Advice for Pursuing Physics: My Friend's Story

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In summary, the conversation revolves around a 29-year-old student who is transferring to McMaster University for a Bachelor of Technology degree in Software Engineering Technology. He has struggled with personal issues and financial constraints, but has managed to get accepted into the program. He has a passion for physics and mathematics and wishes to pursue it in the future, but due to financial concerns, he plans to complete his BTech degree first. There is a discussion about whether he should major in Physics instead and the possibility of pursuing a career in Physics after graduation. There is also a question about whether the student fully understands the implications of his interest in theoretical physics and the job market for such fields.
  • #1
GatchaEggs
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Note to moderators and administration: Please move this thread to the appropriate forum/sub-forum, if needed.

[Long thread ahead, warning.]

I posted an almost identical thread on the Physics GRE forums, but it received hardly any attention.

https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=181936&p=256612#p256612

Hello all, the thread subject does not concern myself, but rather it concerns a friend of mine. He is 29 years old, a citizen of Canada, and he is soon to attend McMaster University for a Bachelor of Technology Degree (BTech) in Software Engineering Technology. For the last decade or so, he has struggled with issues in his personal life that have affected his well-being and also his performance in school, leading to dropouts and I believe long periods of not being in school. I do not wish to get into the specifics regarding such, but this is why he is attending school this late, as he had issues in his early tertiary education as a result of those personal matters, Not to mention, throughout this decade, he has had to perform a heavy workload working minimum wage jobs often full time in order to pay off certain finances, and he lives with his parents, all while attending school and dealing with those personal issues. Life has been very hard for him, but he has managed to successfully push through and get accepted into the aforementioned Software Engineering program under McMaster University.

https://www.eng.mcmaster.ca/sept/programs/degree-options/btech/software-engineering-technology

My friend is transferring to McMaster University from a community college. Hence, I believe he told me he may be able to complete his BTech degree in two years or so. The degree's courses will be all entirely online. Anyways, since he was in high school, my friend has had a strong passion for physics and mathematics. From what I have gathered, he wishes to become a mathematical and theoretical physicist. He told me verbatim, within Physics, his top three picks for a sub-field of aim are: 'Particle Astrophysics, Cosmology, or String Theory.' Obviously all of us here are aware at how ambitiously difficult these fields are to strive for. However, another issue is that my friend does not have the finances, in his eyes, to set on a path towards those fields, or Physics in general. Hence he wants to complete his BTech degree first; because otherwise, it is going to be very difficult for him to do anything, from what I have gathered through my conversations with him. He also doesn't want to do a Physics degree right off the bat because it would have no market value, from his perspective, as he feels the job market for a plain Physics bachelors of science is horrible.

I have given him a lot of advice to guide him, and I believe he is aware of the mountain this goal of becoming a physicist is. I also have told him exactly what books he needs to read in order to prepare himself for graduate school, as well as doing research and making connections and all that jazz. He told me he feels his mathematics and physics background is inadequate, as in the Engineering courses he has taken did not give him that deep of a understanding, and he feels often he is not smart enough to even learn the basics, as he finds himself going back to square one often through self study. Granted, this means he needs someone to guide him.

Anyways, what can my friend do to further pursue Physics? I told him that he should maybe major in Physics instead of Software Engineering, but granted he said that this would be a financially poor decision. He also said a double major is not feasible.

His verbatim statement:

“I'm a 29 years old student who about to attend McMaster University for B-Tech Software Engineering Technology. My main passion is Physics and Mathematics. I would like to pursue my passions in the near future. However, please note, I'm living with my parents and work a minimum wage job. I choose Software Engineering Technology as a backup method just in case my Physics career doesn't work out and I have something valuable to find a decent job. Anyway, I would like to know if there is a way that I can pursue my passion in Physics after graduating with a Bachelor of Technology for Software Engineering Technology?”
 
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  • #2
Of course pursuing Physics is possible, just as much today as when he was 18. That does not mean it will be any easier, nor does it make it a good idea; only that it is possible. But this raises a question: Does your friend really know what the words mean when he describes his real interest? When I say, "really know," I'm trying to express the idea of having a full understanding, both of the topics and also the employment implications of those terms. I think that question is critical.
 
  • #3
GatchaEggs said:
Anyways, what can my friend do to further pursue Physics?
Nothing specific right now... what he needs most is to get his life on track, with a marketable degree, quality job, stable living situation and health. Then and only then should he consider reaching beyond for a dream.

The minimum wage job at 29 is particularly concerning to me. No semi-functional 29 year old should be working a minimum wage job as their primary employment. This tells me he's not yet even at that baseline.
GatchaEggs said:
I told him that he should maybe major in Physics instead of Software Engineering, but granted he said that this would be a financially poor decision. He also said a double major is not feasible.
Why did you advise that knowing it's a bad financial decision. He's under extreme financial hardship right now. Fixing that should probably be his top priority as the other aspects of being a functional adult are tied to it.
 

Related to Advice for Pursuing Physics: My Friend's Story

1. What inspired your friend to pursue physics?

My friend has always been fascinated by the natural world and how things work. They were also inspired by famous physicists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

2. How did your friend prepare for a career in physics?

They took advanced math and science courses in high school and went on to major in physics in college. They also participated in research projects and internships to gain hands-on experience.

3. What challenges did your friend face while pursuing physics?

Physics is a challenging field, and my friend faced difficulties in understanding complex concepts and solving mathematical equations. They also had to balance their coursework with research and lab work.

4. What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing physics?

I would advise them to develop a strong foundation in math and science, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It's also important to seek out research opportunities and network with other physicists.

5. What are the career opportunities for someone with a degree in physics?

A degree in physics can lead to a variety of career paths, including research and development, engineering, data analysis, and teaching. Many physicists also work in industries such as healthcare, finance, and technology.

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