, software engineering is a profession in its own right. Merely having a degree in Physics isn't enough. They study things that you probably have had little exposure to. For example, they study various kernel designs, memory management models, object modeling methods, algorithms, hardware architectures, protocols, Application interfaces, the mathematics of describing complexity, and so many more things.

    Second, Silicon Valley is not the bright spot it once was. It is pretty good, but there are other places where you can seek employment as well. Some of them may seem pretty mundane at first, until you realize that the underlying concepts are quite interesting.

    Third, the challenge/accomplishment feeling can be had in many endeavors. I'm glad to see that you have found one area where you can feel good about it --but do know that there are many others. For example, the challenge of teaching a concept to another and seeing them comprehend a new idea is a real high. The challenge of being a key member of building something big and seeing it built and work mostly as you expected is also a big deal. Discovering a new aspect of science, technology, or mathematics is also huge. Publishing a paper or a book on a subject is big. There are many ways to get this feeling.

    So what I have to ask you is this: is there a specific aspect about Physics that really makes you get up in the morning, or is it just the feeling of accomplishment of having done something? If the former, then consider getting that Ph.D. If the latter, then I think you'll find happiness almost anywhere in the work force.
  4. Dec 8, 2015 #3
    I understand that software engineering is its own profession. I was saying that I'm considering getting a degree and studying it.

    I spent a year taking higher level chemistry courses and didn't realize what I disliked about it until I took a physics course. I love how physics tries to explain the world through math. I am very interested in doing science outreach, which is what I did while working at a planetarium. No other science seems to be as thrilling.

    However, with the job market as it is, I was wondering which field would be better to enter, software engineering or physics?
  5. Dec 8, 2015 #4
    A standard disclaimer: None of us know which direction technological progress will take us. If we did, we'd be able to make very solid predictions about the job market. These suggestions are based upon my own life experience over my 30 year career. Yours will be different. I'll probably be wrong about at least some aspects, if not everything I suggest.

    Right now, with a degree in software engineering I think chance of employment at a good salary is better than you would if you spent even more time and money on a degree in Physics. That said, you probably won't starve with either profession. Were I in your shoes, I'd spend the effort getting a degree in software engineering. You can parlay both of those degrees toward work on embedded devices.

    But that's just the view from my experience. YMMV.
  6. Dec 8, 2015 #5
    Thank you for the advice. I appreciate it!
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