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Physics or Engineering? The age old question.

  1. Feb 18, 2014 #1
    I'm interested in your advice and any insight you may provide. Thank you.
    I am just starting my second semester last week as a freshman in the undergraduate physics program at the Uni of Delaware. The fall semester went well and I understood the material fairly well since the semester focused on Newton's laws, which I had learned about in high school. This semester is already making me question my major: I feel unprepared stepping into Calculus II, Electricity and Magnetism, and Waves and Oscillations. These courses are heavy in math (to me) and I'm pretty sure I should take them in the first semester of sophomore year. I took calculus for the first time last year and my integration skills are very weak. What I'm thinking about doing is switching into an engineering major before school picks up.
    Engineering qualifies me for more jobs directly after undergraduate work, and (correct me if I'm wrong) mechanical engineering seems conceptually easier than physics. If I were to stick with physics I don't really know what I would do for work; I've always wanted to work for Space-X of NASA, and the idea of designing and creating things really intrigues me.
    Or... should I stick with physics but switch into some engineering courses to minor while I get ahead on my math skills?
    Thank you again. You're replies are highly valued. :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2014 #2
    Around here my opinion is often in the minority...

    I think you should only major in physics if you plan on doing a PhD in physics. Otherwise, there is not much point beyond personal interest.

    Engineering is no walk in the park either though. Not with respect to coursework and not with respect to getting a career. All STEM fields are very hard to get a career in.

    In my case, I have a BS and MS in physics and cannot get a STEM career of any sort. I am currently in school working towards a third degree, a BS in EE. But honestly, Im not sure if its worth pursuing because I dont think my career prospects will be that much better after the degree. Also, with respect to course work I believe that the electircal engineering program I am in now is more rigorous than my physics programs were.
  4. Feb 18, 2014 #3
    If you want to work at Space-X than you should major in engineering. A very very high percentage of their openings are mech/EE engineering .
  5. Feb 19, 2014 #4


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    Why don't you think your career prospects will be better after completing a BS in EE? Engineering students in almost every college/university in Canada are required (as per licensing requirement) to pursue at least 1 year's internship/co-op experience, which should count towards the type of work experience you would need to break into the work force.
  6. Feb 19, 2014 #5
    I think they will be better, but not a lot better. Perhaps I was being overly negative... I had just read about EE's 10% decline in current jobs in the US last year and talked with my current teacher about it and even he is cautious about career prospects.

    At my school getting an internship is a very competitive process that only about half of upper level engineering majors are able to get. If I can get an internship, that would be great and might help me to get a career. But if not Ill be in a similar position I am in now - educated but inexperienced.
  7. Feb 19, 2014 #6
    In the US we lost some Electrical Engineering jobs, the unemployment rate of EE is 4.8% or so.
  8. Feb 19, 2014 #7


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    If you're transferring to engineering because you're struggling with physics, you're quite likely to also struggle with engineering.

    My feeling is that if you're majoring in physics, graduate school should at least be seriously on the plate as a possibility for later on. Or you should at least understand that you're studying an academic subject and not generally developing a profession-specific skill set.
  9. Feb 20, 2014 #8


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    This is interesting to read about, because when I checked online about various jobs that are most in demand (in places like Forbes, which in turn are quoting the results from the BLS) engineering jobs (including electrical engineering jobs) are listed among those that are in high demand.

    Furthemore, among the list of jobs in these various sites that are most in demand include computer scientists/software engineers, and I know from experience that depending on your course selection, EE's can easily move into software engineering jobs, particularly those that involve a hardware component.

    Granted, these "jobs most in demand" links may not be based on the most current information so one should take these links with a grain of salt; however, even a cursory glance at ads on job search sites like Monster or Workopolis does seem to provide at least some justification for their claims.

    PS: it's worth noting that with the exception o engineering and computer science jobs, NONE of the jobs that are listed as most in demand are in the STEM field (unless if you consider pharmacists to be considered a STEM job). The top 5 jobs most in demand as of now in the US, according to an article in Time magazine, are as follows:

    1. Labourers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand
    2. Accountants and Auditors
    3. Software Developers, Systems Software
    4. Occupational Therapists
    5. General and Operations Managers

    (with Pharmacists and Registered Nurses also noted as being in high demand)

    According to the same article, the best city to search for work is Boston, MA, with Miami, FL being the worst demand-to-supply ratio for all jobs except for nursing.

    Here is the link:

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