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Career Prospects as a Physicist

  1. Jan 13, 2012 #1
    It's my first post on this forum and I salute you all!

    I'm writing here because i have some questions.
    First up , my native language isn't english , and I would like to study physics at a university from UK.Speaking ,writing and reading in english is not a problem , i have a CPE exam in english, BUT what worries me is that if I go and study something like Maths or Physics I won't be able to keep up with "thinking" in class.During Math and Physics classes i like to think through the lesson because this way i learn half the lesson in class ,and if I go somewhere where I'l be taught in a different language I'l first have to translate in my mind and then rationalize which can slow me down.What do you think about that?

    Second thing is more of a question
    What's the difference between these 2 courses Math&Physics and Physics with Theorethical Physics? I should mention that I'm much more interested in the theoretical part of physics (relativity,quantum mechanics etc.), so what would you recommend?

    The third thing
    My mom thinks that going on this path has no future career prospects she keeps asking me "And what are u going to do after you graduate" and i say "I'l take my master degree" and she says "and after that?" "my PhD" "and after that?" and I'm blocked.
    I love physics but i don't want to dedicate half of my life to study something and after that to be a professor. So what are my career paths after i graduate let's say "Physics and Theorethical Physics" or Math&Physics?
    I'm gonna go on this path whatever it takes because it's the science that I love and I have a monstrous curiosity to find out more than just HIgh School basics.I'l take a "special relativity" course next year at my high school but it's only 3 months.
    I'm tired hearing my teacher say names like Schrodinger or Oppenheimer or Maxwell or Lorentz and than saying "But most of you won't learn about their work".

    So that being said, i'm waiting for your answers and it's good to now that i'm not the only physics maniac out there.

    Thank You
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2012 #2


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    Hey squareroot and welcome to the forums.

    As for physics maniacs, this forums full of them so you should fit right in with no problems.

    I'm a math major so I can't help you with the physics, but if you do a major in mathematics you will have to study more mathematics courses than simply required for a physics major. Also math majors tend to go into more detail, and many choose honors subjects which go into that extra depth.

    I hope you enjoy your time here, considering what you have written I think you will.
  4. Jan 13, 2012 #3

    Well physics is written in the language of "math" so...
    One quick question How hard is math at that level? Does it relates with the math from high school in any way?
  5. Jan 13, 2012 #4


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    Physics is written in math, but understanding physics is a task in itself.

    Math can get very abstract and if you don't have the right physical intuition, math won't be enough to do physics. Doing physics means that you have to do experiments or at least have the understanding of how your math actually describes some physical system.

    In terms of the main mathematics, the first step in university is having a solid foundation in calculus. If you haven't done calculus, calculus basically allows you to analyze things that have variable change. In high school, you probably learned about doing things like calculating areas and volumes of things that had straight lines. With calculus, you can do this for things that curves. There are ways to calculate all kinds of things like lengths of curves, areas and volumes of complex objects and when applied to physics, you calculate physical properties of systems like forces, velocity, and so on.

    If you are familiar with calculus in high school, then the mathematics builds on that. You also learn other stuff like linear algebra, but calculus is the big thing in terms of basic understanding for undergraduate physics.
  6. Jan 13, 2012 #5
    Actually in high school i studied Integrals which can be used to describe the area of a curve surface,determinants, matrix,mathematical analysis.
    I'm at a Math&computer science profile because this profile was known as Math&Physics until 7 years ago.

    Anyway everyone i talk to about going to university and taking a course based on Math(like physics) all they do is discourage me saying things like "You may be good at math in high school but pure math in university is insane".
  7. Jan 13, 2012 #6


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    Pure math can get hard very fast, I will not lie about that.

    But if you are willing to put in the work and make use of your available resources whether thats the professors, or TA's, other students, google, other books, library and so on, you have already improved your chances by a long shot.

    Also you should remember that universities usually facilitate learning in many ways. You usually go to lectures and tutorials and you discuss stuff there. It's not like they give you assignments and a textbook and say "Ok everyone heres everything, I'll meet you back in 14 weeks for the exam".

    The stuff you are talking about in the first paragraph is the stuff they go over usually in the first year. In some universities you can go straight to second year subjects if you have high enough marks in high school, and if thats the case for you, you could probably do something like that.

    If you want to do any form of pure math, my advice to you would be to take a few years of standard mathematics and then get some mathematical maturity before you decide on taking harder and more abstract subjects. You might find pure math is boring and pointless and if you are doing physics, you might find it pointless for learning the physics. You still have to learn math when you do physics of course, but you won't have to learn it in the same perspective, depth, or rigour as a mathematician will.
  8. Jan 13, 2012 #7
    "You might find pure math is boring and pointless and if you are doing physics"

    Actually that's a very good and interesting point , I've been having this argue with my math teacher, i bring it out at least one a month in math class.I don't find it pointless by far BUT i do find it meaningless without physics.Math it's hard it's complex it's beautiful, i like it and i enjoy working at my homework.I would love to study math further, not because i want to make a career out of it,just because it's beautiful but this is how i see it, at a very high level physics involves some very complex mathematics ,and in my opinion it stands like this Math without physics is without a purpose and physics can't exist without math, these two have a very strong bond between that's why i thought that Math&Physics course was perfect to me.I imagined it like this , learning physics and spicing that with math on the sides , not the other way around.
  9. Jan 13, 2012 #8


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    Physics requires a lot of math as you aware, but as you are aware it is a means to an end to do the physics and not otherwise.

    One thing though is that for something like physics, extra math doesn't hurt and will probably help you become a better physicist. There are a lot of applied courses like statistics which will help you in data analysis that you do in experiments, so keep that in mind.
  10. Jan 13, 2012 #9
    Pure math is one of those things which makes sense to people who have sufficient incentive to actually learn that way of thinking of things. I think there are a lot of great physics books that just gradually introduce heavier math as needed, and you may find that reading those and THEN checking out the corresponding axiomatic math ideas could help tons.

    By the way, mathematicians who want to learn some physics go the exact opposite direction :)
  11. Jan 15, 2012 #10
    Thank you guys for your answers!
    You have a very nice community here.

    One more q , what are my career prospects if i get a PhD in let's say theoretical
    Physics?Because I really want to avoid a teaching career.
  12. Aug 12, 2013 #11
    Career Prospects as a Pysicist

    Hello! I am only going into 8th grade, so my knowledge of having a career as a physicist is very limited. From what I do know, is that most people who get a PhD in physics are not unemployed. I understand not wanting to teach, since you have PhD and all the knowledge, why not apply it to further physics? Maybe you could look at what it takes to work at LHC(or any place similar), or one of their experiments. Again, my knowledge is very limited about this, but I hope this helps you out.
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