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Should I major in mathematics, physics, or engineering?

lovelybones221lovelybones221 5 replies7 threadsRegistered User New Member
After some time in college I've realized I want to major in the STEM field, because I love solving complex problems and a challenge. Math and physics are challenging and require critical thinking, and I enjoy studying hard to understand the concepts. But I don't know if I should major in math, physics, or engineering, because all three fields are intriguing in their own way. Which of these require the most creativity and critical thinking/problem solving? Topics that I find fascinating include astronomy, aerospace, string theory, the physics behind rollercoasters/cars/airplanes, calculus, trigonometry, and other topics as well. Also, I hate being bored. I get anxiety when I'm bored, so I need to major in something that allows me to constantly be on my feet and doing things. I wouldn't even mind a career path that would allow me to work outdoors and away from artificial light, and if not that, then something hands-on perhaps like engineering. However, another part of me doesn't know if I will be truly satisfied as an engineer, because I'm afraid my job will be stagnant, and I won't be able to learn more and expand my mind to new theories and ideas. And yet another part of me dreams of being able to solve math problems all day and just appreciating the beauty of math, because I truly and strongly believe that math is just as much an art as it is a science. So anyone have any ideas of what should I major in?
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Replies to: Should I major in mathematics, physics, or engineering?

  • xraymancsxraymancs 4668 replies19 threadsForum Champion Graduate School Forum Champion
    Topics that I find fascinating include astronomy, aerospace, string theory, the physics behind rollercoasters/cars/airplanes...
    These sound like mostly physics
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1253 replies33 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Physics would be the most challenging, and if you choose theoretical physics, you'll need to master as much math as a mathematician. There's so much to study and you'll have to get a PhD.
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  • GreymeerGreymeer 758 replies11 threadsRegistered User Member
    If you want you stay in academics then earn a PhD in physics. Takes 8 years. There are medical radiology physicist that make 150k+.

    Engineering BS, if you want a high paying job in four years.

    I know UTexas Math BS graduates that work at box stores. Of course they weren't the best if the best.

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  • yucca10yucca10 1240 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    You may enjoy fields like atmospheric physics and other Earth science-related areas, which involve expeditions. Or you can be a pure mathematician or physicist which is not necessarily hands-on but involves spending time on your feet when teaching and also traveling to meet with colleagues all over the world. Or if you don't want to get a PhD, you may consider a career of a scientific technician, they can be highly skilled and sought after.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 77683 replies678 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited November 2018
    The difference between science and engineering: Science is the study of the natural universe to find out how it behaves. Engineering is the use of scientific knowledge to solve design problems.

    Note, however, that math and physics majors often end up working in other jobs, though sometimes in jobs requiring more math skills like finance, actuarial, operations research, and computing.

    Engineering jobs can obviously be affected by industry cycles.
    edited November 2018
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  • xraymancsxraymancs 4668 replies19 threadsForum Champion Graduate School Forum Champion
    @Greymeer - The average time to degree from a BS for physics is more like 6.5 years, instead of 8. I like to have my students finish in 5 years.
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  • GreymeerGreymeer 758 replies11 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited November 2018
    @xraymancs

    I think my comment was not as clear as it should have been. My time guestimate was total time BS through PhD... 8yrs

    So you are saying 10.5 on avg.
    edited November 2018
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  • xraymancsxraymancs 4668 replies19 threadsForum Champion Graduate School Forum Champion
    Ah, yes, physics takes at least 5 years after BS in the USA. The reason is that there are nearly 2 years of coursework before you can start research and the degree is complete when the advisor and student agree that it has come to a good conclusion. This is unlike some countries where there is a 3 or 4 year limit on the Ph.D. but in most of those countries, the student will have already completed the equivalent of a MS and will not have to take any more classes.
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  • aquaptaquapt 1959 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    There are some schools that offer an Engineering Physics major, which can be a great starting point.
    http://bulletin.case.edu/schoolofengineering/engineeringphysics/
    In this particular example, the major includes a concentration in a sub-field of engineering.
    If you started in such a major, you could fairly easily shift either toward theoretical physics and math, or toward a more traditional engineering major. The major also offers broad enough preparation to apply to a range of grad programs, in engineering or physics. (CWRU is also great in terms of complete freedom of mobility between majors - this can really be a plus when you're not quite sure what you want.)

    Other schools that offer engineering physics majors include Stanford, Dartmouth, Berkeley, UCSD, Stevens, Santa Clara, Brown, Cornell, UW-Madison, Fordham, CO-Mines, UMinnesota, and many more.
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  • xraymancsxraymancs 4668 replies19 threadsForum Champion Graduate School Forum Champion
    Applied Physics degrees are also very similar to Engineering Physics.
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  • intparentintparent 36291 replies644 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @1NJParent Experimental physicists take a ton of math as well. I don’t think the OP would feel shortchanged in the math department if they went the experimental route.
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1253 replies33 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @intparent Yes, experimental physicists take a lot of math, probably more than any discipline other than theoretical physicists and mathematicians. Another distinction is that they tend to take mostly applied math (much more than engineering majors) and less abstract math beyond group theory (which engineering majors generally don't take).
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  • DSAlum2019DSAlum2019 6 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    Study physics in undergrad for the problem solving and theory background. Snag a minor in math for the enjoyment of abstract thinking.

    You can always switch to engineering for grad school or remain an experimental physicist. Both get lots of hands on experience (depending on field).
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