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Physics 7th Grader Interested In Future Physics Career

  1. Jan 15, 2012 #1
    Hi, I am in 7th grade and have a great interest in learning how the universe works. I also love math and programming. A few days ago we started a career project in class and that has made me think about a career as a physicist. I have done lots of research onto being a physicist but I could use help in understanding from people who have experience in physics.

    I would like to know what skills/education I would need to become a physicist, what the wage is like and in detail about what exactly experimental physicists and theoretical physicists do.

    Thanks for your posts! :D
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 16, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Welcome to PF.
    Being keenly interested is a very good start.
    If you find that knowing how something works does not diminish the sense of awe and wonder, then you are good scientist material. Do puzzles and read stuff in your spare time, and study math and science. (And a little bit of anything else that attracts your attention.) You'll be able to specialize in physics quite soon at high school.

    ... mostly crap. It can get quite good though depending on what you end up doing.

    At your level you are best advised to follow what lights you up - your course will become clearer as you progress. Since you seem to want to be organized, you'd want to see what colleges you'd want to apply to maybe and see what they expect for their science/physics program entrants.

    It may be interesting to discover how many people replying to you are doing physics for the money. I got into it to meet girls - smart huh?
  4. Jan 16, 2012 #3
    You should also do as much math as you can!

    Look into these books:

    1) Basic Mathematics by Serge Lang (as recommended by micromass)
    2) Elements of Algebra by Euler (as recommended by mathwonk)
    3) Challenge and Thrill of Pre-College Mathematics by Krishnamurthy and Pranesachar (this one's from me!)

    All three books can be pre-viewed freely and legally via Google Books and most of 2) is actually available free of charge online. 1) and 3), you will have to buy. I'd suggest you preview them and see if you like them first.

    These are the kind of books I wish I had known about when I was around your age. I'm actually working through 3) right now! Also, don't be put off if you find the books a little hard to understand, because they actually are. More importantly, they present the same material you would learn in high school in a more thorough, yet concise way while also being more "fun". Admittedly, I don't have too much experience with 1) but I already knew the material in it, so I moved on to 3), which I should be studying concurrently with 2).

    You should note that mathematics is essential for studying the sciences and their applied forms.

    Good luck and have fun!
  5. Jan 16, 2012 #4
    Lol I know most physicists don't do it for the money but do they make a decent or more living? Since money is important as well. :tongue:
  6. Jan 16, 2012 #5
    Thanks, I'll read 2 and try to get my hands on 1 and 3.
  7. Jan 16, 2012 #6
    Physics careers require a lot of education and are very short. The median physicist spends a decade (4 years in undergrad, 6 of grad school) as a student for a career that lasts about 5 years after the phd. That 5 years is on short (2 or 3 year) contract work, so its not a stable situation, which can be hard if you have a significant other.

    After that physicists end up all over the place (finance,insurance, sales, etc), but for the most part they won't catch up to their peers who took a more traditional (i.e. not a phd) route to their careers.
  8. Jan 16, 2012 #7
    Uh... what? Physicists only have careers for 5 years? I'm confused.
  9. Jan 16, 2012 #8
    Yes, most physicis phds take a few postdoctoral appointments for the years after their phds, and then are forced out of the field by a lack of job opportunities. They generally start new careers in other fields, as I said (insurance, finance, etc)

    There are, of course, people who land permanent positions in national labs, universities, or the semi-conductor industry BUT these are the exceptions, not the rule.
  10. Jan 16, 2012 #9

    Simon Bridge

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    Few of people who graduate with a postgraduate degree in physics (and thus can be called a "physicist" without the inverted commas) will spend more than about 5 years actually working as a professional physicist after getting their degree.

    Most of the physicists in the lab are actually postgrad students though - so you will get to do some physics and maybe even get paid for it for longer than the five.

    You only have to count the number of professional physicists and compare with the number of graduates.

    We don't do it for the end result but in spite of it.
    And there is the chance that you get to spend part of your half-decade working on something cool.

    On the one hand I don't want to actually discourage you when you are keen - we like to see keen bright people interested in physics. On the other hand, we'd be doing you a disservice not pointing out the downside since you mentioned money and careers. The gripping hand is that if you are interested enough to make a real go for it you won't be put off by a few hard realities.
  11. Jan 16, 2012 #10
    Letting someone make an informed choice isn't discouragement. I still harbor some resentment that people who should have known better blindly encouraged me to get a physics phd- making it more difficult for me to make an informed judgement.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2012
  12. Jan 16, 2012 #11


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    @Particle Grl, this doesn't change your point - I'm just curious why you count getting a PhD as training rather than career (since you are paid at that time, albeit poorly)?
  13. Jan 16, 2012 #12
    The distinction is totally arbitrary- I lumped it into education because most people seem to think of phd programs as education (a side point: I often wonder if people would take such low pay if there wasn't a credential at the end of the process).

    Of course, if we consider students to be career scientists, then the median career scientist in this country makes about as much per year as a full time Burger King employee (a postdoc at least manages to make about as much as a Burger King manager!)
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2012
  14. Jan 16, 2012 #13

    Simon Bridge

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    Absolutely! Which is why I needed another two hands :)
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