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Are physicists respected?

  1. Apr 13, 2008 #1
    I am asking purely out of interest. Are there any physicists who could talk about their experience? If you state that youre quantum physicist do they go "wow" or do they just take it as something usual (or do they sometimes not understand what the hell are you talking about)? :)
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  3. Apr 13, 2008 #2
    Yes, physicists are respected. Most people have the idea that it takes a lot of smarts and education to be one.

    Physicists don't say "I'm a quantum physicist" unless they want to sound jolly obfuscatory.

    Things that people have said to me when I tell them what I do:

    1. Wow, you must be smart.
    2. Wow, that's sort of unusual for a girl.:uhh:
    3. I've never met a physicist before.
    4. Cool, what do you study?
    5. Hmmm, you look like a physicist. :confused:
    6. Oh, what hospital do you work at? :rolleyes:
  4. Apr 13, 2008 #3


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    :rofl::rofl: I have actually been asked if I know what med school I'm going to after I graduate with my Physics B.S.
  5. Apr 13, 2008 #4
    I've heard jokes about jobless theoretical particle physicists, and personally know at least one. I'm not convinced theoretical physicists are respected always, at least in a sense that they would be getting employed easily. Physicists leaning more towards experimental stuff are probably considered more useful?
  6. Apr 13, 2008 #5

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    Whether people admit to being impressed or not, notice how many times folks will say "It's not rocket science..." or "It doesn't take a degree in physics to figure out..." or "Now I don't have a degree in physics, but..."

    The popular mindset is that physicists are smart. You do not stumble into a degree in physics.

    Funny thing: when I say I am a high school teacher, and they ask "What do you teach?" and I say "Physics," you should see their reaction: most people get a rush of memory about physics in high school (mostly not good). I hear a lot of "that was a tough class," or "That was the only class I didn't get an A in."

    Often I get a physical response (shudders or puking sounds). A few time, when the other guy remains calm and comfortable and starts talking about softball and volleyball, I realize that the guy heard "Phys Ed" instead. When I correct that situation, the follow-up question is usually "is that a science?" or "I never took that."
  7. Apr 13, 2008 #6


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    When I was studying physics, I became reluctant to mention my major. If someone asked, I would tell them "astro and nuclear physics", and then I switch to nuclear engineering. The moment one says nuclear, physics or quantum . . . the most common response from other students "Oooh, you must be smart" or something very similar. Some might mention Einstein, or relativity, or atomic bombs, and some would start asking about nuclear weapons, or fusion, or some other current event related to nuclear energy.

    I much prefer an environment like PF.
  8. Apr 13, 2008 #7
    From a blond waitress : "You mean, physician ?".
    Me : "No, I mean physicist".
    With my thick french accent, she doubts I know what I'm talking about.
    To her sister : "Physicist, is that a word ?"
    Sister : "Not sure"

    Usually, pepole are either excited or scared away. I rarely notice indifference. If they like physics and want to talk about it, 99% of the times it's about strings.
  9. Apr 13, 2008 #8
    Physics is weird, because you're seen as "smart", but not "cool", like a biochem major would be seen or something.

    I get the "you must be smart" thing, too. How do you reply to that? If you say "no", it's insulting to them. If you say "yeah", it's arrogant. I just keep my mouth shut...

    I have a friend who has a philosophy Ph.D. Apparently when he was talking to a girl once, she asked him what he does.

    "I'm a philosopher."
    "Oh, don't analyze me!"
  10. Apr 13, 2008 #9
    So true, even my dad does it to some extent.
  11. Apr 13, 2008 #10
    -Whats your major?
    -Oh wow, I could never do that... What can you even do with a physics degree apart from working at NASA anyway?

    So...at the college level its misunderstood...
  12. Apr 13, 2008 #11
    Usually I smile and say "but I think there are a lot of people out there much smarter than me!"

    One time I was at a bar during an open mic with some physics friends. After I played my set I was standing at the bar chatting with my pals and a guy came over and complimented my performance. He offered to buy me a beer and I agreed (he was kinda cute and he wasn't inebriated). Anyways, the conversation got around to "what do you study?"... and when I replied the guy responded "oh, you must be smart... umm, I'm gonna get back to my table now." So he ran off and left me to pay for the beer he'd ordered for me. I was totally crushed until I turned around and saw my friends laughing hysterically - and then I realised how funny the incident was.
  13. Apr 13, 2008 #12


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    Oh, it's great to read these posts!! I think I've had every response here!

    Like Astro, I'm very reluctant to tell people I was a physics major, at least in social situations. Maybe because I'm female, it stops conversations cold. Or people start appologizing for how bad they did in high school algebra.

    As far as respect, yes I'd say having a physics education is held in high regard.
  14. Apr 13, 2008 #13
    Ladies who have studied physics are such a rarity, I've only ever met one in person.
    I can't believe guys would be intimidated by that, I find it to be an attractive quality honestly :)

    I think that alot of the technical fields are so obscured from most people's day to day meanderings, its either awe or confusion when you tell them what you do :P
  15. Apr 13, 2008 #14
    Does it make me an ass to wear this shirt:


    In public?
  16. Apr 13, 2008 #15


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    You see that's the thing. People recognize other types of scientists as being smart, but people for some reason consider physics, "scary smart." I don't get it.

    Seriously?! What's with that guy? If I was at a bar and found a girl who agreed to let me buy her a drink, AND THEN she said she was a physicist!...:!!) That may just be me though...:biggrin:
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2008
  17. Apr 13, 2008 #16
    Maybe he thought he just didn't have a chance? I mean, you have brains, looks, talent, etc., what was the chance of that guy getting together with you?
  18. Apr 13, 2008 #17
    About 7%.
  19. Apr 13, 2008 #18

    I say i prefer the differential form :wink:
    the public may like it more
  20. Apr 13, 2008 #19
    Yeah, I have to agree here. What kind of idiot doesn't know that girls doing physics is hot? It's a corollary of the spin-statistics theorem!
  21. Apr 13, 2008 #20


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    Well, I think it's kind of shallow to respect or disrespect someone based on their profession alone.

    I study physics (near graduating with a Bachelor's)

    I was actually having a discussion with a creationist last night. Interestingly enough, he's a very intelligent creationist. He has a decent understanding of genetics, cell biology, differential equations, and the obvious laymen quantum mechanics stuff. He played "What the Bleep do we know: Down the rabbit hole" We don't get through the whole thing, the discussion/argument erupted about a half hour in.

    Basically, my problem was that his arguments, and this video he was watching mis-characterized scientists as these cold, calculating people that have some agreed upon version of where the world come from. I told him "It's not like that... scientists each have their own niche... things they're interested in, they don't get together and conspire about the meaning of the world... they're not trying to prove some ultimate meaning; that's what you're doing right now, trying to tie all these little facts into some big point."

    Anyway... the point was that it seemed like he respected scientists in some manner and he was completely willing to listen to my arguments and oddly enough we agreed on a lot of the finer points. I still felt it was somewhat disrespectful to go about spreading rumors that scientists all think they know exactly how the world works and where it came from and its purpose, and I let him know that.

    He seemed to have enjoyed the conversation, though.
  22. Apr 13, 2008 #21


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    :rofl: It is funny, but also sad. It's actually easier for me to strike up conversations with people now that I teach classes at the med school. I used to get the same types of reactions when asked what I do...I'd try to weasel around with "I work at the university," first, which is less intimidating. But when they got to what did I do there, and I said I was on faculty, the next question was always, "Oh, what do you teach?" Well, when I didn't do any teaching, I had to explain I only do research, and that led to, "What type of research do you do?" There was NO good answer if the person I was talking to didn't at least have a college education (and I'm the friendly sort who enjoys talking to anyone I encounter when out). I could give very generic answers like physiology, which nobody knows what that means (and yeah, they'd mishear...physics, psychology, physician), or I could answer neuroscience, which got even wider-eyed responses (in their mind, that's close enough to a brain surgeon to be right up in the "it's not rocket science or brain surgery" category of scary smart), and I sure as heck wasn't answering, "reproductive neuroendocrinology." It's tough to gauge your audience when you've just met someone in a bar too, so there's usually this pause as I try to guess the answer that's most likely to avoid scaring them away, but not being so overly simple as to insult them. And, sometimes that's when I just resort to, "breeding sheep," or something ridiculously over-simplified and inaccurate just to not come across arrogant to someone who wouldn't have a clue on the rest of it.

    Oddly enough, now that I teach some classes, it's easy. When someone asks, I just tell them I teach at the med school. When they ask what, I just tell them anatomy. They all have heard of that, and for some reason, teaching at the med school doesn't scare people away as much as being a neuroscientist does. I think they assume that makes me a physician and they all have doctors so aren't quite as intimidated (though it does mean I get more of the "My aunt has this mole..." type questions).
  23. Apr 13, 2008 #22
    i abhor this question. i hate being asked it and i hate resorting to asking someone when the conversation dies down. i know i don't deserve respect for studying physics but how do you explain that to someone quickly and cogently at a party? sometimes i lie and tell people i'm undecided or just science. they usually give up after that.

    it's a pointless question anyway. what does it reveal about the person if you know what they're studying? most people don't study what they're passionate about anyway and even those that do don't enjoy discussing academics on their off time.
  24. Apr 13, 2008 #23


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    I agree. If I'm out at a bar just enjoying myself, I'm not interested in talking science with people unless I've gone out with a group of scientists specifically TO talk about science over a beer. But, I think part of it is the person asking the question isn't expecting you to be a scientist (they have an image in their mind of a big anti-social nerd when they think scientist, so it's the last thing they consider when asking), and are expecting something like, "I work as a receptionist for so-and-so" or "I'm a mechanic," or something that's just small-talk. The problem is, when you tell them you're a scientist, there's this sudden "awe" I guess that comes over them, and they want to ask more, but you really don't want to talk about more.

    The best way to avoid it is to really quickly turn the question around on them. Give your shortest, simplest answer, "Scientist," "Student," "Teacher," "Professor," etc., and immediately ask them, "And what do you do?" Best case scenario is you distract them into changing the subject, and worst case scenario, you at least know something about the background of your audience to know what to say when they continue asking you about what you do.

    At least nothing I do is top secret. It must be really difficult for people who are physicists working in labs that require security clearance when you can only tell someone, "well, I'm not really allowed to talk about what I do," except you're not really even supposed to tell them that much. Do they train you on how to change the subject when you get a job with security clearance? Or do you just get good at telling people, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you?"
  25. Apr 13, 2008 #24
    My guess is they just say something really vague and dismissive, as if it weren't important.

    Or flat out lie.
  26. Apr 13, 2008 #25


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    I never talk about science with my non-science friends. Oh they'll ask me technical questions all the time, and when they do I'll answer completely, but I'll never bring it up.

    Reminds me of a dear, sweet friend I had when I was in college. She didn't finish high school but it didn't matter - we got along great. She worked at a salon doing nails. She was absolutely beautiful, turned heads wherever we went.

    One time at a bar, some jerk was trying to pick her up, and was bragging about his "six figure salary." After giving him the shove-off, she said, "I can't believe he was bragging like that - I mean, I make six figures."

    Then I told her most people don't count the cents columns. :rofl:
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