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Programs Should I double major in EE and Physics

  1. May 15, 2016 #1
    A little bit of background:

    I'm 26 years old, and I just finished my first year back at school. I previously got a degree in Economics but hated the field. Now I've discovered that I really enjoy Physics and Electrical Engineering. Thankfully, I got scholarships the first time through school, so I didn't have any debt. This time, I'm financing my education through a combination of student loans and working part-time.

    I'm pretty much set on getting the Electrical Engineering degree because I want to have the ability to get a job in my field straight out of school. But I also love my Physics classes. I get excited at the thought of taking some of the upper-level Physics courses. In fact, if this were my first degree, I would major in Physics alone.

    I'm most interested in the research and development side of industry, which means I'll probably want to go on to a graduate degree in either Physics or Electrical Engineering. I'd like to be involved in research more so than just developing standard products for a company. Some of my interests include renewable energy and nanotechnology.

    At my school, there is a Physics degree with an emphasis in Engineering Physics. For that double major, I would only need to add 30 credit hours (10 classes) to my degree. I could also go with just a Physics minor, in which case I'd add only 9 credit hours (3 classes) to my degree. Most likely, I would go to graduate school in Electrical Engineering, so I could just take the classes that are most relevant rather than taking courses like Mechanics that aren't as relevant or Modern Electronics, which is probably redundant.

    I've been agonizing over this decision for months now.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2016 #2
    I'm a rising senior in electrical engineering, and I'm minoring in physics. I've taken my two standard general physics courses, a modern physics course, and I'll be taking quantum mechanics and possibly statistical mechanics. I'm pretty satisfied with the amount of physics I'm taking, though I'd always like more. Nanotechnology is a very broad term and it's applied to a lot of different areas nowadays. You could look into NEMS (nanoelectromechanical systems), which I believe will probably grow as a research field in a few years (right now MEMS, microelectromechanical systems, is a pretty common research area). You may want to look into those to see what physics courses would be important, if you find them interesting. Other "nano"-type areas could be semiconductor device physics, especially as transistors get smaller and smaller. My electronic devices professor took several physics grad courses when he was getting his Ph.D, in particular in quantum mechanics and solid state physics.

    Renewable energy will likely not involve much in the way of modern physics, unless you'd want to work with solar cells or something, which might require some solid state physics.

    My point is that it never hurts to learn more physics, but if you're leaning towards the EE side of things, a minor + appropriate EE courses is probably good. But then again, it'd be interesting to hear the extra classes you would be taking if you did a double major.
  4. May 15, 2016 #3
    For the minor, I'd only have to take three more classes: Mathematical Physics and then a choice of two courses between Mechanics, E&M, Modern Physics, and Modern Electronics. If I go with the minor, I'll take E&M and Modern Physics for the requirements, and then I'd most likely add Quantum Mechanics and Modern Optics (because there's a lot of cool stuff you can do with light, too).

    For a major, I'd then add four more physics courses: Mechanics, Modern Electronics, Thermal and Statistical Physics, and Advanced Lab. I'm not that interested in Mechanics, and I'd probably find a lot of the material overlaps with Statics and Dynamics. Modern Electronics is a lab-based course, and I have plenty of Electrical and Electronics labs in the EE major. Thermal and Statistical Physics would have a lot of overlap with Thermodynamics, which I'm required to take even though it isn't a pre-req for anything. As for Advanced Lab, I'll already have a similar course in EE.

    I've looked into pre-reqs for grad courses at some of the places I might attend if I go that route, and it looks like Modern Physics shows up for a few. Apart from that, I can get all the pre-reqs through EE courses.

    For me, the biggest issue is money. I can cover all my direct educational expenses with student loans, but then there are other expenses like food, gas (I commute to school), and health insurance (which I can't go without). If I take on the heavier course loads necessary to do a double major, or even a minor, that means I'll have to work more while having less time to do so. Plus, since my EE program is entirely in the evening, that opens up chances to do co-ops my last couple of years. If I take too many Physics courses, which are generally offered during the day, that will make it very hard to fit in a co-op.

    I'm not even sure how much the minor would add for me. Modern Physics would obviously add something, so I could just end up taking that class. Mathematical Physics probably won't be that much different from Engineering Math. I'm taking an E&M theory class in EE, so do I really need one in Physics, too? And I could probably cover the optics I'd need in grad school if I go that route.

    I've been going back and forth on this for the last few months.
  5. May 15, 2016 #4
    It depends on what your engineering EM class covers. Do you know what modern electronics covers? I'd imagine you'd see it all in your EE curriculum. I've been told statistical physics would be useful in terms of device physics.
  6. May 15, 2016 #5
    Here's the description of Modern Electronics:

    An integrated recitation/laboratory study of modern analog and digital electronics with emphasis on integrated circuits. Topics include circuit elements, operational amplifiers, logic gates, counters, ac/dc converters, noise reduction, microprocessors, embedded microcontrollers, and digital processing. Three hours of lecture/laboratory per week.

    It doesn't seem like anything I won't cover in my multiple EE lab classes.
  7. May 15, 2016 #6
    You will certainly cover all of that in your EE curriculum (I should hope), and in more depth--especially if they have to teach all that in a 3 credit course. Ultimately, I recommend speaking to any of the faculty in your department who do research similar to the fields you'd like to work in. They'll be able to tell you what courses you should take and what courses they took. Personally, I wouldn't do it if it would cause financial strain. Quite simply, if you need more physics for your graduate research, chances are you'll take the physics courses while in grad school. That's what many of my professors did.
  8. May 15, 2016 #7
    Right now, I'm leaning more toward just doing Modern Physics. I have good physical intuition, and I did very well in my first two physics classes (96% in Mechanics, 98% in E&M), so I can probably teach myself to some extent. After all, I've also done very well in my Calculus sequence and Differential Equations. Engineering Math will probably give me most of the math I need.

    At the same time, I'll feel kind of sad about taking less physics. It's a lot of fun, but I don't see myself in the field (mostly due to the fact that I'd pretty much have to get a PhD to do anything interesting).
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