Trying to decide what program to study (physics or engineering)

  • #1
ENGvsPHY
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2
I am passionate about physics and math and science, you've heard the story a million times. I don't know whether I should study in physics or engineering.

I find the concept of Engineering Physics really cool. I've heard it still gives you the opportunity to go study graduate physics? (Lets say I want to go get a PhD in physics). Recently, another thing that has interested me is doing a 5 double degree, specifically at uCalgary in engineering and physics. At first I was like, I can get an Eng Physics BcS and a Physics BcS in 5 years! This is perfect!

But I learnt that Engineering Physics (which is pretty much one of the only engineering disciplines that interest me) isn't compatible with the dual degree.

I really don't know what I should do. I see 3 options:
1. Pure Physics BsC
2. Engineering Physics BsC
3. Dual degree in Physics and Engineering (some other eng)

I am happy to listen to any advice, comments, insults, anything.
 
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  • #3
The best preparation for a Physics PhD is a Physics undergrad.

If you don't like engineering, why major in it?
 
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  • #4
Engineering and physics seem alike, all that calculus and linear algebra, etc But they're really not the same at all. I have worked with a small handful of Engineering physics guys over the years, they were doing Engineering, not physics. Maybe in other places they do more physics, I don't know. I'd recommend picking one path or the other, and following it. But that's just me. Maybe there are some Engineering physics grads here that can chime in.
 
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  • #5
It sounds to me almost like you're getting hung up on getting "two degrees" for the price of one (or maybe 1.25).

What you might want to think about is that your first year of study is likely to be pretty common, whether you do engineering or physics or some combination of the two. It's probably not a perfect overlap, but usually it's enough that if you decide on one direction, you can change it later if you discover you really should have gone the other way without too much of a penalty (if any at all). So maybe if it takes any pressure off, pick one direction, and then make a more final decision as you gear up for your second year.

My other general advice on the issue is that if you really don't have a preference for one over the other, consider that with engineering you graduate into a specific profession. Physics majors are faced with the challenge of figuring out how to apply their physics degree to the commercial world. And while there's lots of evidence that this is done successfully, it's an extra step that can be quite stressful for some people.
 
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  • #6
Frabjous said:
Looking at https://schulich.ucalgary.ca/sites/default/files/teams/1/Engineering Physics Courses by Term V2.pdf, I am not sure that 2) is the best choice if a Ph.D in Physics is the end goal. You really need to think about your goals. Any of these options can lead to a good outcome. The real question is if it is a good outcome for you.
I don't know if a PhD in physics is necessarily my end goal, but from what I've heard and researched, I thought Engineering Physics was the best engineering branch to give advantage you if you were considering going graduate in physics. Why don't you think it is? (as in I want to know your point)
 
  • #7
Choppy said:
It sounds to me almost like you're getting hung up on getting "two degrees" for the price of one (or maybe 1.25).

What you might want to think about is that your first year of study is likely to be pretty common, whether you do engineering or physics or some combination of the two. It's probably not a perfect overlap, but usually it's enough that if you decide on one direction, you can change it later if you discover you really should have gone the other way without too much of a penalty (if any at all). So maybe if it takes any pressure off, pick one direction, and then make a more final decision as you gear up for your second year.

My other general advice on the issue is that if you really don't have a preference for one over the other, consider that with engineering you graduate into a specific profession. Physics majors are faced with the challenge of figuring out how to apply their physics degree to the commercial world. And while there's lots of evidence that this is done successfully, it's an extra step that can be quite stressful for some people.
Thats sort of something I was considering. With the uCalgary dual degree, my "first common year" of engineering would be split into 2 years. This way, I would get to sort of touch up on both engineering and physics during those two years, and after those two I can decide where I want to go.

Engineering physics could then be an option, although it would obviously take me 5 years for only 1 degree, but that doesn't bother me too much. I could also decide if I want to stay in pure Physics or keep on in the dual degree if I realize I really like one of the "main" disciplines that apply to the dual degree. (Mechanical, chemical, electrical, etc.)

Is this a good idea? It would also free me to transfer to other universities after my second year if I so choose so.
 
  • #8
gmax137 said:
Engineering and physics seem alike, all that calculus and linear algebra, etc But they're really not the same at all. I have worked with a small handful of Engineering physics guys over the years, they were doing Engineering, not physics. Maybe in other places they do more physics, I don't know. I'd recommend picking one path or the other, and following it. But that's just me. Maybe there are some Engineering physics grads here that can chime in.
I totally understand that. My point is that if I were to decide to go in engineering, I would choose Eng Phys since its the "most related" (I know it's still very different) one to pure physics. That's why the dual degree interests me, I'm just annoyed you can't do Engineering Physics in it.
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50 said:
The best preparation for a Physics PhD is a Physics undergrad.

If you don't like engineering, why major in it?
Long story short, I've been told by many people that studying in pure physics is a waste of money, a waste of time, a completely useless degree, etc. And that I should go into engineering. Personally I love math and physics, I'm not too much of an "engineering guy" but I know that as a safer career option it would be wise to go into engineering.

From my research, I just mean that by studying engineering physics, I would get a safe work option in like 4 years, since engineers are pretty much always in demand, but I could still have the POSSIBILITY of going into grad school in physics. I know it's not a guarantee, and it can still be done with other degrees such as Mech Eng, but from my research Engineering Physics is the best stepping stone for it.
 
  • #10
So, what entry level position is better filled by an engineering physics grad, than an engineering engineering grad? I'm sure there are such positions but do you know what they are? Worth looking into now, rather than in four years.
 
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  • #11
College is not trade school. Most physics majors do not become physicists. But most history majors don't become historians, and most English majors don't become poets, and so on. Engineering is more of an exception, although I know more than a few engineering majors that never did engineering for a living.

Unemployment among physics majors is historically very low - half to a third of the national average at the same time. Does this make it "useless"? Maybe it certainly does not work out as "I have my degree! World, provide me my job!"

As far as engineering physics goes, I suspect that there are relatively few jobs where they are specifically looking for someone with that degree. While I don't have statistics, I expect they also have a low unemployment rate - but if you look in the want ads, you probably won't find people looking specifically for that.

But again, if you don't like engineering, why put yourself on a path to get a job doing that for the next 40 years?
 
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  • #12
One more thought. I have the impression that the detailed curriculum for "engineering physics" varies somewhat from school to school - so generalizing may not be appropriate.

Anecdote: when I was I school, late 1970s, the eng physics profs were into semiconductors. I thought "transistors? That's going nowhere, man." Oh well..
 
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  • #13
ENGvsPHY said:
I don't know if a PhD in physics is necessarily my end goal, but from what I've heard and researched, I thought Engineering Physics was the best engineering branch to give advantage you if you were considering going graduate in physics. Why don't you think it is? (as in I want to know your point)
I wasn’t comparing it to other eng degrees. The issue is that there are knowledge gaps. For example, there is no classical mechanics or a second semester of quantum which I believe are essential. Your first year of grad school would be brutal.
 
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  • #14
If you truly want to do the dual degree to keep your options open, why not consider doing Electrical Engineering instead of Eng Phys? They are the closest in terms of curriculum and I think the practical labs that are a requirement for EE can be a great complement to doing Applied Physics or some field of experimental Physics for grad school. The overlap between the two curriculums also makes it more likely that you will have sufficient foundation in Physics that will be required to be admitted to a Physics graduate program should you choose to follow that route.

Your other option would be to not do a dual degree at all and just start in Engineering since the first year curriculum has significant overlap with first year Physics. Then if you decide that Engineering is not for you or that you really prefer your Physics courses you can switch to Physics for 2nd year. I recommend doing it that way because it's often much harder to make the switch from Physics to Engineering since Engineering tends to be more selective for admission and you may find that you're a far more competitive candidate coming out of high school rather than after first year.
 
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