Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics v.s. Different Engineering Branches

  1. Jun 30, 2008 #1
    I'm about to become a sophomore at UCLA by the Fall but I'm still debating whether or not I should make the leap into the School of Engineering. My major at the moment is Undeclared - Physical Science, but I'm trying to choose between Physics, Chem/Materials Sci, and a handful of engineering branches (Mechanical, Chemical, Aerospace, and Electrical).

    Honestly, the mere idea of developing something new has caused me to be slightly interested in engineering. However, I'll admit I'm somewhat apprehensive about changing over into Engineering because it seems as if I'll definitely need to take a quarter or two beyond 4 years to complete the B.S., but then again, some of you may argue that it's a small amount of time to be spent in preparation for a career that I might actually end up loving. Another reason why I'm not certain about making the switch is because I'm still having a hard time figuring just what exactly do engineers do aside from "applying science to solve practical problems", which is the definition I've had blown across my retinas by Google.

    Part of why I'm considering Physics is because of the challenge. I used to be much more of a Chem junkie back in high school (No, not that kind of "junkie") but I personally think I'm too much of a klutz in lab to really excel at Chem and Physics just became more satisfying to work on, especially when I'd spend 20-30 minutes on certain HW problems, flip to the answer key, and see that I somehow got it right after hammering away at it multiple times with a pencil and vigorous erasing. The main obstacle I can see in my way for Physics is my (lack of) ability to question things. I'll elaborate more if this doesn't make sense.

    One option that has been proposed to me by my Mechanics professor was to obtain a B.S. in Physics and pursue a Masters degree in engineering. However, I recall a post on here saying how such an approach may not train the type of teamwork abilities developed in some senior capstone projects that undergrad engineering students receive.

    With that said, can anyone dish out some wisdom/experience/thoughts? :shy:
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2008 #2
    Engineers learn science so they can build stuff, physicists build stuff so they can learn science.

    It's pretty much a matter of how you look at the world, IMHO.
  4. Jun 30, 2008 #3
    "I can see in my way for Physics is my (lack of) ability to question things."

    Elaborate more please.

    And seriously, technology or science? Engineers build technology and are almost always closer to the money. You earn more money is my prejudice... On the other hand; physicists are closer to the science and prestige. They earn a lot less then engineers.

    Your mech prof is rather smart, I would also suggest doing a physics-BS and then going to a eng - MS
  5. Jul 1, 2008 #4
    By that sentence, I mean that when I'm presented with an idea or concept that I don't know very much about, or if I see a poster of a professor or a student's research, I'm not hard-pressed to further investigate or scrutinize whatever "unknowns" exist solely for knowledge's sake. Hopefully, that doesn't imply that I have a negative attitude towards learning, but I was wondering if this could be something that will hinder me if I ever hope to go into research. Judging from the responses here, I think I'd lean towards technology instead of science though.
  6. Jul 1, 2008 #5
    Well for one thing, going from physics undergrad to engineering grad is a breeze. The converse is not so true. The reasons is that physics has a core body of knowledge that one must master to be called a physicist. The same is not so true in engineering.

    This is best exemplified in the physics course work: in your first two years you learn all of basic physics. In your next two years, you relearn all of basic physics, but at a higher level. If you go to grad school in physics, your first year and half is relearning all of basic physics, but at an advanced level. Then you're ready for advanced physics.

    Really, what it is, is a buildup of analytical rigor and formalism. In engineering, you don't care as much about the formalism and care more about the results and how they may be applied. For this reason, its more of learn what you need as the necessity arises. I would say that physics is more about depth while engineering is more about breadth.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook