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Is a physics bachelor degree enough?

darkgoobledarkgooble Posts: 72Registered User Junior Member
edited October 2011 in Engineering Majors
I would like to be an engineer, but I'm still very unsure which concentration I want to go into. I planned on majoring in physics for my undergrad, to give me some time to think, but would that be enough? Would a physics BA be sufficient to let me get into an engineering MS or M.Eng program, or to even find a job after graduation?
Post edited by darkgooble on
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Replies to: Is a physics bachelor degree enough?

  • lightbladelightblade Posts: 24Registered User New Member
    Does..going into college as undeclared works for you? I know some U require you to declare major.

    But masters in engineering does not offer much more than bachelor, it's best that you make up your mind and not having to go to grad school.
  • GLOBALTRAVELERGLOBALTRAVELER Posts: 2,856Registered User Senior Member
    I don't know about a straight B.A. in Physics BUT you may want to have an engineering specialty to help you get into a M.S./M.Eng program. Something like signals, aerodynamics or a computer science minor/concentration. You could also construct your B.A. Physics degree like an "engineering physics" degree.

    As far as grad school, you would first have to find a M.S./M.Eng program that allow non-ABET majors into the program. Not all of them do because some schools REQUIRE an ABET-Engineering degree for admission.

    Example:
    University of Wisconsin allows math, physics and chemistry majors into M.S./M.Eng programs. U-Arkansas will tell you NO!
  • Johnson181Johnson181 Posts: 4,136Registered User Senior Member
    Why can't you just be undeclared engineering for the first 2 years? That should give you plenty of time, and the first two years are practically the same across many engineering disciplines.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Posts: 5,448Registered User Senior Member
    darkgooble wrote:
    I would like to be an engineer, but I'm still very unsure which concentration I want to go into. I planned on majoring in physics for my undergrad, to give me some time to think, but would that be enough? Would a physics BA be sufficient to let me get into an engineering MS or M.Eng program, or to even find a job after graduation?

    Getting a bachelor's degree in physics will definitely exclude you from many engineering jobs, but also definitely leaves the door open for graduate school. I know many undergraduate physicists who are now in graduate school with me for engineering. It is fairly common (though still not nearly as common as engineering bachelor's to engineering graduate degree).

    The fact is, though, that for industry, if you do physics you will not be qualified for a lot of the jobs that are out there for engineers. There are a lot of practical concepts that physicists never even touch, while engineers get all those and just don't go as far in the theory. For example, while an engineer is learning about stress and strain, a physicist is moving on to relativity. Which seems more useful to an average company?
    As far as grad school, you would first have to find a M.S./M.Eng program that allow non-ABET majors into the program. Not all of them do because some schools REQUIRE an ABET-Engineering degree for admission.

    Example:
    University of Wisconsin allows math, physics and chemistry majors into M.S./M.Eng programs. U-Arkansas will tell you NO!

    I know for a fact that this is not true at Arkansas at least for most departments. I also know that what is true at Arkansas is true almost everywhere else in the country in that they almost always say something like "must have an ABET-accredited BS in [blank] engineering or related science." I have never heard of any school that just patently refuses to admit anyone based on the fact that their degree isn't [blank] engineering. Most schools go for the students that they consider to be the brightest and most promising that they can get. This even means they will go outside of ABET programs from time to time.
    lightblade wrote:
    But masters in engineering does not offer much more than bachelor, it's best that you make up your mind and not having to go to grad school.

    You have so much to learn...
  • aegrisomniaaegrisomnia Posts: 1,026Registered User Senior Member
    From what I can tell, a BS in physics is a good preparation mostly to get a PhD in physics, at which point lots of opportunities open up.
  • GLOBALTRAVELERGLOBALTRAVELER Posts: 2,856Registered User Senior Member
    I know for a fact that this is not true at Arkansas at least for most departments. I also know that what is true at Arkansas is true almost everywhere else in the country in that they almost always say something like "must have an ABET-accredited BS in [blank] engineering or related science." I have never heard of any school that just patently refuses to admit anyone based on the fact that their degree isn't [blank] engineering. Most schools go for the students that they consider to be the brightest and most promising that they can get. This even means they will go outside of ABET programs from time to time.

    My only argument to this is that possibly the traditional on-campus/funded programs operate different from the online M.S. program at U-Arkansas. With the online M.S. program, it was made clear that that the applicant MUST have an ABET-engineering degree. I was given the option of taking the M.S. in Operations Management which ALLOWS you to take some engineering courses, but the actual MSE was not an option.

    Having different paths for math/science majors into M.S./M.Eng programs is not new. Purdue and I believe Michigan will allow math/physics majors into the graduate engineering program, but your degree will be a M.S. (without the "engineering" designation) as opposed to the M.S.E.

    https://engineering.purdue.edu/ProEd/credit/mse
    http://www.eecs.umich.edu/eecs/graduate/ms-description.html

    Of course, I doubt that it will matter to most employers because if you have taken the coursework, you have taken the coursework.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Posts: 5,448Registered User Senior Member
    I have never heard of that little E on the end of your degree being important at all. In addition, most full-time graduate programs omit the E regardless of whether you have an engineering background or not. The older and more common degree is simply the MS. Additionally, given the OP's circumstances where his thought was getting a graduate degree immediately to be more marketable for employers would lead me to assume he wasn't currently going to be in a job when he was doing his master's, so he would be in the more traditional program anyway.
  • LakeWashingtonLakeWashington Posts: 6,883Registered User Senior Member
    My informal research indicates that Boneh3ad is absolutely correct. Websites at several schools of engineering indicate that BA/BS Physics holders could readily be admitted to the Mechanical Engineering masters program, or even Aerospace engineering (if particular foundation courses are satisfied first).
  • lightbladelightblade Posts: 24Registered User New Member
    You have so much to learn...

    True. But you can also learn a lot on the job..perhaps even more. So you need to do the comparison this way: spend/loan money to go to grad school for 2 years or work and make money for 2 years? The educational value you get out of either option is about the same, but working gives you money!

    BUT..all of the above only works assuming you are able to find a job with a bachelor degree. If not, then by all means go to grad school.
  • aegrisomniaaegrisomnia Posts: 1,026Registered User Senior Member
    True. But you can also learn a lot on the job..perhaps even more.
    Classic anti-intellectual rubbish. You think you learn more on the job than at school? Right.
    spend/loan money to go to grad school for 2 years
    Or, in STEM, go to graduate school and make enough money to live comfortably without debt.
    or work and make money for 2 years?
    Far be it from me to disparage people who choose to get a job right out of their undergraduate degree programs - lots of good people do - but you need to understand that graduate school is a real investment in human capital. It pays off in the long run. Master's degree holders make more in their lifetimes than undergraduate degree holders. PhD holders get offered even more.

    Lifetime Earnings Soar with Education – How a Higher Education Leads to Higher Lifetime Earnings

    These are averages, mind you. Assuming that STEM makes 1.5x what the average person makes in a lifetime, you can just multiply these differences to get the value of STEM master's/PhD degrees.
    The educational value you get out of either option is about the same]/quote]
    That's arguable.
    but working gives you money!
    That's inarguably misleading.
    BUT..all of the above only works assuming you are able to find a job with a bachelor degree. If not, then by all means go to grad school.
    It's like everything you say is wrong or a bad idea. Maybe it's just me.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Posts: 5,448Registered User Senior Member
    It's like everything you say is wrong or a bad idea. Maybe it's just me.

    It isn't just you. Lightblade just sounds like he is guessing based on what he has heard thirdhand or something.
    lightblade wrote:
    True. But you can also learn a lot on the job..perhaps even more.

    The fact is, there is nothing wrong with going to work right after your bachelor's degree, and for most people that is the best option. However, there are many, many jobs that require a master's degree or higher. For many of these jobs, to get the equivalent experience just working in industry you would have to take many years to do it if you could ever do it at all.

    Just to expand on how you won't learn everything at work, most engineers at large companies are not the innovators. They are applying a semi-standard set of tools to solve problems with some of the fundamentals taken into account with a heck of a lot of empirical techniques thrown in for efficiency. In an environment like that, how is someone supposed to delve deeper into the underlying physics of a given problem if they wanted to do so? True, many people don't, and they are the ones who should be getting jobs after their bachelor's degree, but there are a few who want to go deeper, and especially at the Ph.D. level, you often just can't get that kind of depth from working in industry.
    lightblade wrote:
    So you need to do the comparison this way: spend/loan money to go to grad school for 2 years or work and make money for 2 years? The educational value you get out of either option is about the same, but working gives you money!

    Many if not most engineering graduate students get their education paid for by performing research and/or teaching. At the very least, most graduate students are breaking even during graduate school and starting out with a master's at $10k to $20k higher than their bachelor's counterparts. You make the lost money up pretty quick assuming you are a competent employee.
    lightblade wrote:
    BUT..all of the above only works assuming you are able to find a job with a bachelor degree. If not, then by all means go to grad school.

    There are so many more reasons to go to graduate school other than just not finding a job. In fact, that has to be one of the most terrible reasons in the first place. Full-time graduate school is something you really ought to be interested in, not settling for, otherwise your experience will be terrible.
  • Johnson181Johnson181 Posts: 4,136Registered User Senior Member
    Classic anti-intellectual rubbish. You think you learn more on the job than at school? Right.
    I don't think this is a fair debate. It works both ways. Nearly every engineer I've asked this question has said that they learned more on the job than they did in school. However, the only reason why they were able to do so was /because/ of their educational background.

    Specifically, my internship this past summer was in substation design. You're really not likely to learn that in school. But of course they're only looking for EE's for the internship/ intro job levels because they have the appropriate background education.
  • boneh3adboneh3ad Posts: 5,448Registered User Senior Member
    What you learn on the job is generally new or specialized ways to apply the science you have already learned. For some people and some jobs, that just isn't enough, and generally, unless you take it upon yourself to do so, you won't learn much new or more advanced science or math while in industry.
  • MokononMokonon Posts: 273Registered User Junior Member
    At the engineering firm that I used to work at, I had a coworker who just had a BS in physics. He also happened to be a pretty good self taught programmer which made him a very versatile employee. We had a bunch of guys with physics backgrounds, but most had at least a MS. By the time I left the company, he had started going back to school part time (on the company's dime) working towards an MS as well.

    It think it really depends on the company. My previous company just hired smart people with a wide variety of backgrounds (science, math, engineering) and sort of threw a random group of us at any kind of project -- that kind of mishmash inter-disciplinary approach didn't always work, IMO. At that company, versatility was crucial because you had to be able to do lots of different things. My current company is very structured and everyone has a clearly defined role (software engineer, system engineers, test engineeer, etc). This company tends to hire people with specific "little e" engineering degrees for each position. Very few physics majors here, at least, not in my division. Maybe they have some in the chip division or in corporate R&D.
  • flemmydflemmyd Posts: 525Registered User Member
    @the OP

    First off, you really need to be more specific. Computer programming/software has a long history of not needing formal "computer science" degrees.
    On the other hand, civil engineering is heavily regulated and you basically need a degree.

    Also, it use to be that BS in physics could get jobs in engineering and fill in their blanks their first few months on the job (bonehead alluded to this with his stress/strain vs. GR point). These days, however, firms have so many qualified engineers willing to work for them, not being able to hit the ground running is going to really hurt you.

    If you want to be an engineer, be an engineer. Physics is designed to prepare you for graduate school (typically in physics). Sign up as a mechanical engineer. No rule that says you can't change 1-2 years in (right?).
    Or consider majoring in physics and picking whatever engineering specialty you find interesting. A physics major who took tons of circuits/electronics classes (probably a lot in your eng school) won't have the same learning curve handicap. Whether you're get past HR, I don't know... And this will put you in a fine position for engr grad school.
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