1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Engineering Physics degree or Engineering Physics degree for space?

  1. Jul 12, 2011 #1
    Next year is my final year in high school, and, rightly so, I've been thinking more and more about my future. This year I finished with high marks in math and physics, and a decent grade in chemistry. I know it is presumptuous to assume that I would certainly get into either a Physics program or an Engineering program, but let's just theoretically say that I aced grade 12 with outstanding marks and got accepted.

    Now I really don't know what to do. My goal is to contribute to science in the "best" way I can, more specifically space research and technology. I know it is way too early to plan out my entire life, but what would be best if I wanted to work on say, spaceflight or anything in general to do with the universe? A Doctorate or a Masters? I still don't fully understand the processes of universities and how post-secondary education "works", and I know I have to figure this out sometime.

    I want to research further into space travel and related topics, yet I don't exactly know what education path I should be going towards. Engineering physics and physics aren't even fully related to the space industry, however they are the only somewhat similar degrees my prospective university offers. Aero/Astronautical engineering would have been my first choice, but again, it is not offered in any of the faculties. Maybe astrophysics? I want to design space related equipment or structures, yet I also want to research it too. I don't even know if you can research designs. Can I get a degree in engineering physics and then get a masters or PhD in some specific branch of astronautical engineering, or something related?

    In short, I really want to do something with space. Anything really. I'm a huge sci-fi fan and I've been captivated from a young age by the extraordinary beauty and size of the universe. I want to contribute to the expansion of humanity through space technologies in any way I can.

    Again, I know life never really turns out the way you originally plan, but it's always good to have a discernible goal amongst the doubts and worries.

    Thanks in advance for any and all offered help.

    PS - I'm new here so I probably posted this in the wrong forum, forgive me if I did.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2011 #2
    The best way you can contribute to space technologies is to find the technical area you are passionate about (you can't know that yet, you'll have to take some classes first) and do the best you can at it. Try your best to get internships with organizations (university, NASA, or defense contractors) that do work for the space program. By Space Program, I just mean one of any number of programs involving satellites or space science. Then just go after it!

    In my opinion it will be easier for you to get where you want to go if you study an engineering discipline. There are roles to play for aeronautical engineers, mechanical engineers, and electrical engineers. There are also roles for physicists but in my experience the competition is tougher for those guys and gals.

    For the record, I have a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and I have worked on several space related projects over the years (although I don't work exclusively for any kind of space program).

    So, study hard, keep your options open, meet as many people as possible, and good luck!

  4. Jul 12, 2011 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    The course requirements for physics vs. engineering physics are very very similar for the first 1.5 to 2 years. So, you don't have decide between the two right away. Take you time, talk to professors and see if you can get contacts in the areas you're interested in.

    Sounds like you're on track to be successful, regardless of what you choose. Best of luck to you!
  5. Jul 12, 2011 #4
    Thanks for the replies!
  6. Jul 12, 2011 #5
    I'm not familiar with "Engineering Physics" degrees but as to the general question of 'engineering vs physics' I would say it comes down to how much education you are prepared to invest in yourself. There isn't a lot you can do with a Physics degree alone, but if you're going to continue through grad school that could set you up to do the space-related stuff you are really interested in.

    One important aspect to consider in making this decision is how much effort and risk you are willing to take in pursuing exactly what you want to do as opposed to something related to things you find interesting. An engineering degree isn't easy to get, but neither is a physics degree. To do either you have to be very smart. However, if you are smart enough to do either, an engineering degree will set you up for more of a 'safe bet' career. With an engineering degree you will have a lot of options. It'll still be hard to find a job doing exactly what you want to do, but with the engineering degree you can always fall back on doing something that is at least interesting. On the other hand if you do physics, if you are prepared to continue on with the schooling and get your PhD, there is greater potential in that you might get a great job doing research at a university or with NASA, but there is also greater risk, because those jobs aren't as abundant as engineering jobs.

    Whichever choice you make if I may speak from my own experience here you are being very smart for thinking about this at the stage you are at now. Having a plan and following through with it is important. You still have plenty of time to change your mind, but it's promising to hear you are giving it this much thought this early on. That leads me to believe you'll do well for yourself regardless of which option you go for.
  7. Jul 12, 2011 #6
    You absolutely can! It is what I do for a living and it is incredibly interesting! I'm one of the few people I know from my high school who truly likes his job, and sometimes I just leap out of bed to get to work!

    You are about a lightyear ahead of where I was at your stage! Good job! I predict you will be very successful, because you already have the right attitude and mindset.
  8. Jul 13, 2011 #7
    Thanks for all the help so far :) You're all giving me great insight.
  9. Jul 13, 2011 #8
    So is that kind of like Research & Development? Or is it something different all together?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook