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Physics? Astrophysics? Engineering? I don't know what to do!

  1. Aug 3, 2009 #1
    Hello everyone,

    First off, I wanted to note that this is a great forum. I've spent the past hour or so looking through different topics of varying nature and I've really enjoyed reading through the conversations.

    Anyway, I'm in a little bit of a bind regarding college. I'm going to be an incoming freshman at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In high school, I took AP Physics B and AP Calculus BC and got 5's on both of the exams with minimal effort. I've always been in love with science; since I was a little kid I always wanted to be a chemist from watching Bill Nye. As I got a little older, my interests changed to math, and then maybe two years ago I wanted to be an astronomer...

    Now I'm thinking about physics.

    Most recently, I obtained a college-level astronomy book and I have been reading through the astrophysics and cosmology sections. I find this material the most intriguing. I often find myself browsing online through science websites reading about high energy physics, particle physics, and I love trying to learn more about topics like dark matter, dark energy, antimatter, etc.... (I think that a lot of this is rooted in having grown up on Star Trek and being a huge fan of the series.)

    Besides from that, I took an engineering technology class in high school and found an interest in robotics. This made me begin thinking about engineering. Electrical engineering would probably be the most inline with my engineering interests. My high school physics teacher as a E.E. B.Sc. and he was one of the brightest men I've ever met. In the 1980's he worked for telephone companies and he designed a lot of prominent microchips used in telephones today; he now teaches in his retirement for a pastime and enjoyment. Mechanical engineering to me seems a bit further off from my very broad interests (I just can't see myself being one). At Lehigh, there is no aeronautical engineering major, although there is a minor for M.E. students.

    [My engineering tech teacher was a M.E., and he would always joke with my physics teacher saying "you can't spell 'geek' without 'E.E.'"!]

    To cut to the chase, right now I'm in a special "Arts and Engineering" track: I'm in a double degree, five year program at Lehigh which would involve me getting both my B.Sc. in Physics and my B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering. I'd probably be awarded the former in 4 years and the latter after my 5th year, although depending on how much advanced placement credit and how intensive my workload is I could see myself getting it after 9 semesters or even at the end of my 4th year.

    [Also, if I get a certain GPA in my first 4 years, I can study the 5th year for free, which is something I'm going to work for.]

    My whole situation arises from the fact that despite my profound interests in all of these topics, I really don't know what I want. I could see myself being an engineer and designing for NASA or the US Government or some other corporation, I could see myself being a physicist at a research lab and investigating physical phenomenon, I could even see myself being an astrophysicist/astronomer.

    To make the whole thing more confusing, Lehigh offers B.Sc. in Astrophysics and B.Sc. in Engineering Physics, two other options I am considering...

    The whole point of this post is because I'm seeking guidance. Considering how I'm interested in so many topics and I could see myself majoring in all of them, would chasing a double degree in E.E. and Physics be the best way for me to get a "taste of everything" and allow me to continue onto grad school in 4/5 years with a more refined interest?

    Another reason why I chose this path is because I have read that it's difficult to get a job with just B.S. in Physics (and probably even more so with Astrophysics), so undergraduate school if I realize that I don't have the time commitment to go all the way to a Ph.D. I could make a good career with my engineering degree.

    Sorry, I feel like I'm rambling and talking to myself more than asking a question, I'm just looking for people's thoughts on my dilemma. I know that a typical college student changes their major 2 times and I don't really have to decide now, but I want to make the best of my time and money and go in with a bit of a path ahead of me instead of an open field.

    Thanks in advance for your comments!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2014 #2
    Below I'm going to copy/paste a post from a similar thread, but first I want to say that for each of those job ideas you have* you should try to research what the heck those jobs are like: what do they DO? How many job openings are there and WHERE?** How do people get those jobs? A title like "astronomer" is not really a job, it's a vague concept. You need to concretize what each of those things really means.

    Also I would advise you to try and do internship or co-op work experiences. You can get some experience, some money, and learn about real jobs. I never did that because I thought by alternating work and study I would get out of step with all my friends, but I rather regret it now. I would have come out with a lot less debt. Which is another consideration-how much money will you spend for what degree?

    *"I could see myself being an engineer and designing for NASA or the US Government or some other corporation, I could see myself being a physicist at a research lab and investigating physical phenomenon, I could even see myself being an astrophysicist/astronomer."

    **(The job market for a particular specialty can wax and wane, but for example there are LOT of accounting or nursing positions in most any good sized city anywhere; there are very few oceanographer positions and only in a few spots).
  4. Nov 8, 2014 #3
    If you get an engineering degree, you get a job as an engineer.
    If you get a physics degree, what will you do? Either
    A) Some kind of applied physics job, or
    B) Teach

    If "teach" then WATCH OUT!! I made that kind of change, from engineering to teaching physics and chemistry. It is VERY VERY HARD. Teaching training prepares you for precious little of the actual job. For example, even though we have been teaching these subjects for decades, there is no standard set of lessons to start from! Every new teacher comes in and has to make their own lesson plans, which is extremely hard and tiring. Sure, maybe there is a book, but that does not tell you what to do all period long every period. You may have a "knack" for teaching…or you may not.

    There was also an article I read about the big lie of getting a Ph.D, I will have to think if I can remember who wrote it. It said that PhD programs enroll more and more students so they can get bigger and more prestigious, but that while for example 60% of Chemistry PhDs hope to find a tenured teaching position, only 15% ever do, because there are really not that many positions. My recollection of the numbers is not exact, but close.

    I'm not saying don't teach, just if you decide to do that talk to a lot of actual teachers about it, and somehow try it out first. Especially at an elementary/high school level, where behavior and keeping students attention are exhausting difficulties you will NOT really learn about in school.

    In engineering, you can expect whatever you decide to do will either disappear from where you live due to globalization and/or disappear due to technological change. You will have to change into doing something else. The change might be smooth and continuous, or it might be jarring (i.e. laid off).

    I will say that having an engineering degree and work experience that goes with that does get me a lot of respect. (I think if my degree was in physics, that does not mean as much to people. They don't really know what to think about that, just that it's scientific. Just my guess; I could be wrong)
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