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I'm currently choosing courses to complete in my university degree (science) and thought completing some basic electrical engineering may be useful if I go into academic experimental physics research. Would basics of electronics, electronics design, signal processing, digital systems/microprocessors, power electronics, and discrete-time signal processing be useful in the design of experimental apparatus?

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    $\begingroup$ In "Big Science" fields it sets you up to work on a particular set of aspects of the experiment. That is, in modern particle physica custom DAQ electronics appear in a lot of experiments and there needs to be someone you can design, debug, and fix them. You'd be a valuable grad student and post-doc, but it doesn't get you a faculty position, you're still going to have to be (or at least seem to be) a better physicist then the people around you for that. $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2016 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ I would say that it depends on your own personal "style". Different experimental physicists have different strengths and styles of working: Some are "tinkerers" and like to design and build innovative setups. Some aren't so good with tinkering but are very good at data analysis and squeezing the most information out of raw data. Others are good at dreaming up good new experiments or experimental techniques. And many experimentalists have a good blend of these various skills. What is your style? What kind of experimentalist do you want to become? $\endgroup$
    – user93237
    Jan 29, 2016 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ As someone who can easily out-engineer most EEs in their own field I can assure you that it doesn't. You will always be second fiddle to a "real" physicist, which is OK, if (like me) you don't like what a real "academic" has to do all day long: read papers, instruct students and write grant applications. The downside is that you will always depend on someone else's research grant. On the upside... you will also always get a much better paying industry job if you decide that academia is not for you. OTOH, I always got that without a formal EE degree. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jan 30, 2016 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne It would still be a Physics major degree but I have enough electives to a maths or electrical engineering minor. So I wouldn't be an EE I'd be a Physicist with some experience in the topics I listed in the question. I don't know if that changes your answer but surely I would be a "real" physicist? $\endgroup$
    – J-S
    Jan 30, 2016 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ I would say that there is hardly a better time than the undergrad years to go as broad as possible. The further down the road you are, the harder it gets to get away from the necessary specialization to get the job (whatever that is) done. So from that point of view, the time to be broad is now for you. I would not advise anybody to think that these technical skills are what counts to be a successful academic, though. You need more than engineering knowledge to get ahead of the crowd and what matters are (self-) management and political skills that you can't learn in the classroom. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Jan 30, 2016 at 6:19

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As someone who did a degree in physics before moving into electronics and s/w R&D, my experience would suggest "yes". Over the years I have been involved in a number of projects that could be classified as experimental physics, and in all cases knowledge of electronics was a vital part. At the very least a physicist should be able to read a circuit diagram in order to understand what is happening. Quite often the source of experimental error intimately involves the limitations of electronics. [Note - these days "electronics" also means knowledge of basic realtime software]

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