1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Programs Advice Request for a Fresh Physics Student

  1. Jun 21, 2016 #1
    Hi everyone,
    So to provide some background, I'm a 20 year old student in a community college who is about to transfer to a 4 year school in the coming winter. My interest in physics is fairly recent, as I was planning on becoming an astronomer when I entered college, but took an algebra based physics course and was hooked from then on. Since then, I've taken 1 semester of calculus, but the rest of my classes have been general education requirements, so I really have only barely gotten my feet wet, and to be honest do not know what to expect. I don't have any vested interest in a specific branch of physics, but I spoke to a counselor around a year ago, and he convinced me to work towards a bachelors in general physics, and find what to specialize in along the way. After that, I decided I would hope to get into a graduate school in Germany due to it being more financially viable. I don't have many resources besides my schools counselors, and would really appreciate a second opinion.

    Long story short, I have these few questions:
    1: Is my current plan viable, and realistic?
    2: How would I be able to familiarize myself with other branches of physics?
    3: Is it possible for a lower financial class individual with B+ math aptitude to make it as a physicist?

    Thank you to anyone who took their time to read through this, and further thanks to anyone who would respond.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2016 #2
    Thanks for the post! This is an automated courtesy bump. Sorry you aren't generating responses at the moment. Do you have any further information, come to any new conclusions or is it possible to reword the post?
  4. Jun 27, 2016 #3
    Are you studying in the U.S? Because the way you are describing things in your post, makes me think you're not?

    In the U.S you don't major in a specific sub field of physics in undergrad. Your major is in "general" physics. If you don't know what kind of physics you like, you should try out research! Find a professor that will take you and learn from him/her. It's important to have research experience in undergrad if you want to go to grad school.

    Most U.S grad programs are for PhDs and you won't have to pay them, they will give you a stipend.
  5. Jun 27, 2016 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Sure. I think it's a good idea to start out fairly broad and then specialize when you need to. You can always go from astronomy to physics, but going the other direction might be harder. And it's important to keep in mind that your interests will change. A lot of people don't even know what's really out there where they first start out in physics.

    The other thing to keep in mind is how your education will help you out career wise. The odds of getting into academia are low. So, if that doesn't happen, it's a good idea to have a viable backup plan.

    Generally this comes with courses. Most students begin to take introductory courses to the different branches by about the third year of their undergrad - at least in North America. But there are other things you can do to learn as well.
    • Read a lot. Read up on the things that interest you. Go deeper than just the popular science stuff and try to figure out how things really work.
    • Attend your departmental talks. It's pretty common in physics departments to have guests come in and talk about the research they are doing. As an undergrad you many not appreciate a lot of the finer points, but most speakers will give a broad introduction to the field and where they're work fits into it. These can be gold.
    • Join your undergraduate physics society or group. They often have opportunities to meet with upper year students, graduate students, and professors.
    • Get involved in a research project.
    • Attend conferences if you have the opportunity.
    • Attend departmental social functions. This is another great way to meet with graduate students and professors. And they often like talking about what they're working on.

    Yes. Financial class won't really matter. In North America, you get financial support as a graduate student in most cases. It's not a lot, but you can usually live on it.
    As for aptitude, remember that a lot really comes down to why you earn the marks you do. If you're getting marks in the B+ range, there's room to improve. In graduate school, most of your peers will have marks in the A range, or mid-3s on a 4 point scale (although it varies across programs of course).
  6. Jun 28, 2016 #5


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Are you in the US now? If I were you, and concerned about financials, I would hold off on transferring to a 4 year university until you've completed the core freshman and sophomore undergraduate classes of a physics major (assuming they're offered). It's far cheaper at a community college, and were you to transfer now, you'd end up spending four years at a regular university instead of spending two more at community college and then two at university.

    1.) Your counselor is right, doing a general physics degree instead of an astronomy degree keeps many more doors open for you as far as graduate school. Theres no reason to specialize during undergrad, at least not one I can think of personally.

    2.) Your classes will take care of that. Also start looking into summer research opportunities and internships.

    3.) Sure, anyone can make it as a physicist assuming proper time and effort is expended and has a real desire to go that path. If by make it as a physicist you mean earn a doctorate.
  7. Jul 2, 2016 #6
    Thanks for the replies everyone. Yes, to clarify, I am in the US, and because of our abysmal reputation for college tuition, I figured my only possible option would be to transfer. Since summer is halfway done, I probably missed the boat this year for any internship opportunities, but I will keep an eye out. I wasn't aware of the use of stipends in the United States, but to be honest I did not look very hard. Could anyone point me to a site or resource that would give an example of the kind of support that these stipends give, or the prerequisites they require? Also, one last question I'd hope to get some insight on. Is there any dividing line between the NA and EU physics community? Or is there any distinction between them that is noteworthy?
  8. Jul 2, 2016 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    It depends on the location, but the stipends I was offered as of a few years ago were between ~$22,000 and ~$37,000. However, most of the schools who pay over $30,000 are in very expensive places to live. For example, a student at Illinois or Cornell could have a pretty nice place to live that is considerably under $1,000 per month even though they make way less than $30,000. However, if you went to a place like Harvard/MIT, Stanford, or Columbia, you would be paying at least twice that for a two bedroom place and could never afford to live alone.

    Actually it may be harder to get funding for a PhD in Europe if you are not a student in the EU (who knows what's going on in the UK now, but I have heard it is tough for US students to get funding).
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted