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16 and (very) unsure!

  1. Dec 9, 2009 #1
    My background is this, I'm 16 in year 10 attending a selective highschool in Australia.
    I've been given a very basic introduction to physics (motion, nuclear, electromagnetic, electricity etc) I've had a really good teacher for the last two years who has not only inspired me to ask questions but to apply what i've learnt to questions and scenarios I'd go out of my way to find. Only now its dawned on me that I can read as much as I like regarding the sciences ( believe me I'm regretting I hadn't started sooner) and with my holidays soon coming up, and then the final(ly) 2 years of school it would be prudent to learn as much as possible in order to see if physics/science/engineering is really where i want a career.

    Likewise in my enjoyment of physics is my enjoyment in working with materials, before death my grandad and I would build/fix all kinds of things (ie: last winter we built a power saw out of scrap in his yard/ his neighbours yard, he has taught me a little with maintaining his firearms when he was building his diesel generator I was standing by watching, helping and trying to learn as he machined the components and assembled them.). So for my final 2 years of schooling ive taken Physics+Chem+Engineering as well as math, english and advanced music (ad. music as opposed to 1 unit music).

    Now, my vice when it comes to science is the cliche obsession with space, the moon, alternate propulsion methods, colonies, mars, all the things basically that are going to happen soon (hopefully). My other vice is ( please read past this sentence) weapons. Not for their capacity to end life, but rather their construction and engineering merits. My only justification that you should not think me some gun crazed child is my project of designing a bolt action rifle is simply to understand the mechanism better, never to use it on an innocent.

    I realise that I can't be everywhere at once and know everything and help expand scientific knowledge/practice in these areas. But I know if ever in the past 2000 years, physics is going to play (I guess it already does) a major role in our development and I have a chance to be part of in discovering/manipulating.

    I don't particularly fancy Astrology or Geology, I'd really like to design/build/synthesise craft/machinery/materials(polymers etc). I have an incredibly open mind, that is to say I find all aspects of Physics interesting the reason i name Geology at the bottom is because it bores me so far as I understand it ( ignorant of me I know) and Astrology because its much more observation (duh!) and much less productive in the sense of instantly gratifying work.

    I've got so long and so far to think and act on any course of career but I'm sure this is a place where anyone with any experience/study in a field of science may be able to answer a few questions I have or direct me somewhere.

    Assuming tragedy dosn't befall my brain or body and I can adapt to learning and applying new principles I was thinking I could train as perhaps an armament/aeronautical engineer in the Australia Defence Force. However, my actual aim is at some point to maybe for join Virgin Galactic etc.

    There is no harm in aiming to high, not yet anyway.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2009 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    I think you're confusing Astrology with Astronomy. :smile:

    It's all right to be pulled in different directions at your age. During my last two years in high school I was seriously interested in chemistry, physics and urban planning. It wasn't until my first year in college that I finally settled on physics.

    I don't know how early you have to decide on a field in the Australian system, but in engineering I wouldn't expect that to be necessary until the second year of university. Whether physics or engineering field, the first year courses are pretty much the same in the USA.
  4. Dec 9, 2009 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    Read "Alchemy of the Heavens" by Ken Croswell and "A Short History of Planet Earth" by J.D. MacDougall. There is probably more to geology and astronomy than you think :wink:
  5. Dec 9, 2009 #4
    Physics is so broad that you really do not need to worry yet about specialising. I'm half way though my bachelors (physics) in the UK and I still have no idea what I want to do. I have been in contact with a local engineering company who have stated they would accept me onto a graduate scheme for engineering so I'm not worried at all. Just keep working hard and gaining new experiences!

    I have looked at applying to Adelaide as a postgraduate just because I love Australia but I'm thinking it will be too expensive to be an international student.

    As for the Astrology comments, I spoke to a medical physicist about careers and pronounced radiology as radio-olgy, I'm therefore hoping that everyone makes these kind of mistakes at some point.
  6. Dec 9, 2009 #5
    I feel I have to make a case for geology. There are way too few physicists in there and the result is that all kind of wild speculative hypotheses go around based on inadequate ideas about physical realities and limitations.

    And there are some big major problems to solve that disdain all current understandings and we need sound physics for that.
  7. Dec 9, 2009 #6
    If you really like to design and build things then engineering is your best bet. Maybe mechanical or aerospace. Like jtbell said, you probably won't have to decide on your specific type of engineering until your second year at university.

    And try not to spend your whole break reading and researching, you've got a lot of time left to decide. Go out, have fun, enjoy high school. You'll regret it later if you don't.
  8. Dec 9, 2009 #7
    Alternatively, you may regret not spending the time productively. Like 2 years later when you realize you could have got into a top 10 school if you had screwed around less.
  9. Dec 9, 2009 #8
    I wasn't encouraging him to screw around and forget about his work. As a sophmore in high school there is plenty of time to "screw around" over breaks, while there is hardly any time to do it in college. I'm assuming he doesn't have a mass amount of work to do over break since he wants to spend it researching different career paths, which is something he should definately do. I am just suggesting that he doesn't stress about it too much right now and enjoy being a sophmore in high school.
  10. Dec 9, 2009 #9
    I wouldn't worry too much, from my current experience I think I can say that you will really find out whether or not engineering/physics/etc. is your specialty during your undergrad work. I think most here can tell you that studying as an undergrad in a scientific field (engineering/physics/chemistry) will not hurt you while you are still trying to figure out what you want to do. I think spending your time as a history major while you decide might hurt you. So as long as you keep yourself competitive for the school/schools of your choice (this was my weakness) you shouldn't worry too much about it.

    I actually think we have many of the same interests in common. ( I don't know how you feel about space elevators and fusion power research, but these are my current obsessions.)

    So far, after meeting many of the older class mates and reading about others it is never really too late. It is too late if you never try.
  11. Dec 9, 2009 #10
    First of all thanks for the replies, so thankyou!

    What I was getting at when I said I want to spend my break productively, this is of course in between beach/friends/parties/work/gf etc, like all people I'm only living live life once but yes, what I'm afraid of in engineering is not becoming as adept at the theory side of the principles behind universal processes as the practical side (constructing and designing things).

    My next question is, what kind of engineers have anything to do with the ISS etc. What specialties in particular etc.
  12. Dec 11, 2009 #11


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    From your original post, it sounds like you might be aiming for something like mechanical engineering. Just remember you can go really far with any degree if you're willing to be open minded about it. And if you're really gung-ho about the whole process, your concern about not becoming adept at the theory side of problems shouldn't be an issue. The basic idea is that an engineer is concerned with how to use knowledge for something practical, whereas the scientist is more interested with just the acquisition of knowledge. You'll eventually decide which side you belong.

    Oh, and the ambition is good, but remember to stay open minded - life has a funny way of working. At 16, I was planning on being an art major. At 19, I started college as a civil engineering major. And now, at 25, I have a degree in chemistry and I'm starting my doctoral studies next fall and wouldn't trade where I am now in life for anything :)
  13. Dec 12, 2009 #12
    I would say that it is better not to feel too sure when you have serious decisions to make. Before joining the Military, think about what you would be committing yourself to. While it is an admirable thing to join up if you really feel a calling to defend your own country, it is certainly not a free ticket to training and education.

    If world circumstances remain as they are currently, you may well find that joining the Services leads to tragedy befalling your brain or body, as you say. Bear in mind that other people in your life would be affected by such a decision, and by its possible consequences.

    I urge you to think very hard about it.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2009
  14. Dec 12, 2009 #13
    I'm also an Australian, so I might be able to offer a little more specific advice, but in general, I feel like I am a very long way ahead for thinking about specialisations now, and I'm going into second year Uni next year, so you really shouldn't be worried or unsure at all. You don't need to be making any big decisions for a long time.

    Your best bet in the future would be to do a Bachelor of Science at a good group of 8 university (group of 8 is like Australia's ivy league for those who don't know) I am doing a Bachelor of Science at the University of Melbourne, and there are a wide range of engineering majors, as well as traditional science majors so there is no need to decide between science and engineering before you start university. I am not sure if this is the same at other go8 universities though. You will figure out in time how the different academic fields relate to each other better, and where you fit best. You don't even really have to worry about your major until second or third year.

    Don't worry to much about not learning enough theory. You will learn everything you need in the future if you stick with it, just focus on doing as best as you can in highschool for the moment. Extra reading on the side can definently be enjoyable as you can focus on what interests you the most. My biggest problem with it is that I find that I take out all the good bits or interesting bits without working on the tedious bits, or just read about the concepts without actually working on questions, and then when I actually get up to the content in my real studies, the initial insipration and awe of learning something new and amazing for the first time isn't there so much, and all is left is learning how to answer the questions that I skipped over in the past, or learn tedious details that aren't really related to the concepts, like how to program in a new language. Although this isn't really such an issue since the understanding of the concepts I already have still gives me a big head start. I am a Computer Science / Maths major so I can't comment too much on physics and engineering but I would suggest you take specialist maths (or the equivalent in whatever state you are in.) if you have room for it. If you don't take it you will be fine, you will just need to do more maths at university in your first year of University. Anyway, highschool maths will look like a joke after your first year, even specialist maths seems easy. Google recursion theory, functional analysis or Algebraic combinatorics if you want to see some real maths :P
  15. Dec 14, 2009 #14
    Good to hear from another Aussie, I will certainly check out those mathematical theories!
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