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Difference Between Engineer & Physicist

The work physicists and engineers do can differ significantly and depends on the field these professionals specialize in. Continue reading to learn more about career options in these fields and how they compare.

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Comparing Engineers to Physicists

Engineers use their knowledge for practical purposes and do things such as design structures or devices. Some engineers are involved in research, and physicists may also spend their career focused on research. Physicists study the building blocks of the universe and, like engineers, they may specialize in a number of different areas.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Engineers Bachelor's Degree $96,440 4%
Physicists Doctoral Degree $115,870 8%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Engineers vs. Physicists

Engineers and physicists perform research. For engineers, this will depend on their area of specialization; civil engineers may spend time having soil samples tested to ensure an area is safe for building on, while biomedical engineers may research devices they're designing to see how effective they are. Physicists are involved with conducting studies related to their area of specialization. Engineers perform practical tasks such as reviewing the manufacturing process of things they've designed. Physicists may help identify ways to improve medical treatments, or they may spend their career focused on performing studies to prove or disprove theories.

Engineers

Engineers use their knowledge about different fields of specialization to design and make things. For example, biomedical engineers may produce medical devices, while civil engineers may design things like bridges. A bachelor's degree is required to become an engineer, and a license may also be required. Their specific work environment may differ depending on the type of engineering work they do. Some engineers split their time between working in offices and traveling to locations to oversee the construction of things they've designed. Others, such as chemical engineers, may also spend part of their time working in a laboratory.

Job responsibilities of an engineer include:

  • Preparing design plans
  • Creating a budget for projects
  • Applying for permits
  • Reviewing regulations to ensure their plan complies with relevant laws
  • Performing research
  • Testing materials

Physicists

The majority of physicists are employed in research or work for academic institutions. A doctoral degree is typically required, although the government may hire physicists with a bachelor's degree. Job prospects improve with graduate studies, and a doctoral degree may also be required to advance to management positions. Physicists normally work in offices and laboratories, although those who are employed at colleges and universities may also teach classes in lecture halls. Astrophysicists spend their career focusing on the laws of the universe. Other physicists specialize in studying things like electrons, while medical physicists determine how to improve medical treatments.

Job responsibilities of a physicist include:

  • Identifying theories to research
  • Determining the type of data needed for their research
  • Completing applications for research funding
  • Conducting tests
  • Analyzing data
  • Forming conclusions

Related Careers

Aspiring engineers may also be interested in becoming a materials scientist since materials scientists design things like fabrics and materials that are used in the production of goods. Individuals considering a career as a physicist may also be interested in becoming a geoscientist since geoscientists are involved in studying Earth.

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