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Physics or engineering for study?

  1. Mar 15, 2015 #1
    Hi guys!!

    I'm currently studying in grade 11. I am very passionate about physics and I already am ahead of some undergrad university levels. However, I am a bit indecisive about my future :-/

    I love physics and I would want to do theoretical physics in a field like cosmology, quantum mechanics, or general relativity. But I also love engineering, and I love to design and build stuff. For engineering I'm planning on either aerospace or robotics engineering.

    What is your opinion? Please let me know
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2015 #2
  4. Mar 15, 2015 #3
    If you want to do pure research or teach Physics, then Physics is the way to go. If you want to design and build things, then Engineering is the way to go. For Physics, I'll have to caution you that if you want to conduct pure research in Physics, you will need a Ph.D. Not to say you cannot get involved with pure research with a Bachelors/Masters degree, however if you do so with a Physics education that is less than a Ph.D. you will likely be a technician. As a technician you would be building, setting up, and running equipment for the Ph.D. Physicists to conduct their experiments. A technician would also collect and reduce experimental data.
    Engineers on the other hand don't really need a Ph.D. to design and build things, they can do so with just a Bachelors degree.
  5. Mar 15, 2015 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Consider the other part of what a job is for in your decision: making money.
  6. Mar 16, 2015 #5
    I am not from the States myself but when I look at some of these engineering programs, they look like standard physics programs here in Europe.

    http://engineering.berkeley.edu/academics/undergraduate-guide/academic-departments-programs/civil-environmental-engineering [Broken]

    What the hell is the difference anyway? Also what is it with the current mentality to put people in well defined boxes?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. Mar 16, 2015 #6


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    Staff Emeritus
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    Education Advisor

    Unfortunately (?), we get many questions like this, and they pop up very frequently. And I continue to be baffled by such things and I had never gotten any kind of reasonable response on how someone can have such a dichotomy.

    To me, "theoretical physics" is on the opposite extreme of "engineering" and building stuff. They are on opposite ends. So someone who considers doing only one or the other seems to be considering only one extreme field or the other, AS IF, there is nothing else in between! How about choosing a field of study that can comfortably straddle the theory aspect of doing physics AND you also get to design and build things as well, i.e. get your cake and eat it too?!!

    There are many areas of physics and engineering that do that: accelerator science, detector physics, device physics, material science, medical physics, etc. There is a VERY good chance that you haven't been exposed to all the many different areas of physics and engineering yet, so your knowledge in what is out there is severely incomplete.

    BTW, at your age, there is a very good chance also that you will NOT end up doing what you think you want to do right now:


    Last edited: Mar 16, 2015
  8. Mar 16, 2015 #7
    Yes I have considered that a lot. In that case, something like aerospace is better.
    The thing is that if I choose engineering, it'd be a good thing because there is always something to do/build. But physics sound a bit riskier. I look at other theories and concepts and I ask myself "if I were that guy, would I have come up with this?" and I can't really answer that...

    P.S. I am going to have to study in Canada, so the best university that I could go to would be u of t. And I'm not sure if u of t engineering is better than physics or not.

    Well the thing is that I love theory, but I don't usually like it when things are always up in my head. I want to somehow make a connection to the world, which is why I like engineering as well. Also would you think there is a way of combining, say, aerospace and physics?
  9. Mar 16, 2015 #8
    I forgot to add: would anyone recommend engineering physics? :-/
  10. Mar 16, 2015 #9
    A good theorist is always in touch with experiment (i.e. not a cosmologist or quantum gravity theorist); working in something more "mundane" such as condensed matter physics gives you a reasonable chance that you'll be in touch with the real world.
  11. Mar 16, 2015 #10
    Hmm alright
    Thanks a lot! :D
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