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Should I switch majors?

  1. Feb 3, 2009 #1
    Hey guys, I am currently an Engineering Physics student in my sophomore year, however i am having some second thoughts. Basically im wondering if anyone has had any trouble getting a job with a bachelors in EP or physics?

    I originally thought i would go onto grad school for astrophysics or something but after doing some undergrad research with faculty Im thinking that maybe it is not for me. Its just to much computer coding for me... like we write this big code plug in these million numbers and see what comes out. I love space and everything but I love the obersvational aspect of it.. and it seems the majority of work is just number crunching.

    So basically im at this point... I feel that i can switch to engineering and get a good paying job with a bachelors versus sticking it out in physics where i may not have a good chance to get a good job unless i have a Phd(ive heard a physics degree is not very powerful in just a bachelors). Has anyone had any experience in this? or advice? I just feel for the same amount of hard work I can do engineering and be in a better position.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2009
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  3. Feb 3, 2009 #2
    If you were doing straight physics I'd say that you might have trouble getting employment. But if you do engineering physics, you'll likely take enough engineering classes that you'll be competetive in the job market. Just the semi-qualified opinion of someone who tried to get a job but went the grad school route.
  4. Feb 3, 2009 #3


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    Who is telling you this and what evidence are they presenting to support their arguments that you will have a hard time getting a job with a physics degree?
  5. Feb 3, 2009 #4
    No one in particular. It just seems to be that way and most people i talk to tell me that unless i plan on going to grad school that it will be harder to find a good paying job with a physics degree than an engineering one. Ive asked around on different forums and that is the result ive came too... if you have a different experience please let me know.
  6. Feb 3, 2009 #5
    Hi Choppy. As much as we don't want to believe it, Coletrain's assumptions seem to be more or less true. When I searched for jobs my last year of college, I found that most people who would hire physicists were looking for people to fill engineering positions. Now BS physicists are well-trained enough to do these jobs, but why hire a person with a physics degree when you can just hire someone with an engineering degree? I actually found that my math BS was more employable than my physics BS! This was largely because my physics BS was focused heavily on academics. I hadn't taken any engineering or Csci classes. This makes excellent preparation for graduate school, but it's not so great for the working world. All the stuff they say about employers loving physicists' critical thinking abilities is only true if you also have the appropriate engineering background. That's why I think that an engineering physics degree is a better way to go.

    The other issue is that even if you do get a job with just the BS degree, you won't be doing physics. Likely you'll be doing engineering, computer programming, or something of this nature. Maybe if you work as an engineer you'll get to do something physics-ish once in awhile. If you want to work at a national lab and do condensed matter physics, high energy research, astronomy, etc., you need to have at least a masters degree. And if you want to work on your own research projects, then a PhD is essential. Personally I think that if a person genuinely likes physics and wants to spend his/her career doing it, then that person should get a PhD.

    Anyway, this is all stuff I've learned from my attempt at a job search, so it's by no means authoritative.
  7. Feb 3, 2009 #6


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    But based on what? Word of mouth? The internet postings of a few frustrated job seekers? The reason I argue this is because when I look at the salary surveys and emplyment statistics, it doesn't appear that physics graduates have it all that bad compared to their engineering counterparts. I will admit that on average, the salaries are slightly lower, but we're talking about an annual difference on the order of a few thousand dollars, not the tens of thousands that would significantly affect someone's lifestyle.

    Naturally, if you're an employer who needs an engineer, you're going to favour engineering graduates. If you're a student who wants an engineering job, then obviously engineering is the better choice.

    I think what commonly happens is that graduating students assume a physics B.Sc. is a professional degree, which it isn't. When they type "physics" into a job search engine, they don't get as many hits as they would if they typed "engineering" and often very few hits at all. This then translates into the assumption that there aren't jobs for physics majors.

    But the fact of the matter is that a physics degree is one of the most technically challenging degrees a student can undertake. The hurdle - and I won't deny there is one - is that the student must then do the translation work and properly market him or herself as a valuable commodity. Often additional training is necessary to move into some positions, but this is true even for engineers.

    Well, likely not research. I agree you pretty much need a Ph.D. for that. But again, physics isn't really a profession. It's an academic discipline. English majors don't "do English" either.

    When I look back at the physics majors I know, or have known, they've gone into some really great fields and landed themselves some great jobs that they do very well at. I know people who've gone on to become entreprenuers, gone into journalism, financial planning, programming, become healthcare technicians, gone into environmental work, as well as those that went on academically.
  8. Feb 4, 2009 #7


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    That sounds great but all those jobs either dont require a degree or there are people who have degrees designed specifically for that job which means a physics bachelors is very unlikely to get a decent entry-level job for those fields. You may be able to get an unpaid internship to prove yourself and get the experience necessary to get a paid job but compare that to people with the right degree who do not have to go unpaid to prove themselves. You might possibly be paid if you have the right connection ie the owner is your fathers golf buddy but this doesnt prove much because those types of connections trump your degree. People with philosophy degrees have worked and been successful in the fields you listed does that mean I would recommend a physics degree to obtain any of those jobs, hell no.

    The skill set for engineering jobs is the closest approximation to the skill set obtained in physics. There also is finance but those jobs are only available in a handful of cities and are very competitive. In both those cases there are degrees better suited for seeking employment in those areas.
    It is possible to overcome the fact that your skill set/physics bachelor but if you are an engineering degree applying for an engineering job you dont have to overcome perceived deficiencies in your skill set.
  9. Feb 4, 2009 #8
    Another concern is if you want to get PE certification (aka. become licensed as a "Professional Engineer"). This might not be critical at the entry stage of the job market (since I believe you apply and test for the PE sometime after you graduate and are in the workforce), but could be critical later on; sometime employers specify that they would like someone with PE certification for higher level jobs, and you must have completed an accredited engineering programs as part of the certification process (not physics.. and you'd have to look into engineering physics). If you can't get this accreditation, your CV/resume might not be pulled out of the pile of applicants, especially if the applications are sorted electronically for criteria (which is becoming more common).
  10. Feb 4, 2009 #9
    Engineering is a much better career path. Engineering degrees usually take longer to obtain, but an ABET accredited degree will open many doors for you.

    I honestly think engineers get to do a lot more interesting physics than physicists. In my case, I was always fascinated with fluid mechanics and aerodynamics, but couldn't figure out why my physics department never offered classes in these subjects. I eventually realized that those subjects are taught almost exclusively by mechanical and aerospace engineers. Physicists don't care about such "practical" subjects.
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