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Physics Degree, and Engineering?

  1. Jul 21, 2010 #1
    I have just finished my first year of undergraduate education, and am currently trying to decide if I should major in physics (honours) or mechanical engineering (honours).

    (From everything I've read on this forum, I know I'm not the first person ever in the world to face this dilemma.)

    The thing is, the thing I would probably like to do most (but only judging from my of course limited knowledge) is be a university professor in physics. As in, if talent and opportunity were no issue, I would prefer to do that over anything else.

    However, I am aware that getting a position in academia is EXTREMELY hard. I am just interested in physics; I am not OBSESSED with it, I COULD live without it, and while I am certainly well above average even among university students at doing physics, I am by no means a genius. I know that this means it is not likely that I will end up as a physics professor one day.

    My next choice would probably be becoming a researcher in industry with a physics PhD. I AM someone who likes to formulate theories in his head about everything he observes, to understand everything. And I don't think I lack social skills or leadership potential; I could see myself leading a group of researchers, writing reports, convincing people to fund my work, etc.

    However, I am not particularly patient, nor would I like to choose things to do when I have absolutely no idea what the outcome would be. If someone were to give me data (or tell me to conduct certain experiments to acquire certain data), and then order me to explain it, then I would happily analyze it and start forming theories. But if I was given complete freedom to do whatever I wanted.... I would probably lose focus and not trust myself to figure out which direction I should take in my investigations of whatever scientific/technological thing I am investigating. I think that this means I wouldn't make a very good researcher anywhere then... on top of the fact that there are few positions in industry research, relative to say, engineering jobs. PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong.

    So i truly believe my most likely career will be in engineering. Probably mechanical, perhaps aerospace, perhaps biomedical, perhaps electrical.

    The only things I worry about with this are

    A) My creativity I would rate as average to a little below and

    B) Though I did take the time to learn how a cars and planes worked, and occasionally took things apart as a child, I was not interested enough in machines to actually build anything of my own design.

    Do you think these two things alone mean I shouldn't try to become an engineer? I am 100 percent confident in my abilities in math and physics, I DO enjoy problem solving, and I DO imagine and model things in my head very well.

    Anyways I am thinking about studying physics because it leaves all doors open in graduate school. Perhaps I will discover that I LOVE physics or that I have a talent for research. A physics degree would leave these doors open, as well as graduate engineering studies in all of the fields I mentioned.

    Also, I have read that a physics degree is actually helpful even if you are certain that you want to be an engineer, because it trains you in the fundamentals and allows you to think interdisciplinarily (? probably not a word but you get the idea).

    I think this is probably true, and I also have a burning desire to learn the fundamentals of the laws of nature before even thinking about the applications... out of pure curiosity, and also because I feel like I would be be better able to do engineering if I do this. (zero experience/evidence to back up my thought)

    Do you think that makes sense, or am I crazy? Pretending that I am 100 percent sure that I want to be an engineer (I am 70-80 percent sure, so perhaps for all intents and purposes I am 100?) and that I want to go to graduate school, would it still make sense to study physics as an undergrad? Or would engineering be better?

    Considering all of the above, what major should I do right now? Remember that I will MOST likely end up in engineering (unless you believe otherwise). UGH, I'm confused.

    I realize that this is a horribly long rant... any response would be EXTREMELY appreciated. Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 21, 2010 #2
    I am in a similar situation right now. I would suggest getting an undergraduate degree in Physics and then you could go to grad school for either physics or engineering. The engineering grad schools I have seen accept physics degrees.
  4. Jul 21, 2010 #3
    I think your kind of stuck on some general assumptions about each discipline. You seem to think that its 'extremely' hard to get a position in academia, which I believe its not. You seem confident enough in your abilities, yet because you feel you aren't a genius you can't be a professor? How many professors do you think are at Einstein's level? I would guess <1%..

    Although at this point in your education it is about time to make the decision whether you want to do engineering or physics, however, even if you spend another entire year in either of the subjects and then changed your mind you wouldn't be behind much at all. Maybe this might be a good thing anyway because at least then you could rule one of them out.

    It seems like you are much more interested in physics, so I think you should go with physics. Remember, even if you graduate with a B.S. in physics and decide you'd rather go on to engineering, it will most likely be easier than the other way around. So even if you spend your undergrad in physics and decide that you'd rather do engineering, you will have a lot of the theory and tough problem solving under your belt, and won't have to struggle(hopefully) as much with that in graduate school in engineering.

    Are there any major courses at your university that apply to both the physics and engineering curriculum? Maybe you could take an applied physics/engineering course on circuits or something to see if you like the design aspect of engineering.
  5. Jul 23, 2010 #4
    Hmm..... yes I think I may just do physics then and try and see if i can squeeze in some engineering courses as well on the side. Thanks guys!
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