Anxious about majoring in physics — considering a switch to engineering

  • #26
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Sounds like you recognize and accept your personal social values.

I think that you probably need to spend some time honestly evaluating your personal economic values. You praise the “not in it for the money” attitude but are simultaneously concerned about the money. To me that indicates a personal unresolved economic values conflict.

Don’t let other people tell you what your economic values should be. Sometimes parents push lifestyle and income goals on kids who are content with less and have other priorities. Sometimes peers accidentally draw you into their worries simply by talking about them, when it isn’t something that would otherwise bother you. Sometimes there is an internal conflict between the values that you actually hold and the values that you think you should hold or which you think others expect you to hold. Whatever the situation, I think that is where you need to start. What sort of an economic life would make you happy?
I think that is a good assessment: other people’s opinions creating internal conflict over values. One thing that certainly weighs on my mind is my family’s opinion of my choices. My mother said she is ashamed of me for picking physics over engineering. She, and several others, has told me that I am being objectively wasteful by not taking advantage of my full scholarship to maximize my income by going into engineering. That has put a lot of pressure on me.

To answer your question, I feel that my needs are fairly limited. If I have a stable internet connection, a roof over my head, and two meals a day, I am content. I am not particularly interested in eating out, traveling, or having a family.
 
  • #27
Dr. Courtney
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My mother said she is ashamed of me for picking physics over engineering. She, and several others, has told me that I am being objectively wasteful by not taking advantage of my full scholarship to maximize my income by going into engineering. That has put a lot of pressure on me.

To answer your question, I feel that my needs are fairly limited. If I have a stable internet connection, a roof over my head, and two meals a day, I am content. I am not particularly interested in eating out, traveling, or having a family.
Your goals may change over time.

My own father did me a great kindness by granting me permission to list physics rather than engineering as my intended major and never speaking a negative word about my choice after that.

True, wholehearted hard work can bring home plenty of coin in just about any STEM major. Mediocrity effort is likely to lead to mediocre earnings with just about any STEM major. A book of ancient wisdom tells us to honor our father and our mother. But once we are adults and taking care of our own needs, there is no need to let them boss us around.

My mother was content that I was attending college on a full scholarship and was making good grades and not flunking out like every male in my family before me.
 
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  • #28
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My mother said she is ashamed of me for picking physics over engineering.
That is every bit as silly as you being ashamed to be an engineer. Shame is simply not a relevant emotion for picking a major, neither your shame nor your parent’s. At least the silliness makes a little more sense. Shame would be relevant for immoral or illegal occupations.

I feel that my needs are fairly limited. If I have a stable internet connection, a roof over my head, and two meals a day, I am content. I am not particularly interested in eating out, traveling, or having a family.
Then you should be able to live consistent with your economic values with either degree. I wouldn’t see any reason to switch based on that self assessment.

As @Dr. Courtney said, things can change, so reassess again in a semester or a year.
 
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  • #29
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That is every bit as silly as you being ashamed to be an engineer. Shame is simply not a relevant emotion for picking a major, neither your shame nor your parent’s. At least the silliness makes a little more sense. Shame would be relevant for immoral or illegal occupations.

Then you should be able to live consistent with your economic values with either degree. I wouldn’t see any reason to switch based on that self assessment.

As @Dr. Courtney said, things can change, so reassess again in a semester or a year.
Silly, perhaps. Nevertheless, I feel this may be a cultural difference between you and I. You do not understand what shame has to do with it, just as I find it hard to understand how some people don’t fit shame into their decision-making processes. I grew up in an environment where the concepts of shame, honour, prestige, and face all intermingle. I agree that, at times, these things don’t make any logical sense. However, that doesn’t mean I can just throw away a culturally-ingrained way of thinking. It’s something that I have to wrestle with, sometimes on my own, sometimes with strangers on the internet.
 
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  • #30
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dpatnd, of post #29

For the next few months, you might feel intellectually and academically satisfied to choose Physics for major field. One day, you want to graduate with your undergraduate degree in whatever major you choose at some time between now and then. What will you do to earn your living/ your income?
 
  • #31
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Nevertheless, I feel this may be a cultural difference between you and I.
Not all cultural differences are good and worth preserving. Regardless of how you were raised or your cultural background shame is simply not relevant for picking a career.

Many people have overcome cultural limitations, and so can you. Keep the good from your heritage and throw out the garbage. Cultures only improve when people like you consciously choose to do so.

However, that doesn’t mean I can just throw away a culturally-ingrained way of thinking
Why not? Many, many people have done so before.
 
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  • #32
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dpatnd, of post #29

For the next few months, you might feel intellectually and academically satisfied to choose Physics for major field. One day, you want to graduate with your undergraduate degree in whatever major you choose at some time between now and then. What will you do to earn your living/ your income?
I do not know the answer to that question. As @Dale has said, picking physics comes with certain risks. So be it. I am exhausted by second-guessing myself with the question of what will come afterwards, and I think the replies to my post made me realize that there is no clear answer that will not make me lose sleep. Therefore, I think it may be best to continue with the major I feel most socially comfortable in and not concern myself with questions of the future. Something will materialize, and I am trying to be content with leaving it at that.
 
  • #33
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Not all cultural differences are good and worth preserving. Regardless of how you were raised or your cultural background shame is simply not relevant for picking a career.

Many people have overcome cultural limitations, and so can you. Keep the good from your heritage and throw out the garbage. Cultures only improve when people like you consciously choose to do so.

Why not? Many, many people have done so before.
Note the use of the word ”just.” I may be able to gradually change my thinking, but it will not come easily and certainly not by the time I have to pick my classes for next year.
 
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  • #34
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Note the use of the word ”just.” I may be able to gradually change my thinking, but it will not come easily and certainly not by the time I have to pick my classes for next year.
That is reasonable. Every time you feel or hear or say shame in this context just think to yourself “That is silly, I know intellectually that it is silly, even if I still feel it emotionally, but I am in charge of my emotions especially since I know where they come from”
 
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  • #35
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Silly, perhaps. Nevertheless, I feel this may be a cultural difference between you and I. You do not understand what shame has to do with it, just as I find it hard to understand how some people don’t fit shame into their decision-making processes. I grew up in an environment where the concepts of shame, honour, prestige, and face all intermingle. I agree that, at times, these things don’t make any logical sense. However, that doesn’t mean I can just throw away a culturally-ingrained way of thinking. It’s something that I have to wrestle with, sometimes on my own, sometimes with strangers on the internet.
You write well for a college freshman. I think you will do fine regardless of whatever course you take.
 
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  • #36
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You write well for a college freshman. I think you will do fine regardless of whatever course you take.
Thank you. I have historically been a humanities and social science person, only becoming interested in STEM after freshman year of high school.
 
  • #37
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The thing that perplexes me here is that it seems to focused on the wrong problem. We've had very few complaints in this forum from folks working as a physicists that they were making 10%-15% less than some engineer or other. Instead, the complaints we've been getting for ~15 years now, is that folks invest in a physics degree and then don't actually get to work in physics.

And those who both don't get to work in the field they chose *and* take a pay cut changing careers, they're the ones who seem most put-off about it.
 
  • #38
I do not not know I would do the degree that actually gets you a job. I was reading this forum post about a guy who had a degree in space physics spent 125,000 in debt and could not find a job. He spent four years trying to find a job.


https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...yed-for-months-years-this-is-my-story.896993/
I think engineering will get you a job because physics is more academic.




This guy reminds me of myself. He followed his passion but his passion was something hard to find work in because the DOD cut funding to space physics.
 
  • #39
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@dpatnd : Here's my advice to you.

Now that you are well-aware of challenges of finding a job with just a B.Sc. in Physics, and now that you have decided to stick with physics, then throughout your undergraduate program, try to cast as wide of a net as possible. Try to choose electives or extra work that make you more "employable" if you do decide to stop at just a B.Sc degree. If you have inclination for experiments or working with equipment, then see if you can take classes in electronics, instrumentation, etc. If you like programming, numerical analysis, etc, then try to do that, especially in computational physics. And certainly, depending on your grades, you want to work in research groups or getting internships.

My point here is that there are many ways, especially at ND, for you to make your ending B.Sc. degree in physics to NOT be a "generic" physics degree, that you actually have useful skills that an employer might want.

Now, here's the kicker: Life happens while you're making plans.

It means that a lot of things can happen, and a lot of things can change, on your way from Point A to Point B. You may end up seeing a wider view of a physics degree, especially as you progress further in your education. You may see more than just a 1-dimensional view of what physics is, and that there are many areas that you never even thought of or are even aware of, that spark your interest and passion. Your view of the tedious process of getting a higher degree in physics may change because of such revelation. You just never know.

If that is the case, then your extra preparation during your undergraduate years will not have hindered you in any way. In fact, it might even be beneficial.

My consistent advice to any student intending to pursue a career in physics has always been to go for it, but also make preparations along the way for the possibility that you won't end up in what you intend to do. You want to eventually do theoretical cosmology? Fine! But don't ignore learning about computational methods, or discard lab work on growing thin films, or work on ultra-high vacuum systems. This way, if things don't work out, you won't be left out in the cold with a piece of paper that has almost no value in the workplace.

Zz.
 
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  • #40
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try to cast as wide of a net as possible
And that wide net should include people, not just academics. @dpatnd, be sure to branch out and deliberately and actively cultivate personal contacts outside of the community you are comfortable with. This will, by definition, be uncomfortable but will help immensely in job searches. As a former hiring manager, I can tell you the immense value in having a personal connection, someone willing to talk with a hiring manager about you.
 
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  • #41
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As a former hiring manager, I can tell you the immense value in having a personal connection, someone willing to talk with a hiring manager about you.
Very sound advice, and applies no matter what major you follow, and no matter what career/job you're trying to land. The real world operates via social interactions.
 
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  • #42
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I do not not know I would do the degree that actually gets you a job. I was reading this forum post about a guy who had a degree in space physics spent 125,000 in debt and could not find a job. He spent four years trying to find a job.


https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...yed-for-months-years-this-is-my-story.896993/
I think engineering will get you a job because physics is more academic.




This guy reminds me of myself. He followed his passion but his passion was something hard to find work in because the DOD cut funding to space physics.
As I said in my original post, debt is thankfully not something I will have upon graduation owing to my full scholarship.
 
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  • #43
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@dpatnd : Here's my advice to you.

Now that you are well-aware of challenges of finding a job with just a B.Sc. in Physics, and now that you have decided to stick with physics, then throughout your undergraduate program, try to cast as wide of a net as possible. Try to choose electives or extra work that make you more "employable" if you do decide to stop at just a B.Sc degree. If you have inclination for experiments or working with equipment, then see if you can take classes in electronics, instrumentation, etc. If you like programming, numerical analysis, etc, then try to do that, especially in computational physics. And certainly, depending on your grades, you want to work in research groups or getting internships.

My point here is that there are many ways, especially at ND, for you to make your ending B.Sc. degree in physics to NOT be a "generic" physics degree, that you actually have useful skills that an employer might want.

Now, here's the kicker: Life happens while you're making plans.

It means that a lot of things can happen, and a lot of things can change, on your way from Point A to Point B. You may end up seeing a wider view of a physics degree, especially as you progress further in your education. You may see more than just a 1-dimensional view of what physics is, and that there are many areas that you never even thought of or are even aware of, that spark your interest and passion. Your view of the tedious process of getting a higher degree in physics may change because of such revelation. You just never know.

If that is the case, then your extra preparation during your undergraduate years will not have hindered you in any way. In fact, it might even be beneficial.

My consistent advice to any student intending to pursue a career in physics has always been to go for it, but also make preparations along the way for the possibility that you won't end up in what you intend to do. You want to eventually do theoretical cosmology? Fine! But don't ignore learning about computational methods, or discard lab work on growing thin films, or work on ultra-high vacuum systems. This way, if things don't work out, you won't be left out in the cold with a piece of paper that has almost no value in the workplace.

Zz.
Well, ND offers physics concentrations in areas like astrophysics, computer engineering, etc. I am considering doing a concentration in either aeronautics or computer science. As for research, I am currently doing prep-work for a professor, and will begin officially next semester. The research is in computational biophysics.
 
  • #44
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As for research, I am currently doing prep-work for a professor, and will begin officially next semester. The research is in computational biophysics.
If I were you, I'd dive whole-heartedly into that area, and I don't mean just restricting yourself to the computational aspect of biophysics.

Zz.
 
  • #45
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I am currently doing prep-work for a professor, and will begin officially next semester. The research is in computational biophysics.
That is a likely (IMO) field to have a lot of opportunity both in industry and academia over the course of the next few decades.
 
  • #46
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That is a likely (IMO) field to have a lot of opportunity both in industry and academia over the course of the next few decades.
Is that right?
I just approached this professor because he was a great instructor in general chemistry.
 
  • #47
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Is that right?
I just approached this professor because he was a great instructor in general chemistry.
Well, nobody can completely predict the future, but I think yes. There is a push towards precision or individualized medicine, and computational biophysics will be needed for that to succeed. Also, easy drugs have already been discovered and future drug discoveries will likely need more predictive tools
 
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  • #48
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Silly, perhaps. Nevertheless, I feel this may be a cultural difference between you and I. You do not understand what shame has to do with it, just as I find it hard to understand how some people don’t fit shame into their decision-making processes. I grew up in an environment where the concepts of shame, honour, prestige, and face all intermingle. I agree that, at times, these things don’t make any logical sense. However, that doesn’t mean I can just throw away a culturally-ingrained way of thinking. It’s something that I have to wrestle with, sometimes on my own, sometimes with strangers on the internet.
@dpatnd , I am curious as to your cultural background, or where you specifically grew up. The environment you speak of reminds me of an especially traditional background in various regions of Asia, especially South Asia or the Middle East (as someone who is half-Japanese, I can recognize certain cultural aspects of what you speak of).

I understand that this is a personal question which you might not feel like answering in an open forum, so feel free to respond to me via PM instead.
 
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  • #49
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@dpatnd , I am curious as to your cultural background, or where you specifically grew up. The environment you speak of reminds me of an especially traditional background in various regions of Asia, especially South Asia or the Middle East (as someone who is half-Japanese, I can recognize certain cultural aspects of what you speak of).

I understand that this is a personal question which you might not feel like answering in an open forum, so feel free to respond to me via PM instead.
My parent is Moldovan, but I grew up in Moldova, Turkey, and Kenya (mostly in the latter two).
Apart from prestige, the terms I mentioned aren’t ones we commonly use. They are just how I would summarize the ”unspoken” variables in our value system. Of course, I was also influenced in how I think by those I encountered in the various places I’ve lived, East and South Asians included.
 
  • #50
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I voiced this concern in my original post, but how do physics majors who later choose to transition into engineering via a Master’s pay for their degree? Do most just go into debt (assuming they do not have an employer willing to cover the costs)?
 

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