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Physicist or Petroleum Engineer?

  1. Jan 22, 2012 #1
    I'm currently in a dilemma on which career I should pursue. I am a college undergraduate with an undecided major. I'm pretty proficient in math and science, so academics is not the problem. The problem is, I come from a pretty poor family, and I want to get a career as soon as I can to help them. I REALLY want to be a physicist, but it takes on average four years to get a P.h.D. And I don't want to wait that long to assist my family. On the other hand, I could become a petroleum engineer. The career outlook is fairly well, and they get well paid right out of college, plus I am at a school that provides an accredited degree in petroleum engineering. In a fantasy world I would definitely become a physicist, but due to my current circumstances this is a tough choice. What would you do? PLEASE HELP!! Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2012 #2
    Unfortunately, no one can really answer that question except yourself. Your logic in the pros and cons for each sound reasonable though. You will need a PhD if you go the Physics route, and if you end up stopping after getting your BS, the engineering degree would be worth much, much, more in the marketplace.

    A few things to consider though. For one, many PhD programs are funded, and if you got into one of them you would no longer be on your parents' dime after finishing the undergrad portion of your education. Of course, you still wouldn't be making enough to help them out. You'd be struggling to make ends meet yourself until you finish the PhD.

    I'd look into whether or not you can get into a PhD Physics program with an undergraduate degree in engineering. Check with the schools in the area or wherever you would consider going. It's different at different universities. Maybe you could minor in Physics and keep the PhD route an option when you graduate. That way, you could wait until you have actual offers on the table and know exactly what financial aid to expect before making the decision of work vs stay in school.

    Also, you don't have to discount getting a PhD in Physics later in your career if you go the Engineering route. Maybe you get the Engineering degree, work for a few years and save some money, get your PhD when you're in your 30's or early 40's, then teach your way into retirement. That's pretty close to what my plan is.

    Good luck either way!
  4. Jun 27, 2012 #3
    I mostly agree with Soda. I'd take the Petroleum Engineering degree, get an adequately high paying job right after college, save up; the, jump back into college for your PhD, after you've saved up enough. Mind you, I don't jumping back in will be that easy. I guess that I'd get Masters in Physics, or do some physics classes on the side, while working as a petro engineer because then it'd make the stepping stone to get into the Physics PhD program easier, since it'll have been a long time since undergraduate school.

    Besides, having an adequate job is better than having majored in your favorite subject and being in debted with an amount you could've used to buy a house, in the current economy. Not to mention that you'll pay off whatever you owe to your college quickly, after attaining a job in petroleum engineering. So, in my opinion, becoming a Petro engineer is better on the long run.

  5. Jun 27, 2012 #4
    Also physics Ph.D.'s are hired very heavily by oil/gas companies. My first job out with my Ph.D. was with a major oil company programming their computers. The oil and gas industry is very "Ph.D.-heavy."

    You might also look at being a petrophysicist or geophysicist.
  6. Sep 25, 2012 #5
    you pop up a lot in these threads and i appreciate your input but i think you should warn people that you graduated from caltech and that that probably opened a lot of doors for you that it wouldn't for a physics phd from a typical state school.
  7. Sep 25, 2012 #6


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    Education Advisor

    To the OP,

    Why narrow yourself to just pursuing Petroleum Engineering? If it's a choice between pursuing physics or pursuing engineering, I would argue that a more broader-based engineering degree such as electrical or mechanical engineering may be more lucrative for you (the oil and gas industry hires engineers from many fields, including mechanical, electrical, chemical, geological, and petroleum engineering).
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