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Physics or Engineering

  1. Jul 27, 2013 #1
    I am going to be a freshman in college this year, and I am not sure if I want my major to be physics or engineering. I love physics, and I think it suits me more. The only reason I question going into physics is the debt I could accumulate after a phd program. It would also be helpful to hear what the normal debt is after a phd program and to hear what it is like to work in both fields. I am interested in particle or nuclear physics or mechanical or electrical engineering. Thanks for input!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2013 #2
    Debt for PhD? Not sure what you mean. When you are getting a PhD in physics you don't pay, you get a stipend to live on and university funding (or a professor's research funding) pays for your tuition and stipend. Ask your physics department advisor (or graduate advisor) for more info.

    Maybe it'll help make your choice if I tell you why I changed my mind from majoring in CSE to majoring in engineering physics with a CS concentration. I decided that in computer engineering, you are essentially making refinements to thirty-year-old technologies, and that the next big breakthroughs in computing technology were going to come from physics research. Well, that was part of it, it was enough reason to forget about CSE but I went with engineering physics so I could take CS classes (I love computer programming and didn't want to give up studying it further). Now I don't care as much about computer breakthroughs in physics, I'm more interesting in general relativity. :-D
  4. Jul 27, 2013 #3
    PhDs are free.

    Don't worry about what you're going to do for grad school yet... you don't really have to choose between physics or engineering for a couple of semesters.
  5. Jul 28, 2013 #4
    So PhDs are 100% free?
  6. Jul 28, 2013 #5


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    Perhaps many/most are, but that seems to be based on one obtaining support through grant/stipend/assistantship. During my PhD program, I did a teaching assistantship, in which I TA's and taught classes. That basically paid tuition and living expenses.

    Physics and engineering are broad dsciplines, and there are many specialized areas in both.

    One should explore the various speicalties, and if one is interested in engineering, as well as physics, there are opportunities in applied physics or engineering physics (EP). However, EP is only available at certain universities, and at some, only at the graduate level.

    Anyone majoring in engineering will usually take some introductory physics courses. I strongly recommend engineering students take as much physics and math as possible, particularly nuclear engineers, as well as those in material science and engineering.

    See - http://www.aps.org/careers/ and http://www.aps.org/careers/insight/

    One's PhD is about doing independent and original research, which contributes to the state-of-the-art.

    What areas of engineering does one find interesting?
  7. Aug 17, 2013 #6
    I dont know which engineering I want to do. I have thought about aerospace, biomedical, electrical, mechanical, and software engineering and I like partical physics but pretty much all physics is interesting to me. I like how physicist are at the head of innovation.

    PS sorry it took so long. I havent been checking much
  8. Aug 18, 2013 #7
    PhDs have a VERY high opportunity cost.
  9. Aug 18, 2013 #8
    What do you mean by opportunity cost?
  10. Aug 18, 2013 #9


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    A graduate student's stipend is only large enough to cover basic living expenses. By spending several years as a graduate student, you are forgoing the (probably) larger salary that you could earn by getting a "real job" instead. The extra salary that you give up is the "opportunity cost" of being a graduate student.
  11. Aug 18, 2013 #10
    O ok. That makes sense.
  12. Aug 18, 2013 #11
    Also typically in engineering the salary premium you get with a Ph.D. is minor, and often doesn't make up for the fewer years of experience you have. Overall, you probably end up behind financially if you get a Ph.D. over an MS.

    That said, having a Ph.D. in Engineering gives you some different opportunities and sets you up to work on very interesting projects. I don't regret getting one, even if it didn't make sense financially.
  13. Aug 18, 2013 #12
    Can you get examples of the things a phd qualifies you do over a ms?
  14. Aug 18, 2013 #13
    For my own experience, typically for leading edge mixed-signal integrated circuit design, the MS is the minimum degree and the jobs are usually "Ph.D. preferred". If you're just out of school, the Ph.D. is a BIG help.

    For example,

    ADC Analog Designer at Apple

    Senior IC Designer at Maxim
  15. Aug 18, 2013 #14
    would a phd in mechanical engineering be worth it or would a specific subfield of mechanical engineering be better?
  16. Aug 18, 2013 #15
    If you get a Ph.D. in mechanical engineer you are entering a specific subfield of mechanical engineering almost by default. I don't have much specific knowledge of ME, but I would imagine there are interesting subfields where Ph.D.s are important credentials in industry. Like EE, there are probably a lot of subfields where the Ph.D. isn't helpful. It all depends on the work.
  17. Aug 18, 2013 #16
    ok. thanks guys
  18. Aug 19, 2013 #17
    Worth it for what kind of jobs?

    The vast majority no, but some yes.
  19. Aug 19, 2013 #18
    I guess I phrased it wrong. I should have said what kind of job would a phd qualify you for over a ms?
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