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Questions about triple major feasibility

  1. Jan 25, 2015 #1
    I know there have been other questions directed about this, but I haven't seen any specifically related to my particular point of view on this. Also, sorry for the length of this post, I'm long winded.

    I've asked in another thread (which many were kind enough to give some guidance in) about switching fields in physics with a PhD. I'm still an undergrad, and my plan has always been to earn a double major in physics and math. Frankly, I like math so much it could possibly tempt me away from physics(almost). However, in either physics or math, I know the job market is not necessarily spectacular(especially in those areas that do not have immediate money-making advantage or practical utility). Whereas, engineering relative to more theoretical work often does have a god job market (relative to that country's economy, I suppose). In my other thread I mentioned about pursuing accelerator physics with a PhD in mathematical physics or astrophysics. A responder mentioned it may be possible with some relevant experience. From what I've read out of various threads, it seems that electrical engineering would give me some relevant knowledge in accelerator physics. Also, if I cannot secure a job in physics at all, there is the possibility of being an electrical engineer(which as far as engineering goes, would be the one that would most intrigue me). So I am now considering electrical engineering. Now, I have already been taking some engineering classes because of how my program works at my community college. So by the time I transfer to a four year, I will already have several engineering classes under my belt.

    So after that long verbal soapbox, I get to my questions.

    How feasible is it to pursue a triple major in math/physics/electrical engineering?
    How long could it take on average (assuming around no more than 21 credit hours per semester, preferably around 18)?
    Are there better options (such as earning a B.S. in physics/math , a M.S. in electrical engineering, and then pursuing a PhD in physics)?
    Is it possible to be a PE, if I pursue a M.S. in electrical engineering with a B.S. in math/physics or will hurt me to not have a bachelor's in engineering?
    If I do not have PE status, is it still possible to work in the electrical engineering field, albeit with limitations?

    If there are questions or points of view that I have not considered, please don't hesitate to chime in. This is not yet a decision I have to make, but it will be soon. Ideally, I'd like to take the course of action that keeps my career options most open, pursues my primary plan of action (mathematical physics or astrophysics), and gives me the possibility of pursuing other interests (such as going into math instead of physics entirely). Thanks for any answers.

    P.S. I'm in the United States(if that helps provide some relevant info).
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2015 #2
    You likely will not need PE status for any E.E. job that is going to be interesting to you, I think. Not having an E.E. degree at all is a separate issue. I'm am not sure how to address your gestalt at the moment.
  4. Jan 25, 2015 #3


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    That would be an incredibly difficult combination. Those are three very difficult majors. There's a considerable amount of course overlap between them at the freshman/sophomore level, but once it gets beyond that, there is very little overlap. The typical math courses that a physics or EE major would take are calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, partial differential equations, complex analysis and others. These will all be part of the math major, but there will be quite a few other courses for the math major that won't be relevant to the others. Same goes for the other majors. An EE major has to take introductory physics, and a math major will likely take it as well. However, the EE or math major aren't going to take much physics beyond that point, because they have their own specific courses too. It's quite possible that it would take an extra year to complete. You say no more than 21 credits per semester, and that 18 is preferred. Have you had any heavy semesters like that? I took 21 credits each semester last year, and it was rough. These weren't upper level courses either. I couldn't imagine taking 21 credits of upper level courses.

    In principle, this seems like a good plan. But it may not be so easy. If you wanted to later go back and get a PhD in physics, you would have a LOT of catching up to do. You wouldn't have taken any of the junior/senior level classes that all physics majors take, and these things are assumed knowledge for graduate students. I'm not saying it's impossible, but there are a lot of variables here.
  5. Jan 25, 2015 #4
    I took 19 credits last semester, and while difficult, it was manageable. However, I'm also only a sophomore taking lower-level courses, and some of those credits were general ed requirements. So I could see how that might be unfeasible for upper level courses. Perhaps 15 would be a more level headed amount.

    Is this referring to pursuing a B.S. in physics, an M.S. in E.E. and a PhD in physics? Or are you just referring to earning a bachelor's in E.E. and going to graduate school in physics? In either case, if it was unfeasible to do so, would it help to just take some amount of E.E. classes as an undergrad (I'm thinking specifically of the possibility of accelerator physics)?
  6. Jan 25, 2015 #5
    Hmm, I may need to spend some time learning about how the licensing system works. I've never been primarily interested in engineering, but I've considered it more lately as I would rather work in engineering at least, then scribble theorems on the inside of my cardboard box.
  7. Jan 25, 2015 #6


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    I'm not sure that accelerator physics and EE really have much to do with one another. There are going to be a few similar concepts between the two (such as electromagnetism), but as far as I know, that's about where the similarity stops. I may be incorrect about this though.

    I misread your post. I was referring to getting a BS in EE and then going to a PhD program for physics. If you did a BS in physics, this wouldn't be an issue.

    If you did decide to go for a Physics BS, an EE Masters, and a Physics PhD, be aware that a PhD in physics takes about 6 years to complete. That's a long period of time, and it's typically not possible to work during your PhD program because your time is consumed by your courses and your research, as well as duties as a TA or RA. It's harder for many people to complete it later in life because of the dedication and time commitment it requires.
  8. Jan 25, 2015 #7
    Is that with a master's or in addition to a master's degree? I've read that part of the time in PhD program is earning a Master's along the way.
  9. Jan 25, 2015 #8


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    Most schools don't admit students specifically for a masters in physics. In physics, a student typically gets a BS and then goes right into a PhD program. The first 2-3 years of the PhD program involve taking graduate level classes that are basically the equivalent of a masters degree. Students may or may not earn a masters on the way to their PhD. Then the last 3-4 years consists of research and the doctoral thesis. It's pretty uncommon for schools to outright accept master's students in physics these days.
  10. Jan 25, 2015 #9
    Well I am 28, so it shouldn't be too bad to pursue a PhD. Plus I'm used to not having a social life, so nothing will really change in that regard. The main reason I inferred a connection between E.E. and accelerator physics is a post I read where ZapperZ response to someone's question of finishing a degree in E.E. vs pursuing a degree in accelerator physics.

    My main concern isn't doing long, thankless work for little pay. I'm quite comfortable with that, if I'm passionate about it. My biggest fear is to go through a long period of school for a lot of debt, and then end up not being able to work in the field at all. I know it's quite unrealistic to have expectations of being a tenured research professor, but frankly any work in research would be fine. Astrophysics would be my first choice, but as I'm given to understand the only jobs available in that field are pretty much the professorships, so it is slim pickings. So ideally, I just want some sort of backup plan in case astrophysics (or mathematical physics, the other major interest) was to fall through. I know it is early for me to think about this, but I have to declare a major by next year, and I need to know whether to incorporate some amount of engineering in my plan. As for accelerator physics, the main reason I've latched on to that, is that I've read that jobs in that field are in really high demand as opposed to many other fields of physics. Plus, let's be honest, particle accelerators are chick magnets and are just COOL.
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