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Career plan for a science enthusiast.

  1. Nov 14, 2012 #1
    I am 17 year old Indian, I'll complete high school in a few months. I love science. My lust for physics is well beyond school books (which are trivial and boring). I learned the Feynman Lectures on Physics (all three Volumes) almost three years ago (This is just to give you an idea). I have a profound understanding of most forms of calculus and a lot of other mathematics too. I am good at chemistry, if you wouldn't care about the pointless memorizing involved, but never cared about it. I am a self taught computer programmer as well. After physics and math, computers are my next favorite hobby.

    Ever since I can remember I always wanted to be a physicist (My parents tell me that I used to want to be like Dexter from Dexter's lab :D ). But the following scares me:
    Don't Be a Scientist (article)
    Physics Forum article

    In retrospect, I realise I never had a life outside science and computers. I never cared about anything else (Maybe science fiction, which still motivates me).
    What career path should I take? I don't care about money as long as I am in academia, but I don't want to live a life in poverty. I intend to get a Bachelors in Physics from India, then go abroad. What must I do?
    Do a masters, then a Ph.D. and work on some research? How many years will that take?
    Or should I get a Masters and Ph.D in Computer Science (If I do, how long might that take?) work, earn enough and then return to physics?
    Please note that a Bachelors degree with honours in India takes only three years compared to American schools which takes four.

    The idea of leaving physics makes me very very depressed.
    In short what must I do, what universities should I think about, what degrees must I get and what career would suite me?
    If I were to settle down somewhere, USA, Canada, UK, Switzerland and Germany are my favorite places.

    P.S.If I do work as a physicist, I am better as a theoretical physicist than an experimental physicist. Also, I am socially very awkward among people I don't know personally, when people talk about science (and get most things wrong) I become restless, disturbed and very very arrogrant.

    If this is any help, my character is a lot like Feynman as he described in his memoirs "SYJ Mr.Feynman" and "What do you care what other people think?".With slight differences like what he did with radios, I did with slightly more advanced 21st century electronics and his safecracking adventures remind me of my hacking adventures.

    If someone else had similar problems and posted it here already, this thread is still relevant since the world is changing really fast
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2012 #2
    Fine you like Physics. Your post displays hints of delusions of grandeur. Feynman was kind and popular, describing yourself as socially awkward doesn't seem to fit with your comparison to him. Being asocial, autistic, introverted, and only interested in one subject are not positive traits, people who are successful in science may be successful even though they have these traits, not because of them (many people confuse this). In university you will hopefully come to understand that there are many other people just as smart as you.

    Now to your worries about the future: I don't know the job market of India. If you are very good in university the world these days is more open to foreign students than ever, and you will be able to study abroad and maybe even have a career in Physics, but it is likely that you will be quite average and then you have to see, what your funds and opportunities look like.

    Spending some time abroad is probably a good idea. A lot of Indians want some kind of recipe for success. Something like get a bachelor in computer science, go to MIT on a scholarship, then work at Google. For science maybe visit the gradschool of an Ivy league university. But success is usually not such a linear process.

    Normally you study something that interests you, then there is a breakthrough in the field that you are part of, and you can go into Science, or there is a company which applies this kind of thing where you can work, or maybe there isn't, but you find that you have learned enough Math and computer programming to go into finance. Your skills are like a deck of cards, and which card you play depends on how the game is going.

    The advise I would give you is "Learn to use your knowledge!" Have your own idea for a program and try to write it. Have your own idea for an electrical circuit and try to build it (maybe in a simulator). Maybe find a problem from the Mathematics Olympiad or a Physics book, and try to solve it using your own methods. In my experience this is the skill that most Indians lack. Working with them often reminded me of this text by Feynman http://v.cx/2010/04/feynman-brazil-education

    You seem to be on a good way. There will always be a need for people that have studied math, science and engineering subjects. Choose the subject that interests you the most, and then also learn some other stuff on the side to have more cards on your hand. Make friends as they often help your career more than some university course.
  4. Nov 17, 2012 #3
    Don't pay attention to that pessimist physicist. Apparently, his article gets brought up a lot around here.

    I actually read his article a while ago, and emailed him about it. He essentially reiterated what the article stated. However, most people aren't so unecessarily cruel and apathetic. I emailed a different physicist (he's a sci-fi writer as well as an astronomer, and I like his blog) about the aforementioned article, and he basically said that the guy is an extreme pessimist, at least as far as his outlook for the future of science goes.

    Another point he brought up in the email that holds true is that you'll never become a physicist if you don't try. Regardless of the odds, if you even want to be one, then you have to try to become one. It's pretty simple.
  5. Nov 18, 2012 #4
    Thank you AnTiFreeze3 and 0xDEADBEEF, that was extremely good advice, I may have been a little shaken, but I decided to stay with what I am best at, science. After all the article does not suggest a zero chance, I know that I am persistent and may perhaps do some good.

    Now to my actual problem, I intend to do my Bachelors here in India (I probably can't afford an American university) and do my masters in the US. The course I find best is a BS in Physics. But the problem is, the course is only three years long, from what I've heard, American grad schools need four. Is that true? If so what must I do? I could do a BTech, which is a four year course, but I like the BS course better. Here's the course structure:
    St.Stephens BS Physics course.pdf

    I am so sorry if that's the picture I gave about myself. I am not autistic or introverted. I wasn't trying to present myself as a cultural stereotype of nerds. I was trying to be honest and some of these are my limitations. I try really hard to get over it.
    I value my privacy and freedom alot, but sadly Indians are generally more intrusive than any other culture. When someone threatens my privacy or freedom, I revolt pretty badly. This is what I tried to describe as social awkwardness . I mention this because I am not sure how it will affect the rest of my life. My friends in the US tells me that Americans respect each others privacy and freedom.

    Let me make this clear, I have plenty of friends and I am quite popular in my school.

    I am pretty sure that I understand it already, it's precisely this environment that attracts me. Here I can't talk science even to the smartest of my friends (not even to my teachers. Once I tried to talk about magnetism but everybody said I'd rather talk about something in the syllabus.). Besides a standard goal of getting into an IIT, none of them have a passion for what they do and I find it very difficult.

    It's pretty bad, we can hardly feed ourselves. Fundings for science is pretty low.

    I don't care about money too much, just about enough to live (a descent place to live and healthy food everyday).

    Thank God you mentioned that, that's what Feynman saw in Brazil 50 years ago, that's what I see everyday in my country. Memorizing is not my strength, if it were, I might as well have been a historian. I improvise, I had my methods for every problem anyone could throw at me. In fact I am kind of rebellious, that I make sure I do something fancy before I would agree that some methods are better than mine. I don't memorize things. I visualise a concept and derive the formulas myself before I see how the author or teacher does it. I rarely fail. I've even had bad scores in my exams because my methods were not acceptable to my orthodox teachers. I remeber making up formulas for finding centre of gravities of regular figures only to realise a few years later that my methods were easily beat by integration.

    Also I am the only person in my schools history to ever host a hackathon. I am a reasonably good hacker (in the good sense, I am not a script kiddie). Does that apply to "Using my knowledge"? Yes I do try out Olympiad problems. I fix television sets and computers. I have a personal lab with a home made spectroscope and telescope.
    My friends are more in the dark than I am. In my country the popular trend is to learn engineering. Preparing high schoolers for "entrance" to engineering colleges is a big industry here. Also my choices are limited, this is probably why I want to go to the US. The moment I said, I wanted to be a physicist, most teachers scowled at me. They say "BS, what a waste of talent? Get a Btech instead".

    P.S. I've read about many people before, but Feynman pretty much described my life.
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