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Which degree to get first?

  1. Nov 6, 2015 #1
    Hello, how are you? My name is Marcos, Im 19 years old and I live in Argentina. I am currently studying in the University of Buenos Aires. Im doing the first year which is common to all science and engineering and still cannot decide wether I should study Mechanical Engineering or Physics. Some background on how degrees work here in Argentina: Physics degree has an estimated duration of 7 years, It has everything Physics and a lot of laboratories. As well as a Thesis on the last year. In the US its probably considered as a bachelors and a little more. The mechanical engineering degree has an estimated duration of six years. Also the last year you have an option of a Thesis.

    Anyways, Im planning on continuing my education. I really like them both and lately I have been thinking of doing "both". Like for example Physics here, then study abroad and get a masters in mechanical engineering and a Phd in either mechanical/aerospace engineering or Physics. Which degree do you think it will be better? Considering the duration. Also, If I study mechanical engineering firstly I will get a lot of skills which would allow me to live a really good life here in Argentina so if I for some reason change my mind I would have that backup plan. Whereas, with Physics my options are not that wide but the education might be more thorough.

    Thanks a lot in advance for your advice!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2015 #2
    I'm 19 as well, although I'm currently studying Nuclear Engineering and Physics in the United States. My advice to you would be to major in mechanical engineering and self-study physics. I say that because it's much easier to study physics online than it is to study mechanical engineering. Second of all, ME would provide you with an adequate background to continue your education in physics. Lastly, as you said, a mechanical engineering degree would provide you with a good life whereas it's apparently very difficult to find work as a physicist. Good luck!
  4. Nov 9, 2015 #3


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    Wait. You're 19, and still in school studying for your undergraduate degree. So how would you know this?

  5. Nov 9, 2015 #4


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    But then, you have to admit that (i) you have zero first-hand knowledge of the situation and (ii) your "source" of such information isn't the most credible!

    You need to realize that you are now in the "adults big league", and with that, comes something called responsibility! It means that things we do or say can sometime have consequences. In this case, you are giving an "advice" to someone seeking one, but your advice is based not on intimate knowledge of the situation, but rather based on flimsy information! We all have a responsibility, when giving out an advice, to make sure that it is as accurate as possible, and that we do not mislead or give the wrong impression to someone else.

    I have first-hand knowledge on how DIFFICULT it is for someone with a B.Sc degree in Mechanical engineering to transition to graduate work in physics. There was inadequate coverage of QM, statistical mechanics, and advanced E&M. It took this student 2 full years and the coaching from one dedicated faculty member to finally pass the qualifier on this student's final attempt! This is anything BUT an example of an "adequate background"!

  6. Nov 9, 2015 #5
    I apologize for my initial hostile response. I deleted it almost immediately, don't know why it's still up. Rough morning.

    My new response was:

    Well for starters, you'd be taking the same math classes in engineering that you would in physics. Additionally, you'd be taking several of the same physics (Mechanics & basic E&M) and thermo classes as an engineer. You would be lacking the theoretical physics undergrad courses, as well as E&M, but could probably self-study those to some extent. My original answer did say to self-study physics, and I ask you this: Am I wrong to assume that you could get into grad school as an engineer undergrad? I have you quoted as saying that you would likely not have trouble getting accepted to grad school from engineering undergrad. So: the undergrad degree in ME would qualify you for acceptance to physics grad, and your self study would equip you with the knowledge necessary to pursue a graduate degree in physics.

    This thread also talks about how it's possible to go from engineering undergrad to physics grad:

    And of course I have nearly zero first-hand knowledge, but I didn't see anyone else answering the question. It's now been three days, and now that someone more qualified to answer has seen the thread, instead of answering the original poster, he's ridiculing my answer. I happily yield to any qualified answer, but as I have yet to see one, I'm gonna go ahead and stick with my answer. Am I fighting a losing battle? Absolutely. But again, based on the advice OP was looking for (which wasn't about the ability to get into grad school for physics with ME undergrad), being in almost exactly his position, I don't see why I'm not qualified to throw my two cents in about what he might want to do.

    Again, good luck OP.
  7. Nov 9, 2015 #6
    mrnike, remember that (1) Frushe mentions he's studying in Argentina hence the specifics are likely different and (2) self-study alongside another education to the extent needed to get to grad level is frustrating at best.

    Regarding maths classes, over here it definitely is not the same.
    I'm a proponent of a reasonably rigourous approach to maths for physicists (some will agree, others won't).
    The point is that engineering students that know complex analysis are very rare as far as I can tell.
    While in physics we often profit from complex analysis.

    Another example are vector spaces, which are of importance in quantum mechanics. (and if you are comfortable with them they help in a lot of other places)
    From what I can tell the Linear Algebra course civil engineers (in Belgium this is a 5 year education with specialisation along the way for example mechanical) is aimed at calculation, not on concepts. This is not a bad thing in engineering, I would hope we expect students of physics also know the underlying concepts in reasonable detail.

    To Frushe I would advise to also seek guidance at student services. They should have some people that are more than qualified to help with these questions.
    Part of your tuiton goes to paying them, use them accordingly.
  8. Nov 9, 2015 #7
    Can you? Have you actually done so? Do you know any of the theoretical physics you're supposed to self-study?
  9. Nov 9, 2015 #8
    @JorisL Yes, they most certainly will be different. Which is exactly why my advice was in his words:

    I feel like my words are being misinterpreted.. I didn't say that a ME B.S. was exactly the same as a Physics B.S. and that he would be getting the exact same education.. I said that ME would provide you with an adequate background for studying physics. Key word: adequate. In the sense that three semesters of calc, diffEQ, stats, thermo, physics, etc would all be required of a physics major too, and self study would contribute to the rest.

    @micromass You can, yes. I have done very little self-study myself, as I'm an incredibly busy person and don't have to self study because I'm majoring in both. And I don't quite know what you mean by that last part; are you asking if I know which topics to study, or have I studied those topics?

    Regardless, I don't know how this thread became about me instead of the OP. Since nobody else bothered to answer his post, I thought "Huh, this guy's getting ignored. I'll throw my two cents in, maybe help steer him towards what he's wanting to do. Good luck OP." That, of course, turned into, 'Mrnike992 you don't know anything, your advice sucks, why are you even here... etc.' I'm done arguing my point here. I can admit that my advice wasn't coming from the most experienced or most knowledgeable source, but I'm just glad that now we've got the whole gang here somebody can finally answer this guy's question.
  10. Nov 9, 2015 #9


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    The lower-division courses are very similar, but the upper-division courses are quite different. For most, self-study isn't really going to replace the core courses you'd take in your junior and senior years. Also, engineering thermo isn't the same as physics thermo. Same with electromagnetism. After getting an engineering degree, you'd likely need to take close to two years of upper-division physics to be adequately prepared for graduate school in physics. (Indeed, that's what I had to do.) There's that little overlap.
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