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Whats the difference between what an engineer and a scientist do every day?

  1. Oct 11, 2009 #1
    I was just reading this post :

    "What does an aerospace engineer actually "Do"". I'm pretty much back and forth between physics and aerospace as a major, or possibly both (I'm a junior so its time to make a decision). I was reading that and it seems like an aerospace engineer in industry is going to sit at a computer in a cubicle running making models and analyzing results. Also I'm not sure if this is only for someone with an undergrad degree or somebody with a graduate degree as well, so if I am mistaken please correct me.

    I'm curious what a physicist would do. I realize thats a very broad question because theres so many different types of physicists and branches of study, but basically what would a theoretical physicist and an experimental physicist do on a day to day basis. Again, at the graduate degree level.

    I really want to do research (if it is what I think it is), but I'm not exactly sure what this entails. I've been talking to a professor in the engineering department and I think I'm going to be volunteering for one of his research projects in spring semester to get a better understanding of it.

    I hope I communicated the question well, I'm still just really confused about all this. I think I know the difference between what all these professions goals are, but I'm trying find out what they actually do every day. I don't want to do all this work, land a job, and find out its not quite what I was hoping for.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2009 #2
    Both an engineer or scientist could do research or be involved in production. It's just that the engineering model is multidisciplinary and practical, while scientists tend to more theoretical. There is the applied sciences, but tend to be more specialized.
  4. Oct 12, 2009 #3
    I understand that. I want to know what somebody doing research or somebody involved in industry with a physics PhD would actually be DOING every day. For instance, currently my job is a pizza cook. Every day I go into work, watch ovens, stretch pizza dough, sweep floors, etc. What does a physicist do.
  5. Oct 12, 2009 #4
    The way I've always heard it, if you are a theoretical physicist, you spend your day looking for your sign error, and if you are an experimental physicist, you spend your day looking for the leak in your vacuum hose.
  6. Oct 12, 2009 #5
    LOL! You are basically correct.

    Engineering and Physics as professions have my different jobs associated with them. I will stick to physics as that I what I know, but the same can be said of an engineer. A physics professor likely has a very different routine day to day than an industry physicist which will both have different day to day things compared to a postdoc.

    I am a postdoc (theoretical physics) currently and I spend the vast majority of my time writing articles for publication and writing presentations for conferences. This constitutes 80% of my time right now. This next month I will finish up a paper (I hope!), finish and present a conference talk, get back into a little research which I had to cease working on to finish up the aforementioned talks and article and then start writing up those results for another article. The other 20% of the time is spent in meetings, reviewing papers for colleagues, helping to write funding proposals, and attending talks. My job as a postdoc is to produce papers and talks.

    One of my bosses (PhD physicist), on the other hand, spends 50% of his time dealing with various programmatic issues (bureaucratic stuff) and the other 50% is spent supervising research, doing research, and attending meetings, writing funding proposals.

    My other boss (a professor) spends about 50% of his time traveling and 50% of his time teaching, supervising research, and doing research. He travels A LOT!.

    So, in the end when you are talking about what the typical day of an engineer and physicist might be, it is more a function of the job they have than what their degree is in.
  7. Oct 12, 2009 #6
    What sort of bureaucratic issues take up your professor's time? Is the 50% of his time on bureaucratic issues a high figure for most professors at a research university?
  8. Oct 12, 2009 #7
    I'm curious about that as well. Thats a lot of time. What do you mean by supervising research? How active of a roll do they play?
  9. Oct 13, 2009 #8
    He is not a professor- he is a research scientist and in charge of a large research group. The programmatic issues he deals with are largely administrative dealing with determining how to allocate resources (money and people) to solve the problems he is tasked with solving.

    As far as supervising research, it depends. When you have graduate students to supervise, depending on their project you might be intimately involved with their research (actively working with them) or you might just be a secondary advisor and may need to spend time working with them to fully understand what they are doing. Supervising research also means leading the research meetings, tracking everyone's progress to see if you will meet the deliverables promised on the grants, checking up on the people you know tend to slack off on work, etc.

    So osnarf, what I am trying to tell you is you are asking a question that is ill-defined in my opinion. The specifics of a job is a function what your actual job is- not what your profession is.
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