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Engineering Physics? Engineering?

  1. Feb 4, 2010 #1
    Physics, or engineering, or some mix? What do you say? I'm so ready to flip a coin.

    I have a friend with a 180 IQ and a philo degree from a great school, who says I run circles around him, despite my bottom of the state high school education and terrible learning disabilities/reading problems. I have a LOT of creativity and ingenuity. Grew up a math wiz and an artist. Etc etc. I have more raw intuition than I know what to do with - I have epiphanies and realizations several times per hour, and tend to just "know".

    Anyways, aside from sounding like an arrogant fool, the point of that was for me to say, I have no doubts I could handle and have fun with the learning of physics, but,

    would my creativity and strong drive to innovate be wasted after school, if I went pure physics?

    Or, a more effective question would be, how likely/difficult is it for someone to get into a position where they are mostly "thinkers", innovating, observing, and using their imagination to solve problems? I love figuring out ways to break apart and model interconnecting systems.

    Would I be better off with majoring in some sort of engineering? Or perhaps going with applied physics then a grad school for engineering?

    Please forgive my ignorance, and arrogance!

    Thank you in advance for the advice. :)

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2010 #2
    No, why would you think that? Physics is not finished. Research is huge. Otherwise, you'll have lots of options with any physical science degree - sure you could choose a job that involves ticking boxes or the like, but there are many other avenues that will be more suited to these desires too.

    I think you'll be much better equipped to answer this question yourself once you've made a proper start in college, though if creativity and innovation is what you're looking for, you'll realistically have to wait to grad school. The physics or engineering you'll tackle at undergraduate is, appropriately, introductary. This means that you're studying established ideas, and learning the established methods to tackle problems. You might find that this is boring, but everyone will tell you it's a necessary evil.

    It sounds to me like you're leaning towards preferring the engineering route. Your preference is what matters. What is it you're actually interested in doing? You've said that you want to be creative, but I would suggest that there is room for (albeit varying degrees of..) creativity in any job you could ever find. Physicists will complete their degree and really have more of a general knowledge - a way of thinking about engineering is that it's a look at the applications of a certain area of physics.
  4. Feb 4, 2010 #3
    Pure physics(theoretical) and pure math(theoretical) aren't all that different, in fact, some may even say they're practically a mirror image of each other.

    As for engineering, do you like building things? Do you like working with others? Hands on work, building prototypes, checking if your design works, etc. You could try out engineering since you sound like you might enjoy it and you can always get a graduate degree in a field separate from your undergraduate major(for example B.Sc in physics, M.S in engineering or B.Sc in engineering and M.S in physics).
  5. Feb 4, 2010 #4
    What do I want to do? Well...essentially I enjoy figuring out ways to break apart and model interconnected systems. I'd like to do this. This is a rather broad statement of course. I suppose I just like to inspect the nuances that occur when you smush/crash/push things/ideas together~

    Perhaps at least starting off with mathematics is the safest bet. There are some pretty awesome interdisciplinary studies I could branch into in grad school.

    My concern is not that physics is finished. I'm just trying to gauge the chances of me being stuck in a job where I have very little freedom.

    And yeah, whatever I do, grad school is a must!

    I like creating things. I could see myself having a blast with engineering if I were working with the right people, in the right environment. What types of engineering might go well with a BS in math or physics? I was actually thinking of computer engineering as a possibility already.

    thanks again.
  6. Feb 4, 2010 #5
    It is far too broad a statement for me to possibly comment on. More specifically, which subjects are you interested in? Are you interested in building things in a practical fashion? e.g. do you like the idea of creating circuits in electronics? Or do you think you'd prefer to spend your time programming and modelling? Do you prefer to work with real-world scenarios or are you happy working with any old esoteric concept? Mathematics, for instance, has lots of unexplored areas - but mathematics has no obligation to be applicable in our universe however; it may be very loosely said that physics is the mathematics of the universe we live in.

    Engineering is about design, on the other hand. Engineers will learn how to create devices, processes and systems in their respective areas. Electrical engineers work with electronics, mechanical engineers with machines and tools and civil engineering with buildings.

    The problem here is that this is obviously a concern of the environment in which you work, rather than necessarily the subject. Generally, academics will have more freedom than their industrial counterparts - the problem with academia is that you need to convince someone to give you the money to fund whatever you want to work on at the time. Industrial jobs are obviously focussed on the goals of the company - but this does certainly does not mean there is no opportunity for innovation, far from it. It does mean that your work will be guided - depending on the level you're at in the chain, there will be overall goals and approaches set out by someone else: but this doesn't mean that they tell you in a step-by-step fashion how you're going to go about your work.

    All types of engineering with require knowledge of mathematics and physics. I get the impression that you do have a bit of a grandiose air about your abilities and desires. To choose the subject you go on to study you should consider what you mean by 'creating things'. What things have you imagined yourself creating, specifically? The right people and the right environment are different for every person, there is no single ideal working situation - of course you want to see yourself in what you consider the 'right' environment, everyone does by definition!

    You mention the idea of working in an interdisciplinary area at grad level. Is there any subjects you have in mind? If you have a good think about it, it's also worth bearing in mind that you can do undergraduate degrees in interdisciplinary areas such as biomedical engineering, which is the application of engineering principles to solve biological issues.
  7. Feb 4, 2010 #6
    I'm out the door in a minute, so short reply,

    I'm being broad because my interests are broad. It kills me, haha. I'm too curious for my own good.

    To answer one part, I like to observe the world and create mathematical models.

    As far as interdisciplinary subjects go, Neuroscience, artificial intelligence specifically, is a fascinating subject. I don't have access to any schools with it as an undergrad gig, as far as I know, as I am rooted in MA and, due to health problems, live half under the poverty line. Figured I could work my way up and try to get into a grad program.

    Who knows~
  8. Feb 4, 2010 #7
    Then I'm afraid you'll need to answer this on your own! Mathematical models can be/are created for just about every subject I can think of.

    The only suggestion I can give you would be to find out what the curriculum is like for each of the subjects you apply for. Have a look at the schools you're interested in and see what sort of things they cover in the various types of engineering and physics. Hopefully something will catch your eye because unfortunately the decision needs to be made! As lovely as it is to have an interest in everything, there isn't yet a degree to suit.

    Even if you have a look at the Wikipedia entries for physics and the various types of engineering to give yourself an idea of what sort of topics you'd be able to access with the respective degrees.
  9. Feb 4, 2010 #8
    Of course, I'm sure everyone here would recommend aiming high. Give yourself as many options as possible by working hard at whatever you choose. Never fret about seeking advice, don't commit yourself to a particular career goal yet - stick with deciding on a degree subject. Good luck.
  10. Feb 4, 2010 #9
    Awesome advice! Thank you all for putting up with my scatterbrained crazyness. Was up all night with a migraine - Little "off" :)

    I've gotten a lot of direction from this thread, and some motivation, which should serve me well.

    Thank you guys :)
  11. Feb 12, 2010 #10
    Casual physics bashing as usual.
  12. Feb 12, 2010 #11
    Excuse me? As usual?

    I have my Physics Msci, thanks, and i'm a working researcher - I wouldn't give advice if I didn't have the experience. Somehow you seem to have misunderstood my point: so incase anyone else decides to read this thread and make the same mistake - I was telling the OP that physics will open up so many options such that, if one chooses to take what one classes as a 'box-ticking' job, one could have it.

    The point is that physics (and physical sciences) opens up options at all angles, if you want to get a job being creative, you can do it. If you want to get a job doing something boring/easy/difficult/stressful, it's your choice.

    And was it worth bringing back a week old thread to make that comment?
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2010
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