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Other Physics vs. Engineering - Need Help Making a Decision

  1. Sep 4, 2017 #1
    Hello, I am in between researching five different majors and have come at a stand still. I am going to analyze each one from my perspective and see if you guys can help me choose, or correct my mistakes. Thanks in advanced.


    • I love physics, and want as much exposure as I can day-to-day.
    • I <3 Fluid Mechanics
    • I <3 Thermodynamics
    • I am not really a hands-on person, which is needed for MOST engineering disciplines.
    • Most physics majors can do something else, such as Wall Street or management positions.
    • I know someone that is a physicist, and they HATE the pay. They switched to Wall Street.
    • I have to get a PhD to utilize my degree for anything interesting.
    • If I do get a Physics degree, I don't want to end up on Wall Street.
    Material Engineering/Science


    • This is the field I am leaning most towards, in terms of employment, interest, pay, etc.
    • Involves a lot of physics, especially solid state. A lot of physicists work in this sector.
    • Materials are involved in virtually anything, a lot of different subject fields.
    • Does involve some hands on work, but not a lot compared to other engineering majors
    • Not as much physics I would like, but I get that with all the others besides a physics major.
    Electrical Engineering

    • I love the physics and mathematics behind RF & Broadcast Engineering
    • I have tried a few electronics kits, and it really isn't my cup of tea which would make Uni difficult.
    • I dislike programming, this is the engineering field with the most programming. (besides Software Engineering).
    Mechanical Engineering


    • Good employment.
    • Very broad and involves a lot of different subject matter.
    • Enjoy Aeronautical engineering, but the physics of it. Not the building.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 4, 2017 #2
    Don't let the idea oh "hands" on discourage you in pursuing engineering. I'm a civil engineer student, and the most hands on I've done was concrete mixing, casting, frame construction and rebar placement. Im pretty sure in the work place you will be providing commentary on how to build and not perform it your self.

    I think mechanical engineering is a good mix of physics, math and engineering science, and you can eventually choose specific topics like Fluid mechanics in 3rd and 4th year.
  4. Sep 4, 2017 #3
    Thanks for your input! Mechanical engineering is something I have been thinking about but, similar to civil engineering, it is more design than abstract. I like to categorize myself as an abstract thinker, but don't knock it till you've tried it! Your input is noted, but I still believe I am leaning towards Material Engineering! When I was rereading my post I realized how much I hated EE. MechE would be exciting for me once I get to work with fluid mechanics and thermodynamics, but I am not sure if that out weighs my interest in Material Science.
  5. Sep 4, 2017 #4


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    My undergraduate studies were in physics. I do remember that I was somewhat surprised - and also a bit disappointed - that fluid mechanics was absent in the curriculum, nor was there any research on fluid mechanics being done in my department. Of course I could have found out by checking course catalogues etc. but I somehow took it for granted that I would learn about fluids during undergraduate studies.

    Later on, I found out that mechanical engineering students are probably more likely to encounter fluid mechanics (and continuum mechanics in general) than physics students, at least in my country. Now, I don't know how important fluid mechanics is to you in your decision process, but this may be something to keep in mind.
  6. Sep 4, 2017 #5
    In the USA, fluid mechanics is mostly in ME and AeroE, with a little bit in ChemE.
  7. Sep 5, 2017 #6
    I have bad news for you. If you don't like programming then physics is out. If you don't like both - programming and hands-on most STEM is out or rather you should choose sales/client/management path in engineering then. I can only think about civil engineering and architecture as disciplines that don't involve programming or hands on.
  8. Sep 5, 2017 #7


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    Rika, both civil engineers and architects can and have used programming, and similarly both fields have been involved in hands-on work (more for civil engineers than architects).
  9. Sep 5, 2017 #8


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    To the OP:

    If you are not a hands-on person (i.e. working with your hands), I would suggest you may be better off studying math or applied math instead.

    Also, when you say you dislike programming, are you saying you are not good at programming? Or simply you don't want to work in software development? Because most science or engineering programs will involve some programming, so you really cannot avoid it at all. Some jobs (such as mine) will only involve limited programming, so perhaps that may be fine for you.

    At any rate, if you are a student in the US, you don't have to make any immediate decisions until after you finish your first year of college/university, so you still have time to make a decision.
  10. Sep 5, 2017 #9
    Saying I dislike it is a bit harsh. I would be okay if my job included it, but not something I would like to do on a daily basis. I enjoy learning about programming, but applying it just doesn't interest me. You say mathematics or applied math, but would physics be hands on? I am okay working in a laboratory or something of the sort.
  11. Sep 5, 2017 #10
    People are under the assumption that I never want to do programming, I just don't want to do it EVERYDAY. Doing it weekly is fine or even less than that. I enjoy learning programming but hate applying it. It's something I am open too, but my love of physics outweighs my dislike for programming.
  12. Sep 5, 2017 #11
    If you read other replies, I stated that I am open to programming. Yes, you are correct that any STEM field is off without programming or hands on. The think I mostly dislike about mechanical engineering and material science is the work environments. Physics is hands on but is in a laboratory, a working environment I enjoy.
  13. Sep 5, 2017 #12
    <<Emphasis added>>
    Many projects in mechanical engineering (and other branches of engineering) and materials science are performed in a laboratory environment, rather than a field environment. Depends on the job. But let me emphasize: a good indicator that engineering is right for you is that you like to build things and that you like to take things apart to see how they work, so you need to be "hands on" in that respect.

    ETA: I got my physics degree with a concentration in solid-state and a heavy dose of materials science and engineering. If you don't want to get dirty working in a foundry, specialize in semiconductor materials and literally work in a clean room.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2017
  14. Sep 5, 2017 #13
    I never thought about semiconductor material being an option, thanks for making me aware. I've always wanted to go into the engineering field because I love math/physics, money and respect being an added bonus. But when you bring it to my attention that those are the key aspects of an engineer, then I would say that I am just not the right fit for engineering and should look more towards degree programs in maths, and physics. Can you tell me anything about engineering physics, because this is a thing that I have been looking into.
  15. Sep 6, 2017 #14
    In a nutshell, engineering physics is a curriculum geared for physicists who plan on a career biased towards engineering (in distinction, for example, to physicists interested in elucidating the origins of the universe). If you're not interested in an engineering career, there's no point in pursuing a degree in engineering physics.

    To reiterate: You have this backwards. You don't plan on an engineering career because you love math and physics. You plan on an engineering career because you love to design and build things. If you don't love to design and build things, then pursue a career in math or physics.

    I took a look at your profile. Although it's admirable that you are contemplating the pluses and minuses of various career options, it's way too early. In the US, you generally don't need to declare a major until your sophomore year in college (exceptions apply). You're only 13. Take a variety of science and math courses, and work on a variety of science fair projects to see what piques your interest. Do you like to watch shows like "How It's Made?", or do you find them boring? Do you like to watch "BattleBots", and think, "Wow! I'd like to build a robot"; or do you think, "Gee, that's dumb"? Have you ever opened up a PC to see what's inside? Have you ever wondered how your smartphone makes a call? Were you excited about the recent eclipse? Were you interested in the the astronomical phenomena? Were you interested in the design of the filters to protect your eyes?

    There's considerable overlap among various fields. I got my PhD in physics. My first industrial R&D gig was epitaxial crystal growth. Other crystal growers had degrees in chemistry, EE, or materials science and engineering. In my lab, I worked with physicists, chemists, mathematicians, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and materials scientists and engineers.
  16. Sep 6, 2017 #15
    Also, if you choose engineering physics as your undergraduate program and decide to pursue a masters, depending on the research topic and professor, you could in theory apply and obtain a M.Sc in Mechanical Engineering.
  17. Sep 7, 2017 #16
    Really? How does this process work, is it dependent on the university, GPA? In all my research about engineering physics I have never heard this.
  18. Sep 7, 2017 #17
    Some of the things you posted, mainly the one above, did pique my interest. There is an obvious overlap in some STEM degrees, especially when you're talking about a big subject such as epitaxal crystal growth. I don't know much about that subject, from what I know I could see why chemists, physicists, and material scientists belong. But what was the role of the mechanical engineer?
  19. Sep 7, 2017 #18
    Sorry for the confusion. The overall mission of my lab was R&D in optoelectronic devices; epitaxial crystal growth was one field of R&D. The processed semiconductor chip is mounted on a "header", which is then mounted in a "package". The fully packaged device has the electrical and optical connectors. Mechanical engineers design the header and the package, as well as work on assembly techniques. Mathematicians work on statistical process control (SPC) and reliability modelling.
  20. Sep 7, 2017 #19
    Yes the process is GPA governed along with the need of previous research experience , reference letters etc...


    From University of McGill:

    "Applicants to the M.Eng. (Thesis) program must hold an undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in Engineering. Applicants who hold an undergraduate degree in a non-Engineering discipline—typically the Physical Sciences—may apply for the M.Sc. (Thesis) program, which is governed by the same regulations as the M.Eng. (Thesis) program."

  21. Sep 10, 2017 #20
    In the end, more physics grads end up as programmers or engineers than physicists. If you want to be a physics researcher, study physics and plan on doing a PhD. Keep a plan b in your pocket.

    Otherwise, I think its better to major in engineering.
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