Physics PhD with EE/Physics Double Major

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I'm currently an EE/Physics double major. Lately I've been leaning heavily towards pursuing a PhD in Physics once I'm done with my undergrad. This is my question: Would an EE degree be a worthwhile effort for someone going on to a PhD in Physics? I feel that a Physics/EE double major is an excellent choice for someone who wants to be an Engineer upon graduation. I'm not so sure it works the other way around, though. I feel like all those physics electives I'd be missing would be more useful to me as a physics grad student than EE courses would.

Does the answer to my question depend on what area of physics I plan to pursue in grad school, or are the physics electives going to be more useful in all cases? So you know, I'd be taking only the core physics courses with the double major, no electives.

Here are the areas of physics I am most interested in. It will be one of these areas that I would focus on in grad school.

condensed matter
acoustics
atomic physics
electromagnetism
electronics
lasers
high energy
quantum electrodynamics
optics
nanotechnology
plasma

So, would I be well-served by all those EE courses in pursuing any of these fields?

Thanks!
 

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  • #2
marcusl
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On the one hand, the more you know the more things you can tackle. EE classes will help you with algorithm development, control loops, signal processing, etc.

On the other hand, my experience is that you can learn anything you need for a job/task on the job. (Getting a PhD is proof of technical learning ability.) Taking other classes--literature, writing, history, etc.--might be even more valuable, since you aren't so likely to have time or support to learn these later. Some physicists and EE's I work with have such poor writing, composition and communications skills, for instance, that it limits their careers regardless of technical prowess.
 
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Thanks for the response! You make an interesting point about non-science electives. I likely would never have thought of that myself. That's definitely something to consider.

Would your advice change for someone who wants to get a physics phd and wants to work in industry? Would an EE bachelors help a physics phd get a job, or will they ignore the bachelors because of the phd?

I don't necessarily want to work in industry forever, but I do know that I don't want to work in academia immediately, either.

An interesting alternative is to go EE --> Physics phd, as many people do. But I can't imagine how I'd score well on a GRE without the physics knowledge learned in an undergraduate physics program. And that seems like torture to someone who plans from the onset to get a phd in physics!
 
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marcusl
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I think an EE/Physics combo would make you marketable to a wide variety of different industries and positions--there's almost no job you couldn't tackle. You point out the drawback--that you need a good physics prep to get into grad school.

My earlier post was targeted to the fact that you have chosen to concurrently do two undergrad majors that each require a huge amount of work. My concern would be burnout before you finish, and a focus on sci/tech to the exclusion of all else.
 
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I'm required to take the same amount of general education electives as I would without the double major. But with the double major, I certainly wouldn't be taking any gen ed beyond the required minimum!

Burnout is a major concern of mine. It's 17 credits (I don't know if other schools use that kind of a system or not) per semester for the EE degree alone. Full time is 12-16 credits. Still, choosing just one is hard. I think the knowledge from the physics degree would be more edifying, but the gateway to industry of an EE degree is equally appealing.
 

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