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Unsure which to choose

  1. Mar 17, 2007 #1
    I have been debating with myself for a long peroid of time now. I am unable to choose if I wish to become a mathematician, physicist, or electrical engineer. It is impossible to become an expert in all these areas which I am attempting to accomplish because I can not focus on only one. I possess a deep love for the beauty of mathematics; Curiosity of the universe has been with me since I was born (When I was young, I constantly asked my mother physics questions); manipulating nature to create something practical fascinates me. How should I choose?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2007 #2
    Imagine yourself locked up in remote island and God allows you to have one soul of companion from the following list. Who will it be?
    a You're favorite Physicist
    b You're favorite Mathematician
    c A guy who invented Oscilloscope(or plasma TV)
  4. Mar 17, 2007 #3
    physicist, by far.
  5. Mar 17, 2007 #4
    Interesting thought experiment HungryChemist. Personally though I could do without the God bit, but whatever makes you happy.

    The point I have for you is, maybe instead of trying to pick being a physicist or a mathematician or an engineer, you should pick instead something more in between them.

    Personally, I pick (a union b), i.e. a mathematical physicist.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2007
  6. Mar 17, 2007 #5
    definitely c, because he can probably make a working device that sends radio signals so we can all get saved.

    would be even better if I can have
    d. A lady who invented oscilloscope (or plasma TV).

  7. Mar 17, 2007 #6


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    Exactly what I was thinking!

    I'd want someone who can get me off the island. :biggrin:
  8. Mar 17, 2007 #7

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    I'd forego the mathematician then. He would prove a solution to the problem of getting off the island exists and return to writing math in the sand.
  9. Mar 17, 2007 #8


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    Knowing a solution exists is useless if no one can apply such a solution!

    (Useless in this scenario. :smile:)
  10. Mar 17, 2007 #9

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    Which is exactly why you should forego the mathematician.

    Personally, I would prefer a primitive who nows how to live off the land and knows how to build a boat or raft out of native materials over any one of the effete choices given above. If not that, I would prefer an artist over a technical type. I certainly would not want a clone of me. I think the desert isle question is rather silly, and merits silly responses.

    On a more serious note, and in reply to the OP:
    A physicist needs a very thorough knowledge of math. So do some aspects of electrical engineering. Some IEEE journals could easily double as applied math journals.

    Some other factors to weigh in:
    • How important is money to you? If having a good salary ranks high, you should probably consider EE over the other two fields.
    • How deadly curious are you? Physicists are the most curious people I know. I would rank EE lowest among these choices in ability to pique ones curiousity.
    • What fields of math intrigue you the most? As I mentioned above, you can take advantage of mathematical skills in physics and EE. The math, however, is secondary to the problem at hand. Mathematics itself is your best bet if you want to get deep into some very arcane math.
    • What are your political leanings? Almost anything you develop in the field of EE can be applied to warfare in a very short time. In physics, that time frame is sometime during your lifetime. Mathematicians often die before their inventions are used in warfare. This was one of the motivating factors that drove all of my mathematical acquaintances into the field of mathematics.
    • How old are you? That is, do you know what mathematicians, physicists, and EEs to today (as opposed to what they did hundreds of years ago)? If you are still in high school, I suggest you find some professionals in each field to to talk to about their work.
  11. Mar 17, 2007 #10
    ee can be a deep rabbit hole depending on what you want to focus on, it's good place to be even if you change your mind later on.

    ee is also art, but not many people understand why. lifeskills should be seperate, you won't be able to relate that kind of work to most people anyway. bottom line is if it's not fun don't do it.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2007
  12. Mar 17, 2007 #11
    I do not care about the capital. In fact, I extremely hate capital and wish to avoid it; though, in a capitalist environment this is impossible.

    I am extremely curious. Whatever I study it completely controls my life because I must obtain all knowledge about it.

    The mathematics I enjoy the most are Analysis, Game Theory, and Probability. I also enjoy many others such as linear and abstract algebra.

    In terms of war, I view war as always avoidable. The only time a country should engage in war is for self defence.

    I am 19 years of age. I shall find some humans to speak with in the field.

    I thank everyone for their posts. :)
  13. Mar 18, 2007 #12


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    Well, one could more or less do all three.

    Along the lines of math_owen - one could "pick (a union b), i.e. a mathematical physicist," but then as D H indicated, "Some IEEE journals could easily double as applied math journals." Control theory is a major part of EE, as well as Aerospace and Nuclear engineering. All make heavy use of linear algebra.

    As for salary - physicists command good salaries as do EE's, and a good mathematician can make a good living. I hired a student who was a math major at Harvard. He was also an excellent programmer, and he was compensated accordingly. I believe he's a grad student at Stanford now. Salary is not so much about capitalism as it is about the cost of living and one's aspirations.

    As for military applications, any technology can be used by the military (or military-industrial complex). But one does not have to be involved if one chooses not to do so.

    I would recommend browsing some course catalogs and map out the requirements for a BS in Math, Physics and EE, and see what it would take to match all requirements. It would likely require more than 4 years, if one does not take 5or 6 courses per semester or takes summer courses as well. Alternatively, one could major in 2 of three with a minor in the third, then do the third as graduate degree. I know several people who have multiple graduate (MS or PhD) degrees.

    And where would one find employment with such an academic background? Well IBM, GE, Siemens, ATT, National Labs, NASA, . . . .
  14. Mar 18, 2007 #13


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    Correct me if I'm wrong but I see a potential big difference in the work environments of the these three. Also, forgive the generalities.

    A mathemetician will find a lot of opportunity in universities, as will a physicist. An EE will likely find himself more like in a trade - on-site, in-the-field, etc.

    Perhaps someone could expound upon this. It might make a diff to the OP if he has an opp to think about his actual work environment.
  15. Mar 18, 2007 #14
    I work a lot with mathematicians, physicist and EEs. I see the difference as this:

    1) If you like building things and getting your hands dirty, be an engineer (or maybe an experimental physicist).

    2) If you are all thumbs with machines and like abstract things then mathematics sounds like your thing (or maybe theoretical physicist)

    3) If you like abstract things and math but also like practical things then maybe physicist (or maybe the theoretical end of EE).

    One thing to keep in mind is that if you are sure you are going to go to graduate school then it is easy to get into graduate school in EE if you have a physics degree but hard the other way around. It is not uncommon to have people get physics degrees then get an EE masters or a math degree then a Computer Science degree. Those are actually a good combinations.

    On the other hand if you are only going to get a BS, it is easier to get a job if you have an EE degree.
  16. Mar 18, 2007 #15


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    the three being Mathematics, Physics, and EE (or engineering). I think there is a common misconception that focusing on one academic discipline necessarily limits one's career opportunities. In reality, that is not the case. One's career opportunities are limited by oneself.

    When I was reaching the end of my physics studies (and switching to nuclear engineering), I followed what other physics undergrads were doing. What I discovered was that the majority of physics majors were going into related fields, as much as some were continuing on to grad school. One physcis major ended up working for Halliburton doing well-logging, which is what a petroleum engineer, nuclear engineer, ME, or EE might have done.

    Other physics majors went to work for companies like Exxon, Shell, or other oil companies, or energy companies, or technology conglomerates like GE, Westinghouse, or aerospace comanies like Boeing, Lockheed, McDonald Douglas, . . . or DOE, or NASA, i.e. government research organizations.

    The young math major I hired went on to work for a financial services company. There are plenty of math majors working for Wall Street companies. They tend to focus on 'mathematical models' - no surprise there.

    As for my colleagues in nuclear engineering - most stayed in nuclear - working for a utility, national lab (e.g. ORNL, ANL, INL/INEL, Sandia, Los Alamos, LLNL, . . ), or NASA. Several went outside nuclear into related areas such as safety and failure analysis. Others went on to work for engineering or technology companies, e.g. one went to work in the power division and markets turbines.

    Companies like IBM and GE have corporate research labs which hire mathematicians, physics and engineers of all kinds.

    The key is to be diversified in one's academic program. Keep the mind and eyes open - and don't limit oneself.
  17. Mar 18, 2007 #16
    come on guys forget everything and take meeeeeee, I am a girl studying EE, with me you'll have everything, YES? NO?
  18. Mar 18, 2007 #17
    Hmm.....damn now I'm in dilemma
  19. Mar 18, 2007 #18


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    Now that is an offer hard to refuse. :biggrin:
  20. Mar 18, 2007 #19
    You are fortunate to have many interests that can each lead to a satisfying career.

    This can get confusing, so I recommend thinking about the difference between a career and a lifelong hobby.

    The difference does not have to do with learning, choosing physics as a career does not prevent you from studying math and EE in your free time. In fact, since your job would involve only a small fraction of the subject of physics, you would also have to study physics in your spare time as well.

    The point is not to choose a career based on which you like the most, or to find a niche for yourself in combining all three, but to choose the one which will give you the most money and professional satisfaction and keep the other two subjects as hobbies.

    If I were you, I would choose EE for work, and leave math and physics for play. Your physics and math knowledge will make you better at your job then most of the engineers you compete with.

    Getting a job is all about being practical; you want the best of money, location, benefits, stability, advancement. Choosing the thing which looks like the most "fun" can end up being very miserable from a practical point of view.
  21. Mar 18, 2007 #20
    Ditto. That's exactly what I'm doing.
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