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Transition from Physics to Engineering?

  1. Jan 18, 2015 #1
    Hi there!

    I'm currently pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Physics with minors in both Applied Math & Chemistry and am considering a career in engineering. Now, before all of you engineers jump my case about physics isn't engineering or whatever, please be mindful I'm here for help about my career path.

    I've always been interested in a job in the oil and gas sector and was just awarded an internship with Halliburton, but I suppose my question is: is it possible for someone with a physics degree to transition into an engineering position or would it be more beneficial to pursue a master's degree in Chemical Engineering or Petroleum Engineering before trying to get into industry?

    I'm too far along in my physics degree to start over with a bachelors in engineering, also my school doesn't offer either of my desired fields.

    Any insight will be greatly appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 18, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think that you should try out the internship. It will give you a better idea of the requirements of the job.

    Some engineering classes would be helpful also. Even if you don't do enough for a minor.
  4. Jan 19, 2015 #3

    I think you are on the right track. An internship in the field you are interested in pursuing is a good idea. You can try out the work, see if it something you like, and it should also give you some contacts that may be useful later. As for the graduate degree, I think you might consider it as a way to enhance your skills and knowledge in the field you find interesting. The shorter the course of study is, the better off you will be. You might also find that you can do what you want to do without a graduate degree, in which case you will not need it.
  5. Jan 19, 2015 #4

    Quantum Defect

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    Two of my friends in undergrad who were physics majors went on to get Applied Physics PhDs at Stanford U. If you look at their careers, post PhD, it would probably be difficult to differentiate them from PhD engineers.
  6. Jan 19, 2015 #5
    Thank you all for your insight!
  7. Jan 23, 2015 #6


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    If "internship" means "not paid" then I would consider that very carefully. I have kind of a "thing" about internships.

    Exactly what is it this company is promising to do for you that justifies you spending months working for them for nothing? Are they even promising to let you in the building? How do you know you won't spend four months "getting coffee" and then be shown the door?

    If you did labs in your physics degree (and I would be surprised if you did not) then the differences between an engineering undergrad and a physics undergrad can be overcome.

    Engineers typically study some topics that don't get mentioned in physics because engineers are generally expected to be in industry. So they study things like economics, managing projects, engineering ethics, engineering case law, and so on. These are things that are supposed to prepare the engineer for the culture of doing business in addition to the technical aspects of doing engineering. Some engineers also study a broad variety of things that go under the heading "leadership" because they are expected to make the big difficult decisions.

    The biggest aspect is to have something on your course list that is in some way "hands on." By that I mean, can you contribute to building something or improving some real world thing? You mention applied math and chemistry. Going into the petro-chem industry might be easier because of that, depending on what exactly you studied.

    If you still have time to modify your course list, or possibly add one or two classes, you might be able to tweak things to make the jump easier. Check your course catalog at your school. Get some advice from your profs and the profs in the engineering department as to what classes could best put a "shine" on your CV. It is not unusual for BSc degrees to include classes in other departments. Maybe there is a keen petro-chemical engineering class you can take.

    And auditing a class (assuming you have the time and the university will let you and not charge you too much) might be better than an internship.
  8. Jan 25, 2015 #7
    Engineering internships nearly always have a salary. I used the "nearly always" caveat because, although I haven't heard of an engineering internship that does not have a salary, I cannot categorically say that such internships do not exist.
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