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Physics or Engineering?

  1. Nov 12, 2014 #1
    I'm two years into my physics degree and I like physics but I'm not sure research is really what i want to do. I never get as excited over some new discovery as I do over new technology. When ever I come up with a project its always engineering related and never about an experiment I could do. I think I would rather own patients than publish findings but at the same time I don't want to work as an engineer. It seems too dismal and too common place, as if everyone wants to be an engineer and getting that degree would just lop me in with the crowd. I've worked in an office before and the idea of wasting my life competing for scraps is frightening to me. I know that physics majors do engineering like Elon Musk and other less notable ones but im not sure if im wasting my time or not.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2014 #2
    Many years ago, I was in somewhat your same situation. I talked with my physics prof, whom I highly respected. He went to the blackboard (this was before the ice age and we still had backboards and chalk) and wrote at the very top edge of the board:
    Mathematician
    Physicist
    .
    .
    .
    Dimestore Clerk
    Engineer
    the last were down just ever so slightly above the chalk tray. (Dimestore clerks were that day's equivalent to today's fast food workers.)

    He then told me that this was the order of various careers in terms of intellectual value. Well, being young and gullible, I believed him (I was convinced at that time he was the smartest man I had ever met).

    I transferred schools the following year, but I enrolled as a math major (I did not want to do some thing intellectually worthless!). All of this cost me about 3 semesters before I found my way back to engineering which had been my original goal. It was not wasted entirely; I got a of good math courses along the way which are never a waste. But it was terrible, and false, advice from the smartest man I had ever met.
     
  4. Nov 12, 2014 #3
    thank you for your amusing and thought provoking answer
     
  5. Nov 12, 2014 #4
    While I don't have any real world experience to share I will say that in this day and age the ability to research things is much easier than before the internet was around. One of the things that has me possibly looking into going for mechanical engineering is that the data states that in the past 5 years mechanical engineering has had a fluctuation between 2-4% unemployment rate which is lower than average. While that doesn't guarantee the future it appears more stable than others. Look up the specific careers that interest you and find their unemployment rates if that's such a concern. But me personally, I'd rather have a job making less (but still a good amount) where I was happy every day.
     
  6. Nov 13, 2014 #5
    I'm sort of the opposite. I liked Electrical Engineering (my initial major), but wasn't thrilled with the idea of creating and improving technology. I ended up getting two degrees (Electrical Engineering and Physics). There were several classes I enjoyed as an Electrical Engineer, such as E&M, Semiconductor Physics, and Analog Design, but overall I preferred the theory to the application. Any future education I get will be in Physics, because I want to do research.
     
  7. Nov 14, 2014 #6
    I say choose the path you're most passionate about. I am currently in school for mechanical engineering. Engineers in general make decent money... This was one reason why I was going to school for engineering, but I've came to realize it isn't about the money. It's about the experience and all the new concepts you learn as an engineering student and an engineer (graduating with a BS).
     
  8. Nov 15, 2014 #7
    This sounds like your interest is closer to Engineering. Engineering is application of science, you will apply some of the Physics you learn depending on the field of Engineering you eventually choose. So you won't completely detach from Physics. Of course there may not be much of research.

    I'm using this quote to explain to agonydrum.
    This is a feeling that tends towards Physics. If you have this kind of feeling, then you should pick Physics and pure science research.

    This should not be a reason because it doesn't matter what others choose and what "everyone" thinks. What matters is what you like, what you want. Just because you are choosing a popular choice does not make it a wrong one. You should take up Engineering because you choose to, others have their own reasons to do so. If you are worried about getting lost in the crowd, I think being passionate and good at what you do matters more than being highly visible. You could be a Hollywood actor, famous and not be part of the crowd. But would that make you happy? If it does go for it, otherwise don't.

    Remember you study for about 4-8 years but work for nearly 40 years of your life. What you choose now decides those 40 years, think of what you believe is good for you to live those 40 years.

    Good Luck!
     
  9. Nov 15, 2014 #8
    This is a difficult decision for most people because you can only imagine what each career would be like so you are forced into deciding something based on illusions. As a retired engineer, I can only guess what sort of career physics would lead to. Engineering can be quite varied and often you can make the job suit your skills and interests. For instance, I was interested in stress analysis and computer analysis and was able to get work in a variety of industries. Your formal education gets you your first job and accounts for about ten percent of your training. The rest you learn working. I have known PHDs from MIT that were worthless as engineers and technicians that could design and build anything. No matter what career you choose, it is unlikely anyone will pay you to do what you enjoy. The best you can hope for is a chance to learn while being paid, and work that is challenging enough to keep you interested.
     
  10. Nov 16, 2014 #9
    You will get more chance to generate an original solution an engineer, as a ground floor physicist unless you are brilliant you may only turn the handle on the machine.
     
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