Switching to chemical engineering from physics?

  • #1
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Summary:: Would it make sense for me to switch from physics to chemical engineering if I have no interest in most chemical engineering jobs?

I’m currently a first-year physics major. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that my general interests lie in applied science rather than in pure theory. One area I’m particularly interested in is materials research in photovoltaics. I also greatly enjoyed my general chemistry class last semester. Looking at the chemical engineering curriculum, the theory behind the discipline sounds very interesting, and I would be able to get a concentration in a field relevant to my interests: materials.

The thing is, I have no interest in mainstream chemical engineering jobs. That is, anything that is directly involved in the production of goods (process engineering, distillation, safety, maintenance, etc.). The jobs I am interested in would be in research and development at national laboratories, universities, and possibly at certain companies depending on the nature of the research. I am aware that this would require a Master’s at a minimum or even a PhD.

That being said, would it make any sense for me to make the switch if I have no interest in most of the jobs related to the field? Or should I stick with physics instead and get a broader education before specializing in graduate school? Another thing keeping me from making the switch is the fact that I love my physics classmates: there’s barely over 30 students and no one is in it for the money, so I feel a great sense of belonging there. Chemical engineering graduates around 90 students, none of whom I know.

Before you try to suggest anything outside of making the switch or staying in physics, my university does not have a minor in physics, does not have a minor in engineering, and does not have a department of material science. Also, please do not invoke any arguments based on salary.
 

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  • #2
trurle
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I’m currently a first-year physics major. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that my general interests lie in applied science rather than in pure theory. One area I’m particularly interested in is materials research in photovoltaics. I also greatly enjoyed my general chemistry class last semester. Looking at the chemical engineering curriculum, the theory behind the discipline sounds very interesting, and I would be able to get a concentration in a field relevant to my interests: materials.
Why do not learn the material science just as self-education? In my career, it happened once in the middle of project. The project have started as pure electronics, but suddenly it turned out it is necessary to develop entirely new material with exotic combination of mechanical and thermal properties for power harvesting. I switched to material engineering in less than year.
Once you got your PhD., no formal barrier exist against switching from physics to material engineering in any moment. Knowledge and on-hands experience more useful than formal qualification, even in the current epoch of credentialism and educational inflation.
 
  • #3
Vanadium 50
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That being said, would it make any sense for me to make the switch if I have no interest in most of the jobs related to the field?

Does that sound like a good plan? How many such positions open up every year. There are 17 national labs. Maybe (with universities) 100? 150? 224? The last number is also the number of NFL draft picks. Do you think a plan where the chances for the success are on par with a career in the NFL is something you want to hitch your wagon to? I think that deciding now that you will only be happy with an ultra-narrow career is risky. On par with deciding you will only be happy with a NFL career.

Before you try to suggest anything outside of making the switch or staying in physics, my university does not have a minor in physics, does not have a minor in engineering, and does not have a department of material science

If your university is not helping you meet your goals, why are you there?
 
  • #4
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I’m there because it gave me a full four year scholarship. It would not be possible for me to attend university otherwise.
I’m aware of how difficult it is, which is why I’m open to the possibility of R&D jobs in industry.
 
  • #5
Joshy
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It looked to me at my university, that students interested in PV would flock to the electrical engineering department; they would concentrate on devices and semiconductor physics.
 
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  • #6
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It looked to me at my university, that students interested in PV would flock to the electrical engineering department; they would concentrate on devices and semiconductor physics.

Is that right? Now, our EE department is certainly more similar in size to physics. Unfortunately, it seems that there’s only one class in the semiconductor/nanotechnology concentration that deals with with the part of PV that I’m interested in. I’ll do a bit more research and think about it.
 
  • #7
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Upon further reflection, I think staying in physics would be preferable, with the goal of studying either EE, materials science or solid state physics in graduate school.
Physics will give me a broad but rigorous education, both of which I value. It will close the least doors, academically speaking. Furthermore, I need to have a sense of camaraderie with my peers in order to do well, which requires me to be in a small class with like-minded people. I certainly feel belonging among my fellow physics majors, but I struggle to relate to the engineering majors I’ve interacted with.
For these reasons, I think physics would be a more defensible choice in my case.
 
  • #8
Dr. Courtney
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Chemistry might make more sense than Chemical Engineering. A student I mentor is just now completing a BS in Chemistry and has a number of both job offers (incl a gov lab) and grad school opportunities in spite of a mediocre GPA. The student is in high demand because they are very, very good in the lab with a track record of publications and research advisers describing them as the top 1% of student researchers they've ever had.

Can you be in the top 1% in the lab?

I've mentored a number of both physics and chemistry majors as well as a number of engineers. Your goals seem to align more with chemistry to me.
 
  • #9
Choppy
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Just as an afterthought - have you talked this over with your academic advisor? That's probably the person with the best knowledge on where graduates from your current program are likely to end up. And that person is likely to give you good advice on how many of your credits will transfer, and how much catch-up work you'll have to do, if in fact you do decide to transfer.

It sounds like you've made up your mind though.
 
  • #10
QB18ND23
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Just as an afterthought - have you talked this over with your academic advisor? That's probably the person with the best knowledge on where graduates from your current program are likely to end up. And that person is likely to give you good advice on how many of your credits will transfer, and how much catch-up work you'll have to do, if in fact you do decide to transfer.

It sounds like you've made up your mind though.

I have talked with him and I don’t have anything to catch up on, as I am actually ahead of the engineers.
 
  • #11
QB18ND23
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Chemistry might make more sense than Chemical Engineering. A student I mentor is just now completing a BS in Chemistry and has a number of both job offers (incl a gov lab) and grad school opportunities in spite of a mediocre GPA. The student is in high demand because they are very, very good in the lab with a track record of publications and research advisers describing them as the top 1% of student researchers they've ever had.

Can you be in the top 1% in the lab?

I've mentored a number of both physics and chemistry majors as well as a number of engineers. Your goals seem to align more with chemistry to me.

It would be presumptuous of anyone to claim they can be in the top 1%. However, I do plan on being involved in research in all semesters, starting now with a chemistry professor doing computational biophysics research (I realize this doesn’t really match up with my intended goals, but I need experience in computational modeling). After this semester, I will look to join a group we have that is involved in PV research (particularly interesting to me are quantum dots).
I would describe my goals as being in the domain of solid state physics, but there’s certainly more than one field that deals with photovoltaics.
 
  • #12
Dr. Courtney
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It would be presumptuous of anyone to claim they can be in the top 1%.

You may not be able to promise top 1% of outcomes, but you can choose to be in the top 1% of effort.

I've mentored a number of students that others described as "top 1%" or "best student ever." They chose to be in the top 1% of effort, and in each case achieved the top 1% of outcomes.
 
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  • #13
Dr Transport
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I’m aware of how difficult it is, which is why I’m open to the possibility of R&D jobs in industry.

YOu don't need a Ph to get a position in R&D in industry, matter a fact, you might have trouble finding a position because you cost too much.
 
  • #14
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YOu don't need a Ph to get a position in R&D in industry, matter a fact, you might have trouble finding a position because you cost too much.

I’ve yet to hear of people with only a bachelor’s doing R&D. Regardless, the sort of work I would be interested in doing would require further education by its very nature.
Also, I’ll only cost too much if I ask for too much. If the work is interesting, I’d be happy to do it for less pay than is standard.
 
  • #15
Dr Transport
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I’ve yet to hear of people with only a bachelor’s doing R&D. Regardless, the sort of work I would be interested in doing would require further education by its very nature.
Also, I’ll only cost too much if I ask for too much. If the work is interesting, I’d be happy to do it for less pay than is standard.


Industry pay scales are based on experience and education, they won't hire a PhD for the same they hire a person with a BS, it won't happen, even if you ask for it. I work in an R&D group of ~35, only 2 of us have PhD's, most have only a BS degree and are working on a Masters.
 
  • #16
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Industry pay scales are based on experience and education, they won't hire a PhD for the same they hire a person with a BS, it won't happen, even if you ask for it. I work in an R&D group of ~35, only 2 of us have PhD's, most have only a BS degree and are working on a Masters.

Which is all to say that I shouldn’t worry myself with the very question that started this thread, and should instead focus on doing my best in my current course of study: physics.
Thinking obsessively over future careers and education clearly does me no good, and instead causes me to have headaches, chest pains, and loss of sleep.
 
  • #17
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This thread has been quite enlightening, and I mean that seriously. My discovery is that the reason my peers are able to go through university without a care in the world, and in so doing enjoy their time more, is that they do not entertain the thoughts and plans I obsess over. Truly, ignorance is bliss. I should just let it all go and float along like the rest. All will take shape in time.
 
  • #18
ZapperZ
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Summary:: Would it make sense for me to switch from physics to chemical engineering if I have no interest in most chemical engineering jobs?

None whatsoever.

I’m currently a first-year physics major. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that my general interests lie in applied science rather than in pure theory.

Back up a bit. What makes you think that physics has no connection to "applied science"? Do you think physics is all LHC and Superstring, etc.? Have you heard of Condensed Matter physics? How about Accelerator Physics? Or Detector Physics? Are you not aware of the existence of journals such as "Journal of Applied Physics"? Why would Stanford have a whole department called "Department of Applied Physics"?

Are you sure you have the correct information to make any kind of wise decision?

Zz.
 
  • #19
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None whatsoever.



Back up a bit. What makes you think that physics has no connection to "applied science"? Do you think physics is all LHC and Superstring, etc.? Have you heard of Condensed Matter physics? How about Accelerator Physics? Or Detector Physics? Are you not aware of the existence of journals such as "Journal of Applied Physics"? Why would Stanford have a whole department called "Department of Applied Physics"?

Are you sure you have the correct information to make any kind of wise decision?

Zz.

Of course I am aware of those. When I said applied science, that includes applied physics. In fact, the questions I am interested in would fall under the umbrella of experimental condensed matter physics (specifically solid state physics). I said science in general because other disciplines are also involved in PV research.
The whole point of the question was to ask how I should approach this applied science problem at the undergraduate level. From the direction of applied physics/condensed matter physics, or from chemical engineering?
 
  • #20
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Of course I am aware of those. When I said applied science, that includes applied physics. In fact, the questions I am interested in would fall under the umbrella of experimental condensed matter physics (specifically solid state physics). I said science in general because other disciplines are also involved in PV research.

Then explain why you said this: "Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that my general interests lie in applied science rather than in pure theory." followed by wanting to abandon physics and jumping to chemical engineering. From my perspective, it appears that you are not aware of the applied part of physics and thus, wanting to jump ship completely.

This is getting to be very confusing.

Zz.
 
  • #21
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Then explain why you said this: "Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that my general interests lie in applied science rather than in pure theory." followed by wanting to abandon physics and jumping to chemical engineering. From my perspective, it appears that you are not aware of the applied part of physics and thus, wanting to jump ship completely.

This is getting to be very confusing.

Zz.

Please do read the edit I just made to my reply. I most certainly don’t want to “jump ship.” What I wanted to do was figure out what angle I wanted to approach the problem from. In other words, both majors can potentially lead to me engaging with PV research. The question is, which major would make more sense for me?
 
  • #22
Dr. Courtney
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Industry pay scales are based on experience and education, they won't hire a PhD for the same they hire a person with a BS, it won't happen, even if you ask for it. I work in an R&D group of ~35, only 2 of us have PhD's, most have only a BS degree and are working on a Masters.

This may be the case for some companies, but all the industry jobs I've had I was hired at the same rate as those with BS degrees. Over time, I proved my value and was offered promotions and raises that put me closer to PhD pay scales, but that was because they wanted to keep me.
 

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