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Physics Which path should i take? (physics vs. engineering)

  1. Feb 17, 2017 #1
    Hi everyone,
    i'm a student from Quebec in pure science in college. I have two weeks left to register for university. Having listen to people and read, i'm really worried about my path.

    I really want to study physics for undergraduate since i find this really interesting. Where i'm worried is about all the career opportunities after. What would be the best choice to have a good job, with good income, since i'll be about mid 30 i dont want to regret my choices.

    I don't know whats best, physics bachelor with physics major or engineering major, or maybe pursuing higher, or go for engineering right at the start. I have one teacher saying 100% placement for jobs if youre not difficult, another one saying its hard to get a job. I understand going for theoritical field is really complicated thats why im more interested into direct applications.

    Well thanks for your advice.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2017 #2


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    That will go well with a major in Engineering, but because you are interested in Physics, do as much coursework as you can make fit in Physics and Mathematics. You seem to want a degree in Engineering.
  4. Feb 17, 2017 #3


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    If your primary goal with your education is to be trained for a job, then you're probably better off pursuing an engineering degree. That's because engineering is a profession. Engineering programs will be set up to prepare your for that profession. You'll have internship options. When you graduate and search for a job, there will be entry level positions advertised that are specifically requesting your degree.

    In contrast, at the end of a physics undergraduate degree, you'll be qualified to go to graduate school. You'll also be able to find a job too, of course, but entering the full time workforce will not be as easy because you'll have an academic degree rather than a professional one. Fortunately, the data on these things suggests that physics graduates tend to do quite well in terms of starting salary and employment statistics. But that job likely won't be doing "physics." You'll have to fight with engineers for engineering positions, fight with computer science graduates for programming positons, etc. If you go to graduate school, that's another 4 - 6 years or more to complete a PhD. Competition for academic positions is fierce, so the odds are you won't make it and will have to head out into the workforce anyway. That said, the data on physics PhDs entering the workforce suggests they do alright on average.

    Something else to keep in mind though is that physics isn't just a "theoretical" workspace. There's this misconception that floats around in the world that engineering is limited to practical applications and that physics is limited to theoretical studies of wormholes and superstrings. The reality is that there is a very broad spectrum of avenues available to both types of majors. You could consider, for example, professional physics fields like medical physics or geophysics. You could find a program in engineering physics. Or what about materials science? The deeper you'll look the more you'll find that the distinctions between engineering and physics can get blurred.
  5. Feb 17, 2017 #4


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    Welcome to the PF.
    I'm not familiar with the Canadian educational system (sorry). What is the difference between college and university?
    Have you taken any standardized aptitude tests yet? Like the SAT and similar tests in the US? Where did you score on the different scales? Are you very strong in science and math? If you have scored very strong in standardized tests in science and math, you stand a much better chance of doing well in physics (or engineering) at university and getting a good job after university, IMO. There are many other things that factor in, but knowing how strong you are in science and math will be a big help in offering you advice on what to pursue at university and for work.
    What kind of school is this? Do you have advisers and career counselors or just teachers offering career advice?
  6. Feb 17, 2017 #5
    First of all thanks for the answers. First of all College is after the high school, 2 years preuniversity degree, in pure science i've done calculus 1-2-3 (3 being the one with triple integral, differential equation etc...), i'm doing right now linear algebra, optional course i'll do it again in university first semester. we have 3 physics course, mechanics-electricity and 3rd one optics and waves. There is no SAT test here in Quebec, my grades im usually in top 3-5 i'm doing very well.
    usually do physicist compete well vs engineer? Is there lot of job in particle physics and condense matter, both of these field are interesting, first one would be astrophysics but i wont do something to theoritical. Will majoring in both of these field will lead me to a good job? I really want to go for physics degree but dont want to flip burger at mcdonald.
  7. Feb 18, 2017 #6


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    I'm a Canadian (actually, a dual Canadian/American citizen), but from the province of Ontario. Different provinces in Canada have different systems of education (since education is a provincial responsibility in Canada).

    Quebec has a unique educational system compared to the rest of the country. In Quebec, high school only goes for 3 years (from Grades 9-11). After people graduate from high school, students who wish to pursue further education will attend schools called cegeps (roughly equivalent to community colleges in the US -- what the OP refers to simply as colleges).

    Cegeps offer one of 2 options:

    1. A technical program where further training/education in a skilled trade or skilled educational program not requiring university education (think for example, plumbing, electricians, technologists, mechanics, X-ray/MRI technicians, etc.) or

    2. A pre-university track program. This would consist of pure/applied sciences, humanities, commerce, or arts. Students who complete the pre-university program will then go on to study at the various universities in Quebec (or universities outside Quebec, where cegep courses are often the equivalent of 1st university elsewhere in the country).

  8. Feb 18, 2017 #7


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    Thanks for the very helpful info, @StatGuy2000
    Others can give you better (more current) advice than I can, but for me back in my undergraduate university days, this was a hard decision for me as well. My first love was physics, but I also enjoyed EE/CS. In the end I chose to go the EE route, to ensure better job prospects. That was back in the early 1980s, so things may be different now.
  9. Feb 18, 2017 #8
    In the US, solid state physics is often partly in EE and not just physics. It depends on the school. I think you need to go to grad school to do it but that's a way to combine the two. PhD's in EE don't seem to have trouble getting jobs but they don't get a huge pay boost from what I understand.

    Another thing to do in physics is work as an undergrad in a highly applied lab as a physics or engineering major. Many students in an astrophysics instrumentation group at my undergrad wound up working for EE/aerospace/defense firms afterwards without too much trouble.
  10. Feb 18, 2017 #9
    If i go for physics in undergratuate ans.go to grad school in applied field, would i need to go for a PHD to get good job? Or a master is ok?
  11. Feb 19, 2017 #10
    I think that depends on what you want to do. Looking at job openings for a device physicist, they either want a PhD in EE or Physics on solid state devices and x years of experience, or a master's in solid state devices and x years of experience with 2+ years of additional experience.
  12. Feb 22, 2017 #11
    Where I work there are a lot of people who have received a BS, a Masters or even a PhD in Physics. It does not hurt their careers at all. I would study physics if you like it. Just keep in mind that most physics majors, at least in the US, end up as engineers of one sort or another. The only real advantage to studying engineering is that it is easier.
  13. Feb 25, 2017 #12
    I really would like to study physics, i love to understand everything and i love math. I just wonder what would be the difference for exemple with a bs in physics + major in lets say software engineering vs literally a bs in software engineering. Who would be the best to do the job, etc...i know starting with physics will be vast and i can specialize later after seeing lot of things and if i go for engineering i will have only one path to follow.
  14. Mar 1, 2017 #13


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    Canada has fewer physics job opportunities for obvious reasons, no real domestic nuclear or semiconductor industry.
    However, that should not deter you. A solid foundation in physics and mathematics is really a door opener to most science and engineering careers.
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