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Can I be a Physicist with only a B.S In physics degree

  1. Aug 30, 2014 #1
    And what is Ph.D lol
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    That's like asking asking can I be a Black belt, I have a white belt now. However you might be able to find a job somewhere related to physics where people will refer to you as the resident physicist but I don't think thats a good way to become one.

    I work at a place where I'm considered a research scientist even though my job is programming. The reason is because the payscales are the same so we are lumped into the same bucket.
  4. Sep 5, 2014 #3
    You can be a physicist with a B.S. degree.

    Are you doing physics?
    Are you contributing to the state of knowledge in the field?
    Do you interact constructively with other physicists?

    Having a PhD does not a physicist make. Getting a PhD shows that you have put in the time to earn a degree that qualifies you to teach in higher education. It helps ease various restrictions that will be placed on you by others as to your ability to contribute. It greases the wheels.

    Study physics... go out and work on interesting problems in a scientific manner. Discus those problems and your solution or research with physicists, learn from those discussions.

    If any PhD holder in physics can look at your work and judge it on the merits of you having a PhD alone, then they suck as physicists and should give their diploma away.
  5. Sep 5, 2014 #4


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    However, in a "pure science" field like a physics, as opposed to engineering, you will be doing a lot of research and the main emphasis in a Ph.D. course is individual research. With only a B.S. degree, what you will be doing as a physicist is what other physicists, with more advanced degrees, tell you to do- and I imagine a lot of that will be cleaning up and bottle washing.
  6. Sep 5, 2014 #5
    You cant really be a professional physicist with only a BS. Most PhDs cant even swing that.
  7. Sep 6, 2014 #6


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    Agree with Modus, at best, a BS in physics might get you a lapdog job for a PhD physicist.
  8. Sep 6, 2014 #7
    Some people set limits on themselves and the best they strive to attain, and also project those limits upon others.

    Others push past the limits set by those of the first group.
  9. Sep 6, 2014 #8
    Trite sayings aren't really helpful for real life decisions. If one wants to be a scientist they should be comfortable with taking in data and making a decision based on that - not just what feels good.
  10. Sep 6, 2014 #9
    They should also avoid absolutes in their thinking.
  11. Sep 6, 2014 #10
    Ive heard that quote somewhere else; I wonder where.
  12. Sep 6, 2014 #11
    Probably by most accomplished physicists. I have heard it said directly from Jan Hall, Kip Thorne, Eric Cornell... A long list.
    People who say absolutist things usually limit themselves and cannot see what the data is telling them. And likewise those with an absolutist mindset often actively hinder those who try to surpass those limits.

    It is totally possible to be a physicist without having a phd. It may not be easy, but it is doable.
  13. Sep 6, 2014 #12
    But yes... The quote is often associated with another. Absolutist thinking is simply a shortcut... The lazy path...
  14. Sep 6, 2014 #13
    Nope thats not where I heard it.

    Star Wars Episode III. That is where I heard that.
  15. Sep 6, 2014 #14
    Actual physicist jobs tend to be at national labs and universities that are structured in ways that make it so you need a PhD. Government isnt known for being loose on job requisitions reqs.
  16. Sep 6, 2014 #15
    Probabilities lead to wisdom, possibilities lead to ignorance. Know well what leads you forward, and what leads you back.
  17. Sep 6, 2014 #16
    Humm... When working at NIST between undergrad and grad school I was given a project. I then came up with one of my own, secured funding, and hired people to work with me. Guess I was not considered a physicist.
    When working on LIGO at Caltech, pre phd and pre masters as a visiting scientist, I worked on a project I devised, and brought funding to that project with me. Still not a physicist.

    In industry I was PI on an NSF SBIR grant and collaborated with several PhDs. Not a physicist.

    When working on my phd I was given less freedom than at any time before or since earning that hallowed diploma. I guess as soon as I receive that piece of paper in the mail, I was physicist.

    So yes... If one wants to believe that industry and government is structured in that way, that is fine. I guess the large but countable set of conditions required to be a physicist is incomplete if it does not include a PhD.
  18. Sep 6, 2014 #17
    There are research assistant jobs that are designed for non phd holders but those arent permanent positions. When people talk about being a physicist they mean working on physics in a permanent position. There are short term opporunities and grants but NSF money which is obtained multiple times is given to PhDs in a competitive granting process.

    Most grad students can sell their research assistant experience or NSF grants as "bringing your own funding" but it isnt the same as the usage of the term for working scientist. By "bringing your own funding" people mean obtaining a grant that you proposed in a grant program for physicist with you as PI and having the ability to do this again and again.
  19. Sep 6, 2014 #18

    Yes... There are such jobs. At NIST I started out in one such job at a lower zp band. I transferred to a permanent position within a year.

    Some people talk about being a physicist in the narrow sense of a permanent position. Being a physicist is much more than that however... It is really a combination of skills and mindset... Actions and thought process.

    And again... Bringing my own funding was, quite literally, bringing my own funding. I went through and applied for NSF funding as a PI, not as a grad student. Same with the SBIR grant.
    It is interesting that people seem to think that a phd is required to be a PI on an NSF grant in academia. Really, all that is required is to have an academic affiliation, not a degree. Only people who put too much stock in the diploma look at a proposal and judge it by wither the applicant has a phd.
    Granted, it is a tougher process, but is doable. Post phd grantsmanship is much easier than pre.
  20. Sep 6, 2014 #19


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    Michael faraday and Albert Einstein has always been an inspiration to me. Though, I have asked a question about how Albert Einstein got his PhD degree in Zurich (in general discussions). It turns out that he obtained it during the period when he was working full time as a patent clerk. Michael Faraday is really a motivational example as he basically educated himself. Later his near PhD experience is being an assistant to Humphry Davy. Though at the end he was awarded a PhD in law by Oxford.
  21. Sep 11, 2014 #20
    Skywalker : Either your with me or against me
    Obi Wan : Only the Sith deal with absolutes.

    This Black&White mentality might be good in controlling the general population
    but not so good for individuals in making new discoveries. It removes the effort required to think deeply,which is a skill,often underestimated in todays world.
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2014
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