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Trying to choose between Mechanical and Electrical Engineering

  1. May 10, 2012 #1
    I just finished first year mechanical engineering and I'm at a bit of a crossroads. My true passion is in particle physics but for some personal reasons I didn't go into Pure Physics, I went into mechanical engineering. At the moment I'm pondering switching into Electrical because a lot of the people who know me tell me that I'll enjoy it more (i.e. my interests are oriented more towards it). Now here's my dilemma:
    I know I'll be staying in engineering (again for personal reasons). So what I would like to do is be in the field of engineering that will keep me as close as possible to the physics that interests me and that's how I narrowed it down to Mechanical and Electrical. Now my assumption (which I think is a fair one) is that if I can get into grad school focusing on particle physics, then I can still end up working in a job that I truly love without having to abandon my engineering degree. So if I had to phrase this whole situation in one question it would be: Which of Mechanical or Electrical Engineering would give me a stronger chance of getting into grad school for Physics?
    Oh, and if needed, I would have no problems doing a minor in Physics. I go to the University of Toronto and they offer a Physics minor.

    Please refrain from biased opinions and keep to hard facts :)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2012 #2
    OK, here are some hard facts.

    Electrical engineering is much closer to modern physics than Mechanical Engineering. You will learn some QM in EE while ME is focused on classical mechanics and fluid dynamics, generally. (there are exceptions of course)

    At most schools EE is more mathematically oriented. If you want to go to physics grad school that might be helpful.

    If you go into experimental particle physics, you are quite likely to end up doing a lot of work that seems like EE. For example, most of the physics PhD students and Postdocs around here are testing integrated circuits, writing VHDL for instrumentation boards, and writing software. These are all things you learn about in an EE curriculum.
  4. May 10, 2012 #3
    Well, that was actually helpful. The first 2 points you mentioned had occurred to me and now you've confirmed them, so thanks for that!

    And yes, at my school, the ECE's do more advanced math than all other engineering disciplines, even all the way through 3rd year not just 1st and 2nd year.

    That was actually very helpful, thanks!
    I was about 95% sure I want to switch into Electrical and after reading that, I'm up to about 97%!

    Again, thanks that was really helpful!

    If you don't mind my asking, what are you studying (or working in) currently?
  5. May 10, 2012 #4
    I work at a National Lab (but am home sick today! :-( ) designing integrated circuits for particle detection. I have a PhD in EE but I work with a lot of experimental physicists. I think I can speak with some authority on what actually working in physics is like, since I do.
  6. May 10, 2012 #5
    Oh, well umm, I hope you feel better!
    That actually seems like something I'd be really interested in, and now I know I can still do something like that with an EE degree.

    Yeah, absolutely I would say you can!
    And do you enjoy this job (i.e. do you find it fulfilling)?
  7. May 10, 2012 #6
    I really, really enjoy my job. I find it much more fulfilling than my work in industry, and it more than makes up for the reduced pay you get working in academia.

    You didn't ask for any advice, but I would advise you to try as hard as you can for an internship somewhere interesting. It really is the most important thing you can do.
  8. May 10, 2012 #7
    Yeah, personally I would rather work in academia with a reduced pay but genuinely enjoy what I'm doing than work in industry for more money and less fulfillment. Sure, money's fun, important, and overall great but its not the sole thing to base a decision on!

    I was actually just going to ask for advice! Yeah, that's what I plan on doing actually. Do you have any suggestions for places in this field that take undergrads for internship?
  9. May 10, 2012 #8
    Are you in the United States? If so the National Labs are GREAT places for internships. Also try the NASA labs like Ames and JPL.

    Most big companies have an internship program as well. My advice is to treat it like a class and send out LOTS of applications with personal notes. Nothing makes you stand out better than demonstrating you have initiative.
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