1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal 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!

Will doing an Engineering degree cut me off from the physics world?

  1. Jul 21, 2009 #1
    I am doing the second half of my first year of university (I'm in the southern hemisphere). I"ve tried to keep my options open, taking the required papers for several fields of engineering, as well as physics, chemistry and maths...

    I am leaning very strongly towards Engineering for the obvious reason; money. But to be perfectly honest, if that wasn't an issue, I would go physics.

    Why? I love discovering new things about the world we live in. I like seeing the world in the language of maths. I like finding all those hidden connections, and logical conclusions I get from studying the physical sciences.

    If I go into Engineering, am I cutting myself of from all this? From what lecturers and tutorers have alluded to we don't learn much novel maths or physics concepts at all, just build on the theories we learn in first year. This saddens me a lot.

    I would like to be able to follow physics journals and the like, understand if not master the maths behind new theories and the like, not just be a glorified technician.

    Thoughts, comments etc would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 21, 2009 #2
    I'm afraid not. Engineers often learn an amount of math that is comparable to the minimum amount a physics major must know but they learn it in an entirely results driven, not to be extended sort of way. I.e. they never prove ANYTHING, they make no attempt to develop mathematical intuition and they make no attempt to foster mathematical problem solving ability. It's more: "the gradient of a vector function is this, deal with it, no one cares what it means but if you plug it into this equation you find this value which is useful to us". However, the good news is that depending on the discipline of engineering you study, if you take a few phys/amath courses on the side you could possibly do a masters in phys.
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3
    Doing an engineering degree will not cut you off from the physics world. Doing *only* an engineering degree will. You will need a *lot* of extra math and physics if you want to follow what is going on in the physics journals.
  5. Jul 22, 2009 #4
    Engineering is basically applied physics and chemistry. Like maverick said, when it comes to math you don't learn where it comes from you just learn how to use it. As far as discovering the nature of how things work, there is still plenty of that in engineering. Once you get to the PhD level you will find for many cases that the only difference between physics and engineering research is the department you do it in.
  6. Jul 25, 2009 #5
    I don't know where you guys did engineering, but that is not my experience of engineering at all...

    We do exactly the same maths and physics as the pure maths and physics guys, so I would just have to take an extra final year course in physics to get a pure physics degree...

    So engineering does not cut you off for the physics world at all, I know of a few guys who did a degree in engineering and then did a post grad degree in pure physics... I'm also from the southern hemisphere.
  7. Jul 26, 2009 #6

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Typically the upper division physics sequence is a year of QM, a semester each of E&M, Stat Mech and Classical mechanics, and a year of advanced lab. (Plus electives, of course) While this probably could be done in a year, it would be a very, very full year.
  8. Jul 26, 2009 #7
    I think that would be a pretty standard 3rd year for a lot of people. Very doable. Something like:

    Term 1:
    -E&M 1
    -Classical 1
    -Calculus 3
    -Quantum 1

    Term 2:
    -E&M 2
    -Classical 2
    -Mathematical Physics 1
    -Statistical Mechanics
    -Quantum 2
  9. Jul 26, 2009 #8

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    If you're taking E&M concurrently with Calc 3, it's not the E&M I am thinking of. I'm thinking about E&M at the level of Lorraine and Corson. Likewise, it's not the classical mechanics I am thinking of: one where one begins with the Euler-Lagrange equations. Also, I see you excluded the advanced lab, which will eat up a lot of time, at least if it's taught properly.
  10. Jul 26, 2009 #9
    I must agree with maverick that that would not be so tough and i guess it differs from country to country and university to university, but we had E&M, stat mech, classical mechanics as part of our engineering degree, so it would just be QM and advanced lab, plus one or two other courses which is really not that tough if you're used to an engineering course where 6+ subjects plus their practical labs are standard per semester.
  11. Jul 26, 2009 #10
    Perhaps you may want to look into engineering physics. Basically the class structure would be something like:

    An engineering core:
    Calc I-III and Diff. Eq.
    Some chemistry
    Probably some electronics
    As wells as statics and dynamics (Probably with an emphasis on design/materials)

    An "physics core"
    Newtonian mechanics
    Intro E&M
    Intro to modern physics (maybe)
    Mathematical methods in physics (maybe, although you'll be expected to know the math regardless the farther you go)
    Classical mechanics (Lagrangian/hamiltonian formulation)
    Statistical mechanics/Thermodynamics
    Quantum Mechanics
    In addition you'll probably need at least two undergraduate labs (Hopefully more)

    Now if you compare these the physics there are quite a few that share some common ground:

    Newtonian/Lagrangian Mechanics would easily go with statics and dynamics in much greater detail for the most part.

    Statistical mechanics will delve into thermodynamics extensible and in greater detail.

    You'll work with circuits and additional instrumentation as part of you're typical first few physics labs with a greater detail.

    While what you will learn in QM and some additional classes goes much deeper into a lot of the principles you'll discuss in your intro chemistry classes.

    Engineering physics basically crams all of the core classes in engineering and physics together in a way which makes sense. Also you'll probably be additional labs which are focused on experimental techniques, etc.
  12. Jul 27, 2009 #11
    I would love to do such a subject, but there is no Engineering physics degree where I live (New Zealand).

    My choices right now are Chemical or Electrical. Both seem to have some pretty physics involving stuff postgrad.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Will doing an Engineering degree cut me off from the physics world?