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Bachelors in Physics - Open University

  1. Apr 25, 2013 #1
    Hello everyone

    I am new to this forum and seeking advice and opinions from members here for my career. I am 29 and live in the UK and hoping to start a degree in Physics from the Open University in October (For non-UK members the Open University is a distance learning University in the UK that accepts mature students and students who do not have the qualifications to go to a "normal University".) Although I am fascinated by physics I have many concerns about whether it would be a good career path for me. My dream is to have qualifications that would let me work and live in many countries and I have some questions....

    1. Due to my age and circumstances I would only be able to complete a Bcs in Physics without going on to do Masters etc and I have read many times over the net that only a Bcs in physics is pretty "useless" so what do you guys think about this?

    2.Doe's anyone know whether Open University Physics degrees are held in high regard by employers or not as much as a degree from a traditional University?

    3.Would I be better off going for a degree like Engineering or Computer Science where supposedly only a Bachelors degree is sufficient to get decent jobs due to high demand?

    Its hard to know who or what to believe on the internet which is why I ended up here looking for some good knowledgeable answers, I hope you can give me some advice. I love physics/astronomy but as much as I love it I don't want to get my degree only to find I have very little opportunities available to me when I graduate.

    Many thanks for reading.

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 25, 2013 #2


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    1. I'm not sure "useless" is the right term. But it is important to remember that a physics degree is about getting an education in physics and does not necessarily constitute vocational training. Nor does it typically give you a professional credential. Many people go on from bachelors degrees in physics to have wonderful and rewarding careers, but it's not uncommong to either stuggle for that first job, or require additional vocation-specific training.

    In general, if you're seriously thinking about a physics degree, graduate school should at least be a possibility. If you're sure that's not going to happen, then just be aware that there are other, more practical degrees available.

    2. I don't know, but one of the concerns I would have is with respect to hands on experience. Do you do any labs? If not, you're avoiding one of the most important aspects of a physics education.

    3. Better off in what way? It will likely be easier to find a job with a bachelors degree in a professional field like engineering. But if you hate it then I'm not sure your all that better off.
  4. Apr 25, 2013 #3
    Many thanks for your reply.

    1. Yes I am pretty sure I will not be going on to graduate school. I will probably be hitting my mid-thirties if I complete this degree and may well have a family to support by then so I would not rule it out completely but think it will be unlikely. Looking on the internet it ranges from people saying a bachelors in physics will leave you the choice of either becoming a teacher or flipping burgers from people saying it will open doors in many professions from finance,engineering,management...its hard to know who to believe.

    2. Whilst I doubt the hands on experience will be anything like that at a conventional university I am sure some lab/hands on work is included.

    3. Better off in terms of job prospects and opportunities I guess. But the problem I have is what jobs in physics and science would be open to me with a bachelors degree because reading the internet would have you believe virtually nothing...is this true??
  5. Apr 25, 2013 #4
    I can't imagine it would be a great career choice. By 'good' I mean will lead you to jobs. It's almost immaterial if you learn useful work skills in your degree if no future employer thinks you have.

    I can say, living where I live, my physics degree makes me significantly less employable than my girlfriend who has an engineering degree. Maybe the UK is different.

    However, like Choppy wrote, if a different degree would make you miserable, then that's not necessarily a better choice.
  6. Apr 25, 2013 #5
    Well, what skills will you learn? Will you be learning to operate important and expensive equipment (SEM, TEM, etc.)? Will you be learning to use laboratory equipment and/or manage a lab? What programming languages is it going to teach you?

    What exactly is it you’re going to be able to do for an employer (or the public) when you’re done with this?

    And to be clear, nobody is going to pay you to work problems that weren’t interesting a century ago by hand.
  7. May 6, 2013 #6


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    Personally I think that the OU physics degree isn't worth as much as normal physics degree from a university but it does give you some physics training. However contrary to What Locrian said, companies are becoming more and more aware that applied maths has an important place and is be taken seriously by companies these days. Model building is a very very important parts in industrial research and you have to have the analytical skills to handle them.
  8. May 6, 2013 #7
    I started my degree at a distance university much like OU, called UNED (based in Spain). The rigor of their science and math bachelors was breathtaking, extremely hard coursework based entirely on one final examination. Even as a 4th year student now at a regular university I still get heart palpitations when I remember some of the exams they gave out and my jaw hits the floor at what was expected in higher level courses like QM (if you google UNED Calatayud you can find past exams), the median for completion of the degree was at about 10 years and I know of two people who completed their degrees from UNED in about that time. So I think the quality of the education you can get at a distance university like OU can be very very good.

    But for them, it wasn't a good decision professionally speaking. 1 managed to get into a phd program which he did on his own time without funding(and completed it with half a dozen publications in quantum information theory in medium-high impact journals, at the age of 40), while working full time as a secretary/clerk and as a private tutor.

    The last I heard of the other one he was working as a private tutor while studying for national qualifying exams to get into a medical physics intern program.

    So I really think the university you go to matters a lot in getting a job, for all professions, but especially for STEM degrees. If you graduate in the UK with a 1st I think you would be qualified for a masters scholarship and/or phd studentship at most universities/doctoral training centers as a UK citizen, irrespective of the university you come from.
    Last edited: May 6, 2013
  9. May 6, 2013 #8
    This is not contrary to anything I said.
  10. May 6, 2013 #9
    Thanks to everyone for your reply's....much appreciated.

    I think I am going to go for it and do the physics degree with the OU. As some have said there are more practical degrees to do like engineering or computer science but if I don't have an great passion and interest in them then I would probably be setting myself up for failure anyway by choosing one of those degree's. I hope that by completing a degree in physics it would at least show a future employer that I have some brains and skills that could be of use and I could get my foot through the door that way.

    I also agree that a degree from the OU, rightly or wrongly is probably not held in as much regard as a degree from a traditional university but the fact I would have completed a distance learning degree in physics whilst holding down a full time job should show I am quite a capable/intelligent person...or at least I hope!!

    Also contrary to what I wrote before I would now consider doing a masters degree should the opportunity arise in the future. I did not realise a masters degree took about 1 year (I thought it was longer) so would not rule out the possibility of doing that.
  11. May 6, 2013 #10
    Some MS degrees are longer, but I haven't seen one that is longer than 1 year in the UK.

    I really doubt the fact you come from a distance university is an impediment to getting into a phd if your grades are high, I think your "creed" is less important in graduate admissions as it is in the job market. You might want to contact a few UK universities' graduate admissions offices and ask if they've ever taken graduates from OU if you need to hear something more convincing.

    Wasn't Jocelyn Bell a lecturer and examiner at OU?
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