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ScienceGeek1878
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Hi I'm debating whether to go for a physics or engineering degree?

I'm more interested in physics, but that's not to say I'm not interested in engineering.

But engineering has much better job prospects? I'd like to go into physics research but I know that is a pipe dream

Any advice from current or former students from the fields would be much appreciated, thanks.
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artful_lounger
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If you don't want to become a professional engineer specifically, don't do engineering. Physics still has that as a possibility, but also various others. The nature of most engineering courses is such that if this isn't your goal, the course will be very frustrating as you'll not delve into the fundamental aspects of the physics and maths nearly as much as in a physics degree. You'll also probably find the professional practice type modules (e.g., engineering economy, project management, corporate accounting and finance, law and ethics for engineering) very dull - they are, in general, but if you actually intend to become a practicing engineer you can at least appreciate the specific usefulness of them in this realm.

Also it's a lot harder to go into physics research with an engineering background than vice versa (in fact I think a majority of the lecturers I had were in fact physicists by training). I'm not sure why you think going into physics research is a pipe dream - a solid 20% or so of the students from my former flatmates cohort (including himself) at Exeter continued to PhDs, mostly there although some elsewhere. Most of the others didn't pursue it not because they couldn't, but because they didn't want to.

If you absolutely can't decide there are a handful of engineering physics courses (such as I believe at Bristol) or Natural Science type courses (such as Southampton) where you can study both aspects. I don't think it's particularly useful to do so though, as you may not be getting an accredited engineering degree (which is not an absolute requirement, but significantly simplifies the process of achieving CEng), and may not have as much physics and maths as you may hope for pursuing some more fundamental areas of physics research.
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ScienceGeek1878
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
If you don't want to become a professional engineer specifically, don't do engineering. Physics still has that as a possibility, but also various others. The nature of most engineering courses is such that if this isn't your goal, the course will be very frustrating as you'll not delve into the fundamental aspects of the physics and maths nearly as much as in a physics degree. You'll also probably find the professional practice type modules (e.g., engineering economy, project management, corporate accounting and finance, law and ethics for engineering) very dull - they are, in general, but if you actually intend to become a practicing engineer you can at least appreciate the specific usefulness of them in this realm.

Also it's a lot harder to go into physics research with an engineering background than vice versa (in fact I think a majority of the lecturers I had were in fact physicists by training). I'm not sure why you think going into physics research is a pipe dream - a solid 20% or so of the students from my former flatmates cohort (including himself) at Exeter continued to PhDs, mostly there although some elsewhere. Most of the others didn't pursue it not because they couldn't, but because they didn't want to.

If you absolutely can't decide there are a handful of engineering physics courses (such as I believe at Bristol) or Natural Science type courses (such as Southampton) where you can study both aspects. I don't think it's particularly useful to do so though, as you may not be getting an accredited engineering degree (which is not an absolute requirement, but significantly simplifies the process of achieving CEng), and may not have as much physics and maths as you may hope for pursuing some more fundamental areas of physics research.
Thanks for the input, appreciate it!

I actually thought that research positions were a lot more rare. Are you talking 20% go into a PhD position or 20% get an actual post doc position after they have their PhD?

I'm pretty sold on Lancaster at the minute, and their physics course looks the best for me (because you don't have to decide you're specialism until midway through year 2, and I'm not entirely sure what field of physics I want to specialise in.)

I'm just worried that if I decide research isn't for me, there isn't a hatful of physics related jobs? (Besides teaching which I wouldn't even consider)
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
Thanks for the input, appreciate it!

I actually thought that research positions were a lot more rare. Are you talking 20% go into a PhD position or 20% get an actual post doc position after they have their PhD?

I'm pretty sold on Lancaster at the minute, and their physics course looks the best for me (because you don't have to decide you're specialism until midway through year 2, and I'm not entirely sure what field of physics I want to specialise in.)

I'm just worried that if I decide research isn't for me, there isn't a hatful of physics related jobs? (Besides teaching which I wouldn't even consider)
That's in terms of going on to PhDs - and that's not "20% of those who applied to a PhD got one"; it's "20% of the cohort went on to a PhD, of maybe slightly more than 20% that applied".

For postdocs, of the three at Exeter I know personally, they were all offered postdocs - ironically, only one took it up. One of them found he makes more money as a tutor for secondary students than the postdoc would offer, and isn't that into the research scene, one disliked research academia but enjoyed working in the university so is now his supervisors senior lab manager, and then other took it up to continue in the usual academic vein. The lower yield of these positions is often a result of self selection out of that particular pathway.

Essentially, if you're a good student, getting into a funded PhD isn't "hard". If you're a good researcher, getting a postdoc isn't "hard". However, getting into a highly competitive and desirable PhD or postdoc is hard. Often your undergraduate university will be happy to retain you as a PhD if possible, and most of the time your supervisor after your PhD will be happy to keep you on in their section - provided in both cases, you do well academically and aren't an insufferable person to work with.

This may of course, be the exception to the rule, but I'm inclined to believe not. Just because there are only 2 postdoc positions split between Harvard and CERN (as a hyperbolic example), compared to dozens across every other university the world over...there's no reason to think you wouldn't be able to pursue this. Not to mention, you don't NEED to get some ultra competitive postdoc or PhD position at a top tier university and world renowned industrial/state sponsor to be a high quality researcher with good publications and career prospects.

As for "other physics jobs", in general no, they're somewhat uncommon - outside of e.g. the national physical laboratory or something. But that's because "physics jobs" tend to require a PhD in the first instance. For other jobs, you have a numerate degree in a "hard" subject - this is in itself a fairly desirable starting point. Many of the physicists from that cohort of my friends went into various jobs in media, banking & finance, business and marketing, and so on and so forth. None of these jobs require a Physics degree but it may well have helped them to secure one. There are certainly jobs otherwise that, while not directly related are somewhat physics-oriented - for example a friend of mine who now works at the Met Office as a scientific developer. While most of her job is programming oriented, the actual weather phenomena they're modelling is based on physical processes, and she may well move into positions where her role is more based on developing the models rather than programming them. Physics degrees often include a signifcant amount of computing - enough to at least be considered for any number of more generic IT roles, and if you have more background due to e.g. optional modules or extracurricular activities in the area (one of the PhD friends entered an AI programming contest just for fun and came second, so...).
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Smack
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(Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
Hi I'm debating whether to go for a physics or engineering degree?

I'm more interested in physics, but that's not to say I'm not interested in engineering.

But engineering has much better job prospects? I'd like to go into physics research but I know that is a pipe dream

Any advice from current or former students from the fields would be much appreciated, thanks.
If you are more interested in physics, then do physics. Physics hardly has poor job prospects - a physics degree is considered between acceptable and very valuable to a lot of different careers.

What is it about engineering that is making you consider it as an option alongside physics?
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BTAnonymous
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physics if you do not have any interest in pursuing engineering related careers. physics is well rounded.

don't get me wrong, engineering grads are extremely well sought after but it appears you don't have an engineering career in perspective.
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ScienceGeek1878
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(Original post by Smack)
If you are more interested in physics, then do physics. Physics hardly has poor job prospects - a physics degree is considered between acceptable and very valuable to a lot of different careers.

What is it about engineering that is making you consider it as an option alongside physics?
I'm looking at engineering as an alternative because 1) I'm pretty good at the mathsy side of physics, especially mechanics. And 2) I think if research wasn't for me I'd consider an engineering career.
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RamocitoMorales
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Do whichever one you are interested in. Physics also has very strong job possibilities!
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
I'm looking at engineering as an alternative because 1) I'm pretty good at the mathsy side of physics, especially mechanics. And 2) I think if research wasn't for me I'd consider an engineering career.
University physics is far more mathematically sophisticated than engineering. Also as mentioned you can pursue an engineering career with a physics background, either in academia or industry.
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Smack
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(Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
I'm looking at engineering as an alternative because 1) I'm pretty good at the mathsy side of physics, especially mechanics. And 2) I think if research wasn't for me I'd consider an engineering career.
I think that, if this is what you are interested in, you would be better suited to pursuing physics rather than engineering. As artful_lounger says, physics at university is a lot more mathematically sophisticated than engineering; by that, I mean in physics you will likely utilise a lot more different techniques and applications than in engineering, and those that you share, you will eventually be utilising them in a more advanced manner than in engineering.

I think some universities have options to cover things in more mathematical detail in later years - and some universities are definitely more mathematical than others in how they cover things.

Overall, though, maths is just a tool for engineers to use. I think that, if you are interested in engineering primarily for the maths, you may be disappointed, as opposed to if you were also in it because you like understanding how things work, designing things, fixing things, trying to improve things, etc. Do those kinds of things also interest you?
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ScienceGeek1878
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(Original post by Smack)
I think that, if this is what you are interested in, you would be better suited to pursuing physics rather than engineering. As artful_lounger says, physics at university is a lot more mathematically sophisticated than engineering; by that, I mean in physics you will likely utilise a lot more different techniques and applications than in engineering, and those that you share, you will eventually be utilising them in a more advanced manner than in engineering.

I think some universities have options to cover things in more mathematical detail in later years - and some universities are definitely more mathematical than others in how they cover things.

Overall, though, maths is just a tool for engineers to use. I think that, if you are interested in engineering primarily for the maths, you may be disappointed, as opposed to if you were also in it because you like understanding how things work, designing things, fixing things, trying to improve things, etc. Do those kinds of things also interest you?
I think my mind has just been made up by that last paragraph. Designing, fixing etc isn't my thing at all!

Thanks everyone for your help
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Smack
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(Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
I think my mind has just been made up by that last paragraph. Designing, fixing etc isn't my thing at all!

Thanks everyone for your help
It's worth pointing out that there are dedicated analysis roles that focus on just doing the analysis/maths, usually solving things computationally using numerical based solutions, but these kinds of positions can also be accessible with a physics degree. I'm talking about the likes of CFD (computational fluid dynamics).
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Rabbit2
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(Original post by ScienceGeek1878)
Hi I'm debating whether to go for a physics or engineering degree?

I'm more interested in physics, but that's not to say I'm not interested in engineering.

But engineering has much better job prospects? I'd like to go into physics research but I know that is a pipe dream

Any advice from current or former students from the fields would be much appreciated, thanks.
I base this upon 40 yrs as a degreed engineer (electrical), and 10 years consulting after i retired from full time work. I now hold a MSEE [Master of Science Electrical Engineering - from George Washington Uni In Washington, D.C.]. On this side of the pond, people with engineering degrees do considerably better than physicists [salary wise], and are seen as more "employable". It IS true that with either degree you can ''do" engineering, but my experience has been that the physicist is rather limited in knowledge when it comes to some aspects of engineering. I once worked for a fellow who (supposedly) held a PhD in Physics. At the time i was working on my masters in EE, specializing in communications [i.e. detection of signals buried in noise, maximum likelihood decoding, etc]. I attempted to explain the usefulness of "channel statistics" to the fellow, in determining the 'whiteness' of a communications channel - i.e. whether the errors were occurring randomly, or whether they were not. Being intensely arrogant, he seized upon the term "random" as a talisman, and started screaming at me that EVERYTHING was either stochastic (random), or deterministic (totally predictable). After passing through a communications channel of course, this is not true, because you have added in a "noise" process which injects random(ish) errors into everything., He subsequently wrote me a scathing 'fitness report' that stated (basically) that i was a total idiot. Having a better job offer in hand. I quit and accepted a 37% salary increase. I was later told that the organisation that we worked for closed down the entire division (basically for incompetence). Best of luck!!!
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by Rabbit2)
I base this upon 40 yrs as a degreed engineer (electrical), and 10 years consulting after i retired from full time work. I now hold a MSEE [Master of Science Electrical Engineering - from George Washington Uni In Washington, D.C.]. On this side of the pond, people with engineering degrees do considerably better than physicists [salary wise], and are seen as more "employable". It IS true that with either degree you can ''do" engineering, but my experience has been that the physicist is rather limited in knowledge when it comes to some aspects of engineering. I once worked for a fellow who (supposedly) held a PhD in Physics. At the time i was working on my masters in EE, specializing in communications [i.e. detection of signals buried in noise, maximum likelihood decoding, etc]. I attempted to explain the usefulness of "channel statistics" to the fellow, in determining the 'whiteness' of a communications channel - i.e. whether the errors were occurring randomly, or whether they were not. Being intensely arrogant, he seized upon the term "random" as a talisman, and started screaming at me that EVERYTHING was either stochastic (random), or deterministic (totally predictable). After passing through a communications channel of course, this is not true, because you have added in a "noise" process which injects random(ish) errors into everything., He subsequently wrote me a scathing 'fitness report' that stated (basically) that i was a total idiot. Having a better job offer in hand. I quit and accepted a 37% salary increase. I was later told that the organisation that we worked for closed down the entire division (basically for incompetence). Best of luck!!!
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