There's a key
difference between physics and engineering, as I have learned:
In engineering, everything is very black-and-white. Either your answers are right, or they're wrong. Engineers have to be so sure of themselves in order to graduate, that by senior year they're the most closed minded of all people on campus. They can still be nice people, but don't be surprised if their attitude toward you is "Either you're smart, or you're not. Either you're a friend, or you're an enemy. Either you have a degree, or you don't. Period." A typical engineering professor doesn't care how much or little work his students put into the homework or show on the page; the bottom line is all that matters.
However cold that may seem, it actually has a good purpose: when an engineer designs a bridge, you want to be very, very sure that the bridge won't collapse. Hence it's good to be sure of what you're doing in that line of work.
But then there are physics majors... like me. And there is a good reason why physics majors don't build bridges: they'd probably collapse. Physics deals with the theoretical, the unknown workings of the universe. These things are so complicated, that instead of dealing with numbers directly, physicists deal with symbols and observational theory.
True story: My current physics professor came into class yesterday and started working an example problem on the board. He used symbols entirely; no numbers (except as powers or coefficients), just Greek letters and fraction bars. To make things more complicated, he did the problem via a longer route than necessary, deriving all the formulas he could have just recited as shortcuts in the meantime. Everybody in the class was spellbound. I was amazed I actually understood some of it (key word: some).
But THEN, the prof got to the part where he had the final equation in terms of symbols. This was when he was supposed to plug in the numbers the symbols represented, and solve from there. I quote:
"Well, let's see: this number's something to the tenth... whatever the coefficient is, it's not terribly important... then we have a ten to the fourteenth over a ten to the thirteenth... just call that a ten overall. Then there's a nine over a ten here... we'll say they almost cancel to one, so just drop them both, and then you get some answer between five and fifty-two centimeters. Or less or more. It doesn't really matter. Just know that this is how you get to this point, and put the numbers into the calculator, and you'll be fine."
Engineers generally go on to work desk jobs planning bridges, corporate inventory, etc. Physicists, on the other hand, usually go into the military and design laser-guided weapons.
Makes ya feel real good about our American military superiority, don't it?