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Apprehension about becoming a physicist

  1. May 21, 2004 #1
    Hi, I am a new college student who is majoring in Physics. I would like to be a physicist, but I have never been good at math or physics. Since I was about 17 I have wanted to be some kind of scientist, but recently I have been having second thoughts about it.

    I am worried about the time, money and energey involved in getting a doctorate degree. I am also worried that I may not make a good physicist. The fact that so many people have told me that physics is a hard subject doesn't help either. I guess the fact that I want a good job and independence from my mom as soon as possible pushes me away from a long college career.

    I think that I should probably major in Computer science and become a computer programmer and then go back to school to become a physicist later on if I decide to.

    So, my question to you guys is this: Is it possible to get a bachelor's in one major and then go back and get a doctorate in another? Also, what advice would you give me about my problem?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2004 #2
    Hi Zandorian,
    I was a computer engineering major when i first entered college, then i switched to physics. I wanted to become a computer engineer because of the better chance of a job and better money, though I really loved math and physics then. To sum it up, I did it for job security and money. However, after awhile thinking about it, I decided that I wanted to switch because I would be unhappy designing computer stuff. I chose love over money. Which I think everyone should do because doing things you have no interest in, will get you nowhere in life and you only have one life to live.
    Take my situation, I hate english with a passion. And I think its hard and I have no interest in it what so ever. To a english major, they probably hated the sciences and thought it was hard. To tell you bluntly, only people who have no interest in the subject think its hard. To me even though physics will be tough, my interest and love for the subject transcends all that doubt and struggling. I will enjoy those long hours of trying to figure out the ideas of quantum mechanics and Relativity. Erasing and crumpling up pieces of paper trying to get a solution. To me knowing the "Mind of God" is worth it.
    Your doubts of not able to be a good physicist are probably stemming from your past experiences of not doing good in math or physics. Let me tell you, I was never good at math either. I got average grades in grade school, a C in algebra, a B- in geometry(that was through shere hard work, I hated geometry) but then it all turned around in Algebra 2 where I was at the top of the class with a 98%. Similar with trig(95%) and my most recent college calculus class with a A-. Just because you dont do good in them, doesnt mean your not interested in the subject. Being interested in the subject should tell you if you want a career in that field. And if you have interest, then it wont be a problem for you trying to figure the ideas out. If your interested and love physics and math, that should tell you if this is the right field for you.
    Now on to graduate school. Graduate school is hard, i wont lie to you. But that wont be a problem for you since you love the subject. Unless you live in a major city, most are probably pretty far away from your hometown. That means you have to live on campus housing or apartments(that means on your own). Most graduate school departments give out massive financial aid packages to students. So depending on your financial situation, your parents pay for it or you work the remaining difference off. There is also the FAFSA, which you probably heard about already.
    Now on to your question about becomming a computer programmer and then a physicist. In this order it is kind of hard because after you have a bachelors in CS. Getting a doctorate in physics would be extremely tough because you have all that cathup to do with the undergraduate classes. Most become physicists and then learn to become a computer programmer.
    I am pretty tired right now, so im going to bed. To anyone else that responds to this thread if I have said something that is wrong, please say so, I would hate to give the poster the wrong information. And to the poster, the fundamental question I want you to ask yourself is: Do I love physics and math more than anyother field out there? If it isnt, I would ask yourself what is. If you have anymore questions, please let me know.
  4. May 23, 2004 #3
    There are ways to start on the path without getting yourself in a bind when it comes to playing "catch-up". I have had some doubts myself about pursuing a physics degree, but for different reasons. I have 27 years old and after many years of being out of university, I have decided I am sick of self-study/enjoyment in physics and astronomy, so I am returning to school to do something official about it. I ran into a similar problem with deciding what path I should take.

    Anyway...I have researched into the requirements necessary for my degree from my university (and others, just in case) for both of my degree options (physics and/or astronomy). There are parallel options that take up the majority of the first two or three years of schooling, which should be plenty of time for you (or I) to make up our minds on which path to take. If you view both of the requirements for computer science and physics, you will see the parallels and you can plan your schooling easily. I guarantee, you will be able to choose, and know which path is for you when you get to the crossroads. I believe, through my university anyway, the computer science department requires virtually the exact cirriculum up to the 3rd year...where they start to get more degree focused.

    Don't sweat it, and don't worry about not being good at math or science. You will find that there are plenty of opportunities for help when needed and if you are interested, you will catch on with no problem. Until you are certain just restrict yourself in specialty, taking the requirements and the introductory courses for your major/majors. Most of the courses you will take relating to physics for a computer science degree can count as electives, and vice versa.

    Good luck!!
  5. May 23, 2004 #4
    Thank you both!

    I am actually not sure if I "love" physics. I mean I am interested in it. I have read lots of popular-science books. I have never really had any experience doing physics, so I can't say if I would love doing physics.

    All I can say for sure is that I am very interested in physics in a popular-science way. As for the nitty-gritty stuff, I have no idea.

    I supposed I should major in physics, take same physics courses and see what happens. That's the only true way to find out if I love DOING physics.

    Oh, one more thing guys: do any of you know any good books/videos to give me an ambition-boost concerning physics? Any videos that will increase my interest in physics?

    Thanks again!
  6. May 23, 2004 #5
    Well there are always Michio Kaku's books, those include Hyperspace, Beyond Einstein, ect. There is brian greene's books "The Elegant Universe" and I forget the name of the new one. Those books primarily are written on String theory and give some background on the two pillars of physics right now, Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. Um...there are always Stephen Hawking's books, and there is Brian Greenes PBS tv special on String theory...it is based on the Elegant Universe and can be watched online at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/
    If I think of anyothers Ill be sure to let you know.
  7. May 23, 2004 #6
    I know I had no idea what Physics really was until freshman Physics in college. Reading a physics book designed for a layman can be interesting, but IMHO the only way to know if "this is for me" is to take a technical, calculus based introductory Physics course.

    If you speak to an advisor at your university of choice, you can usually set up a degree plan so that your first year or semester is "light." This will let you take one introductory Physics course and fill the other hours with universal basics such as English or History. If it turns out that you don't like Physics, you can still apply these credit hours to other degrees. Even the Physics course can count as a necessary science credit for another major. It will not be time wasted.
    Last edited: May 23, 2004
  8. May 31, 2004 #7


    If I majored in computer science and got my Master's in computer science, and took as many math and physics courses as possible I could get a Ph.D in physics according to this, but ofcourse this is just one university. It would be great to have both options open and not have to worry about being stuck with a job i don't like and/or no money.

    Hmmm, I wonder if I could get into MIT.......

    *starts daydreaming*
  9. Jun 1, 2004 #8


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    Tough choices

    Last edited: Jun 1, 2004
  10. Jun 16, 2004 #9

    WHat about minoring in Physics when I get my CS bs? The college I am tranfering to (UAH in Huntsville, Alabama) has a minor program in physics which contains:

    PH 110-116,466, and 3 SH elective(s)

    I hope everyone here knows what those courses are. If not, i'll fill you in later.
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