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Should I become a scientist or an engineer?

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    If I were to become a scientist, I would like to have a career in physics (not medical physics), particularly in particle physics, string theory or astronomy.

    If I were to become an engineer, I would like to have a career in aerospace engineering or engineering-related careers in the space industry.

    I would consider myself to be inquisitive/curious about the natural world, technical and logical and good at maths and science.

    If anyone has any experience in any of the aforementioned industries/careers, please could your share your thoughts on aspects of your job (e.g. how fun it is, salary, job security, prospects, qualifications etc.).

    Thanks!
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    Engineering (Aerospace)

    Fun-ness - depends. Sometimes it feels like all I do is make excel spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations. Other times, I'm messing around breaking £££ secret prototypes because I accidentally used too much liquid nitrogen to cool the thing down. You take the rough with the smooth. For an engineering firm, you'll be doing cool stuff, then reporting back on it. One of these activites is fun, the other is necessary - see where I'm going? It's work, you get paid.

    Salary = good, competitive, reasonable - whatever you want to be fobbed off with. My employer starts new engineering graduates on ~28k or thereabouts. I'd say that's higher paid than average (engineering start in UK -probably £20-25k), but one of my collegues (same degree) just signed a contract with a investment bank and is now on twice what I'm on. The closer you are to the money, the more you get paid, hence big oil and finance will pay you more than a researcher at CERN begging for a year extension to their research grant. Not to say they're of equal use to society - but that's an argument for another day. Plenty of scholarships available to students in engineering - check out the IET, IMechE, IChemE etc for more details to start with, preferably before you start your course. It's free money, and year on year plenty goes unclaimed because people cannot be bothered to fill out an application form. Case in point, my friends went to the pub, I wrote 2000 words, and got paid £25,000 over 4 years, but missed last orders by 5 minutes. damn... You only get opportunities like that once in your life - don't regret not taking them.

    Job security - well put it this way, when I was unemployed between graduating and starting my graduate role, I put my CV up on Monster and got 3-4 phonecalls a week offering me a full time engineering job, if I'd relocate around the UK. typical salary (the only question I asked before saying I wasn't interested) between £22-28k. That's with a 2:1 in EEE from a russell group university. Was my CV good? yes, I did several work placements and had that scholarship, remember, but with everything in life, you get out what you put in. Bear in mind that a lot of companies use recruitment agencies on their behalf - getting a job today is as much about marketing yourself on social media and the internet as it is about filling out application forms to graduate schemes from the careers pages of corporate websites.

    Prospects - well, whatever you make of them. I'm at the bottom rung of the ladder in my engineering firm, plenty more promotions to be had, and if there weren't you have the luxury of being able to start up your own company, or work in consultancy, banking, finance, start-ups, research - so prospects are good, if you're willing to work for them.

    Qualifications - well, generally people do an undergraduate masters in engineering, not entirely sure why, partly to go with the general flow, partly because it's an extra year the university can charge you for, but a lot of large companies require it now. MEng (or BEng + MSc, as there is no fundamental difference to your employer) is the way to go, therefore, and they both fulfil the academic part of engineering chartership if they're accredited. PhD means you spend more time at university researching, but equally you can command a higher salary once you're a doctor. A lot of engineers I work with have dual MEng and MBA/MSc, or a PhD after working here for several years - further qualifications can always be something that employers offer their employees, with the additional contractual tie-ins, as they don't want you leaving too quickly after they just bought you a doctorate... Personally I've just started a second Masters, an MSc this time, to allow me to break into the marine industry in addition to my normal EEE background. This time, however, I'm not the one paying for it.

    Finally - it's perfectly possible for a Physicist to become an Engineer -we both have the same academic toolkit to draw from, just engineers are more in tune with businesses, and physicists with research. There are plenty of examples of both working vice-versa.

    Hope this helps, and best of luck with the future.

    Stu Haynes, MEng MIET MIEEE
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    they are the same thing, an engineer is someone who utilises science in a practical way.
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    (Original post by A.sniper)
    they are the same thing, an engineer is someone who utilises science in a practical way.
    Okay, but I was referring to aerospace/space engineers when I stated engineer and physicist when I mentioned scientist. Sorry, if I was being ambiguous.
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    They're really not the same thing. I'm most definitely an engineer and not a scientist. Our foundations and backgrounds stem from the same area, but we're very distinct roles. You'd ask an engineer to design and manufacture a particle accelerator, but not to perform experiments with it.

    It wasn't ambiguous from where I was sitting

    Stu Haynes MEng MIET MIEEE
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    Chemical Eng here, so not as applicable. But the way i see it: study science if you can imagine yourself devoting 5-20 years of your life finding out the nature of 1 scientific idea, and engineering if you are more interested in solving problems by using your scientific knowledge.
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    (Original post by pheonix254)

    Finally - it's perfectly possible for a Physicist to become an Engineer -we both have the same academic toolkit to draw from, just engineers are more in tune with businesses, and physicists with research. There are plenty of examples of both working vice-versa.

    Hope this helps, and best of luck with the future.

    Stu Haynes, MEng MIET MIEEE
    Sorry to drag up a conversation that's six months old, but is it possible to expand on this? I'm doing a physics foundation year, and I love the subject, and would really like to work applying this knowledge in the real world. However, this is one of the first times I've read that this isn't nearly impossible to do; what I see far more often is that doing a physics degree makes it extremely difficult to go into engineering.
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    (Original post by pheonix254)
    Engineering (Aerospace)

    Salary = good, competitive, reasonable - whatever you want to be fobbed off with. My employer starts new engineering graduates on ~28k or thereabouts. I'd say that's higher paid than average (engineering start in UK -probably £20-25k), but one of my collegues (same degree) just signed a contract with a investment bank and is now on twice what I'm on. The closer you are to the money, the more you get paid, hence big oil and finance will pay you more than a researcher at CERN begging for a year extension to their research grant. Not to say they're of equal use to society - but that's an argument for another day. Plenty of scholarships available to students in engineering - check out the IET, IMechE, IChemE etc for more details to start with, preferably before you start your course. It's free money, and year on year plenty goes unclaimed because people cannot be bothered to fill out an application form. Case in point, my friends went to the pub, I wrote 2000 words, and got paid £25,000 over 4 years, but missed last orders by 5 minutes. damn... You only get opportunities like that once in your life - don't regret not taking them.


    Stu Haynes, MEng MIET MIEEE
    Hi Stu, I was considering applying for an IET scholarship but halted my application because I thought there was no chance. Do you think it's worth it?
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    You should become the flawless diva you were destined to be.
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    I always struggled with this physics vs engineering decision and in the end went with engineering.
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    (Original post by Dat Dere)
    I always struggled with this physics vs engineering decision and in the end went with engineering.
    Do you regret it? Or are you happy with your choice?

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