Physicopoeia

φυσικοποιΐα
THINGS I WISH I'D KNOWN WHEN I STARTED TEACHING PHYSICS

Am I a Physicist or an Engineer?

It's not uncommon for pupils who like Maths and Physics not to be sure about whether to apply for Physics or Engineering at University. Taster courses and the like are very useful, but you still find people vacillating. Part of the problem is that they feel they know what Physics is from their school experience but they have probably never been explicitly taught anything described as Engineering so they don't feel confident about what it is. Also, some topics that we teach at school under the banner of Physics (such as materials or electronics) are actually Engineering. It also doesn't help that technicians and mechanics are, in everyday life, often referred to as 'engineers' which also causes more confusion.

There are much more detailed and formal ways to address this issue, but here's a super-quick way to check whether someone is, at heart, fundamentally  an engineer or a physicist. Without any further context, simply show them the picture below and ask them which they prefer:

 

Based on my experience of asking quite a few people, from school-age to adult professionals, Physicists say the one on left is clearly better and Engineers the one on the right. Of course, this isn't meant to be a serious career questionnaire, but it is quick - possibly moderately amusing - and raises some interesting ideas about the nature of each subject.