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Physics undergaduate useful for engineering masters/Ph.D?

  1. May 2, 2015 #1
    Hey everybody. I had a short talk with Miguel San Martin a few years ago, he is one of the top aerospace engineers at NASA's JPL. He said he would study math/physics as undergaduate rather than engineering if he could go back in time. Not that he wanted to switch careers, but because those subjects would become very helpful later as an aerospace engineer. What do you guys think? If trying to pursue a masters/Ph.D in engineering (electrical or aero-astro), would an undergaduate in physics be an advantage over an engineering one or not? Thanks in advance for your replies!
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  3. May 2, 2015 #2


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    If your primary goal is to become an engineer, I would study engineering. Engineering is a profession with very specific credentialing requirements depending on your location. In many places an undergraduate degree in physics does not qualify one to become certified as an engineer and so a lot of physics graduates find they have an uphill battle competing with engineering graduates for engineering positions.

    There are other options for you though. You could for example major in engineering and pick up a minor in physics, or just do a lot of the courses that you believe will be applicable to your path. Another option is to look into engineering physics programs.
  4. May 3, 2015 #3


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    Engineering physics is also an option. With a BS in physics and a masters in Engineering you can become a P.E., it just takes a lot more work.
  5. May 3, 2015 #4
    You'd only have an advantage in certain areas that exist at the interplay between being research science and being converted to practical implimentations or are just physics heavy to start with. So for EE that might be electromagnetics/RF, applications of solid state physics, microelectronics, quantum computing and devices, electronic materials, and so on. For aero that might be plasma physics applications, orbital dynamics, applied math applications like CFD or FEM, things of that nature. A physics undergrad might be more useful for EE grad work than aerospace grad work since physics works with lots of the E&M, quantum, and modern physics implemented in EE versus the more nuanced mechanical engineering that's implemented in aero but it can still be done. I know plenty of people who've moved from physics and/or math degrees and moved to engineering graduate school (EE, aerospace, nuclear) and became working engineers without much concern over getting the PE (I work with lots of working engineers who to my knowledge do not have the PE, it isn't a hard and fast rule that it's necessary). An engineering physics degree like UMich's program (http://eng-physics.engin.umich.edu/) combines both disciplines to give you the more theoretical grounding you're looking for but in the context of the engineering you want to do, good luck.
  6. May 7, 2015 #5
    Thanks everybody for replying. Unfortunately, engineering physics is not an option where I live. I'm probably getting into a physics undergraduate since between the elective courses, I can pick three of the following: Laser physics & quantum electronics, Advanced electromagnetism, Electronics lab (best possible translation), Optics, Fluid dynamics, and Plasma physics. On the other hand, there are theoretical ones such as QFT, General relativity, and Particle physics, etc. I'd love to work in a space agency, so let me re-ask the question. Does that change the 'scenario'? Given that goal, would you reccomend pure engineering? (engineering under + engineering graduate). Or would physics under + engineering graduate be equally suitable aiming to work for space agencies? I'm sorry if it's a very specific question, but perhaps some of you have heard -or even gone through- scenarios similar to this one.
  7. May 7, 2015 #6


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    All of these could be valuable with an engineering masters/phd at a space agency.

    It depends on what you really want to do
  8. May 7, 2015 #7


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    You didn't ask this directly but it is MUCH easier to get a job as an engineer at a Space Agency or National Lab type place than as a scientist. This is primarily because they pay much less than industry you don't have as much competition.

    You typically have to minor in some non-engineering subject if you get a PhD in engineering. You could always minor in physics. That way you wouldn't have to waste a year of engineering graduate school taking remedial engineering courses. You could spend that time getting ready for your research.
  9. May 7, 2015 #8


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    Clarifiction: the requriement for a PE is industry specific. In certain industries, you must have a PE to advance to a high level (it is required by law to do certain jobs). In other industries, a PE does nothing for you at all.
  10. May 13, 2015 #9


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    There are plenty of people who major in physics at the undergrad level who later do their graduate work in engineering. Especially in electrical, materials science, mechanical, or nuclear. I know several people who have successfully made his transition. If you majored in physics and even just did a minor in engineering that should work. I've had friends who did both physics and engineering and they said studying physics gave them a significant advantage in their engineering courses.

    If you did research you could probably work in one of the engineering fields I mentioned as a physics major, lots of students at my undergrad did that.
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