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Physics or Electrical Engineering

  1. Jan 21, 2007 #1
    I hope the people here can help me in deciding between these two subjects. Here is a bit of background information about me.
    I am currently a high school senior, and will be going to college in Fall 2007. I am very interested in Physics, especially Cosmology and Astrophysics (the string theory is catching my attention now), and I would like to see myself probably as a research scientist 10 or 15 years from now.
    Now, the problem is, my father is not very happy with this decision. He still thinks I am joking about seriously considering Physics as a career. He, for some reason, automatically assumes that I should be going into some type of Engineering. Its not that I don't like engineering. I have loved that subject (been making gadgets and models since I was in diapers), but I have a different deeper emotion to Physics. His argument is that engineers will definitely make much more money than physicists. I know that is correct, but I want to devote my life to something I consider worthwhile and respectable.

    My question is, should I pursue something that I undoubtfully appreciate (a "passion for" I may add), or should I take my finances extra seriously and end up doing something that I may not enjoy doing alot (I will also have the feeling that I could have studying Physics at the back of my head)

    In the end its going to be me who will actually be studying one of those two subjects for the next four years (and after those also). I am aware that most universities in the US ask for a major declaration only by the end of the first year. I am also aware that two majors are also possible and many universities (at least in the ones I have applied to). Is it a good option to maybe make a final decision once I have had a flavour of both the sides (though I am sure I will end up enjoying physics even more). Is it also feasible to take both the subjects as two majors?

    And how about after graduation? What type of jobs can physicists get besides research?

    Please point me to some previous threads if these topics have been discussed in detail.

    Thank you

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 21, 2007 #2
    well, i'm not a physicist or even desire to be one, but I would like to point out something. You said you do enjoy making gadgets and such, which is a good sign of an engineer. I would advise you to not make up your mind now and in your freshman year, take engineering and physic courses. Perhaps once you get into the course work you'll be able to decide what you should do better.

    I used think I wanted to do mathematics, but once I started to take do programming courses, my interest and passion changed. Play it be ear and keep an open mind.
  4. Jan 21, 2007 #3
    I faced the same issue when I was about to choose what to study. My parents were saying that I should become an engineer, and beeing a physicist wouldn't get me a job and ect. I also liked electronics when I had the subject in secondary school, so I also wanted to read electro-engineering. However I had, like you, a stronger intrest in just studying physics rather than engineering, and therefor choose to study physics.
    You shouldn't choose an education depending on the consideration wether it would get you a job where you will earn alot of money. If you choose something that doesn't intrest you, you'll find it really hard to get through the studies.

    But if you also like eletronics and "engineering-stuff", then you should know, that in studying for electro-engineering you would also study subjects of physics. This could be considered as a combination of your intrests?
  5. Jan 22, 2007 #4
    I will be graduating form high school in 2008, I myself have also narrowed my carrer options to physics or eletrical enginering. I love the Electrical enginering that i have been exposed to through my Computer enginering course, it is challanging and i am good at it. I find the Physics i am taking intresting but basic and too general. I cannot decide between the two not because i dont know which i like better however because i do not know what a provessional in either subject actuly does... i understand the theroy but how do real people make it into a carrer?
  6. Jan 22, 2007 #5
    I finished off a degree in EE, and am taking a masters in EE (control systems), and decided I'm going to teach physics. I think this seems a natural decision for me, since my alternate in undergrad was physics and high technology.

    My interest is mostly in control systems, especially of electromechanical devices (which someone else already mentioned, is mostly physics.)

    Engineering probably makes the most money most of the time; but do what you want to do, is what I would suggest :)
  7. Jan 22, 2007 #6
    I am almost halfway through an engineering(electrical)/science (physics & maths) undergraduate double degree (Australian system if you're wondering). There are a few things I'd like to point out for ajsingh:

    1> Many scientifically-inclined students find that the physics and mathematics in undergraduate engineering (and the engineering profession as a whole) are not articulate and rigorous enough. At the moment we're more interested in getting answers using formulae than deriving formulae and proofs from first principles. If this irks you, then you're likely to be very frustrated with engineering at least for a while.

    2> Engineering can involve research too, definitely. However, if you're really really interested in the theoretical side of physics (as in, you want to sit down and examine the maths, not just look at a poster and say wow), then perhaps doing engineering for your parents' sake wouldn't arouse your interest and motivation.

    3> If you work hard and do well in either field, you're not going to starve. Sure, research isn't going to earn you millions, but there are so many things that a professional career cannot offer you. I think your parents would want you to enjoy your life and work too.

    Please excuse the rant. Hope it helped.

    Edit: As for myself, I'm most likely going down the engineering path. In the end it's a choice that you have to make for yourself. I agree with Bitter that you try to keep your options open as much as possible. Some work experience might also help.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2007
  8. Jan 22, 2007 #7


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    To me this is no contest. Go with your heart and do physics. Also, majoring in physics doesn't close the door on engineering jobs after you graduate.
  9. Jan 22, 2007 #8


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    I did BEng (elec.) and BSc (mathematical physics) as an ugrad, and is now doing graduate studies in theoretical physics.

    Ayman, I have to say when I was at your age, I was under the same kind of dilemma.... ie. parents/money vs interest/ideals (in fact, I am STILL asking that question right now....) :redface:

    But it is perhaps difficult to believe that one's attitude towards something can change dramatically once you have found out what something really like. When I look back now, I realised that, as a high school student, I did not know how things really work at uni or research level (things can be and will be different from what you may imagine)

    So my advice to you is do not just look at the big picture, (as eccefeles said, don't look at a poster and wow), you have to think of all little things that goes into making a successful career in physics research or and Eng job. Usually there is more than meets the eye, and occasionally, one may be put off by these little things and made one thinks whether one has made the right choice.

    eg. if your research is not going well... ie. stuck... you may suddenly feel that Eng job is much better, although it is repetitive (sometimes), but at least you feel fulfilled as you always get some results (and perhaps $$$). On the other hand, doing repetitive work you may feel unchallenged ...etc...

    There is no such thing as a perfect job, all jobs have ups and down... and you really need to think hard about whether you can take it when things don't go smoothly.

    The best way to find these things out are to talk to real people in the field, people you can trust and those who will tell you the everyday routines of being an Engineer or researcher. by the way, you don't wanna hear just about their glories and successes, you want to know about all their problems!!!

    If you wanna find out more about Physics research (be it astro, particle...etc.) , the best way for finding out the truth is to talk graduate students in your area...visit your prospective university and really knock on their doors and talk to them... ask them about what they feel about what they are doing. (I wish I did that when I was at High school)

    An important note: :cool:
    In the end, it doesn't matter what are your majors, if you are willing to put in an extra yard, an EE graduate can go on doing physics research, while there is no reason why a physicists can't solve problems in signal processing. Common sense tells you that you won't be "locked down" in choosing one or the other (same cannot be said of course for say visual arts vs zoology, for example) by the way, physics research is usually very different from undergraduate physics, so watch it!
  10. Jan 23, 2007 #9
    You might want to consiter seeing if their is a joint/dual major program for physics and EE at the college you plan on attending. Granted it is a lot of hard work; however, if you find as you are going along that you don't want to be a dual major anymore, many of the credits that you will have been getting will go to either of the majors you choose.

    I don't know, just seems like the best of both worlds?
  11. Jan 23, 2007 #10


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    Ayman, your post shows how intelligent and articulate you are, and it's apparent that you will do well whichever path you choose. However, in my experience, you are misinformed that you need to choose your path after the first year. At least in the UC system (Uniiv. of CA), the undergraduate curriculum was very similar between the various Engineering and Physics majors, and I didn't have to formally choose until my Junior year. So I'd modify Kurdt's advice just slightly and say, "Let your heart choose after two years."

    I went into the UC system aimed at engineering, mostly ME with a potential EE double major. Then in my first year I found out how much I enjoyed EE versus ME, and started more leaning that way. But with every Physics class that I took, I found that Physics was really my first love, and what I did best at. And in the end (at the 2-year boundary), the decision was really hard, but I decided to pursue my BS/MSEE for financial security reasons. But Physics will always be my first and main love, and I hope to use my EE financial security position to get back to my first love at some point....

    So I'd recommend that you be sure to go to a good school that has a common undergraduate technical curriculum between Engineering and Physics, and take those first two years to explore lots of options to see what you enjoy the most. I'm pretty sure that your Dad will be fine with that academic course, at least for the first two years. And you sound like a smart kid -- use those two years to help you figure out the next 5-10 years or what you want to do. Nothing is permanent at your age, but smart decisions will make things go better in the near term. Best, -Mike-
  12. Jan 31, 2007 #11
    i am suffering from the same indecisiveness ..

    thanks a bunch guys for your help..

    And I have heard that if one choses to major in Physics / EE, he has to forsake his social life.. I mean they allready have so much to do, they don't get any chance to go out there and do stuff..

    Is that true?
  13. Jan 31, 2007 #12
    I won't lie, you do invest a lot of time into doing all your coursework, but you should be able to find the free time to go have some fun. Just remember, college is a lot of work, but at the same time, it is important to remain human.
  14. Jan 31, 2007 #13


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    If you want to do really well (by really well I mean: say better than 80% for all subjects, or make it to, say, the Dean's Honours list), you will probably have very little life while at undergrad. It is a trade off thing,.. what is well enough by your standard?

    but the same cannot always be said for graduate studies, being talented is as important as working hard....
  15. Jan 31, 2007 #14


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    This is not the case! If you manage your time effectively you will have plenty of time for social engagement as well as study.

    The problem with most students is effective time management and not leaving work till the last minute. Yes it is hard work but it is mde worse by not doing assignments when they are assigned rather than waiting till the last minute.
  16. Jan 31, 2007 #15


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    Of course, you also have to take into account which school/uni you go to... whether they are the top class or just average.... workload can be very different! Time management is one thing, but there is only 24 hours per day and there is only so much you can do in one day.... I remember when i was in high school, the top students in our year were those who actually study till 3am! mind you they ended up making to the top 20 in the state, out of more than 30,000 students in that year level. :cool:
  17. Feb 1, 2007 #16
    where i come from ( bangladesh, a country beside india) .. there it is a trend to study till 3 AM everyday.. students get that habit as they get into eighth grade and continue it till they graduate.

    but there the system is very different.. I thought in USA it would be different..

    apparently not.. the only difference is.. there most of the students do it, and still end up jobless.. and here some do it, and others who don't still get jobs..

    anyways.. I think I REALLY want to do it.. and I once considered myself to me smart enough to study physics and EE..... but the thing is , now i am having doubts because since I am kind of still trying to get into this new system.. for some reason, I think I am did not do good enough in the standerdized ACT test even though I KNOW that i know better than that.. may be because my mother tongue is not english..

    but i am willing to work hard.. but working hard is something.. and having no social life and turning into a vegetable is something else ( what i was before i came here.. 6 hours everyday of schooling.. 2 hours of lab... 3-4 hours of private tutoring ( it is like a must in those third world countries.. as the classes are not enough) and then 4/5 hours of study myself........ then get a 8 hour sleep and you are done..

    that has been my routine since so long.... I REALLY want to major in physics.. but i don't want that life again... I believe being sincere and responsible is one thing, and spending the time in books the whole time is something else..... may be this is not the right place to say this, but I think that there is more to life other than just books..

    so do you guys think that this will be a wise choice for me to take physics / EE as my major?
  18. Feb 2, 2007 #17


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    it doesn't matter which field you are in, if you wanna do well you gotta put in the hard yard (ie. not just a physics/EE thing). I am a grad student in physics, that doesn't automatically means that I passed all my undergrad work in flying colors. If you are still talking about getting results at undergrad or high school level, then hard work CAN get you quite far. But once you've got to the "ultimate" ie. Research level... talent also enters. I mean that's what separate us from Einstein.... now it is very difficult to judge what one's level of talent is. So, you really need to think about things that you can judge or ask others (with experience) to give you some opinions.

    Indeed, life is more than just books. But if you are passionate about something you will stay up all night to do anyway (whether it is playing your Xbox or PS3)... so it is not about someone forcing you to do your homework as such, it is more of the fact that you want to stay up for a given task such that you can make it better when I was talking about some who don't have "a life" in order to do *really* well. Therefore, at the end of the day, as i mentioned before, you just have to work out WHAT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU? Getting 75%, 80% 90%? Top of the class? of the school? of the state? of the country? of the world? :smile:
  19. Feb 2, 2007 #18
    I just wanted to expound upon what Kurdt was alluding to, regarding effective time-management and studying; I believe he means that if one schedules a daily study routine and during that routine, actually stays focused and learns a great deal of material, then you have effectively and efficently managed your time.

    If you do your homework the moment it is assigned and study after you go over a chapter or section in class, it will remain fresh and your work habits will be sharp. If you constantly organize and compartmentalize information and get in the habit of going over everything in your head, studying becomes more consolidated.

    Granted, everyone is different but I agree with Kurdt in saying that if you plan a course of attack and organize yourself so that you have really crisp study skills, then you should have plenty of time for other things.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2007
  20. Feb 8, 2007 #19
    thanks a lot..

    it helped.
  21. May 24, 2010 #20
    I am currently doing my 2nd year A levels in chemistry, phys and F.Math. Finshd normal math in yer 1. I am undecided as to whether I should study EE or Mathematical physics.

    The thing Is I have a great interest for math and applications of math but greatly dislike qualitative stuff. I hear that 1 would have to do chemistry in EE and I don't like chem because it is to qualitative, very little math i describing concepts and ideas.

    So my question is How much chem would 1 have to take in EE.
    Last edited: May 24, 2010
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