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Advice: Can I Major in Physics? (Questions and Concerns)

  1. Jul 28, 2008 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I am an incoming freshman at U of Illinois and I have a dilemma. My proposed major is physics and I really love the discipline from the few classes in it that I've had. Every single person that I've talked to has cringed when I said I'm going into physics. "Er, physics. That's hard. Are you sure you can manage it, honey?" Historically, I've been much amazing at languages and composition so that's where everyone assumed I'd major in.

    I hope I'm not coming off as arrogant or condescending. I respect people that are in the liberal arts majors but the idea of doing something like that for a living is incredibly boring.

    I guess the added strike against me is that I am one out of 20 girls in a 500+ person class but I am willing to make the sacrifice of time, energy, and sanity in order to get into this field but there's still a few doubts. No one thinks of me as a 'math person' and it would be incredibly discouraging if I put all the effort into the subject but I only scraped by or was an below-average physicist at best. What should I do? Science is fascinating and math is potentially interesting if I got more chances to take classes in it. Any advice or help is appreciated and I look forward to lurking around these forums in the future. Thank you.

    [And I apologize in advance if this thread is in the wrong section or if I committed a faux-pas]
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 28, 2008 #2
    You can become "math enough" for physics through practice. If you find math is not to your liking, applied physics only requires basic calculus and multivariable calculus. What people think of you and what you know of yourself is a big difference. Be warned though, you will need to take your studies seriously if you are to get anywhere.

    But seriously, if you are doubting yourself at this stage I think you should reconsider. There are plenty of other activities for women. Cooking and cleaning is one, for instance. You can make other physicists feel really good by making them great soup - which who knows, might inspire a theory? I know I'm more productive after a good steak! You can also find yourself a good man and rear children! You can teach them math from an early age and have them live out your dream. The possibilities are endless!

    Or, of course, you can always study physics...
  4. Jul 28, 2008 #3


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    Go for it - we need more women. When you get to the upper-level classes and grad school, you'll find there's a few more women in the program. At least I did. It seems like everyone who's not doing physics is horribly intimidated by physics, but I keep telling them, if I can get a PhD in physics, anyone can.
  5. Jul 28, 2008 #4
    You're a girl. You'll be getting that (people trying to steer you away from science) all your undergrad career. Ignore those people. Simply put they are sexist idiots and they don't even know it.

    If you like it and you think you can do it, then you can go ahead and do it. Don't over-estimate your abilities (for example, no matter how much I'd like to, I'd never be a good writer), but don't assume you need to be a genius to do science, either. Normal people (like me) do it every day and it works out fine. You'll have to work hard, but so will everybody else, so it's fine.
  6. Jul 28, 2008 #5
    If this is what you want, then this is what you should do. I agree with the other posts. Don't let the opinions of others influence you too much. If you do have doubts, seek a complimentary area of study in addition to your major, like engineering, that will more likely permit you to enter into a science-related job after graduation.

    I faced similar doubts from others with my own personal experience; I quit a teaching job with decent salary and great benefits to pursue physics. It's been well over a year now since I resigned from my position and I haven't had one regret yet. Good luck.
  7. Jul 28, 2008 #6
    Anyone gives you that line, tell them to bugger off. Yes, it's hard, but it's going to be hard for anyone majoring in it. If you want it badly enough to deal with the fact that your college experience will be harder than it could be if you majored in Global Studies, then by all means, major in physics.
  8. Jul 28, 2008 #7


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    Being one of 20 women in a class of 500 isn't a strike against you, it's a huge advantage :wink: !

    And the odds get better as you work into upper division classes. There were several classes where I was the only woman, and where I work now I'm the only woman in the technical areas (we have women in marketing, but most are administrative assistants).

    Yes, there are disadvantages - like sometimes, when you first meet a person and you mention you're a physics major, the conversation often goes quiet. Or they start apologizing for the bad grades they got in high school algebra :rolleyes: .

    Seriously, go for it - if you love it, you have to!
  9. Jul 28, 2008 #8


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    What's wrong with pursing something that's difficult anyway? There's often a lot more honour in taking the difficult path than the easy one. As long as you have a passion for it and you're getting something out of it - pursue it.
  10. Jul 29, 2008 #9


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    Instead of considering whether you are able to do it, why not ask yourself if a physics degree is what you really want. And no, this point is gender-neutral. I'd say the same thing to a guy thinking of majoring in physics. There are a good number of threads here which advise against majoring in physics, you might want to read them through before making a final decision.
  11. Jul 29, 2008 #10
    Can you major in physics? I'm pretty sure U.Illinois is coeducational, so I'll go with a resounding yes.

    I've never understood the concern about being a below average physicist. The worst physicists (excluding cranks and charlatans) are still considerably brighter than the average person so there's really no shame in it. Also, studying physics as an undergrad doesn't even mean you have to be a physicist!

    Of course, as an incoming freshman, you either don't know what you're getting into or you are a monster. Monsters are too busy pointing out flaws in Ed Witten's latest preprint, so I assume you are the former. Feel out the water! Take physics classes! No one demands you sign your soul away right now, and if in a couple years you decide you want to major in Food Service Management, well, at least you got a broad education.
  12. Jul 29, 2008 #11
    Take some classes and decide later. You will have a hard time, like everyone else, regardless of gender.
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