College Major Help!

Discussion in 'Community' started by Metatron, Jan 4, 2005.

  1. Metatron macrumors 6502

    Metatron

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2002
    #1
    I originally wanted a degree in engineering, but they seemed very focued and limiting. So I have been thinking about a degree in physics as it seems to have a broad range of career choices from engineering, astronomy, healthcare, computers, etc.

    I was hoping that some of you with degrees in science and engineering could give me your opinon.
     
  2. Earendil macrumors 68000

    Earendil

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2003
    Location:
    Washington
    #2
    As a CS major I don't have a lot of room to speak about engineering and physics majors, BUT.
    As a Freshmen, perhaps I do.

    You didn't list your year, so this really only applies if you haven't started college yet. I would just pick out classes for your first/next semester that get you into each of the different environments. Take classes in both engineering and physics, get to know the Profs, get to know the department.

    I went into college thinking CompSci major, I love programming and computers. or Art major, I love Design and Photoshop/Photography. I was definitely leaning towards Art, as that was where my most recent experience was. What I found was that I didn't know exactly what "Design" was, and what I found I really didn't like. The department wasn't all that great either. But I fell in love with the Profs and the department side of CS.

    Test the waters, make sure you like something before you set your life on it.

    I apologize for wasting your time if you're anything more than a Freshmen :D

    ~Tyler
     
  3. wordmunger macrumors 603

    wordmunger

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2003
    Location:
    North Carolina
    #3
    If you're a freshman (or a high school senior), the best thing to do is just to take the classes that interest you and don't lock you out of things. So first semester in college, take math, chemistry or physics, freshman comp, and maybe one other course that you're interested in. You usually don't have to decide on a major right away. This would allow you to focus on physics later on if need be, or you might actually start taking engineering courses and find you like them, then decide to head in that direction. If you major in math, physics or chemistry (or even biology), you could always get a graduate degree in engineering later. If you major in engineering, you probably are pretty much limiting yourself to that later on. But engineering is a very broad field, and if you're a tech-minded person, you'll probably find some aspect of it that interests you.

    Of course, I was an English major, so what do I know? (Actually, I married a scientist, so I do know a fair bit....)
     
  4. gwuMACaddict macrumors 68040

    gwuMACaddict

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2003
    Location:
    washington dc
    #4
    whatever you do, get a bachelor of science. all of my friends that have bachelor of arts degrees have SO much trouble finding work, etc.
     
  5. PlaceofDis macrumors Core

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2004
    #5
    well it depends on the type of career that you want to pursue with your degree really, im looking to teach English so a BA is my only option, but for more of your typical sicentific and business jobs a BS is definately needed
     
  6. gwuMACaddict macrumors 68040

    gwuMACaddict

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2003
    Location:
    washington dc
    #6
    he's talking about science fields, which is why i recomend a BS. a liberal arts degree is a better for fit for an english degree of course
     
  7. wordmunger macrumors 603

    wordmunger

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2003
    Location:
    North Carolina
    #7
    That's kind of sad, given that some schools don't even offer a bachelor of science. Even the degree itself means different things at different schools. At some schools it simply means you've gotten a degree in a scientific field (physics, math, etc.) while in others it means you've done extra work in your major, which could be English, philosophy, whatever.

    So one person could have a B.A. in physics from a school that doesn't offer the B.S. degree, and another could have a B.S. in English from another school, and be more "employable."
     
  8. Metatron thread starter macrumors 6502

    Metatron

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2002
    #8
    I am actually a sophmore. I have been a Aerospace Engineer major. And even though it is an awsome field. I don't want a degree that limits me to aerospace. I know that having a degree in engineering will be worthwhile in almost any engineering field, but physics seems to go beyond that.

    Plus engineers seem to have work until they complete a project and then are looking for another job. I think that physic might have some more job security in it as well.
     
  9. stubeeef macrumors 68030

    stubeeef

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2004
    #9
    there is always 17th century french poetry! :p

    The president of my division was an Aero Eng major, got his Dr in bio-med and had 2 patents by age 31. Whatever Bachelor degree you get will help if you know you will be going further. If you don't know what you want to do, go take a year off, peace corp, ski, work in cancun, but be productive somehow, and be sure that you will go back. Worked for me. Was a Chem E, hated the E, went to vail, came back 12 months later and worked on my BS in Biz, then joined the Navy......No rhyme or reason to a lot of it. Good luck and if your a freshman....stop this non-sense and get the basic BS stuff done!

    sorry all you 17th century french poetry majors, I was just thinking of Bill Murry in Groundhog Day. :)
     
  10. Rend It macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2003
    Location:
    United States
    #10
    This sounds a little familiar. I started college in Electrical Engineering, and would eventually go on to get a BSEE. I had the same questions about engineering, but my concerns were focused mainly on how engineers approach things: it was all very "cookbook". My junior year, I took Modern Physics (req'd for engineers at my school), and that professor pretty much changed my life. From then on, I was always wondering if I should switch majors. I took a lot of physics coursework (almost enough to dual major), but I was pretty far along by then, so I stayed in EE. But, it's all good because now I'm in my 4th year as a grad student in Physics (condensed matter).

    So, a BS in Aerospace E will not limit you completely. You will still have options if you're fairly bright, and you have a broad enough background. The problem with E is that there are so many E-specific classes, that you don't have a lot of room for other subjects. As far as job security, there's really no substitute for engineers in that regard. Almost all engineering disciplines are in very high demand right now. That's not to imply that physicists have a harder time. There are a lot of engineers, and there are a lot of engineering positions available. Conversely, there are few physicists and few physics-specific positions open. So, demand is about the same. Of course, with a BS in Physics, you are eligible to take any of those engineering positions. :D

    Now, if I could do it all over again, would I have switched at the undergrad level? You're darn right I would!
     
  11. Metatron thread starter macrumors 6502

    Metatron

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2002
    #11

    See, thats what I have been researching. By having a BS in physics, I can get a job in any engineering field. Not that I cannot with a specific engineering degree, but my options are more open. I think I will go with Physics, but I plan on staying in school into I get my Masters. That is when it will get interesting.
     
  12. RBMaraman macrumors 65816

    RBMaraman

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2002
    Location:
    Prospect, KY
    #12
    Engineering

    Once thing to think about engineering:

    Everybody and their brother and their cat is an engineer or engineering major these days. There may be jobs now, but the market is going to be so saturated with engineers, and with technology advancing, the field will bottom out soon. I already know of several companies that at one time were hiring engineers left and right, and these companies are now laying off engineers left and right.
     
  13. GroundLoop macrumors 68000

    GroundLoop

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2003
    #13
    Not my company. In fact, we hired 400 engineers in the last year at our facility alone. (we have over 100 different locations). Just did a quick search of our corporate website. There are currently 1489 positions in systems engineering alone.

    Hickman
     
  14. Rend It macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2003
    Location:
    United States
    #14
    Now, keep in mind that a BS in Physics without a LOT of outside engineering coursework does not give you the background of a typical engineering student. Some schools have what's called " Engineering Physics" or "Applied Physics", which are essentially physics tracks, but with a more applied/practical bent. Maybe this should be something to look into. Of course, the main question to ask, is what do you want after all of your education? Do you want to be a professor or teach, or do you want to work for a technical company, or do you want to work for a gov't lab?

    Then again, I noticed you said, "...get my Masters. That is when it will get interesting." So, it already sounds like you're not satisfied with what you're learning, whether it be the difficulty, or the subjects themselves. If that's the case, then consider Physics, or the closely related Applied Math. Also, are you more interested in hands-on, experimental activities, or do you like the the mathematics more? I say this because a lot of people in research groups in Chemical Engineering and in Aerospace Engineering are doing things very similar to what I do. Besides, at the graduate level the distinctions between what you actually do in the physical sciences and engineering become less clear. The differences are more about WHY you're doing what you're doing.
     
  15. hcuar macrumors 65816

    hcuar

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2004
    Location:
    Dallas
    #15
    I'd recommend not to worry about the job thing right now... The most important thing is to study something that you love! Everyone that i've seen study something because they think they will make more money in that field usually fails. BTW: I think you'd have a hard time find a job with a degree in physics without a masters or doctorate anyway.
     
  16. Metatron thread starter macrumors 6502

    Metatron

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2002
    #16

    I agree with you. Just about everyone I know these days has a BS or BA in something. So having a Masters or Ph.D seems pretty necessary to me if you want to set yourself out from the rest of the crowd.
     
  17. MoparShaha macrumors 68000

    MoparShaha

    Joined:
    May 15, 2003
    Location:
    San Francisco
    #17
    Yes, this is a good thing. The more you know about one thing, the more you're going to get paid. The more focused the major, the better prepared you're going to be for a job in that respective field. I'm not saying it's good to have horse blinders on and not have a rounded education, I'm just saying focused is a good thing.

    I'm a third year engineering student, and I think it's one of the best majors to take in the math/sciences. Engineers learn almost everything an undergrad physics/math student learns, PLUS learns how to effectively apply that knowledge. I'm not knocking physicists/mathematicians, it's just in my experience, they're more concerned with theory, and less concerned with the practical. If you're interested in theory, great. But, what I'm saying is don't think you're going to load up on physics classes and think you can do what an engineer does. This goes back to the basics of engineering: practical problem solving. I know I'm making generalizations, but from my experience of dealing with engineers/physicists/mathematicians, these are the conclusions I (and my peers and engineering teachers) have come to.

    I look at physicists and mathematicians as only going part way. They learn all this great stuff, but what do you do with it? I know there are opportunities to be researchers, but what else is there to discover? Where is the money? If you're truly passionate about physics, that's good. I am a firm believer in doing what you're passionate about, but realistically, you have to make money too. I just think engineering provides something extra that you don't get in a physics program, plus you'll make more, and in my opinion, do something more interesting than research.

    Again, these are my opinions, I know some will disagree.
     
  18. Rend It macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2003
    Location:
    United States
    #18
    Yes, I very much disagree. And my disagreement is based on experience. Physicists are actually much better problem solvers than the great majority of engineers. This doesn't imply that I'm a great problem solver. The fact of the matter is that engineers solve problems most of the time using recipes created by others. It's like looking up the solution to an integral in a handbook, instead of cranking it out by hand. Physicists are faced with problems that have not been previously figured out by someone else. So, their job is to come up with creative, sometimes ingenious, solutions. Before I get flamed, let me point out that obviously a person's problem-solving ability is largely an individual matter. I'm referring to the different ways students are taught to solve problems in the two disciplines.

    Also, an engineer does NOT learn all the stuff that a physicist encounters. Not by a long shot. The two fields learn DIFFERENT things, just as a chemist learns things distinct from a biologist.

    A good example of how things work in science and technology is in the field of semiconductors. First, the physicists developed quantum mechanics, without which we would still be using vacuum tubes for our computers. Then some other physicists developed the entire theory describing generic semiconductor properties, and eventually the device physics of pn junctions and transistors. Then, it was old-hat. They knew everything (or, the vast majority of it) that could be known about semiconductors. So, the whole information base eventually went to the engineers to start making "things" like radios and computers with them. Today, almost all research in semiconductors is done using the same equations developed in the 40's and 50's, and it is mostly done by university engineering dept's and large research companies like Intel and IBM.

    What are the condensed matter physicists busy with now? Many are working on high Tc superconductors, or frustrated spin systems, or ferroelectric liquid crystals, or the fractional quantum hall effect, and on and on. Why? Because most of these systems are still poorly understood. When faced with some fundamental question, like why some system or material does what it does, it's usually a physicist trying to find the answer.
     
  19. jaw04005 macrumors 601

    jaw04005

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2003
    Location:
    AR
    #19
    Thats very true. At my school, the only difference between B.A. & B.S. is that B.S. majors are required to take physical science and biology. Thats it. Kinda sad really. However, this year the business department stopped offering B.A. degrees.
     
  20. Metatron thread starter macrumors 6502

    Metatron

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2002
    #20
    I sort of agree.

    From my limited knowledge, physicists/mathematicians/engineers, work side by side solving problems together. I just know that physicist have a good understanding of both a mathematician and engineer making the area of knowledge more abroad. And I am not interested in designing an aircraft wing and a new jet engine. Mabey more of designing the next generation engine for spacecraft that does not run on conventional fuel. Things like that. For that you have to know more that how to build and create something, but how to discover how such a thing can even be brought into exisitance. Unraveling all of God's great secrets of the universe.

    We have not even begin to understand the universe we live in. Their will always be things to discover. And I can promise you that money is not everything. I know I need it, but I would rather enjoy my work, just as you enjoy engineering. And physics is not just about research. Your opinion is noted and appreciated.
     
  21. Rend It macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2003
    Location:
    United States
    #21
    Metatron,

    Based on your own comments in this thread, my best advice is to just switch your major to Physics now. If you're still undecided, take Modern Physics (sometimes called Physics 3) if your school offers it, and you haven't already done so. It will give you a better idea of what physicists actually do.

    Keep in mind that depending on what you ultimately want to do, an advanced degree may or may not help you. Generally, a BS in Physics can land you an engineering or technical job at a company, or a high school teacher position. But, there's not much opportunity to do basic research. A terminal Master's in physics is rarely offered anymore. Most graduate programs go straight to PhD, and the Master's is picked up along the way. However, you can still find Master's degrees available in programs that are more applied (like engineering physics). With a Master's you can sometimes find work as a prof at a junior college, but more often, it allows you to get a lower-level research position at a government lab, or a higher-level position at a company.

    To do the crazy sort of basic research most people assume physicists do, you'll need a PhD, and a couple years of postdoctoral experience. Also, some advice for the future if you go the PhD route: Don't accept any offers from schools that won't (1) pay you a stipend/salary and (2) pay for your graduate tuition. For some more info, check out the links below. There's info on what kind of jobs to expect, as well as other helpful stuff like statistics.

    Good Luck!

    http://www.aps.org/educ/whystudy.cfm

    http://www.aip.org/careersvc/pify/yellow.html

    http://www.aip.org/statistics/
     
  22. wordmunger macrumors 603

    wordmunger

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2003
    Location:
    North Carolina
    #22
    For all those chiming in about the physics degree, I should mention that I have a friend with a Ph.D. in physics. He was very applied in his work, involving lasers and supercooling. Yet it was actually quite difficult for him to find a job in industry. When he finally did find a job, he excelled in it, but with a physics degree you might have difficulty convincing some employers you can do the job.
     
  23. spikeovsky macrumors member

    spikeovsky

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2002
    Location:
    Beijing
    #23
    EDIT: Next time I will read the other posts before posting - much of what's here doesn't apply!

    Definitely don't decide before your first year, and maybe not even then. I went in planning on a Comp Sci and Physics combo, then realised that really wasn't what I was interested in doing. Ended up graduating with a political science/russian studies double major and a history minor, and I'm really quite glad I did. On the other hand, I did have to put up with lots of friends asking "So...what's your programme *this* year?" :p

    If you do end up doing engineering, I have tremendous respect for you - I don't think I'd ever have the work ethic needed to pull that off. I've got a friend getting an electrical engineering AND a compsci degree, and I'm surprised he's still alive.
     
  24. oldschool macrumors 65816

    oldschool

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2003
    #24
    for no reason in particular...



    i'm doing a cell biology degree with a literature minor...go figure. You'll change your mind. Don't worry about finishing in four years, take your time and enjoy yourself, and find something you like...

    You already know you are headed in the physics/science/engineering direction, and thats more direction than i had at your level. Take courses, and they'll probably overlap.

    Good luck.
     
  25. mwpeters8182 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2003
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    #25
    Does your school offer a degree in engineering physics? My school (Syracuse) did, and even though I didn't pursue that degree, as I knew I wanted to do Biomedical Engineering, I had originally signed up for it. You take engineering and Physics courses to get an education in the pure sciences and engineering - trust me, there's a difference. If you have any questions, PM me, and I can talk to some people for you.

    MP
     

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