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Didn't know where to put this, so here goes nothing.

Posted: Fri May 04, 2012 11:38 am
by intellectualwanderer
Long time lurker, first time poster.

I'm currently a freshman at a state university that is pretty good in physics, top 15 I think, top 20 at least, and top 10 in engineering. I'm considering transferring from electrical engineering to physics, and thought that the best people to get advice from would be physics majors/physics grad students as to whether I'm truly cut out for it or not.

Reasons I want to transfer:
I really like physics(or what I've read in upper level texts and such and done so far. The research looks intriguing as well. I'm currently in an engineering research group and enjoy it btw, but might change over the summer to a physics one.). If I were to stay in EE, I would concentrate on nanotech/solid state, which has some overlap, if that matters. One of the reasons I'm worried is I don't know if I "truly" love physics until I've actually taken the courses though.
Personal happiness. The department is SO much more pleasant than EE.
I like the teaching style more than the engineering courses(this is just based on hearsay though, so I don't know if this is valid or not. I've talked to some upper level physics students).
It's broader graduate school wise. With physics I can go into applied physics programs, materials sciences(this appeals because it has chemistry, physics, engineering all in it), biophysics, and different forms of engineering.
The engineering courses that excite my are physics based-I'm really excited about solid state electronics next semester, regardless of what major I'm in. I LOATHE the computing/digital courses, which unfortunately make up most of freshman year. However, this raises the question of whether I'm leaving EE right before the nightmare is over.
A couple of upperclassmen who have occasionally tutored me this year in physics who is an upperclassman said they thought I would do just fine. Take that as you will. I'd like to get more opinions though, so....

Are these good reasons?

I also have some reservations:
My MATH ability. Simply put, it's not good(I didn't even take an algebra class in middle/high school), and my gpa shows it. Granted, I've had some bad luck(horrible graders, in engineering they are trying to weed us out), but ultimately, I'm scared about surviving upper level physics. I'm improving, but....

My GPA. Again, there are a lot of factors unrelated to physics ability(disability that I get help for starting next year, my immaturity and such, actually paying attention/taking notes, depression, more.). It's low. It's my own fault in the end though. I'm worried that if I can't get into physics grad school(and I doubt I could get into a top of the line one, given my gpa. I know that's not the end the world but...)-assuming I want to go, with that being a different issue that I will discuss below-and I'd be better off getting an engineering degree so I can at least have a good job. I've done better this semester than last, granted, but not better enough. Here the upper division classes, while harder material, have better grading curves/more reasonable policies to stuff like little algebra errors and such, but I'm not sure if that's because all the incompetents have left.

I'm aware that upper level courses are going to be a lot different from introductory E&M, so I fear that I don't know what I'm TRULY getting into. There is a difference between reading texts and going through coursework. Am I smart enough for upper division physics?

As for grad school, I don't know. I'm really enjoying research, far more so than my lower division classes. Since the physics groups I'm looking into are more on the applied/experimental side(some do some work with engineering groups), I'd assume I'd like it too. But my GPA worries me. I'm going to do the absolute best I can over the next years if I switch,attempt to smoke the PGRE, do everything it takes for A's, blah blah blah. But I'm 18, so I could change my mind. Are their opportunities with a physics BS? I think that there are, but they aren't "prepackaged" jobs like for an engineering degree. I'll still take some engineering courses that interest me and such, so that would help I think.

Unrelated to all this is that I've dealt with some pressure to stay in engineering from family-and the economy has played a factor, yes-, but I've decided that if I want to go physics, I go physics. Better to have good memories and teach abroad or something, rather than be stuck and miserable for 4 years. I guess I could double major, but that would take more than 4 years, and I don't know if that's worth it.

Once I make a decision on this, there is no going back-the engineering school is HARD to get back into, and my GPA bans me outright. So I really want to be sure if I transfer.

So, bring on the comments. If any of this is contradictory, I apologize, I had a rough night last night and am not thinking straight. There might have been some things I've forgotten. First post.... I'm a little nervous....

Re: Didn't know where to put this, so here goes nothing.

Posted: Fri May 04, 2012 3:40 pm
by bfollinprm
You'll do fine in physics (the major isn't any harder than engineering), and as long as you get a 3.0 you won't have trouble finding a grad school (not top 10, but that's not the end of the world).
Are their opportunities with a physics BS? I think that there are, but they aren't "prepackaged" jobs like for an engineering degree. I'll still take some engineering courses that interest me and such, so that would help I think.
Physics has one of the highest starting salaries of any major after getting a BS. But yeah, most any job you can get won't really be "physics", but you will use the, shall we say, unique outlook on problems that physicists have--it's useful in a wide variety of fields.

Re: Didn't know where to put this, so here goes nothing.

Posted: Sat May 05, 2012 3:08 pm
by intellectualwanderer
Thank you for the reply. It's decided(almost, in June I can change courses). I'm gonna be a physics major! I talked with one of the physics upperclassmen who I was emailing last night at a party(tiny tiny world) and I'm ready!

Sometimes in life you just gotta go with you gut. :D

I'm reasonably confident I can get it above a 3.0(my gpa from this semester is probably going to be above that, it's just last semester... ). I'm obviously going to try and get it higher than that(if I can pull out all A's from here, I can get around a 3.6-3.7, depending on how this semester ends up, with it being higher in physics. Just don't ask for my math gpa.) That's my goal and dream, which I will do everything in my power to do, but I'm also trying to be realistic. As for top ten-I know they are different for each and every subfield-, I read one's site(UIUC), that they calculate a seperate gpa for the last 60 hours, so hey, you never know.

I'm also looking at fields in physics and which I'm interested in. Anybody in experimental condensed matter physics or AMO? Those two look promising, what's the work like? If you are something else, feel free to say what your work is like as well?