## The Should I Become a Physicist? Thread

oh right ok fair enough. yeah ive been to a few universities so far which have been really good. i only recently took a keen interest in physics and decided to take it for A-level but im worried that i wont be smart enough to do a degree but i really want to do it. I took a 3 day course at a university last month which i enjoyed but all the other students seemed to have such a better understanding and a better physics background and wondered if it was too late to do a degree?

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 Quote by RoryP oh right ok fair enough. yeah ive been to a few universities so far which have been really good. i only recently took a keen interest in physics and decided to take it for A-level but im worried that i wont be smart enough to do a degree but i really want to do it. I took a 3 day course at a university last month which i enjoyed but all the other students seemed to have such a better understanding and a better physics background and wondered if it was too late to do a degree?
What A levels are you taking? I would expect someone intending to do a physics degree (and succeed) to be taking at least Physics and Maths, with a view to obtaining an A in at least Physics. Which universities have you been looking at?
 Im taking Maths Physics and Sport Science. Yeah thats what i thought, well from the internal tests ive been achieving B's and A's in both maths and physics. Ive been to Exeter, Southampton and Bristol so far.

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 Quote by RoryP Im taking Maths Physics and Sport Science. Yeah thats what i thought, well from the internal tests ive been achieving B's and A's in both maths and physics.
Ok, well that's a good sign.
 Ive been to Exeter, Southampton and Bristol so far.
I'm guessing you live somewhere in the south/southeast then. I'm not sure what the entrance requirements are for those universities, but I would say that you should apply to a range of universities. So, have one that you think will be a push to reach, have the bulk of universities that you would hope to get into, and then have one "insurance" which requires lower grades that you will definitely get into. These all depend on your predicted grades, so probably wait until you've got your AS results before deciding too much about these. Other advice: make sure you go and visit the universities and the departments you apply to. Try and ask the students and (if necessary) faculty questions if you are unsure about anything. Ask the students about practical things: what are the lecturers like, what is the accommodation like, how expensive is it to live in such and such a city, what sport cloubs/societies are good, etc, etc. Try and get to have a look around the accommodation if you can, although not all universities have the facilities for this.

Personally, I think it's more important that you pick a univeristy that you think you're going to enjoy spending your time attending, and a city that you will enjoy living in. So long as you pick a decent enough university, the departments will all be very similar quality-wise, and it will be difficult to pick somewhere solely based on this.
 yes i live just south of bristol. well it differs, exeter requires BBC and Southampton requires AAB but not sure about Bristol. Yeah i get my AS results tomorrow so will have a better idea then i suppose. Yeah ive done open days for all of the ones ive mentioned so i have a good idea what they are about. Thank you for your help!
 thank you thank you thank you! AHHH I want to specialize in everything!!! But I can't :C
 The times guide is essential reading: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/lif...versity_guide/ Why mess about? Apply for Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial. If you fail to get in, then you can easily get in somewhere through clearing. You will probably need straight As. The sports science might be a plus for Oxbridge. Boat race, Roger Bannister, etc. They like their sporting traditions. If you're actually any good at a serious sport then it might help. They also like to see you reading around, gives then something to talk about at interview (besides sport!). Recommendation -- read Feynman's lectures volume 1 and Tim Gowers Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction. That'll impress them. They are also great reads, and should help bolster your A level work. If you're getting A/Bs then you can get As. Time to knuckle down.

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 Quote by mal4mac Why mess about? Apply for Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial. If you fail to get in, then you can easily get in somewhere through clearing.
But will that 'somewhere' be good enough? I would not advise people to only apply to those three universities, since if they don't get in then they will have to settle for a lower tier university. You should at least apply to other universities that have slightly lower requests, since then you will be confirmed a place (if you set it as your insurance) should you not meet the grades for whichever you put as your firm.

Also, note that not everyone wants to go to Oxford or Cambridge.
 oh great thanks for the infomation, was really helpfull! i didnt realise the Feynman lectures were so expensive!! i just bought that Tim Gowers book, that wasnt so expensive! well i dont think i will be applying to oxbridge! is there any universities you would reccomend? i got A in maths and B in physics but im going to re-sit one of the physics modules to hopefully get an A.
 Mentor Blog Entries: 27 In Chapter XIII of my "So You Want To Be A Physicist", I briefly described what you need to do after you receive either a reply from a journal editor, and/or the referee reports of the manuscript you submitted. I described a bit what happened if your initial submission does not get accepted outright. Science's career guidance section has a more detailed advice on what to do, especially if your paper got rejected. At one point or another, everyone who has done a lot of submission to various journals, especially prestigious ones, will be faced with something similar to this. So scientists starting out might as well learn a bit more on how to deal with it and what to do. A very good article to read. Zz.

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Blog Entries: 27
 Quote by Ulagatin Brilliant guide, Zapper! I'm in Year 10 in Australia, and your guide has cleared up a few of my questions. It was interesting to read about the life of a physics major, and then reading about research in physics and postdoc positions.
Glad it is of some use to you.

 I have a question for you though: What made you choose experimental over theoretical physics?
It's a rather long story, and in fact, I've written about it in an article called "My Physics Journey" a while back. Maybe that might answer some of your curiosity.

I think I see many of the same thing in the young students nowadays, even the ones we get on here. I see some "grandiose" ambition to "understand the universe", etc., the very same thing that I foolishly thought I want to do when I started out. I think it is OK to have such high ambition, but it must also be temper down a bit with reality. It is a FACT that the largest percentage of practicing physicists are working in condensed matter/material science. This is the largest division in the American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics, and the European Physical Society. Yet, I would estimate that 3/4 of the incoming students just starting out in college have high ambition to do particle/string/solve-the-universe/etc. It is obvious that somewhere along the line, reality sets in and one realize that (i) there is no such thing as "understanding the universe", at least, not THAT simple, (ii) not everyone is capable of doing what they want to do (iii) money, money, money (iv) there are actually plenty of areas of physics that one never knew and that they are equally mesmerizing, important, and fascinating.

I was hoping that, in writing the "So You Want To Be A Physicist" essay, and also relating my own personal journey, that students open their eyes to a wider view and to keep their options open to the possibility that there are plenty of area that they haven't even encounter, and that these could be as rewarding as the few superficial pictures that they got of some of the "glamor" fields of physics that they have been seduced to.

Zz.

 Quote by ZapperZ I see some "grandiose" ambition to "understand the universe", etc., the very same thing that I foolishly thought I wanted to do when I started out. I think it is OK to have such high ambition, but it must also be tempered down a bit with reality.
Hmm, just the other day, I saw some statistics on employment in academia regarding areas such as cosmology/strings/high-energy particle physics and this alone scared me. I was aware that there are not many jobs in these areas, but for it to be so low numbers indicates huge competition, or few people going into these fields. I'm guessing it's fierce competition though. And if this is the case, I would strongly doubt I would even have the slightest chance, as I am no Einstein, Newton, or Witten.

Can people with these skills (with little, if no application) ever make a smooth transition to industry, in perhaps an experimental field (or a more theoretical, yet applied field)?

I hope to do a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science (mainly focussed on software engineering and computer science theory) on the side, so what about the merge of computer science with theoretical/experimental physics? How useful would this skill set be (with double majors in [applied or pure] mathematics and physics)?

As far as money is concerned, I know it is often shunned in these forums, with people giving advice such as "pursue what you love, rather than what will give you the most money", but isn't it the case that physics professors get anywhere from about $80,000 to$200,000 (whether it be USD or AUD, there is almost parity between the currencies)? Is it only people that are world-renowned that would recieve the "higher eschelons of financial reward"?

Because this amount is not in itself, an amount that can easily be shaken off. $100k is more than several managers make, for example (although they would get their pay for likely a larger portion of their life). How close is my image to reality? I don't want to be invasive on privacy or anything, but in your own field, what is the typical range for salary, per annum? I am purely interested in knowing, because even though money is only a small amount in the equation, it does have importance, as it does allow for more freedom in life. Hopefully I find a field that grabs me as much as this perhaps naive idea of mine. If it doesn't turn out to be practical, then so be it, but perhaps it would be a big shame (again, depends on what I find I enjoy most while at college/university). I read your blog post by the way. Again, quite informative. I see that you chose experiment over theory purely because of your own ability to have application and usefulness? I'm interested as to why you found that you didn't like high energy physics - what put you off? A question here: if I was interested in doing something like physics simulation for example (or perhaps game engine development, considering computer science background), would it be at all likely that one could find themselves in this position, and perhaps, with sponsorship (likely part-time??) do a PhD in theoretical physics? Is this at all tied to reality? Would a PhD enhance earning potential? I suppose they have more developed skills, so I would be willing to guess that they would, but I'm not dead certain. What's the field like for people who leave physics after doing a PhD (say for example, people who go into finance and become quants)? Are the skills developed from studying theoretical physics (over experimental physics) more useful there? The absolute ideal situation I think for me, would be doing some software development on the side (perhaps as a business - consulting work?) to earn some more money, and having that PhD in theoretical physics, perhaps doing research if I found that I was good enough to do so. I read a few days ago about a theoretical physicist (a professor) at some university had delved into internet security, made presentations for the CIA (c'mon, how many people do this? I don't think it'd be as cool as it sounds though!), and eventually sold his business to Symantec for something like$28m US! This is just one scenario I know of though, and this certainly is far from the reality for most people.

My initial direction would be to do an honours year in theoretical physics (this is an extra year, after the 3 year Bachelor's degree, where you can then work in a more specialised area, as obviously, undergraduate physics encompasses both theoretical and experimental aspects). Doing well enough here can lead to doing a PhD in the field, but this, as far as I'm aware would come a while afterwards. Perhaps then I have a real taste of both the computer science industry and the exciting field of physics (whether it be experimental or theoretical).

Hopefully during the technicalities and overcoming hurdles throughout the journey, I do not lose my great passion for physics, and find something that I really enjoy, and is perhaps, more practical, as I honestly don't believe I am capable enough to do cutting-edge research in theory. Maybe I am wrong though!

Next month, I will be going to my university for a "work experience programme" where I'll have a chance to meet the theoretical physics professor I have been corresponding with for a while, and ask him about the theory side, and what it's actually like in academia! I can come here to ask Zapper and any others in industry for a balanced viewpoint then, so I have a better idea about it all!

Cheers,
-Davin
 Recognitions: Gold Member Homework Help I feel I should back up Zapperz's point above with my own experience, which is much less expansive than his, but may still be of use to you. When I started out as a freshman in university, I was really interested in general relativity, cosmology, and all that jazz. It was not until ~2.5 years into my degree that I realized that: 1) I really liked working with my hands and designing experiments, almost as much as I liked math. I would never want to do just math. 2)I found quantum mechanics MUCH more interesting than GR or any of the stuff I was initially interested in. After I realized this, I applied for an REU and got placed in an Exp. Condensed Matter lab and that was that. I would be able to learn much more about quantum mechanics in that field. Also, I would be able to measure quantum mechanical effects, work with my hands and electronics, and do work that had more direct applications in real world technology. After this, I was set on condensed matter experiment. Currently, I'm applying to grad schools for PhD programs in this field. My point is, you have yet to be exposed to a lot of very interesting fields in physics. You may indeed end up being most interested in strings or QFT, but you may not. Don't close any doors before you see what's behind them.
 This is a really great guide - I too am considering a career in physics and am currently year 12 in New Zealand. I've got a good grasp of mathematics (coming top in 13Calc and went to last years maths olympiad training camp) and I love physics - even when my class goes horrifically slowly, like that lesson we spent learning how to crossmultiply fractions. Although, like your essay said I think (sorry, skim reading), there aren't that many jobs for someone with a physics degree. I really don't want to be an engineer, or go into med paticularly, so what would I be able to do? Working at the LHC would be a total dream come true but I realize this isn't paticularly realistic... Last I heard, the LHC had been shut down temporarily though because it was overheating in some parts. Another sticking point for me is the male dominance in physics - I'm not sure but I think it would make me disadvantaged when it comes to jobs... maybe? I don't plan to solve the universe, just play with the bits of matter it shoots out at us. Oh and other jobs my dad has mentioned to me include numerical analysers (sorry if this has been mentioned - again, skim reading) - he's a Town planner and apparently these people model stuff like traffic flow and water drainage systems, which sounds quite fun as well. I've looked at other career paths but most of them are not nearly as perfect for me - my latest interest was Neuroscience but I continue to get better marks in Physics than in Bio and Chem, even when I'm trying in the latter two and not in the former. And of course the permanent back-up is music, so it doesn't really matter if I don't get a job after my degree - I'll be able to teach piano and make \$40 an hour! S
 Hi Goon, This is great! Good luck to you. I wasn't informed of this overheat in the LHC. Heh, "solve the universe" - even in say, string theory and cosmology, I don't think they physically or even conceptually solve it! Just get a better idea of it, and try to understand black holes/big bang(s)/dark matter and energy etc. To do numerical analysis, as far as I know, you use partial differential equations (a branch of calculus). I can't claim that it's a fun subject or not, as I am yet to study calculus myself (perhaps in a few weeks I'll start!). As for G01, I think I'm more interested in quantum mech. than general relativity, but then again string theory is a theory of quantum gravity. I suppose it harbours interest for people in either of these fields. Also, I wouldn't want to do just maths. If I wanted to do that, I'd become a mathematician! Much more interested in physics though (at least, at this stage!). Cheers, -Davin
 Is it possible to become a theoretical physicist without ever going to Haravard, MIT, Princeton, etc.?