1. Not finding help here? Sign up for a free 30min tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Engineering Which Field of Engineering? Terribly Confused.

  1. Sep 6, 2008 #1
    I went to a million online sites, career profiles, descriptions, career counseling sessions and every person I've talked to has said "Research it!" Right now I'm a physics major but it seems far too theoretical for me (I like practical, problem solving skills better) so I'm switching to engineering.

    I like the field, and I think I could do extremely well in it but I also need to declare a major and I have no clue which one is for me. My college is one of the top-5 for engineering and they have so many opportunities but I really need to pick a specialty. People have told me that engineering isn't that narrow and many disciplines have to work together on a project, so it shouldn't be this hard. Any advice at all? I'd love to be an entrepreneur some day but then again, so does everyone else. Could anyone possibly give me a quick and dirty rundown on the various specialties? Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The traditional split is mechanical / electrical / civil. Plus chemical eng. but that's normally taught in chemistry depts.
    Today engineering is a lot broader and it's not always clear where some areas fall, eg. nanotechnology microfluidic devices, is either electronic ( because it uses chip fabrication technology) mechanical (because they move) or chemical (because they are used to control chemical processes).

    Unless you know you want to specialise in a particular area I would try and do as general a course as possible.
  4. Sep 6, 2008 #3
    Where is chemical engineering taught in chemistry departments? I have never seen this. Chemical engineering and chemistry are actually quite different. I've known some who went into chemE and were unhappy because they thought it would be similar to chemistry.

    Take a look at this website for more info on engineering fields:
  5. Sep 6, 2008 #4
    What are you interested in? What kind of things would it take for you to enjoy the major itself (specializing in the major doesn't necessarily lock you into that field)? You were a physics major, but find it too theoretical - but to what degree? Would you like something that's more hands on, but still mathematically intensive (i.e. electrical engineering) or something that uses math minimally (i.e. industrial, at least as it was taught where I did my undergrad)?
  6. Sep 6, 2008 #5
    Civil engineers deal with infrastructure. The field is divided into transportation, structural, water resources, and geotechnical engineering. Architectural engineering is a related field, which leans towards structural, and geotechnical to a lesser extent. Environmental engineering is often included in the civil department. They focus on water resources and learn a organic chemistry.

    Mechanical engineering is a broad field, which allows flexibility when pursuing jobs. In school you'll learn thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, dynamics, mechanics of solids, materials science, control systems, and can pursue a specialization, such as biomedical applications, through electives. It is often paired with aerospace engineering, which is nearly the same, but includes topics like flight dynamics, propulsion systems, and aerospace structures.

    Industrial engineering can mean a variety of things. It is sometimes associated with majors like financial engineering, systems engineering, manufacturing engineering, or operations management. In general it is the most business oriented engineering and focuses on the efficiency of a system as a whole, rather than the technical issues of individual components. They learn probability and statistics, simulation and modeling, economics, management, and courses associated with traditional engineering disciplines depending on the program.

    Chemical engineers deal with chemical processes on a larger scale than chemists. They learn mechanical concepts such as heat and mass transfer and fluid dynamics, as well as chemistry concepts such as synthesis and separation of substances. Many are employed as process engineers designing and maintaining the various processes involved in producing chemical products. Typical electives might be in energy, biotechnology, or electrochemical/fuel cells.

    Electrical engineering is another broad versatile field. They learn analog/digital/microscale circuits, microprocessors, computers and software, signal processing, wireless devices/telecommunications, electromechanical devices, optics, semiconductor devices, control systems, power systems, instrumentation, and the basics of electromagnetic theory. Related fields are computer engineering, audio engineering, and IT engineering.

    Biomedical engineering is a field which incorporates elements of mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering, as well as biology. Beyond the fundamentals of these other majors, a biomedical engineer will learn optics/imaging, biomechanics, biomaterials, instrumentation, tissue engineering, and many more bio oriented electives. Some biomedical engineers make the transition to med school.

    Other majors to consider, though not offered as widely include, nuclear engineering, materials science, petroleum engineering, and many others.
  7. Sep 7, 2008 #6

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2015 Award

    You've had two weeks of classes now. Do you think that's sufficient time to conclude you need to change Right This Minute?
  8. Sep 7, 2008 #7
    The degree to which I find physics too theoretical has more to do with what one usually does with a physics degree. My advisor said, I quote, "So... you don't want to be a researcher or a professor like almost all the other students in this department?" The answer is no. I like academia but I don't want to stay in it forever, so I probably should've spoken with more physicists and done more research before I sent off my major form. I like the classes, and I like the challenge, but engineering seems more dynamic.

    Thank you very much ekrim! That was exactly what I was looking for :)

    The idea that physics wasn't for me wasn't brought on by classes because I genuinely enjoy my physics classes. The change was triggered by actually talking to people with physics degrees and what they did post-graduation. It would be stupid to get a degree because I love the department but then be unhappy with the job I'd land with it. I am not, nevertheless, going to change right now but probably in May, when I've actually mapped some of this out so I have some time to think.
  9. Sep 9, 2008 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Many physicists outside academia work in 'engineering'.
    Most commonly in research+development, consultancy, modelling data analysis etc, less in civil which is failry heavily CEng/professional accreditation based.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?