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Physics vs Mechanical Engineering?

  1. Jul 13, 2014 #1
    I'm an incoming senior in high school and beginning college apps. I'm looking into majors and trying to figure out which is best for me.

    I have a couple of questions about physics vs mechanical engineering:
    1) Which field is best for a woman, not only in college but as a career?
    2) Is a PhD in physics really worth it? How does getting a PhD in physics compare to getting a BS in mechanical engineering?

    I've always wanted to do some kind of physics research, but after reading horror stories online about people dropping out and/or ending up with an unsatisfactory non-STEM job and the long, arduous path towards a good physics career, I'm now shying away from a physics major. Still, I enjoy theoretical more than applied, so I'm still iffy about mechanical engineering.

    Thanks for your input!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 14, 2014 #2
    Usually, I always give grad school a thumbs down, unless you can't imagine yourself doing anything else. However, you might think about trying to pick an area in physics that is more marketable in industry, like maybe semi-conductor physics. There seem to be a few of those. You still have to have a pretty strong stomach to get through grad school, though, so it should still only be considered with great caution.

    It's hard to tell if you actually enjoy theoretical more than applied at such an early stage. I thought I liked math (specifically, mathematical physics and topology) more than EE, so I ditched it, with tremendous success at first, but as time went on, I realized that the issues I had with math, in the long run, dwarfed any problems I had with electrical engineering. I think I was drawn to theory for a long time because I liked understanding. When I found out that mathematicians are more concerned with proving results than understanding (and you might find something similar to be the case in physics), there was no motivation for me to keep doing it because I enjoy understanding, not merely proving results. Applied stuff used to seem kind of dirty to me because you couldn't assume the ugly details away or something like that (although I was also very interested in theoretical physics). But now, very applied stuff seems so much more attractive to me because you can accomplish concrete things with all that ridiculous amount of work you are putting in, rather than just publish a paper than only 5 people in the world care about.

    I'm curious about the laws of nature, but I don't envy physics professors at this point, having to deal with all the competition and pressure, and the whole tenure time bomb and everything. Plus, teaching. Really, I think a much more pleasant way to be a physicist would be if you happened to get lucky and be independently wealthy, so that you don't need to have a formal position and deal with all the pressures of academia. That's one of the few cases in which I might say a PhD in physics is a good idea.
     
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