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Other The old "Physics vs Engineering" question...

  1. May 25, 2016 #1
    This is my first post here, so first of all, I will introduce myself. I'm a student currently living in Spain (been here my whole life). Next year I will start college, and I have the dilemma between physics and engineering. I know there are a lot of post around here about this topic, but I feel like none of them really represent my situation.
    The question for me is, in which job will I have more things to do? Let me explain. I love both physics and engineering (as far as I can tell..). I care about what i will be doing after I graduate. I don't want to work in the private sector doing some calculations for a boring business for 20 years, I want to innovate, I want a job where I can use what i know, a dynamic job.
    I have talked to some graduate physics students and the works they have had are pretty boring, but I also have talked to someone with a Doctor in chemistry, and she told me that i had to pursue the physics career, that being a doctor in Physics would open many doors for me.
    I have talked to some engineers as well, and they really get my full attention when they tell me how dynamic their jobs are.
    So far the thing i found the most interesting, is everything related to the nano scale, I really see myself working in something related to it.
    So, having in mind that i want to be a Doctor, have a dynamic job, preferably in anything nano related, which path should I pursue? Becoming an engineer or becoming a physicist?.
    Please let me know if I failed to explain myself, English is not my first language.
    Thanks for your attention.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2016 #2
    You haven't explained what makes a career "dynamic" all that well. For some people it's a matter of meeting lots of others and organizing groups. For others it is a technical challenge. For some it's the travel, or the variation of job sites.

    What makes a job dynamic to you?
  4. May 25, 2016 #3
    Thanks for the replay, Jake, well, when I said "dynamic" I meant working with people and doing different things, I dont want to do the same calculations for 20 years, I want to try different things, I want to need to learn more and more, and use that knowledge in different ways, does that explain what I meant with "dynamic"?
  5. May 25, 2016 #4


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    One thing to keep in mind with this kind of decision is that you're not deciding on a career. You're deciding on an education.

    An education in either field does not lock you into a particular career. Both fields have a broad spectrum of potential careers associated with them (and there is a large degree of overlap). So the choice you make now will not force you into a job, or series of jobs that you don't like.

    And in either case, if you end up with one of those "doing the same calculations" jobs that you don't like - you can always look for something different, that's more challenging for you, or more aligned with your interests.
  6. May 25, 2016 #5
    Thanks for the reply Choppy. I didn't really think it that way... That is what I want, something challenging and working somewhere where I need to be creative, and I really believe that both, working in engineering or in physics, can be challenging, I just don't want to feel like I took the wrong decision. But I guess there is not a real way to know what I will want to do in 4-6 years, I probably will stick with what's closer to me, which is engineering (5 minutes from home) rather than physics (1 hour).
    If you have any more insights or thoughts, please tell me, I'd really like to read your opinions on the matter.
  7. May 25, 2016 #6
    And having in mind what I said about nano stuff? For you to have an idea, my dream would be to work somewhere like MIT.nano, in order to get there, do I need to study engineering or physics? In case of engineering, which ones?
  8. May 25, 2016 #7
    In my experience, people who are bored with their jobs would probably be bored in any job. Let me explain -- when you start new in a job you are inexperienced and the work you are assigned to do is likely to be tedious and "boring." That's just the way of the world. Some people are self motivated enough that they improve themselves, thereby making themselves more valued to their employer and more likely to get interesting, difficult assignments. These are people who refuse to be bored by their jobs. Other people don't care enough to improve themselves, and they end up complaining that all they get are boring repetitive work assignments. Still others are comfortable doing the same (or similar) work over and over. Some people find themselves deeper and deeper into "the same" but find joy in becoming expert in one small area.

    So, it takes all types of people, and luckily, there are all kinds of people. The main point is, your attitude and motivation are the most important thing in determining your job satisfaction.

    As to physics / engineering (and academic / industry) -- only you can decide what you would rather pursue. They share much (especially the language of mathematics and the need for clear logical thought), but they are really quite different I think, in the day to day experience.
  9. May 25, 2016 #8


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    With respect to "nano stuff" there are a lot of roads that lead there. It's not the exclusive domain of any one discipline. You can get into it through physics, physical chemistry, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, engineering physics, and materials science to name a few. The details of what you would be doing on the nanoscale may depend on the discipline though. On the chemical side of things you might be more concerned with manufacturing nanoparticles, rods, lattices, or designing coatings etc. On the physics side of things you might be more concerned with manipulation, imaging or interactions.
  10. May 25, 2016 #9
    There is FAR more to the working world than "the same sets of calculations." People build entire careers around just a few formulas of finance. It's the same calculation, over and over. But the applications are very different.

    In engineering I deal with different people, different projects, different goals, different places, different financial elements...

    I understand wanting to have variation. Trust me, that variation will happen. But first you need to show competence with the subject matter you're supposed to know. As an engineer, if you're spending more than 1/3 of your time doing technical stuff, you should really take stock in what is going on around you. These days, maybe 10 to 15 percent of my time is actually technical. The remainder is negotiating for capital, purchasing supplies, negotiating with the customers, documenting, and doing forensics on things that aren't working well.

    There is an entire world out there that you will discover after you graduate. Open your eyes and learn.
  11. May 26, 2016 #10
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