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Programs Want to study physics, but pressured towards engineering

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  1. Dec 30, 2017 #1
    I really want to study physics and math, but my family is pressuring me towards engineering. They say that physics job market is nonexistent, that I'll be homeless, that studying engineering is more lucrative, and that you can transfer to physics more easily. And that job employers will always prefer engineering over physics.
    How should I respond? Should I just study engineering instead?
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2017
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  3. Dec 30, 2017 #2

    symbolipoint

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    Do not do exclusively one or the other. Engineering will help you be employable and learn skills. Physics and Mathematics helps you be smart; but you need to be smart to learn engineering too. Nothing bad about learning from both.
     
  4. Dec 30, 2017 #3

    kuruman

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    I think you should study what you enjoy. You have a better chance at excelling in what you do that way. The link below provides some educational material for you and your parents as far as physics employment is concerned.
    https://www.aip.org/statistics/reports/physics-bachelors-initial-employment2012
    Feel free to look around the AIP site; it has some good stuff.
     
  5. Dec 31, 2017 #4
    It depends on how old you are and who is paying for your education. If you are a fully independent adult who is paying completely for your education without a penny from your parents, you might reasonably consider their input respectfully as advisory and recognize that you are taking some risks regarding your employability if you study physics rather than engineering.

    My own father wanted me to study engineering rather than physics, because he saw how well engineers did financially in Louisiana. Right before I sent in my application, I asked his permission to list physics rather than engineering as my intended major, and he consented. I believe I was blessed because of that and that I owed my parents a say in my choice, because they had agreed to pay almost everything for my undergrad education. Listen to your parents. In most cases in the US, a choice of major you make now is not irrevokable. Work hard, earn As in all your courses for your first year, and circle back around and ask again. Most parents will realize that a graduate with a BS in Physics with a 3.9-4.0 GPA in Physics is employable after all, and will probably reconsider. But a Physics degree with a 2.X GPA is less employable than most ABET accredited engineering degrees with a comparable GPA.
     
  6. Dec 31, 2017 #5

    ZapperZ

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    1. Where in the world are you? Certainly, there are numerous parts of the world (and even here in the US) where an engineering degree is more "employable" than a physics degree simply because of the skill sets involved.

    2. Why can't you do BOTH? Have your cake and eat it too! Many people are not aware of majors such as engineering physics, or at my alma mater (UW-Madison) having something called AMEP program. So if you choose the right school that has such a program, doesn't this solve the dilema?

    3. Even if you can't find such a program, or can't get into such a school having the hybrid major, there's nothing that says that you still can't do both even if you major in engineering. I've already highlighted areas in physics and engineering (accelerator science, detector physics, material science, etc.) in which people in those areas come from both engineering and physics backgrounds. It means that these areas of studies involve both physics and engineering, and will require people from both discipline. If you choose the right type of engineering area (electrical, material, etc.) you WILL end up doing both.

    People need to stop thinking that engineering and physics are always two widely different areas. The only people who have such misconception are people who think that engineering is all applications and building things and stuff, while physics is esoteric and theoretical.

    Zz.
     
  7. Dec 31, 2017 #6

    Nidum

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    + 1
     
  8. Dec 31, 2017 #7

    StatGuy2000

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    The problem is that in many parts of the world, including Canada where I'm from, engineering programs are limited enrollment programs with highly structured curricula, with very little to no room to take additional electives to pursue more advanced physics courses (and engineers take very different physics courses from what physics majors take, in my experience). (At U of T, there is an engineering science program which offers a physics option, but that program is highly competitive and very intensive, and so is not for the faint of heart).

    Also in many parts of the world (particularly in European or Asian countries), the decision of what university degree to take needs to be made prior to graduation from secondary school, with no ability to switch programs (at least not without considerable difficulty).
     
  9. Dec 31, 2017 #8

    ZapperZ

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    Option #3 from above: Major in electrical engineering and focus on EM fields, waveguides, RF-engineering, etc. In many parts of world, and yes, even in Canada, EE students who wish to do accelerator science can still enroll in the particle accelerator schools offered at various times of the year (they DO have particle accelerators there up in Canada as well!). Even physics majors who wish to do accelerator science enroll in these particle accelerator schools!

    My point is that subject areas such as accelerator science, etc., can be done by students coming in from more than just one major! So if someone in engineering still want to do a bit more physics, choose a field in which BOTH your engineering skills and physics knowledge can be of use. There are subject areas where it is not either-or with regards to physics and engineering, even if the FORMAL area of study has been labelled as one or the other.

    Zz.
     
  10. Jan 2, 2018 #9
    The easy answer is to just do what makes you happy, but it's more complicated than that.

    I'm not sure how it works at your prospective school, but here at LSU if you're a physics major you have to "concentrate" in something. You can do that in typical areas like astronomy or medical physics, but theoretically it can be done in any sub-discipline. For example, my concentration is in mechanical engineering. I had to take 24 hours of mechanical engineering courses, including 12 hours at the 3000 and 4000 course levels, which equates to like 3/4 of a mech engineering degree.

    Doing something like this may be an option for you, or you can major in physics and minor in engineering or vice-versa.
     
  11. Jan 3, 2018 #10

    jtbell

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    And even if your school doesn't require such a formal concentration, you should be able to put together your own "concentration" by choosing elective courses in whatever area(s) you want to "advertise" on your resume when looking for jobs, e.g. data analysis and programming which are usable in many fields.

    Of course this works only if you actually have enough flexibility in your course scheduling, as is usually the case in the US. It might be more difficult or even impossible in other countries.
     
  12. Jan 3, 2018 #11

    Demystifier

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    Engineers, in average, earn more money than physicists and mathematicians, but I've never heard of a homeless physicist or mathematician. And it isn't all about the amount of money. If you do what you like, it will contribute to your happiness more than the amount of sallary.
     
  13. Jan 3, 2018 #12
    Leo Szilard?
     
  14. Jan 3, 2018 #13

    Demystifier

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    From https://www.biography.com/people/leo-szilard-9500919 :
    The son of a civil engineer, he followed his father's footsteps in 1916. Szilard became an engineering student at a technical university in Budapest. ... Szilard switched schools and majors soon after. At the University of Berlin, he studied physics with the likes of Albert Einstein, Max Plank and Max von Laue.

    It says nothing about being homeless, but looks very relevant to the OP.
     
  15. Jan 3, 2018 #14
    Sorry, my post was intended as a small joke, based on Szilard living out of suitcases in hotels and friends homes.
     
  16. Jan 3, 2018 #15

    russ_watters

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    I really hate the common, naked advice of "do what you want" or "do what interests you". That IS an excellent recipe for unemployability and poverty. I like watching movies; can I major in that? (probably) Can I make a living at it? (probably not)

    What needs to be part of this decision is: what is your long term plan/goals? College is a means to an end, but "study what interests you" implies that no consideration should be given toward the "ends" goal. @Bob Johnson, you need to be thinking primarily about what you want the 40 years after college to look like, not what you want the 4-12 years of college to look like.

    If you're lucky enough that what you love most is lucrative enough for your desired lifestyle, great! If not, one, the other, or both will need compromises.
     
  17. Jan 3, 2018 #16

    Wrichik Basu

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    As @ZapperZ has already pointed out, studying physics doesn't make one homeless. The notion is a completely wrong one, and we need to fight that. Physicists live a comfortable life much like engineers. But the difference: in engineering, in most cases, you'll join an office, and you'll have a boss. You'll have to follow blindly whatever your boss says. Believe me, life there is very difficult. My father, a civil engineer, is facing a lot of trouble due to his open outlook, and office politics is the worst of all things in life.

    On the other had, if you're a physicist, you can live a life of your choice. Once you get into research and have a laboratory of your own, nobody will question you about what you're doing. You're free to do any experiment that you want to do.

    At the end: pursue what you want to do in life. It's your life, and your parents will not live it for you, you'll have to live it for yourself. Take advice, but the decision should be yours. If you get into any profession that you don't line, you'll never be able to be happy in life, no matter what amount of money you have.
     
  18. Jan 3, 2018 #17

    f95toli

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    I wish this was true...
    But sadly it is not.:sorry:

    Firstly, the vast majority of people who study physics as undergraduates will never end up in a situation where they are running their own laboratory, the "success rate" for this is probably 5-10% at most.
    Secondly, even people who run their own lab (and I am sort of in this category) aren't "free to do any experiment". You need funding for your work, which means convincing funding agencies to give you money ( meaning you spend a LOT of time writing proposals and reports). Moreover, once you are senior enough to manage your own work you will also be expected to get involved in "politics" of the place where you work; this can be "unofficial" (office politics, which in my experience mainly takes place in corridors) or "official" (which takes place during looong meetings about resourcing, budgets, students etc)
     
  19. Jan 3, 2018 #18

    Wrichik Basu

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    I understand, but still you're not in a position to be the own out of your lab, right? My father's condition is horrible: accused of false crime of betraying the office, and he is in a pathetic situation. This is being done simply to stop his progress and promotion in office.

    However, my uncle also has a lab of his own (he specialises in Ultrafast multi-dimensional coherent spectroscopy), but he never tells us of these kind of problems. Maybe he hasn't faced then as yet, or doesn't want to put us in stress by telling.
     
  20. Jan 3, 2018 #19

    jtbell

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    Very few people who finish a bachelor's degree in physics, even rather few people who finish a PhD, end up as researchers with a "lab of their own."

    As a research professor at a university, one can seldom work on whatever they want. One normally works as part of a research group, and works on something related to whatever the group is working on, although one does get a say in choosing the experiments that the group works on. Then there is the question of funding. Most funding for research doesn't come from the university itself, but from government agencies. In the US at least, research grants are very competitive, and researchers have to convince funding agencies of the merits of what they want to do.

    And of course, physicists working in industry work on whatever their employer thinks is necessary or potentially profitable.

    [ah, now I see there have been two posts while I was writing this...]
     
  21. Jan 3, 2018 #20

    russ_watters

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    This isn't universally true either. Or, rather;
    1. Office politics and work structure varies widely. So if you don't like your boss/work structure, get a new one. Or:
    2. Be your own.

    Also, altogether, the post gives a misleading picture of the odds. Unlike engineers, physicists need to be ok with the strong probability that they will never be employed as researchers in their field. That's the biggest source of dissatisfaction we see with physics grads here.
     
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