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Physics to Engineering - Is it possible?

  1. Nov 11, 2013 #1
    Hello physics forums!

    I'm a third year physics student (also double majoring in math), and after reading some (recent) threads regarding the viability of academic careers, am rather scared and confused as to what my future holds. I was originally interested in engineering (EE), but after my first year, focused on theoretical physics and pure math. I took a couple of engineering courses on the side (circuits and signal processing) but nothing much. I have done very well in coursework and research (high GPA, a publication, good recommendations) but I am still scared that my degree will end up being useless. If not physics, I would still love to work in solid-state research or physics-ey EE in general, but I'm getting the feeling that its too late for that to ever be an option. Is that true? Namely, is it even possible for me to get a masters or PhD in EE given a BS in physics and math? If so, how can I figure out if this is a good idea? Does anyone else here have similar experiences?

    If it helps to know, my research is in string theory (black hole thermodynamics)...
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2013 #2
  4. Nov 11, 2013 #3
    Nobody will care that you dont have a BS in engineering if you have a masters or phD in engineering.

    The masters or phD supersedes your BS
  5. Nov 11, 2013 #4
    It may depend on the job in question. Have a look at the linked thread, there are quite a few pessimistic posts regarding Physics BS + EE MS there.
  6. Nov 11, 2013 #5
    Hmm, that thread is giving me mixed messages. At least it seems that its possible to get an EE MS with a physics BS. I didn't know if its worth it or not, though. Would I be better off getting a PhD in materials science or solid state if I want to work in industrial research?
  7. Nov 12, 2013 #6
    I have friends doing PhDs in engineering at MIT after physics BS. So it's definitely possible! You need some engineering coursework as an undergrad though.
  8. Nov 12, 2013 #7
    That's good to hear. I don't have much in the way of labs, but I have taken an intro signals course, a circuits course and two solid state courses (those were physics though). If I take the upper-level signals and systems course and a semiconductor course, would these be enough to qualify for an MSEE? If anything they are probably useful for physics too.
  9. Nov 12, 2013 #8

    D H

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    Don't ask us. You'll get mixed signals. Talk to your advisor, or much better, talk to an EE advisor.

    We get these kinds of question at PhysicsForums all the time.

    "I majored in field X. Can I get an advanced degree in field Y?"
    The answer is a qualified yes. You might have to take some undergraduate classes that don't count toward the courses needed for that advanced degree. You might have to take a lot of undergraduate classes if fields X and Y are nearly orthogonal to one another. You might have to pass a professional exam. You might face some stiff competition getting into the program.

    "Do I need to pass something like the fundamentals of engineering test before being accepted toward an advanced degree in engineering?"
    The answer is "it depends." It depends on nationality, the school, and the engineering discipline. For civil and nuclear engineering, the answer is most likely yes. Within mechanical and electrical engineering, it depends on the subspecialty and on the school. At the other extreme are engineering disciplines such as the "space" side of aerospace engineering for which the answer is "What's the FE test?"
  10. Nov 12, 2013 #9
    It happens all the time, I worked with someone who did her bachelors in Math, did her masters in EE, and now works for Intel.
  11. Nov 12, 2013 #10


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    You need to be careful here. You shouldn't make the exception into a rule. This does not happen "all the time" unless you are in possession of statistics on such a change that I am not aware of.

  12. Nov 12, 2013 #11
    That was an example, people do change fields all the time, I'm not saying the OP is going to get a job in Intel by switching to EE from physics. But it is the case that people changing from math/science to engineering is somethign that happens very often, and in many cases the math/science people are more prepared to do work in certain fields of engineering than the engineers are.
  13. Nov 12, 2013 #12


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    I'm not disputing that. When I completed my PhD, I got a job offer in an engineering position at Applied Materials. So I have first-hand knowledge of such thing.

    However, I would NOT go out and say that going from math to EE to engineering "happens all the time"! Look at how you posted this. You make it sound as if it is common! It isn't!

    Secondly, physics majors will have a tougher time, especially nowadays, when competing with other engineering degree holders for engineering positions. That physics major has to show an incredible set of skills to get into such position. If not, why bother having engineering majors?

    Thirdly, what one specializes in, especially in graduate schools, makes a tremendous difference. I could compete with certain groups of engineers because I specialized in a field that gave me skills to make thin films, materials characterizations, etc. I certainly would not have been considered for the same position had I been a theorist working in string theory! I would not have had the experimental skills that they were looking for!

    So no, this does NOT happen "all the time". It happens some time, and under very specific circumstances.

  14. Nov 12, 2013 #13
    I meant in grad school, not in the job market right out of college. I'm not arguing that what you specialize in doesn't matter, it obviously does. My friend the math major basically specialized in nano-fabrication for her EE masters, so that lended itself in no small part to her current position.

    It is a common, or at least not rare, thing that people swtich fields from undergrad to grad school. You don't need an engineering bachelors to do an engineering masters or phd but you'd better have a degree that's closely enough related to it such as science or math.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2013
  15. Nov 12, 2013 #14
    I had several friends in grad school who did physics for undergrad and some form of engineering for their Ph.D. I know several people from another institution who did physics for undergrad and engineering for their Masters. Depending on the program you came from and your background, and the program you are attending, you might need to pick up some extra coursework. For example, it seemed to me the nuclear engineers had less makeup coursework to do than something like a mechanical engineer might. But it is a possibility.

    The friends who got a Masters in engineering after a Bachelors in physics all seemed to have no problem getting jobs at companies who only hire engineers. I suspect they might have had more difficulty at those companies if they had gotten a Ph.D. instead of a Masters degree.

    The friends who got Ph.D.s are all either in academia or at government labs, started their own companies, or left 'science' to pursue other things, like policy or med school.
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