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Advice for a high school student moving on to uni next year

  1. Aug 25, 2011 #1
    Just as the title say, please give me good advice
    Because I feel really stupid to want to become a theoretical physicist when my parents want me to become doctor
    I am not from a rich family but I really love math and physics
    all this summer I have been studying first year university physics at the library and calculus
    I studied like 7 hours a day and I still love it, never get bored
    I love learning and figuring out the universe
    and I really really really would love to study string theory, cosmology, astrophyiscs ..I want to figure out more of it
    doctor isn't a bad job either (if I could become one that is ) but it wouldn't challenge me, and helping patient isn't exactly my dream goal either. I might drop out during the medical school years because I can't even dissect a mouse.
    I feel very immature and selfish to want to do whatever I want when my family needs my support. My parents want me to have good stable job just like every other parents. They aren't necessarily saying no to physics but they do try to persuade me
    what should I do?

    i hate money :( why does it have to bound me in these situation
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 25, 2011 #2
    I think some pre meds major in physics. So you could major in physics and keep both of your options open for medical school or theoritical physics. After you graduate, you will probably have a good idea of which path is best.
  4. Aug 26, 2011 #3
    My gf did that and is now applying to med schools....although she did a post-bacc to get the extra science reqs (eg o-chem). I'll def follow-up with this thread on what happens with her.
  5. Aug 26, 2011 #4


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    Yup doing a BS in physics isn't exactly detrimental for wanting to have the option open for med school in the future.

    Also, remember, going to med school does NOT at all guarantee any form of stable work with a good salary. You and your parents are probably 100% clueless as to the realities of being a physicist or being in the medical field. Do a lot of research and don't do something just because your parents say so. Remember, you are the one that will be doing the job 60 hours a week for the rest of your life.
  6. Aug 26, 2011 #5


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    Tell that to my parents. I wanna do theoretical physics, but considering they're paying for my tuition, seems like I'm stuck doing what they want me to do (which, like the OP, is something in the medical field).
  7. Aug 26, 2011 #6


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    That won't work out in the end. Ask them if they're going to pay your $100k+ worth of debt for medical school.
  8. Aug 26, 2011 #7
    Yes it is- IF you are accepted to med school. Nearly everyone graduates, and nearly every graduate will end up an attending (a career past residency). Salaries are easily in the 200k range. When you have a legitimate shortage of something (doctors, nurses) salaries and job security are high.

    Yes, large portions of school will result in overwork and high stress, but the same is true for phd programs. In phd programs, a substantial fraction don't finish, and almost no one gets to have a career beyond the postdoc/adjunct level.

    There is a reason you pay for medschool and they pay you for gradschool- it has to do with the relative economic value of the degrees.

    Now of course being premed in undergrad is no guarantee at all you'll get accepted to medschool.

    Its really easy to pay off $100k of debt when you make $200k a year.

    Now as to the original post- are the following things important to you
    -job security (do you want to reapply for a job every few years?)
    -being able to pick the city you live in
    -Having a stable environment to raise kids in before the age of 40,etc.

    There is more to life than work- you should really think about how much you want to give up.

    The average theoretical physicist spends a solid decade in school (gradschool+undergrad) and their career in physics lasts less than 6 years. Then they end up doing something else, making substantially less than if they had never pursued the phd.
  9. Aug 27, 2011 #8
    Im guessing that you use 'uni' to mean university your from Australia ?

    A good compromise for a stable job, plus doing what you love is become a high school physics teacher.
  10. Aug 27, 2011 #9
    Education in the general sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, and values from one generation to another. The economy is dismal, says the financial news media, and therefore young people shouldn't bother going to college and just go get what few minimum wage jobs are available. Though it may seem a worthy debate on the surface, students may be better off staying in college than dropping out to face the job industry. http://personalmoneynetwork.com/moneyblog/2011/08/23/dropping-out-college-costly/". It is not the case that no one who doesn’t go to college can’t have a good career. Dropouts can do brilliantly well, like Peter Thiel, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg all have. However, getting a Bachelor’s degree increases the likelihood of getting a job with better pay than not having one.

    It is important that you want the course you are going to get in a university. So, I advice that you choose where you are happy and comfortable with. It is better if you prepare for it as being in a university is expenssive.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  11. Aug 27, 2011 #10
    oh, whats that? end up doing what?
  12. Aug 27, 2011 #11
    actually from Cananda

    i want something a bit more challenging
    though my physics teacher also has phd in physics and teaches in high school
  13. Aug 27, 2011 #12
    I swear it's a paradox,
    I really want to do physics in university, it's affordable without asking hand to my parents and I can probably finish grad school without debts. As Canadian grad school pays student stipends almost 100%
    Being a firstborn between asian parents is a lot to them, they always expected me to do something better than others
    and since they have immigrated not long ago, my family is in debt (i am sure we can manage)
    my parents are unemployed (they are getting a low paying job soon)

    anyways, it's just a paradox
    I don't think I will have a good paying job because I don't want to be a computer programmer or a quant with my phd in physics
    and going into medical isn't exactly my thing either...I don't think I will enjoy the job
  14. Aug 27, 2011 #13


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    You could have your cake and eat it too.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  15. Aug 27, 2011 #14
    IT, finance, insurance, law etc. I have a theory phd and I tend bar.
  16. Aug 27, 2011 #15
    are you serious....why not do some more studying and build up resume for better job in research
  17. Aug 27, 2011 #16
    There aren't all that many jobs in research- thats what I'm trying to tell you. Most physics theory phds will never have a full time job where they can do physics research. And its not that I'm some awful student- I got my phd from a good (top 10) school, have a good publication record, etc. Also keep in mind, a good bartender makes more money than a postdoctoral physics researcher.

    I'm sure at some point I'll transition into finance or insurance, but these aren't the jobs I think you are thinking about when you think "theoretical physics phd." But these are the jobs you SHOULD be thinking about when you think theory phd, because thats what most of us do.
  18. Aug 27, 2011 #17
    Since you're going to be freshman, I suggest you find out what "do physics in university" exactly means. How is it compared to other jobs? How is it now compared to 100 years ago when Einstein did physics? Because honestly, what I imagined as doing physics at 18 was very different from what it really is.

    I also think it's a good idea to figure out exactly why you hate money, and what money is. Because there's a natural world and a human world. You learn one world through physics, but the other cannot be understood without understanding money. You live in both worlds.
  19. Aug 27, 2011 #18
    Here's an idea that solves various problems you have and some of the ones posted:

    Most med schools have a MD/Ph.D. Program. (Check out Atlanta's very own Emory, for example. Not because theirs is anything special among med schools but because it seems to be about the norm.) Doing this accomplishes a few things. First, you become a doctor, second you can get your Ph.D. in pure physics (that is, it doesn't have to be related to the medical field) and third, you pay NOTHING (except some nominal $500 fees per semester, and the price of books) and you actually GET PAID for the time you are in school. So, you do physics, which you like, medicine, which pleases your parents, you have no debt and a great career with a great salary (man, if you did this you would be set up to amass so much wealth it isn't even freakin' funny!).

    You could also do this and go into medical physics (as suggested by someone else.) This way, you won't really have to deal with patients. You can just to medical/physics research.

    The MD/Ph.D is a good option for ANYONE wanting to go to med school but ESPECIALLY for you.
  20. Aug 27, 2011 #19

    THANKS!!!! I love you
  21. Aug 28, 2011 #20
    While this is certainly a solid option for anyone with the brain and drive to go this route, there are a few problems:

    1) MD/PHD programs are incredibly difficult to get into. I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of those things where no matter how good you are, it still requires a decent amount of 'luck' and/or social connections to get into one of these.
    2) AFAIK, for almost any MD/PHD program, your PHD absolutely must have a link to the medical field. Biophysics research related to disease pathology would be an ok thesis topic. Black holes, not so much.
    3) The average length of time to complete an MD/PHD program is 7-8 years. This is if you have chosen a field for your PHD that ties in closely with medical school courses. If you choose a field of physics that is a bit further removed, it probably takes longer. 7-8 years is a LONG TIME to invest in education, even if it is 'free'. Opportunity cost.
    4) MD/PHDs who go into research do not roll in the money. Clinical doctors (can) make bank, not researchers. An exception would be MD/PHDs who go into industry and have upper level management or consulting roles. They certainly make bank. But, part of the reason MD/PHD students get their tuition waved and a research stipend is that MD/PHD researchers don't make the same money that clinical doctors (who only have the MD) make. That being said the fields MD/PHDs usually go into get a lot more funding and there are a lot more positions than physics, so you won't have to be worried about finding a good job the way a physics PHD is.

    You can still do purely clinical work after an MD/PHD, but this is not what the program is made for. It's made for people to split between clinical work and laboratory research (not cosmology or particle physics research), and the split is something like 10% of your time for seeing patients and 90% of the time lab. People doing this don't make near the money someone who is 100% clinical make, although they do have tremendous job security and do make more than pure PHDs. And if you go from MD/PHD to pure clinical work (the traditional pure MD route), you are sacrificing 3-4+ years for PHD training you don't need to work in the field.

    The MD/PHD is certainly a good option for those wanting to do MEDICAL research in conjunction with seeing (some) patients, if they don't mind sacrificing an extra 3-4 years for training. But it's not like you're going to have time to be a full time doc and publish cosmology papers on the side while making 400k a year. I do think you'd have an extremely difficult time convincing an MD/PHD program to allow your thesis to be in pure physics. Go to Harvard's MD/PHD program website -- they used to have a section listing previous thesis topics. If I remember correctly, they had one "pure" physics PHD when I looked -- and the thesis topic was something regarding kinetics of molecular motors -- which clearly has roots in biophysics even if she did the topic under the physics department.

    Just some things to think about. Don't get too excited; there are always trade offs. At least you have the option of going to med school and making bank vs. physics phd vs. md/phd. Not many people have this luxury :smile:.
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2011
  22. Aug 28, 2011 #21
    Why not combine the two? You want to be a theoretical physicist, so you could research stuff. Your parents want you to become a doctor, which repairs broken people and maintains them. Maybe you could be a theoretical physicist who works on creating new medical tools and such. It may not be perfect, but at least you move to your parents expectations.

    The only other thing I can recommend(aside from just complying) is to essentially say, "Screw you, I enjoy physics, not dealing with sick people who might infect me with coughed up blood." Don't say this exactly, just the general idea while being polite. Unless they're paying the tuition for you, they can't really do much about what you study, aside from kicking you out of the house or something. However, kicking you out of the house because you want to become a theoretical physicist, which probably requires more intelligence than a doctor(I'm not saying doctors are dumb, it just seems like you'd be doing super complex math and bizarre thinking in things like the quantum area), just seems to be overreacting.

    Above, seriously? a bartender can make more than a theoretical physicist?! I knew you wouldn't get paid over $150,000 a year for the most part, and I think at least $40,50k, but I figured a bartender just gives you a drink and tries to prevent brawls.
  23. Aug 29, 2011 #22
    Can you make living with postdocs ?? Will I be able to get tenure job if I wait long enough surviving on postdocs?
    Or is it like not even possible
    Because I can wait
    Money is not the biggest wish
    But surely it would be a problem when I turn seventy and I have no saving
  24. Aug 29, 2011 #23
    A theory postdoc might make about 35k a year, and most theoretical physicists are postdocs. I'm bartending in a San Diego resort, so we see huge volumes all summer and I'll pull in 60-65k this year, despite the weak economy. I am probably on the high on end for a bartender, but you can easily clear 40k bartending in any major city.

    It depends on what you mean by "make a living." The salary is fine for one person, and if you have two earners (a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend) you can do ok. The problem is the transitory nature of positions means you are dragging your spouse across the country (or world) every 2 years, so they won't be able to dig in and establish themselves in a career. If you have children, its even harder. If you are a single earner supporting a family (a friend took a position in Europe and his wife was denied a work-visa, for instance), its really tough. Do you plan on having kids before your early 40s?

    Maybe, the probability is pretty low. Most postdocs never get a tenure track position, if I had to ball-park I'd say 1/5 postdocs makes it to the tenure-track.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2011
  25. Aug 29, 2011 #24
    okay thanks for the info, I will have to make decision sooner or later
    hope I make a smart choice too

    and I am not gonna get married (who knows, but I don't want to)

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