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Potential Physics Major? Help!

  1. Apr 7, 2004 #1
    I'm in a dilemma. The time for deciding on that institution of higher learning after high school is drawing near, and I really don't know what I want to do yet. I've done well (and generally enjoyed) the math and sciences, including calc and physics. I guess I pretty much decided awhile ago that I would major in the sciences. My interest in computers seemed to fit in with that. I like history/geography/political science type things as well, but I don't see the same career opportunities in that area.

    I've come to the decision, physics or engineering? I have been looking at a physics major at a private liberal arts college, and it seems to be a good idea.

    • Excellent physics program at this college, from what I hear.
    • Well rounded liberal arts education with a major background in physics.
    • A lot of flexibility upon graduation?
    • Graduate school in engineering most likely necessary. Need top grades to do this.
    • If I don't love physics as much as I think/hope I do, then I don't have the option to switch to some engineering/computer degree with less physics.

    I am also considering an engineering degree at a certain public university. I would probably choose Electrical/computer engineering.

    • Know sooner if engineering is a career I would enjoy.
    • Better job opportunities after BS? Better chances at grad school?
    • As it is a larger school, more options if comp engineering isn't for me.
    • Friend is going here. :cool:

    • Less prestigious than the private school.
    • Larger school. Chances at getting those professors that only speak Russian and I can't understand. :eek:
    • Less career options. I'm pretty much locked into computer engineering, while a physics major can easily end up in many fields?

    I have tenatively chosen the private school. Help?????? If you reply, please say what your major is/was so I can see which side of the bias spectrum you are on. :wink: I live in the upper Midwest US, so job opportunities in engineering might not be as much as in, say, California. I don't see the career opportunities for a physics major without further schooling in engineering at a graduate level (would require a few undergrad engineering, but this is done all the time I guess). I might end up with a physics degree that I can't do anything with?

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 7, 2004 #2
    Physics or Engineering

    See the thread "Physics or Engineering, which way to go" at General Discussion.
    "Career in Engineering" at Electrical Engineering.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2004
  4. Apr 7, 2004 #3


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    There are two separate issues that I want to emphasize here.

    First is that a major in physics need not be what most incoming undergraduates think it is - pure theoretical, esoteric, exotic, and convoluted ideas. While you do have to have rigorous training in the "basics" of physics such as CM, QM, and E&M, depending on where you go, you have the option of doing a lot of "tinkering with cool toys" when you do advanced laboratory work, independent study, etc. In fact, many schools recommend students taking classes in electronics, etc., as part of their training if they are inclined to pursue experimental physics in graduate school. The point here is that there's a lot of "engineering" in physics. One can actually get to physically DO something as a physics major.

    Secondly is that often, one really does not need to choose one or the other between physics/engineering/computer science/etc. Again, in many schools, there are official curriculum that combines all of these various areas. My undergraduate alma mater (U. of Wisconsin-Madison) has a major in AMEP - applied mathematics, engineering, and physics - that allows a student, with the approval of an academic advisor, to tailor-made a program that combines aspects of physics with engineering, or physics with math/computer science. So you have one major (not a double major) and you get to take courses in 2 or more departments as part of your curriculum, depending on your interest.

    I would guess that there are other schools that have similar programs, although this probably is more prevalent in more established, larger schools. So the second point here is that cross-breeding of different disciplines such as physics-engineering isn't that uncommon. This means you don't have to give up one to pursue the other. Take note also that in many schools, one can specialize, even though it is not an official major at the undergraduate level, in computational physics. This is a growing sub-division in the APS, and many schools have this as an area of study at the graduate level. So again, if you have a keen interest in computer science and physics, there's nothing here to indicate that you have to give up one for the other. In fact, physics majors with computational physics degrees are one of the most sought-after graduates - your employment opportunites range from academia, national laboratories, high-energy physics research groups, and all the way to Wall Street firms.

    Moral of the story: you don't have to give up other areas of study just because you want to pursue physics.

  5. Apr 8, 2004 #4
    Thanks Zapper.
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