Physics vs engineering - dd starting to think about uni courses & would welcome thoughts

(103 Posts)
Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 20:11:46

DD's just in year 12, so plenty of time, but is starting to think about what direction she wants to go post A levels. Previously she was looking at physics, but is wondering whether engineering might suit her better, and I said I'd ask the MN massive for any thoughts.

She's very keen on science /maths generally, good solid GCSEs (7x A* 3xA - we're in Wales so still letter grades). Taking Maths/ FM/ Physics/ Chemistry & very much enjoying them all to date. As I say she chose her A levels thinking probably physics, but she's now wondering if she'd prefer a more practical subject.

I'd say she's not a 'natural engineer' of the always taking things apart and fixing them type, but good at creative thinking and problem solving, so I can see why it appeals. (But she's certainly not at the 'I want to do mechanical / electronic / aeronautical engineering' stage.)

We've booked to go to open days at Cardiff & Swansea uni shortly & she's planning to look at both departments, so I guess right now she's looking for any ideas / things she might be missing / questions to ask. (She's also hoping to get on an extracurricular thing at college where they have a 'real engineer' (dd's description) and a real-world problem to work on.)

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CMOTDibbler Wed 26-Sep-18 20:22:40

I had the same dilemma, and what did it for me was asking myself what excited me - and for me, that was doing something for people.
So I did Medical Physics (at Cardiff), thinking I would go into rehabilitation engineering, but ended up in radiotherapy which I've worked in ever since and love.

For me, medical physics blended the science with a direct application to the real world, and in most specialities it is at least 50:50 male and female with some areas having more women.

JulietteGrimm Wed 26-Sep-18 20:35:55

Engineering is a really broad term, but the types of engineering which require a degree aren't all about taking things apart and fixing them. It's really problem solving and practical application of maths and physics. Some universities do taster days or weeks for engineering so she should look in to that. Some cost money to do, but some attract funding.

I may not be the best advert as I quit engineering (as a career) after 5 years to become a teacher, but I have a lot of A level students go on to study engineering and I'm happy to answer any specific questions you/she have.

As for what to ask at uni - talk to the students in each faculty and ask what they most/least enjoy about their course so you can get an idea of what studying the subject at those particular unis entail.

Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 20:36:11

That's a good question. I suspect at the moment the answer might include Mars rovers... (though that might not tie in with the fact that she's said she thinks she'd rather work in a smaller rather than a larger organisation - another reason I think she's looking at engineering).

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Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 20:37:27

What sort of engineering did you study Juliette? As you say, it's so broad I think it's hard for her to get a grip on what might interest her most.

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YeOldeTrout Wed 26-Sep-18 20:38:38

The difference is tribal, ime. She may know best which is best by hanging out with each tribe to get a feel for where she feels most at home.
Physicists Think & engineers Do, might be one way to think about it.

JulietteGrimm Wed 26-Sep-18 20:40:15

I studied chemical engineering. I actually started off doing a maths and physics joint honours degree as I'd never heard of engineering (sheltered upbringing plus convent school in the 90s) but switch because I met people at uni and was jealous that their course sounded more interesting than mine.

Some universities start of by studying general engineering in the first year with specialising later.


Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 21:25:35

Do you mean at open days Trout? I guess I'm hoping also the open days will be good for getting a feel for the university & whether she thinks she'd feel at home there.
Any suggestions for good unis to visit for engineering and/or physics also welcome - as mentioned we're in Wales, so Cardiff/Swansea are obvious choices, but other ideas would be useful. (I think so far she's ruled out London & generally has a preference for campus or smaller city unis.)

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BareBelliedSneetch Wed 26-Sep-18 21:27:00

I did physics and frequently wish I’d done something with a more obvious career path like engineering.

thesandwich Wed 26-Sep-18 21:28:28

Has your dd done anything like headstart or Sutton trust courses? Really good uni summer schools - there are also uniq and individual day courses held at some unistats which could give her a great insight into the subjects. Really recommend them.

Decorhate Wed 26-Sep-18 21:29:57

Initially I was going to do a pure Science degree but then Engineering appealed as there was a clear career path at the end of the course.

I think the interest in taking things apart often goes with mechanical engineers.

As others have said, it's possible to do a general engineering degree and specialise as you go along. The other branch of engineering I would encourage her to look at is Civil as there are so many different aspects to it.

If there are any university open days taking place near you, it's a good way to find out more about different subjects. There should be some in October in most places.

Decorhate Wed 26-Sep-18 21:32:45

Cross posted! Bath should be doable from Wales & has a small campus. Bristol is not campus but the engineering building is more or less self contained.

thesandwich Wed 26-Sep-18 21:32:53

Can I also recommend the world skills show at the nec in Birmingham- loads of employer support there she could talk to about careers options. On in November and free😉

Toomanycats99 Wed 26-Sep-18 21:38:45

I wish I had known about engineering when I was younger. I have been fascinated by the programmes about the cross rail build. All the planning involved.

WalterFlipstick Wed 26-Sep-18 21:40:34

I studied physics undergrad, and am now an academic in an engineering faculty. I definitely second the advice to find a Headstart course or similar, and come on university open days: we can give much more details about the courses.

With her excellent grades, she could apply to any university in the country.

Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 21:44:12

I'll point her towards Headstart - had seen it suggested on a previous thread & it looks like a very good idea.

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YeOldeTrout Wed 26-Sep-18 21:53:37

Yeah,Open Days is one way to encounter the tribe. Talk to each set of students about what they do on the course.

Engineering usually means industry placements. Does that appeal to her?

Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 22:03:29

Good question and another thing for her to ask about in open days smile

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PandaG Wed 26-Sep-18 22:07:09

DS did headstart last year, it confirmed to him that engineering was what he wanted to do - I can't rate the experience highly enough. He is off to Cambridge on Saturday to start an MEng.

BubblesBuddy Wed 26-Sep-18 22:08:32

DH is a Civil and Structural Engineer and is the founder of an Engineering Consultancy in his fields of Engineering.

Your DD must try and apply to do an MEng course if she goes down the engineering route. After that it’s at least 4 years to become a Chartered Engineer, which is the Gold Standard. Don’t let anyone tell you that all qualifications are as good as each other: they are not. Do add in Sheffield and Southampton to the universities. Few small universities will have high quality engineering departments. They are expensive to run! You need quality.

She might like to look at the Engineering Council web site for an overview of Engineering. They regulate the profession. She could then look at the web sites of the various institutions such as Civils, Mechanical, Structural etc.

Whilst engineering is problem solving, it is also a precise discipline because public safety is nearly always involved. The bridge collapse in Genoa tells you that. The problem was solved regarding getting from A to B, but not safely!

An area which is growing like topsy is Environmental Engineering. Flood relief schemes, drainage and how to hold run off water are all now important considerations for large housing developments. This is part of Civils but she would never be short of well paid work! Also developing brown field (contaminated) sites is also a challenge and is a growth area.

The design of Cross Rail was a major civil engineering project. Site management takes place after the design. Smaller companies don’t do this scale of design work but can offer very interesting work on a smaller scale and a faster throughput of work. She might like to consider structural engineering and work on historic buildings. That’s a very rewarding area of work too.

Sadik Wed 26-Sep-18 22:11:29

Congrats to your DS Panda smile And lots of helpful tips Bubbles - will pass on to DD to read.

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hellsbells99 Wed 26-Sep-18 22:16:41

My DD is studying mechanical engineering and very much enjoying it. She is a third year now and has elected to stay on the mechanical engineering route - in her university at this stage, they can also opt to switch to Aerospace, automotive or medical engineering.
A lot of her degree is made up of maths and physics but they get to apply what they learn. She also has lectures on economics, management, ethics etc. It is time intensive with a lot of contact time plus projects. She has found it harder than she expected but still finds time to socialise and party!

hellsbells99 Wed 26-Sep-18 22:18:37

I forgot to say that DD also attended a Headstart course.

hipposeleven Wed 26-Sep-18 22:32:00

Smallpeice Trust also run summer courses on engineering. Also worth checking if there are any taster days at universities near you:

errorofjudgement Wed 26-Sep-18 22:53:56

From South Wales it’s pretty easy to get to both Bristol and Southampton (Southampton has a campus feel despite not being a campus) they’re both strong engineering unis.

In Y12 DS1 went to an open day where the engineering lecturer described engineering as taking beautiful and elegant maths solutions and making them work in the real world. That’s when DS knew he wanted to study engineering rather than maths!

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