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November 18, 2012 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to break into the Engineering/Physics field with a B.S. in something completely different?

I want to break into the Engineering/Physics field however I have a degree in something completely different (B.S. in Anthropology). I am a science teacher at the moment, and Engineering and Physics simply intensely interests me.

There are a number of problems:

My B.S. probably doesn't have all the pre-reqs to do a masters in the subject.

Anyway my GPA in Undergrad was low. (This doesn't reflect my drive or study skills at the moment however. I recently completed my teaching credential program with a 4.0, received scholarships for leadership, all while working 3 jobs and doing student teaching for free. I am certain that it is a difference in study habits and maturity which I didn't have in my undergrad years.)

I don't really have the money for very much more college. Perhaps I'll wait until the education bubble bursts or my family might help me pay it off, but I'd like a way to pay my own way through my education using my own skills.

I don't know if I should just go for a second B.A. in Engineering or if I should shoot for a masters. I'm hoping that I might be able to get into a doctorate from there in the far future in applied physics.

I'm thinking toward the future as well, so right now I'd just continue teaching and I might be able to work a bit towards this goal whether its taking free online courses to aid in my the curriculum or community college classes to get me up to speed.

I'm happy with teaching, but I have always been interested in engineering and physics and it couldn't hurt to have a second career option should anything happen to the economy that might reduce employment for teachers.
posted by Peregrin5 to Education (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know vector calculus? Have you ever derived the Lagrange equations for a mechanical system and solved them? What about Hamilton's equations of motion? Have you ever solved a boundary value problem in electromagnetism? Are you familiar with Bessel equations - and have you solved a p.d.e. problem using them? Could you, right now, calculate the coefficients for the Fourier series representing a saw-tooth function? etc.

These are basic concepts I was familiar with when I graduated with a B.Sc. in Physics. I strongly suspect you do not know these topics (perhaps you know some of the words, but would you be able to do computations?) If I am wrong, and you are familiar with all of the above (meaning: you have worked out solutions on your own requiring these concepts), then you could *perhaps* get into graduate school in Physics. If not, you might consider doing a B.Sc. in Physics or a B.Eng.
posted by aroberge at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

@aroberge: That's what I thought. I finished the Calculus series almost 5 years ago and as of this moment, I remember not a bit of it, or haven't encountered most of the other things you've mentioned. I would be fine with getting a B.Eng and I had assumed as such but I wanted to hear everyone else's thoughts on the matter.

Thanks for being candid!
posted by Peregrin5 at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2012

Totally agree with aroberge. My BS is in chemistry (which requires a fair amount of physics), and I was close to a minor in physics. Is a post-bac in physics a thing (like the post-bac pre-med thing)?
posted by tealcake at 7:03 PM on November 18, 2012

This may be beyond obvious but getting a PE license without a degree in the field from an accredited school is going to be at least twice as much work, if it's even possible in all areas. Check your state of residence for their regs.

That's not to say that all engineers have their PE, in many fields they are even in the minority but it's something you should consider.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:48 PM on November 18, 2012

I managed to get into a Masters of Engineering with an Architecture undergrad. It took sometime to get in, this included taking a few single courses first which were core subjects of the masters, (these were offered as single courses through the same university as the masters and i paid upfront to do these). Achieving high grades in these proved my drive to the program director which allowed me into the Grad Certificate. I have since progressed from Grad Certificate to Grad Diploma and now i'm onto the Masters. Ive had a number of tutors for different subjects along the way and I'm sure I put in quadruple more study hours than other students with engineering backgrounds. But, I have a perfect GPA so far and only 3 units left before finishing the masters. I managed to do this study since early 2010 to date, all whilst working full-time. I think if you have the drive and there's a back door in then yes you can do it.
posted by Under the Sea at 7:49 PM on November 18, 2012

Agreeing with aroberge. A physics B.S. takes some significant mathematical sophistication, and any graduate work will assume you have that sophistication at the very least. The calculus they teach in math classes is necessary but not sufficient; solving real physics problem is a much different skill than what they teach in the math department, and honestly it's a lot more difficult to learn. And that's on top of the specific physics knowledge that would be expected. Bottom line, physics grad school is seriously hard even for people who have spent their past three years doing lots of physics.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:50 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's also really hard to get into a PhD program in physics specifically. One of my friends finally got into a PhD program in physics after getting a BS in I think astronomy (might have officially been physics) and doing an MA program in physics. It took an enormous amount of effort, a really good GRE score (both general AND physics,) great recommendations, research/teaching experience with excellent reviews, and excellent grades.

It was basically impossible for him (with his good grades) to get into a direct-admit PhD program. I think that he actually took the GRE a second time to improve his chances - and I know he got a good if not great score the first time (because he'd have been wailing if he had gotten anything less.)

You may want to consider getting post-bachelors certificates for teaching in math and physics.
posted by SMPA at 8:07 PM on November 18, 2012

I come from the UK and have Engineering masters built on top to a Psychology BS. The subject was Ergonomics/Human Factors. It might be worth looking for subject areas like this where the statistics and experimental design you (may have) learned on Anthropology is considered useful towards the overall discipline (Operations Research was another subject area like this).

You are a mature student rather than somebody coming straight off an undergraduate degree. As a science teacher you no-doubt have considerably more technical aptitude than would be expected from somebody with an so-so-GPA Anthropology BS. If there is a particular course in Engineering that interests you (but which looks like they would not-accept you on paper) then I would consider calling up whoever runs it to talk about your particular case.
posted by rongorongo at 11:41 PM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the 35 years I have been in engineering, I have met a few dozen of my cohort with PEs. You see them in civil engineering and construction disciplines, seldom in aerospace or consumer electronics. Many of the managers I worked for at Martin-Marietta (now Lockheed-Martin) were non-degreed. Two, in fact, no college. At Raytheon, same story. Also, none of the 20 engineers who reported to me there were PEs and I don't think there was one in the building. (We were building Hawk, Sparrow and Standard missiles.)

OTOH, some of the absolute worst engineers I ever worked with had stellar creds. One from Ga. Tech. is at the top. He was fun, kind, and absolutely horrible at his job. Another MIT grad had the social skills of an impolite teen and as you'd expect, stayed an engineer all his career. Two really bad interviews I had at Digital Eq. and Intel were with gents who thought their skills in wiring together pinouts of LSI made them good engineers.

Can't speak for physics, but in industry, results count more that theory and are rewarded much more than a grasp of Fourier series. If you aspire to design certain categories of things, you will benefit from lots of physics, but you can get it while on the job at any number of other entry positions that do not have stringent requirements. Examples include tech jobs (QA, metrology, production / manufacturing engineering, technical selling, technical writing, automation, test engineering, yada yada).

Don't let the calculus scare you off. For most employed folks, it is a rite of passage, not a daily task. Seeing that you've done it once, you will be in the scrum and at home. Statistics seems more valuable to me, but then, that's only based on a few decades of work. If you get the right company, you can add skills as you need to be more effective.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with getting a first class engineering degree. It won't guarantee you job security, or a good job, or job satisfaction. It will help you get interviews as an employee. It WILL help you get a PE if you want to design dams, bridges, landfills, or foundations. Not so much spacecraft or iPhones.

Oh, and your skills as an American EE will be 10x those of an Indian EE, and they will work in India for 20% of your salary. This will be the case for a long time, and lots of stuff we did here the mainland will be offshore for good.
posted by FauxScot at 6:11 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just took a look at a few curricula for B.S. Anthropology, and I don't see any engineering core classes (mechanics, strength of materials, thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, etc.). I would be wary of any school which accepts you into an engineering master's program without seriously addressing this (and I mean in writing with a real person's signature on it). Anecdatum: guy I work with got a B.A. in English, bummed around for a few years, went back for engineering, and had to start from scratch, as he didn't even have calc or physics.

Honestly, there's nothing in the core classes that I'd expect you to have a problem with, and you'd probably be able to handle anything in the upper levels (given your degree and job history). But it's a long road to get there from where you are. (Worth the journey, in my opinion.)
posted by disconnect at 10:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well it looks like I'll have a very interesting few years ahead of me. Thank you to all who responded to my question. I will do my best to break into the field with all the information I now have at my arsenal.
posted by Peregrin5 at 12:23 PM on November 19, 2012

If your primary goal is to learn enough to be employable then I think you need to decide which areas to focus on/specialize in before you can even begin to plan a course of study. At my university, electrical and civil engineering are entirely different departments within the school of engineering and physics is a department of the college of science, and each department has several degree programs (and concentrations within degree programs, even). It's about like saying you want to break into the field of social sciences.

The real question that it comes down to is what do you actually want to do? Someone with a physics degree is going to have a very different career outlook from someone with a double e (for one thing, one of those might prepare you to go into industry, the other one could lead to teaching Science at the high school level).
posted by anaelith at 7:49 AM on November 20, 2012

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