1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Courses Switch from Physics to Engineering as a Junior -- Coursework?

  1. Apr 9, 2017 #1
    The "should I switch from Physics to Engineering?" question has been beaten to death - so I’m sorry for repeating a variation of it. But, I haven't found answers regarding my specific case.

    I just got accepted as a transfer student to UCSB for Physics, which I’m pretty happy about.. because I like Physics. However, I’ve been thinking (more practically) as of late, and questioning my choice of the Physics major. In fact, I'm convinced that a Bachelor's of Engineering (E.E. or M.E.) is a better choice for me.

    Here are a few reasons why (lot's of generalizations/assumptions for sake of brevity):

    1) I want to work in “industry,” which generally prefers engineers to physicists.
    2) Broadly speaking, engineering aligns more with my goals, and to a lesser extent my personality.*
    3) I want to make good money (just being honest) and engineers have higher wages in general.
    4) I don't like the idea of a career in research, nor a teaching one.
    *most important to me

    Back to the dilemma..
    UCSB's engineering school doesn't allow transfers to change to ANY engineering major.. unless of course they were accepted as one to begin with. So an Engineering B.S. is off the table.

    But with the Physics B.A. (more freedom than a B.S. in choosing upper division coursework) I could stack up on engineering courses. My thinking/hope is that this would sufficiently prepare me for entry into a Master’s in Engineering program.

    The specific Engr. M.S. program I eventually apply to would dictate which courses I would select in undergrad, correct? In general, is my plan reasonable?
    I’d really appreciate some of the wise input of this forum.
    Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 9, 2017 #2
    You seem somewhat boxed in here by the school rules. I think the Physics BA will not be very good background for an engineering MS, unless you take a whole lot of engineering courses. I would expect resistance to doing the necessary engineering courses from a Physics academic advisor, from your classmates, etc.

    Have you considered starting over, seeking admission to UCSB or somewhere else in an undergraduate engineering program?
  4. Apr 9, 2017 #3

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    ...and the engineering departments. Their own students surely have priority for the engineering courses.
  5. Apr 10, 2017 #4
    Lots of people on this forum say that, but that hasn't been the experience of colleagues of mine; I know math majors who've done EE MS's related to semiconductor fabrication, and physics majors who went on to do ME masters and PhD's. It depends on the focus of what the engineering masters is in rather than the fact that one is moving from a related field to engineering that makes the switch difficult.

    OP, what sort of work do you want to do in 'industry'?
  6. Apr 10, 2017 #5
    My Physics advisor is actually quite supportive of me taking Engineering coursework - the Engineering department probably won't be so supportive. As Vanadium 50 said, their own students have priority. The Physics B.A. is still a thorough Physics education - just, it's primarily for students who don't want to be career Physicists. An example my advisor gave was that the B.S. requires a full year of upper-div quantum mechanics, which is of limited use in Mechanical Engineering, while with the B.A. I could substitute in other courses.
    But to answer your question.. I haven't really considered starting over and applying somewhere else. I'd be giving up the admission seat I have, then waiting another year for a decision which isn't guaranteed. That idea is super off putting. But I realize that I'd ultimately be better served to go directly for an Engineering B.S.. I just don't know that I'm willing to do that, given the uncertainty.

    Yea, my advisor said some similar things.. it's reassuring to have multiple sources confirming this.
    Being inspired is most important to me.. it's why I got into Physics. I'm 28 years old. I essentially failed every math and science class back in high school. Overcoming my perceived ineptitude in math & science and finding my passion for Physics has completely changed my life for the better. So wherever I work, I feel, should foster this spirit. Meaning that I need to feel inspired by the employment - either in its mission or in my personal duties - preferably both. For example, Space-X is attractive to me for this reason - I see their mission as completely altruistic and exciting. The space exploration and artificial intelligence industries are my two biggest turn-ons.

    But essentially, I want to be in a high-tech, fast-paced environment. I want to deal with complex problems, and I want to design solutions to them. Then I'd like to see those solutions come to life and see people benefit from them.. like tangible products and benefits.
    Hope that answers your question. I'm not sure I can get any more specific because I'm semi-clueless about which Engineering disciplines would scratch this itch. My initial research has led me to believe it's either Mechanical or Electrical, though.

    My advisor seems to think it's a viable plan, so long as I'm able to enroll in the engineering courses. I'm hoping there are others on the forum who've experienced something similar and can share that experience with me.
    I need to draft up a course plan soon because I plan on starting this summer.
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  7. Apr 10, 2017 #6
    Please allow me to correct this for you. I can say with complete certainty that quantum mechanics will be of zero value to anyone pursuing an ME degree and/or career. I have been an ME for over 50 years, and there is noting MEs work on where quantum mechanics would apply.
  8. Apr 12, 2017 #7
    That's the kind of information I'm looking for!
    Do you mind me asking what you did as an ME?
  9. Apr 13, 2017 #8
    I have done a wide variety of work as an ME, including (1) kinematics and dynamics of small, precision timing mechanisms, (2) dynamics of cold rolling mills, including the motors and control systems, (3) seismic analysis of standby gensets for nuclear power plants, (4) torsional vibrations of diesel driven machinery, (5) accident investigation and reconstruction, (6) design analysis for IC racing engine cams, (7) in-house consultant for an aerospace manufacturer, responsible for answering any and all questions related to mechanics, (8) design and installation of machinery health monitoring systems, (9) electromechanical systems analysis for the US Navy, including design requirements for electronic aircraft launch, (10) pulsed alternator design for the Navy for rail gun power.
  10. Apr 15, 2017 #9
    That sounds like quite a career!
    I mean, what a diverse set of awesome-sounding jobs.. it must've been super rewarding. Are you still working?
    Your electromechanical systems analysis for the Navy is fascinating to me.. it sounds like you were involved in designing the new electromagnetic launch system?
    I actually used to work on the USS George Washington as an enlisted aviation tech. My berthing (place I slept) was right below the flight deck catapults. If permanent hearing loss was your thing - we had the best seat in the house, haha.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2017
  11. Apr 15, 2017 #10
    It was a great career, and I enjoyed each new position. Spaced between each of these I should include a few years of college teaching. I bounced back and forth between industry and teaching more times than most ever do. Its not a very good way to get to the top, but it certainly avoids boredom. I am no longer regularly employed, but I do some consulting work now.

    I worked on the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) for a while, before I was moved to work on the rail gun power supply (pulsed alternator) work. That was great work, and definitely state of the art at the time.

    I lost my hearing to the Navy while working on sonar systems. They get you one way or the other!
  12. Apr 20, 2017 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I would advise you to finish your BA in Physics, take as many engineering courses are you can, and then get an MS in engineering. We had several grad students in my engineering program with physics backgrounds they did fine, except they had to take a few undergraduate engineering courses to catch up.

    Of course it depends on your role and your niche, but QM is more relevant to semiconductor engineers than most, so that might be an area of interest for you.
  13. Apr 21, 2017 #12
    I'd probably finish up the Physics degree and then apply for a Masters in EE. You could get into something like semiconductors for the QM stuff.
  14. May 17, 2017 #13

    Dr. D,

    I've got an internship lined up next month where I'll be working on designing solutions for Naval Engineering projects.
    It's a joint-program between UCSB Engineering and Naval Facilities Engineering Command. (http://pipelines-csep.cnsi.ucsb.edu/)
    I feel like this will be a great experience in general.. but especially in aligning me toward a more engineering-focused path.. would you agree?

    Like I mentioned in my original post.. I won't be able to get a Bachelor's in Engineering because of UCSB policies.. so I'll have to stay within the Physics program.

    So essentially my question is (and anyone - feel free to answer,) how I can retool my Physics major in a way that will best position me to serve in a (Mechanical) Engineering capacity? Should I focus on more engineering-related internships? Should I knock out as many engineering courses as possible and apply to a Masters in Engineering program? A combination of the two?

    Honestly, I'm at a loss for who I should talk to about all of this. Physics advisors offer hand-wavy approval of my plan and sort of wish me the best.. while the Engineering College is just dismissive in general to non-engineering students.
    Hope all of this makes sense. I definitely appreciate everyone's continued input.
  15. May 18, 2017 #14
    By all means, do the internship with NAVFAC as you have planned. You will have an opportunity to see and learn some interesting new things. For the future (beyond this summer), I suggest other engineering internships (non-military, non-government). The idea of getting in as many engineering courses as possible is also good, but make sure that you get the foundational courses, more than the upper level courses for which you just may have the pre-reqs. Even though you cannot get an engineering degree, you can still take courses as though you were getting one, and that will be important for later.

    I have a few words of warning about being a civilian employee of the Navy; I did this for seven years. What I saw as that, at the entry level, the Navy offers some really interesting and exciting opportunities. At the upper level, advancement is based in entirely on who you know, who owes you one. The upper levels are incredibly political and essentially independent of technical competence. The Navy pays well and offers some great retirement benefits; these are referred to inside as "the golden handcuffs." They get people into a lifestyle/workstyle where they simply cannot afford to leave, or so they think. I hate to see a new graduate start down that road.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted