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Physics vs Engineering degree

  1. Feb 21, 2015 #1
    Hi :)
    I'm new to this forum and I'm hoping you might be able to help me.
    I'll soon be applying to university, and I'm hesitating between a physics degree and an engineering degree. I like physics and maths a lot, and it's what I'm best at. But I've read a lot about how hard it is to get a science related job with a physics degree, especially with just a Bsc. I'm not sure I want to do a PhD, but I do think I would like research. On the other hand, it is apparently not too hard to get an engineering job. I am considering electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering. I live in France, and I am currently taking electrical and mechanical engineering classes, and although I'm enjoying them, I still prefer pure science classes. I've never really done any tinkering either, unlike most of the people in my engineering class. My main concern is not being able to get an interesting job if I decide not to go to grad school after a physics Bsc, and since engineering is still interesting, I might be better off getting an engineering degree instead. Any advice is really appreciated :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2015 #2
    So what is the problem with doing an MSc? Only takes two more years.

    Most people here are from NA, it seems. There, it seems that engineers are held to a bit higher standards and jobs that here are done by MSc people like applied physicists are done by engineers whereas engineers with BSc degrees would be managers and technicians, not top level engineers or scientists.

    The private sector used to line up for MSc physics grads back when less people went to university and the economy was growing, and some of the smartest people would go into industry rather than opt for academia/PhD.
    But in the US, it seems that you need to go BSc -> PhD (with no MSc) if you are a physicist, thus why the topic often pops up with BSc physics people having difficulties, I think.
  4. Feb 21, 2015 #3
    What are some of the engineering-type things that you've been exposed to? Electrical and mechanical engineering are very broad fields.
  5. Feb 21, 2015 #4
    I would have no problem with doing an Msc, especially since in the UK (where I plan on studying) most of the time it only adds an extra year. But I didn't know if there were any jobs in industry for Msc physics graduates. I was also considering doing an Msc in engineering after a physics degree, not sure how doable that is though.

    I've been exposed to basic circuit design, different types of signals, resistors, transistors and some basic formulas in electrical engineering. We've also learnt to use some basic simulation software. In mechanical we've done a range of things, from calculating heat loss depending on various factors to calculating the energy consumption of a car depending on acceleration etc. We've also done projects where they give us a small machine and some basic info about it, and we have to "figure out" how it works in groups and then present it to the rest of the class.
    So far it has been quite basic and didn't involve a lot of math. Does it get more interesting and math-heavy at university ?
  6. Feb 21, 2015 #5
    Well, maybe France is different from the Netherlands and Germany, or other places. It all depends on where you want to get a job and what they think about the degree you need.
  7. Feb 22, 2015 #6
    Well I'm bilingual (english and french) and my german is pretty good and I don't mind moving so I could live in the UK, France, Germany or even Switzerland. I'll look into what kind of degree they want in these countries for jobs I might be interested in.
  8. Feb 22, 2015 #7
    Well, you can do applied physics/technical physics in Deft and Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Dutch industry hires these people no problem. No issue of being too academic for industry. Then the more pure 'physics and astronomy' degrees also have very good employment stats here.

    Of course when the economy is bad and companies are laying off people, it is easy for no degree. But traditionally these Dutch degrees are very employable by Dutch companies like Shell, ASML, Philips. Of course not every student gets a great job, that is true for no degree.

    Of course France has different industries like nuclear, but my assumption was they are more in line with Germany than with the UK, which is kind of similar to the US with their BSc -> PhD and MSc being usually engineering only. But then they also have MPhil and stuff.

    Nowadays most of these places are on the Bologna system, though the old flavor may still be there.
    In the Netherlands, true engineers don't go to university. They go to schools for applied technology(BSc terminal degree). The demand on math and theory is way lower.
    There is a big difference in difficulty and pace between a technical university and a school of applied science/technology.

    Every person at university is there to complete an MSc, minimum, and the education is academic in nature. Technical universities are academic, which is maybe very different from other countries. You work with your hands, equipment, learn to solve engineering problems and to work in the lab, but you also ready to do a PhD in engineering research. (PhD is a job as a research assistant/teaching assistant, no PhD students here).

    All science masters here are in Englis and basically every university offers the same quality, though flavours and research opportunities may differ.
    Donno what French HR will think when they see a Dutch MSc. I guess an MSc is an MSc, whatever that means to them.
  9. Feb 22, 2015 #8
    In France they wouldn't know what to do with a Beng in engineering if I decided to get one, because over here you either do a 2year technical degree or you go to an engineering school for 5 years and get an Msc. So I guess I'll be dealing with degree confusion whatever I do if I come back to France, because over here the Bsc-Msc-PhD system is generally more for people interested in an academic career from what I understand, all of my classmates are going to do a vocational degree. I don't plan on coming back to France after uni though, it's a bit too warm here for my liking.
  10. Feb 22, 2015 #9
    I can only speak from the North American perspective, but there are companies here that hire physics majors by name. Most of the industry job openings I've seen for physics majors were software/system engineering jobs involving simulations and electrical engineering jobs involving circuit analysis and repair, this is most likely because these fields are the easiest for physics majors to transition into, mechanical could be done but it'd be tougher and doubly so for biomedical (unless it was devices of some sort). You might try starting some tinkering! There's things like the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi which can help you combine electronics and programming. I'm not sure about French suppliers but Farnell's Element14 is a supplier from the UK, if you've got the cash this is a good place to go http://uk.farnell.com/, http://uk.farnell.com/raspberry-pi-accessories?ICID=I-HPBL-feb15-LDBR-0101. Good luck!
  11. Feb 22, 2015 #10
    I know that companies that make medical devices such as MRI machines hire physicists. Also in the UK the NHS hires physicists through some sort of graduate training program for medical physics. I'm learning to program in my spare time and I like it so a software job would be a possibility. I'll have a look at the link you gave me, and even if I can't find a french supplier I have plenty of relatives who could send it to me. Do you know of any books that might help for tinkering, I have a basic understanding of how electronics work in theory but if I looked inside a computer I wouldn't be able to tell you what's going on if my life depended on it.
  12. Feb 22, 2015 #11
    Here in the Netherlands, everyone who wants a true high level education goes to university( called 'wo') for 5 years and gets an MSc/MA. (the 3 year BSc isn't a terminal degree and is only there because of Bologna.) So equivalent to the old DESS and DEA.
    Only if you aren't a great student you go to vocational technical schools, with 4 year BSc. They include a long internship period as part of the degree. Should be similar to Diplôme universitaire de technologie, though maybe that's inbetween a hbo BSc and an associate degree? Not sure. Two years seems short.
    There is only a few exceptions where people really want a certain profession, where dealing with people is often more important than having received a top notch education.
    So it has nothing to do with going into academia or not.

    In the Netherlands it seems you would get the same 5 year MSc as in France, and in Germany the same as well(or do some take 6 years, I don't remember).

    Only a few places in the Netherlands would offer the 4 year vocational terminal BSc in English. If you get one of these, it does look like there would be confusion. Only recently they have been made equivalent to international Bachelor of Science degrees. You should be able to do an MSc with them. But if you do so in the Netherlands you need 6-12 months of undergraduate courses to catch up in all the difficult courses.
    Both should translate to 'licentiate'. But a wo university BSc should be similar to a Grandes écoles, where a vocational hbo BSc should not.
    Might be the case that licentiate should be rated higher than most Bologna type BSc degrees.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2015
  13. Feb 22, 2015 #12
    I plan on getting and Meng/Msc at least, so there shouldn't be too much confusion.
    Yeah, two years is short, especially since there's built in placements aswell. It only qualifies you to be a technician I think. In France it's either a BTS or a DUT, they're both 2 year degrees. Though nowadays with jobs being hard to come by, most people transfer into a "professional" bachelor, basically it's an extra year for a vocational bachelors. Most of my classmates are going to do a vocational degree in engineering or are going to med school if they did biology instead of engineering. In France, going to university is more common amongst those who are interested in an MA in something like history or archeology, or those wanting to pursue a PhD and do research.
    The Grandes écoles is a whole other system. You do two years of "classe préparatoire" and then go on to study in one of the Grandes écoles. So yeah, in France not that many people go through the Bsc-Msc-PhD system.
    edit : I think they're trying to change the system though, so french qualifications are easier to transfer internationally.
  14. Feb 22, 2015 #13
    Yeah, I get that the whole Grandes écoles is a bit quirky and has its own traditions. I mentioned them because on the international education rankings they rank among Dutch real universities called wo, (as opposed to the 'universities of applied science' I called 'technical schools' or hbo).
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