Would you be able to go into chemistry at MSci and PhD if you did a MEng?

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MindMax2000
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#1
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I would ideally go into scientific research with focus on physical sciences. However, I have heard that it's difficult to secure a research position due to the level of competition, and most of those who don't go into science do something else entirely.

As I don't want to do something that is not related to science after graduation; it's difficult to secure an engineering role with a natural science degree; and I don't want to be a teacher, science educator, or science communicator, would it be better for me to apply for a joint master's in engineering and then do a MSci in chemistry should I want to pursue this further, as opposed to doing a MSci in Physical Natural Sciences? Is this possible?
I have yet to decide on the area of research I want to spend time in, but it could involve engineering, maths, relativity, quantum energy, physical chemistry, mechanics, drugs, astrophysics, theoretical chemistry/physics, computational physics/chemistry, inorganic chemistry, fusion energy.

The sort of MEngs I am looking at are mechatronics, and that's primarily because it involves both mechanical and electronic engineering, as opposed to having strong interest in robotics. Although I have thought about doing chemical engineering, the thought of working for a petroleum company doesn't appeal to me, and I have heard chemical engineering is primarily an applied physics degree with focus on fluid dynamics - not as diverse as mechanical or electronic engineering.

I am less passionate about engineering as opposed to Natural Sciences though. To secure a job in research (as well as a PhD), I would inevitably need to study at a top end Russell Group university, which compounds the problem and complexity.

What are your thoughts, and how do you think I should best proceed with the choices?
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Luwei
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Why dont you study theoretical physics instead? Some of the areas of research that you mentioned are quite maths heavy and the maths and physics learned in theoretical physics will certainly help?
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MindMax2000
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(Original post by Luwei)
Why dont you study theoretical physics instead? Some of the areas of research that you mentioned are quite maths heavy and the maths and physics learned in theoretical physics will certainly help?
Thank you for your reply.

Theoretical physics was on my radar, but I am not entirely sure whether this was the only area I want to look into and I didn't wanted to limit my options. There were a few fields that involved chemistry, as mentioned above.

My main problem is that there are fewer science research jobs than there are science PhD graduates. If I was certain I could secure a research position that catered towards the fields of research I wanted to look into, I would not be scratching my head over how I should go about this. Whilst it is possible to secure an engineering job with a physics degree, they are less likely to hire you on that basis than someone with an engineering degree/background.
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artful_lounger
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An MSci is not the same thing as an MSc; the former is a 4 year integrated undergraduate masters course, the latter is a 1 year standalone masters degree.

If you did a first degree in chemical or materials engineering (or maybe nuclear engineering) this may be a suitable background to go on to masters degrees in physical/materials chemistry and PhD projects in those areas. It might also be suitable background to go into physics research in a couple areas (e.g. statistical mechanics or solid state/condensed matter physics, respectively; this would probably be very depending on module choices and programme structure for those degrees though).

For other areas of chemistry (particularly organic chemistry, chemical biology, synthetic chemistry and areas of inorganic chemistry that aren't materials focused) you will probably not have a suitable background even from a chemical/materials engineering degree. A a degree in e.g. industrial chemistry and/with chemical engineering or chemical engineering and/with chemistry may extend your range of options in those latter areas. There are a couple of such degrees available, which would give you a wider range of options to continue in chemistry within academia. I doubt any other engineering course is going to have an appropriate background for any area of chemistry realistically though.

On the physics side of things electronic/electrical engineering courses are often considered for entry to physics MSc courses (e.g. UCL and Imperial both consider potentially EEE degrees for their respective MSc Physics courses) which could then be an appropriate background to continue to a PhD. This would be particularly true if you can take some additional modules in physics as electives in the course, and if your course includes a fair bit of content on electromagnetism/EM waves and/or semiconductor physics. A degree in nuclear engineering may well be relevant to an MSc Physics course as well, although those are much less common than EEE degrees (I think there are about 5 or 6 such courses, at most, at UK undergrad level, including joint honours courses).

Various engineering backgrounds could be relevant to MSc/PhD courses in the earth sciences broadly, depending on the exact nature of the PhD project or MSc course. Civil (and/or Environmental) Engineering is probably the most applicable, but most could potentially be relevant, particularly for areas relating to e.g. energy and the environment, or more modelling based projects where a background in mathematical methods (and possibly programming) from an engineering degree would put you in good stead.

I would note the areas you specify span a very large swathe of the STEM realm and there isn't really any course that will provide an ideal background for all of those, and trying to create a background for all simultaneously would probably make you unqualified for any of them realistically. A natural sciences course would give you the potential range of those areas and allow you to specialise in whichever you find is most interesting as you progress through the course.

If you wanted to keep your options slightly more split between engineering and the sciences, first year of Natural Sciences at Cambridge you can go into chemical engineering (which only starts from second year onwards at Cambridge) or remain in NatSci, so that may give you a bit more flexibility still. You could also look into courses in engineering physics or engineering mathematics (at Lougborough and Bristol respectively) or the aforementioned Chemical Engineering and/with Chemistry or Industrial Chemistry and/with Chemical Engineering courses.

It is also worth noting that mechatronics and related degrees are pretty much entirely unrelated to every single one of those named areas and would almost certainly not provide a suitable background for any of them, so doesn't seem like a very relevant course to be considering.
Last edited by artful_lounger; 1 year ago
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artful_lounger
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All of the above aside, I have to say I can't see any real attachment to or interest in engineering from your perspective except for perceived job potential. As someone who started an engineering degree for that very reason then left it, I can confidently say that if you have no real interest in the course except as a platform to either get a job in an industry that you already know you aren't interested in or to use it as a platform to go into other STEM fields, that will not sustain you through the course. You would be just as well off doing a degree in those other STEM fields first and then if desired going into the engineering sector. It is possible to go into the engineering sector with a non-engineering degree, depending on the role, and you may even still be able to achieve CEng status (although with a few more hoops to jump through).

It is also not necessary to go to a Russell Group university at all, much less a "top end" one, to go on to a PhD in the sciences and hence continue in academia. There are plenty of academics who went to universities not in the RG, and some who went to universities that are now in the RG when they weren't previously...it doesn't make any difference. The important thing is to get a good classification, especially in the dissertation/project, and try and pursue any research opportunities you can.
Last edited by artful_lounger; 1 year ago
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