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Physics Am I suited to pursue a career in physics?

  1. Aug 6, 2016 #1
    Hello, community! I am a fourteen-year-old high school student I am looking for an answer to the eponymous question. Preferably, I would like if somebody who has completed any degree in physics to answer; thank you. So, allow me to explain my situation.

    I always have had a fascination for science and how the world operated. Recently, say for a year or so, the focal point of my interests have lied upon physics. At first, the specific field was astrophysics. I love(d) space and find various discoveries/laws to be incredibly intriguing (e.g. stellar evolution, quasi periodic oscillations). I still love astrophysics, but as my research upon the occupation expanded to considering it as a long time career, my interest in pursuing it as a career decreased. It seems arduous to find an occupation in the field and I think I may be better suited to reading the books (like Cosmos and A Brief History of Time). After this, my interests shifted to (and currently are in) nuclear physics. It seems to be stable in the job market and can be pursued as a career outside of professorship (though the aforementioned job will probably be a must).

    Furthermore, I have been researching the question of interest through Google and this website and (almost) all sources say doing physics rather than learning it is torturous and most do not prosper. Can somebody verify this from an unbiased standpoint? Many say simply learning it is not enough and developing theorems on your own is consequential to becoming a physicist. This seems intuitive, and this is my biggest sub-question.

    For some background about myself, I am fairly intelligent, but nothing special. I receive good grades, but cannot read Einstein's theories of relativity with ease. IQ is rather inessential for being successful (hard work is what matters). I know anything can be achieved with hard work and a passion, but I think I need some natural skills to enjoy my field of work.

    My biggest worry is that I do not have the best problem solving skills. I do well mathematics and often enjoy it. I can extrapolate formulas provided and apply them to various problems. However, it is difficult for me to develop these formulas. I wouldn't be going into theoretical physics for this reason; I would be considering experimental physics. That said, would engineering be a better selection for me?

    Also, I plan to take my high-school exit exam my sophomore year to enter a college where I can get a head start. Since exiting early is only practical when you know the path you wish to go down, I would really like to know if this is something I could/should pursue. Is this (from an educational standpoint) a good idea?

    For answering my question, if you could please respond in a polite manner rather than saying something along the lines of 'you're too young, you cannot possibly know what physics is about,' or 'do some more research, then come back to talk seriously,' that would be great. I also realize that going into physics is not the most lucrative job or the easiest. I have read multiple articles about the journeys of physicists; I fully realize how tough the job is. I know that going into physics is not for the fame but for the intrigue, which is what I have currently; I definitely will not win the Nobel Prize in Physics or anything like that.

    So, to summarize:

    1) If I am interested, but nothing special, will I prosper in this career?
    2) Will I become depressed in this field like all the articles I have read?
    3) Is it better to go into engineering if I do not have the creative ability to develop formulas?
    4) Is it a good idea to take the high school exit exam early?
    5) Is physics a good career option for me?
    6) If the answer to 5 is 'yes' what kind of physics field would you recommend for me?

    Your help is greatly appreciated. Apologies if I have not provided enough information.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2016 #2
    Why would you want to skip high school? You'll miss the fun parts of being a high school student.
  4. Aug 6, 2016 #3
    College classes tend to be more efficient, and I would take two years of high school classes before departing. I hold education as my highest priority. My parents have mentioned similar things you just said, so I am well aware of the social tasks. You should also take into account that I only have 14 years of age and my fantasies may change/crumble soon. :) I suppose that information was mostly irrelevant and unnecessary to the topic.

    It would be great if you have any information to share with me on the other questions, though. Thanks.
  5. Aug 6, 2016 #4

    I also am not implying that I think this is necessary to being a physicist, I just want a head start. Once again, it was pretty much irrelevant to the topic. (Apologies for double posting.)
  6. Aug 6, 2016 #5


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    You probably already know this, but we can't tell you how you will fair if you choose to pursue physics. One thing that's important to keep in mind is that you're not choosing a career once you leave high school. You're choosing a direction for your education. You'll choose what to do your bachelors degree in and for the next four years, that's what you'll do. You can't really make any choice until you get through that because you won't have any real experience to make that choice on. As you go through an undergraduate degree, you'll be exposed to the different sub-fields at an introductory level. Reading *about* them is one thing, but actually getting down and dirty with the work is another animal. You may discover that you really have a passion for something in your fourth year that you don't even know exists right now (and in some cases that's because it doesn't yet).

    The available data on these things seem to suggest that most students who graduate with at least a bachelor's degree in physics are happy with their choice. But of course not all of them are. One major hurdle that a lot of people experience is that when leaving physics for the commercial or industrial world there is no preordained professional transition. Unlike an engineer, where if you get a degree in electrical engineering, you can apply for entry level electrical engineering jobs, as a physics graduate you have to figure out how the skills that you've developed can translate into a career. Again, the data indicate that for most students this works out quite well, but it is still a major obstacle.

    Another point to keep in mind is that barring medical conditions happiness really has a lot to do with how you choose to view things. People that have gone through some pretty devastating experiences can be happy. People have led a charmed life can be depressed.

    Most physics isn't really about developing new formulas. And either way, there really isn't a litmus test to tell you if you'll do well in physics, other than trial and error. This might be the kind of thing where having some experience might help with the decision. Have you spent any time with any engineers to find out what they do?

    Do you know anyone who's done this successfully? Better yet, do you have any data on how well this tends to work out? I know this is anecdotal, but I had a friend who was 16 when he started university, when everyone else was 18 or 19 (at the time where I lived we had a grade 13 if you're wondering why the math is off a little). He did okay, but I think socially he really struggled. When everyone else could go out to the bars or dance clubs, he had to stay back. He was at least two years younger than any girl that he met. And just generally he was at a different stage of life than most of the people he went to school with. Just don't under-estimate the potential consequences of this.

    Otherwise, you might also want to look a little deeper into this plan. I don't know how it works where you are but in Canada (where I'm from) you need certain prerequisite classes for entry into a physics BSc program - typically grade twelve physics, and a handful of other science and mathematics classes. A high-school-equivalency won't cut it.

    Remember that the odds of having a career in physics that's something like what most people would think of as a physicist (i.e. a professor) are pretty low. If you successfully make it all the way through a PhD, you're roughly looking at a 1/10 probability of getting something like that. Beyond that, only you can ultimately decide if pursuing physics is a good idea.

    That's something you have to decide for yourself if and when the time comes.
  7. Aug 6, 2016 #6
    Thank you for your advice. You have been very helpful. I think the only way to truly answer my question, as you have suggested, is to actually take classes in my varying fields of interest and more to determine if this is the correct career choice. Thank you for your answers.
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