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Switching from mechanical engineering to physics

  1. Jul 30, 2015 #1
    I'm a Mechanical Engineering student about to begin my third year. After getting a little taste of what MechE's do, I find myself losing interest. I was undecided between MechE and Physics from the beginning, and I believe I'm preferring engineering only because of the jobs. I should also mention, that I enjoy the "theoretical" part of engineering, which leads me to think that I should be majoring in physics instead.
    As to what field in physics I'm interested in, this is not quite clear to me. But, the point is i'm always interested in the very science itself that engineers "use". So, do you think I should make the switch?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 30, 2015 #2
    If you value wealth, if you would like to see yourself owning a big apartment, if you would like to drive a wonderful car, if you would like to live luxuriously, if you would like to wear top-notch clothes, if you would like to see your children live finely in the best schools with the best utilities, then become a mechanical engineer.

    Most people who do degrees in physics regret it later, as it is very difficult to get a job with a PhD degree in physics. And obtaining a job with just a MS degree is impossible, in today's era. You will not be able to garner any money from physics and will remain jobless in the field unless you're a revolutionary (which is what everybody pursuing a degree thinks, but only 1 in 500,000 people end up doing so really), but there is one clever tactic; learn programming and work as a programmer while contemplating physics as a hobby. This is what 97% of Physics graduates do, and what I do.
  4. Jul 30, 2015 #3
    I just want a job that won't make me starve.
    I am most likely getting a PhD (engineering or physics). learning programming isn't an issue at all, actually I like programming.
    I'd like to see on what basis your claims are?
    I'm assuming you know that I'm not necessarily pursuing an academic path.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2015
  5. Jul 30, 2015 #4
    What about ME do you not like specifically?

    There were many aspects of EE that I didn't like myself, but as an engineer you have a fairly wide range of jobs that you can do.

    What about finishing ME and doing a Masters in physics? (not sure if that is feasible or not but might be worth looking into)
  6. Jul 30, 2015 #5


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    Not unless you figure out what you want to do in physics which has eluded you so far in ME.

    These are decisions which should not be made on a whim, since they will affect your career for many years to come.
  7. Jul 30, 2015 #6
    As I said before, I was undecided between the two from the beginning. To be honest, I wanted physics, but was pressed by my parents to go ME. I like physics in general and don't mind where would I end up. It's too early to say now, in what would I specialize in physics, in case I did switch.
  8. Jul 30, 2015 #7
    The problem is with Engineering as a whole. It's somewhat hard to explain, but may I sum it with 'Engineering is not Science'.
    P.S. switching to physics after getting my bachelors in engineering is possible. However, I find it absurd to do so, since I can switch now. Why should I wait until I finish my ME degree, and then spend extra time in order to catch up and be able to get into physics. I want to either switch now, and not lose time (and money) or stick with engineering and focus on engineering only.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2015
  9. Jul 30, 2015 #8


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    It's not clear what you mean here.

    Engineering is the application of science. As an engineer, I have applied scientific principles to understanding and solving various problems.
  10. Jul 30, 2015 #9
    Well, let's just say, I'm more interested in the scientific principles themselves rather than applying them.
  11. Jul 30, 2015 #10
    second was cpsc said

    You are near the end of your BEng; finish it - its a great qualification to have and will set you on course if you want to enter a graduate scheme in an engineering firm

    If you want to continue to study, then in the vast majority of cases, you can enter an MSc programme with a good first class BEng.

    That way, you get to do your physics and you have your useful BEng.
  12. Jul 30, 2015 #11
    This thing you're running from will almost certainly find you later.

    But I'll admit, that in physics at least you have a very tiny chance of being free of it.

    Best of luck and let us know how it goes.
  13. Jul 30, 2015 #12

    I sympathize with the OP here. There's a subtle difference. Not necessarily in all jobs, but there is a general tendency in that engineering (even in research) is focused on designing products for financial gain, improved efficiency, etc. and at the end of the day, even if you use science to design it, you're still designing a product.

    A scientist is more concerned about the fundamental laws that make such products necessary. Sure, there's some overlap. A scientist can make a product (for instance, physicists in the semiconductor industry), but few engineers make breakthroughs in fundamental research (dealing specifically with the laws of nature on a fundamental level).

    I say all of this as an engineering student.
  14. Jul 30, 2015 #13
    I couldn't have said it better.
  15. Jul 30, 2015 #14
    I'm aware of that, but in that case I would still be satisfied "Applying" them as a physicist. Because, and correct me if I'm wrong, even when physicists work in a field where they apply the laws, it is still quite different than engineering, in the sense of purpose. Also, in getting a physics PhD, no matter what I end up doing as a job, I'd still be 'qualified' to do research in physics and understand others'. Which is the whole point of considering majoring in it.
  16. Jul 30, 2015 #15


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    And most physicists will go thru their careers without making any fundamental discoveries, either.

    Most of the low-hanging fruit of science has already been picked. Now, research is done mostly by large teams of scientists, and some discoveries take years of work by all concerned.
  17. Jul 30, 2015 #16
    And What's wrong with that? I didn't claim I'm going be the next Einstein! or make any fundamental discovery. The mere fact that I would be working (weather in a team or not) on a problem concerning physics itself, is rather pleasing to me.
  18. Jul 30, 2015 #17
    Not for a lack of trying.

    I'm not advocating that the OP switch. I'm just pointing out that there's a cultural difference between engineers and scientists, particularly in academia (though probably less so in industry).
  19. Jul 30, 2015 #18


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    And there's nothing wrong with improving or redesigning various "products" to make them cheaper or more efficient.

    The science that allows for the recent flyby of Pluto was discovered long ago. It's only recently that the engineering has caught up to the point where one can design, build, launch, and fly a craft across the solar system, taking almost a decade, and have it send back pictures from Pluto, all the time using less power than it takes to run a cheap desktop computer.

    http://star.psy.ohio-state.edu/coglab/Pictures/miracle.gif [Broken]
    Often, it's the engineer who must come up with the miracle. :wink:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  20. Jul 30, 2015 #19
    You are absolutely correct. Please note that i'm not in any way undermining the role of engineers or anything. It's just that, things like "improving/designing a product" do not seem to interest me as much.

    Funny pic. BTW.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  21. Jul 31, 2015 #20
    I once confused about either majoring in math or engineering. I like math and I like physics, so I thought I could combine the two and be an engineer. I took 2 engineering courses for free at a nearby university (my junior college math teacher is also an engineering professor at the university) and I did not like it. The class seemed more like here it is, don't bother where it came from, just apply it. Maybe you like to know were things came from?

    If you are near completion of your degree program, I would stick with it. Get you're BS and study physics on your time. Since you use math to a certain extent and are learning about the application of science, then going through books like Kolenkow, Purcell, and Griffiths should be easier for you.

    If you just started then maybe talk to you're academic advisor. Think hard if physics is what you wana do or its a spur of the moment.
  22. Jul 31, 2015 #21
    I say do it if it makes you happy. Wealth will not buy you happiness, but pursuing something you are fascinated with bring you joy. I switched from mechanical engineering to physics and I absolutely love doing physics! It's wonderful!
  23. Aug 1, 2015 #22


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    Many of the most exciting projects in engineering have involved the most extensive and in depth research .
  24. Aug 1, 2015 #23
    If you become a BSc engineer, likely you will only be applying the very basics that you learned once you get a job.
  25. Aug 1, 2015 #24
    Thank you everyone for your suggestions. After giving it a lot of thought and consulting some professors at my college, I made up my mind on completing the 2 remaining years of my engineering degree, after that I'll be going to physics grad school. I'll do my best to make necessary preparations for it (taking courses or self studying what is missing of the mathematics, EM, and whatever else I need)
    Any further advice is most appreciated.
  26. Aug 1, 2015 #25
    I would advise to buy books suchnas: kolenkow and purcell. Do these on your spare time. Study more linear algebra. I'm a math major so I'm not sure what math physics majors need. However, I know that they use linear algebra. Ask the the physics chair what math classes or topics one should have a mastery of.
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