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Physics or Engineering after high school?

  1. Apr 7, 2015 #1
    I am really hoping someone will be able to give some advice on this because this decision is very stressful.

    I will be graduating high school in a couple of months and need to make a decision as to what I want to study in university. I have always loved science and math and have taken a university level calculus course that my school offers. I really enjoyed it. The first job that came to mind when I thought of science and math was engineering, so that's what I applied for (and was accepted in to).

    However, I have always wanted to do something space-related since I was very young. Being an astronomer would be a dream for me because it combines my love of space and math. However, that job requires a phd in astrophysics. I would be willing to do the work to get the degree, but from what I understand it's a VERY unemployable degree. I'd love to have the degree, but if I won't be able to get the job maybe I'd be better off as an engineer. Is it really that difficult to get a job as an astronomer? Or maybe to do research as a physicist?

    I would like to be an astronomer more than anything, but unfortunately it seems like engineering is a much more feasible career choice (not that engineering is a bad career by any means). I'd just hate to be sitting at work ten years from now wondering, "what if I had studied physics?"... Any thoughts/advice? Are there any other jobs that involve space that I could look into? Sorry this is long, and thanks in advance to anyone who replies.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2015 #2
    Use your first year to clear some electives and find out what you enjoy.
  4. Apr 8, 2015 #3
    Being known as a reliable engineer is a good ticket for astronomy and many other things.
    It''s not as boring as it sounds.

    << Post edited by Mentor >>
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 8, 2015
  5. Apr 8, 2015 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    So, you are describing me. Have a look at my website and ask yourself if you'd be happy with astronomy as a semiserious hobby, funded by a good engineering career.

    Regardless of what you choose, it is very good that you are so concerned with career prospects at this stage. Too many people study something they are interested in, but holds little or no future value to them.
  6. Apr 8, 2015 #5


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    Staff Emeritus
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    This is a question that has been asked numerous times, and my answer is still the same: why not do BOTH?!!


    There are many areas of physics that have strong engineering components, and there are many areas of engineering that have strong physics components. You can major in physics, and do a LOT of engineering work, or you can major in engineering and do a lot of physics work. You can have your cake and eat it too!

    And as Russ said, if you are still "enamored" by astronomy, do it on the side. Or if fate is meant to be, you get your graduate degree in either physics or engineering and able to make a transition into a related field later on. There are MANY things that can happen as you make plans. It is called LIFE!

  7. Apr 11, 2015 #6
    I was just like you in high school: wanting to plan for the PhD and beyond right there and then. Your mind will change so many times, especially as you gain new experiences. In college you'll learn what you like and what you don't like. I entered college convinced that I was going to be a theoretical cosmologist until a year in when I realized that I hate programming and really just wanted to become an astronaut (still do) and learn about the Universe. Then in grad school I realized I wanted something more hands on and action-oriented. Your tastes will change.

    I have two astrophysics degrees and I'm employed; don't let that stop you. As astronomer can become an engineer but it's harder for an engineer to become an astronomer without more training. Do what you love and recognize that college is the time to make detailed career decisions, not now. Someone suggested dual-majoring and that's a pretty good idea - best of both worlds! Or chose a major like physics that allows you to straddle both until you decide on which you'd prefer.
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