1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics or engineering?

  1. Mar 24, 2009 #1
    I am going to college next september and need to choose what I want to study.
    I am going between physics and engineering and I would choose physics except I don't know if i'll be smart enough for it and also I don't think there are many jobs in it.
    Any advice is greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2009 #2
    There is a lot of overlap between the two, so I see no reason why you need to choose what you want to study right now. You've got a few semesters, at least every place I've ever heard of, to decide on a major. Take a physics class and see how you do.

    Also, why don't you think you're smart enough for physics? If you truly ARE too dumb for physics, you'll also be too dumb for engineering. However, I'm curious why you think that about yourself? That could very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can imagine a situation where you come up against a tough physics problem, and instead of hunkering down and saying "I'm going to get this, hell or high water," you instead say "I guess I'm too dumb for physics, I give up." If that's going to be your mental attitude, don't even try.

    As for jobs, if you want to be an actual physicist, you'll need a PhD. However, a BS in physics will still open a lot of doors. A lot of "engineers" today are people with a physics degree. Plus, pretty much any job will look favorably on a physics degree, because a physics degree shows strong problem-solving skills and analytical thinking.
  4. Mar 24, 2009 #3
    Its not that I think I'm too dumb, its just I've heard that you have to be very smart to do physics (its theoretical physics I was thinking of doing). Also I tend to struggle sometimes with some of the very hard questions
  5. Mar 24, 2009 #4
    I think you're supposed to. That's why they're "very hard questions."

    I'm only in my first semester of calc-based physics at the moment, and the professor goes out of his way to make the "challenge problems" in the book part of the homework assignment. He even puts problems like that on the exams. I got the highest grade in the class at an 88% on the exam. These problems are difficult. On the homework, I spent hours trying to figure out one problem, and in the end, I missed one little thing that caused me to get the wrong answer.

    Now, I'm no dummy. I've got a rather high IQ, and my brain is very math-oriented. Even I had to stop and think on these physics problems. That's what they're there for.

    If there was no need to struggle on some of the problems, they'd hardly qualify as physics problems. I've read stories and posts on here where in some of the upper level physics courses, the highest grade in the class is something like a 65%. A fellow student of mine, whose friend took physics at UMBC, said the teacher had a 30 point curve for that class.

    Physics is hard. Unless you're Richard Feynman, you're not going to solve these problems at a glance. You're supposed to struggle on the very hard questions.
  6. Mar 24, 2009 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    You should probably spend some time investigating what a physicist does and what an engineer does so that in the end you can make an educated decision. Attend some university campuses, go on tours, and speak with current students and professors. Job shadow an engineer for a day or two and see what he or she does.

    With respect to jobs - there are jobs available to physicists, despite what many people would have you believe. Engineering however, is a profession and as such has a more easily identifyable demand.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook