Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Physics Torn between EE and physics

  1. Dec 9, 2009 #1
    I'm a sophomore EE student in US. When I was little, I imagined myself creating robots and other cool stuff, and that stuck through high school and into college. And now, I have been thinking about dropping EE and going with physics, which is what really interests me. I guess I've been a bit disillusioned by the application only nature of engineering. I was originally going to double major, but it just seems like a waste of time, especially if i want to go to grad school afterwards anyways. My parents (they pay my tuition so I can't ignore them) want me to spend an extra year to get both degrees, then go to grad school for either while working as an EE (they still don't believe that schools pay you to go to grad school), which seems counter productive to me because that would take way too long and would be much harder to pull off.

    My question is: is there an advantage to having and EE degree along with a physics degree? It just seems useless to me. Besides, I could just go to grad school for EE if I have a change of heart when I graduate, right?
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2009 #2
    Been there...or almost. So this is going to be a long reply...(Nutshell: I am now an EE senior, applying to Physics grad schools for fall 2010.)

    To "do" physics you will need an advanced degree such as a PhD. That will take at least 3-4 years I guess. So, spending an extra year in college to dual major shouldn't bother you. The timeline for graduate education followed by postdocs etc tends to be at least 5 years, so the longer duration should not hinder or affect your decisions. Consider that a price to pay for learning and then doing the cool stuff in physics that fascinates you.

    My school doesn't offer a dual major, and I wish it did. But the Physics dept at my school is very supportive of students who are genuinely interested, and they allowed me to take courses in quantum mechanics, relativity and quantum field theory. You should do the same. Try and work on projects under physics professors. Your EE degree will not be an impediment to learning physics and in many cases you will actually see a strong connection (even in theory!).

    I do believe that the EE degree coupled with a serious interest + coursework + projects in Physics is good overall academic package. But if you can dual major, nothing better than that! That is of course if you want to, because dual major doesn't mean necessarily better academically (this is contentious issue which I won't get into).

    The fact is, there are many areas in physics where you can utilize your EE education and vice versa. Examples are quantum computing, solid state devices, nanoelectronics, photonics, accelerator physics, instrumentation in (all of!) experimental physics, etc.

    You ask if there's an advantage. Well, there is certainly no disadvantage. At least some academic advantages are outlined above. But if you think its an impediment, you should do what your heart says. You can go to grad school in EE even with a physics degree. In fact many people do that in the US.

    From personal experience, the biggest problem is convincing oneself and not doubting your decision. I don't know how Physics departments in the US look at non-Physics majors entering graduate school (I will soon find out I guess...lol), but I guess if you have considerable research exposure (something I lack) you should be fine. So whether you do EE or Physics, if science is what interests you, get as much research experience as possible.

    Finally, to address your question (assuming you definitely do not want to double major), I can only say that there is no unique solution and no amount of advice from others will help. Just do what your heart tells you to. I am from India, and there are a lot of rigid rules in universities about who can do physics and who cannot, but schools in the US are obviously much more flexible and academically broadminded. So, do what you find interesting now. You can always do the other thing later. But don't let the time duration govern your decision if you want to do scientific research.
  4. Dec 14, 2009 #3
    I am a EE graduate but my research is mainly on physics, in a EE program. My adviser is a physicist. I never regretted my EE background, because it broadened my knowledge and made me aware of jewels like control theory, circuit theory, information physics, VLSI, device physics and lots of other things..

    Double major will take its toll on you. It will cost a lot of time, money and with uncertain pay-off at the end. I don't think it's a good idea at all. You have ALL your life ahead of you, if you are serious about physics - as maverick outlined above, there are zillions of physics related research topics out there for EE's.

    Your major goal now should be maximizing your grades, pushing for compact research projects during your undergrad, and absorb ALL the EE material around you. Believe me, when you switch to a more physics oriented field, your background will be immensely useful. I usually have people in my group consult to me for "engineering" problems, code writing, parallel computing, circuit theory, and all those things they never encountered before. That makes a big difference.

    Bottom-line: Don't go for it. You can PICK up whatever topic you like down the road, this forum is FULL of people who are self-educating. A degree is necessary only to move forward (for grad school) and there are many opportunities for you in the future.

    You have only finite resources in life. There's no "doing both". If you are double-majoring in Physics & EE, you are most certainly missing things that could have been done with one of them.. Channel your sources strategically, will it really make a difference in the end? If you absolutely want to be a physics graduate and you detest EE - then do yourself a favor and get out of the EE department! "I like EE but I like Physics more" cannot be an excuse for such behavior. If you are double-majoring, make sure you have concrete reasons to do so .. My experience is that when you join graduate school, it really doesn't make a difference. I always loved physics, too, but now I am happy about my EE background. Because it makes me different .

    Think about your future interests, what excites you the most and work hard. Good luck
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2009
  5. Dec 14, 2009 #4
    Aptly put :smile:
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook