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Physicists working with engineering

  1. Oct 24, 2016 #1
    Hey everyone,

    This is my very first post here on PF. I haven't been in a forum for ages, so excuse me if I make any gaffe. I'm also not very sure if this is the correct section to post this question, so I apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

    I like physics and engineering a lot. I'm applying both for Physics and Engineering Physics in college. I'd like to know if a physicist has a good chance to work in the engineering industry, particularly Mechanical or Electrical Engineering. I looked in the MIT website a lot of exciting applied physics research topics that dealed with cutting-edge technology. Also, it might be worthy to highlight the fact that, altho I asked about the engineering industry, I believe I'm more prone to work with research.

    A physicist friend of mine (BSc, M.S and PhD all in Physics), who is currently working with Nuclear Engineering in England, told me that a physicist shouldn't have a problem working in engineering, provided he/she took some engineering courses (or preferably a grad degree) in college.

    It'd be nice to hear both from engineers and physicists.


    P.S.: Sorry for any English mistake. It's not my mother tongue.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2016 #2


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    It really depends on the company doing the hiring and the flavor of engineering in question. Mechanical and electrical engineering would be two of the easier fields to enter as a physicist. It certainly will be more difficult to work in engineering roles as a physicist than it will as an actual engineer, though.

    Also, research is wonderful, but to really get into the thick of it, you will likely have to get a Ph.D. That's no small task and you ought to get at least a few semesters of undergraduate study under your belt before seriously considering that.
  4. Oct 25, 2016 #3
    Thanks for your answer, boneh3ad.

    Yes, no doubt there's a long way until PhD. But even for those who don't want to pursue an academic career, a PhD seems very desirable if not mandatory depending on the position one is seeking or the niche in that industry.

    Thanks again.
  5. Oct 25, 2016 #4


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    I'll second the above: it is possible, but it is a more difficult and less likely to succeed path (and those aren't the same issue even though they sound like it). And I'll add that if ensuring you will be able to get a good job is your primary reason for going to college (and I think it should be), then you should pick the path that is most likely to get you toward your actual goal and not one that is a side-track/hobby that merely won't preclude it.

    ...moving thread.
  6. Oct 25, 2016 #5
    It was easier for someone with a physics degree to get Mech E and EE jobs 20 years ago before 1) the rise of automated software to review resumes and applications looking for specific degrees 2) the decline of academic rigor leading a growing number of employers to require or strongly favor ABET accredited engineering degrees.
  7. Oct 25, 2016 #6
    I was thinking about majoring in Physics because I thought it could give me a deeper background, in the sense that I would be able not only to understand the subjects regarding, say, aerodynamics (as in Mech Engineering) or Electromagnetism (EE), but also topics more related to theoretical physics. Also, searching the web I found out that physicists and engineers are working to develop quantum devices (e.g, quantum computers), so a major in Physics in that case seems very desirable. I might have an inaccurate knowlege of what one is capable to do in engineering, though. An engineer once told me that, in the end, a physicist is pretty much able to do what an engineer does, but the engineer has a better understanding of the financial aspect of the project, etc. Is that nonsense?
    There's also the Engineering Physics course, that kind of mix them together, so it might fit my interests as well.

    I ask permission to ask one more thing: what's the difference in applied physics and engineering? Because searching in college websites I see Applied Physics departments and Engineering departments. Seeing the research topics from both of them, I can't really tell the difference.

    Thank you guys.
  8. Oct 26, 2016 #7
    You have to remember that a physicist is a scientist, ie they care about acquiring knowledge of the physical world for the sake of the knowledge itself.

    Engineers are applied scientists and learn/know the physics appropriate to their discipline because that's what's needed to exploit the science in order to make their applications work.

    Their's always interplay like in quantum computers, nuclear fusion, and other things which exists in the middle between theory and application; thus there are engineers whose engineering is going to look more like a physics research project because they have to investigate the physics in order to see how it can be exploited.

    Applied physics departments like Cornell, Stanford, and Michigan work on more theoretical (but are still of an applied nature) projects; and are often comprised of a mix between engineers, scientists, and mathematicians collaborating in some way. This is opposed to the 'pure' engineering departments whose research work is really advanced development of some already established engineering technique.
  9. Oct 26, 2016 #8
    Ah, I see. But in the case of applied physics, one could perfectly working in the developing of new technology for society, right? Or they're specifically building equipments to validate physical theories?
  10. Oct 26, 2016 #9
    Could be from Column A, could be from Column B; your mileage may vary.
  11. Oct 26, 2016 #10
    Got it. Thanks!
  12. Oct 28, 2016 #11


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    You might want to start reading the post and thread listed below:


    Please note that just because one has a physics degree does not mean one has the capability and expertise to work in engineering. It depends very much on what you specialized in, what your own personal interest lies in, and what you have an innate ability to do. Someone who has a Ph.D in string theory will be less qualified, in general, to work as an RF engineer than someone who did a Ph.D in Accelerator Physics.

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