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Engineering Physics major + which engineering?

  1. Feb 17, 2012 #1
    Good evening, everyone.

    I am a high school graduate who is about to enter the university. I think I have some idea of what I want to do in the future, because I am totally sure I want to enroll in a pure physics major. However, I know that nowadays that might not be enough to successfully find a job or even to enter a science research. That's why, after asking many other people (some physicists and engineers) I figured out the best choice was to take another career along with physics, specifically an engineering. I have some choices at hand, which I really like:

    *Mechanical Engineering
    *Electrical Engineering
    *Electronical Engineering
    *Material Science Engineering

    However, I get totally confused when deciding which of the above would be a better complement for someone who wants to be a physicist, and work mainly on that branch in the future. Could someone around here please give me some insight in which would be the best choice?

    Also, do you think that taking a pure mathematics major in the future would give one a significant advantage over other physicists, say, in fields like relativity, quantum mechanics, and other modern subjects? Or is the math preparation of a physicist enough in all fields of physics?

    Thank you very much in advance. I would really aprecciate your help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2012 #2
    Just a few quick questions.

    1. Do you think you will be able to learn effectively and enjoy your physics degree if you also have to worry about another major and those classes?

    2. Do you want to be an engineer? If the answer is no then the degree is pretty pointless.

    3. Have you considered ABET accredited engineering physics programs?

    These two majors aren't easy. I'm sure many people do it but I just hope you know what you're getting into.
  4. Feb 17, 2012 #3
    Hello Kevin:

    1) I think I know what I'm getting into. Well, during high school I took courses of calculus, chemistry I-II, and general physics I - III, in state universities, the same courses that university students take... I had really good grades and found them pretty enjoyable in fact.

    2) I would like to be an engineer but I would like that degree to be helpful somehow when working as a physicist. I wouldn't like to feel I wasted time if I succeed in the physics field.

    3) I do not live in the US, I am from Costa Rica, a small country in Central America :) So those ABET programs are out of my reach right now...although I dream with a physics Ph.D so I plan to leave my country in the future.

    Thanks for your answer!
  5. Feb 19, 2012 #4
    I am a double major in physics/EE. I don't understand why people always say it's going to be so much more difficult - you don't take 8 classes a semester or anything. It just takes longer.

    Don't be under any delusions that you're going to finish quickly though. You will frequently have a class in each major that is next in a long chain of prerequisites, and they will both be scheduled for the same time. It's happened to me a few times. They do not synchronize class schedules between majors (especially between departments).

    If you do decide to double major, don't do it because you think it's going to be good for your career. It's not. If you just really want to learn about both, take a few classes from each major and if you still can't decide, then go for it.

    From your posts, it sounds like you are just scared you aren't going to be able to physics research after you get your degree. An undergraduate engineering degree will not help you in this at all, it will be a waste of time for you. You would be much better off focusing all your attention on physics.
  6. Feb 20, 2012 #5
    It won't help at all, really? Wow, that dissapoints me... However, if you think it isn't good for one's career, I would like to know why are you double majoring, if you don't mind telling. Thanks for replying!
  7. Feb 20, 2012 #6
    Because I really want to learn both.
  8. Feb 20, 2012 #7
    I should elaborate probably.

    If you want to do fundamental physics research, it really won't help very much to double major in engineering. Engineering (undergraduate, anyways) is a program that teaches you how to apply the tools the physicists/chemists/mathematicians/etc researchers have already come up with in a safe and optimized way.

    If you were to get a PhD in an engineering field instead of physics, you would be qualified to do research. However, it would not be the same type of research physicists do. Specific topics would depend on the particular field, but most of the time engineering research is oriented towards improving existing technology and studying safety related issues, ie: stress/fatigue in materials, more power efficient cell phones, faster computer processors, making smaller transistors, stronger propulsion systems for aircraft, robotics, etc. On the other hand, for the most part physics research concentrates on discovering new things about the universe and the laws of nature.

    There is overlap here and there, but for the most part they are very different things, and it all boils down to what exactly you want to do. You can go to an academic journal website and read abstracts if you want to see more specifically what is going on in each field.
  9. Feb 22, 2012 #8
    Ok ok I understand. Although I would like to do pure physics research, I would find some engineering work to be nice too... I haven't even begun my freshman year, so I'll just take some time for my decision. Again Mike, thanks for your answers.
  10. Feb 22, 2012 #9


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    Well any engineering field will involve some form of applied physics.

    In mechanical engineering, one can be involved with mechanics of materials, i.e., how the materials resist stress and fracture (failure) or degradation on a large scale or down to the atomic level. This also combines materials science. One can work in fluid (liquid and gas) dynamics and thermodynamics, machinery, . . . .

    Electrical engineering can be large scale - like generators and motor, power electronics, power systems and stability, . . . .

    Electronics often involves smaller scale - e.g., small electrical devices, microcircuits (chips), down to components in microcircuits, . . .

    Material science and engineering is also quite broad - given the enormous number of materials that can be manufactured.

    In each engineering field, there is need to understand fundamental material behavior, and how that material, its composition and microstructure (which are determined by its manufacturing processes) affect its performance in its intended environment.

    Pick a field that one finds interesting, i.e., choose your passion!
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