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Considering majoring in physics

  1. Oct 11, 2013 #1
    Hi! I'm currently a Sophomore at the University of Tennessee. The universe has something I've been interested in ever since I was a little kid. I always enjoyed watching tv shows on the science channel or discovery about anything space related.

    I'm currently taking my first physics class on modern mechanics, and parts of it I have enjoyed and parts of it I haven't. For instance, we've done some problems that have been really interesting, but generally the homework we've been doing lately isn't. I don't know if it really isn't interesting or if it is me not enjoying doing the physics for the problem.

    I'm also taking an introductory astronomy course this semester. For a couple of months now, I've been wanting to take up astronomy as a hobby. Last night I had my first telescope lab, and I really really liked it. For the most part, I enjoy the lecture for the class too, even though now we are starting to get into more of the memorization realm of astronomy.

    So I know I have an interest in the universe, and I want to learn more, I'm just worried that I won't enjoy the part where I have to actually do the physics. Like I've said, some of it so far has been really cool, but then at other times it hasn't.

    If anyone has any advice for my current situation it would be greatly appreciated! I'm going to try to start reading some physics oriented books by some people I look up to, such as Neil Degrasse Tyson. I will also be having an advising session with my professor next week!

    I really appreciate the help! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2013 #2
    I have a similar situation to yours, but I am a physics major. I'm a sophomore as well and I honestly find my physics 1 class to be a bit daunting. We just had a test this past week and I honestly think I did better on my calculus test than my physics, lol. The math is easy, it's the physics. I just didn't like the Kinematics, now we are moving onto forces and it's more interesting. The labs I don't care for much though.

    I took an astronomy class last semester and I really enjoyed it! We didn't have labs though. Like you, I too would watch the discovery channel and science shows when I was younger. :) I still do sometimes.

    I'm sorry if I didn't give much of any advice... It's just my personal experience. I also believe that physics 2 will be more interesting than physics 1, hopefully.
  4. Oct 11, 2013 #3


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    I don't think very many people, even physics majors, really enjoy the intro physics course in college (the Halliday & Resnick sort of course), especially the first semester. I did get "turned on" by Maxwell's Equations in the second semester, though. It was a factor in my deciding to major in physics instead of chemistry. Up to that point it was more or less a toss-up between the two fields.
  5. Oct 11, 2013 #4
    I remember feeling that way starting out. I am a junior and things are just now starting to get really interesting. Intro physics is just more of a chance to prove to yourself that you are willing to put in the work to get a degree in physics. The problems aren't necessarily meant to be "interesting" at that level (the more interesting problems require more advanced mathematics which comes later). As long as you enjoy the process of problem solving then you will be successful in my opinion.
  6. Oct 11, 2013 #5
  7. Oct 11, 2013 #6
    Different experiences for everyone. I'm a junior in my first semester at a real college. I feel astoundingly behind everyone else.

    If you want to do well in physics, you have to enjoy physics. What is physics? An obsession with problem solving. At least that's what it's like at my school.

    Crack open your intro to physics book and find some challenge problems that take two pages of algebra to solve. If you enjoy it, then you're a candidate for grad school.

    Don't be afraid to go into physics if you don't plan on a PhD either. Physics with a little something else will get you into just about any science/technology field.

    There's a lot of negativity on these forums, and I don't understand why. There is an enormous market for physics majors.. just make sure you pick up some additional skills along the way. And keep your GPA up, of course. If you're getting Cs/Bs regularly, you're going to snowball out of control as well as be rejected from most all good internships.
  8. Oct 11, 2013 #7
    Perhaps the reason you don't understand why is you haven't yet approached the job market with a physics major. You are assuming there is this huge market for physics majors- but how do you know? The people who are somewhat negative are generally physics majors and physics phds who have discovered that they'll need to retrain before anyone wants to hire them.
  9. Oct 11, 2013 #8
  10. Oct 11, 2013 #9
    Yeah it's good to know that there is also someone else in the same boat as me! I'm actually doing fairly well in the class right now, I have a 96 average, and so far we've had 1 test, although it is getting harder.

    This definitely was helpful!!!

    That makes sense, and that's what I thought, I just wasn't terribly sure. Last year I was an architecture major, and I dropped it because over the course of the year I realized that it wasn't for me. So I guess, I'm worried the same thing will happen with physics, but thank you for this post. It was very reassuring!

    I've read the first post you posted, and it had a lot of helpful information! I haven't read the second but will definitely check that out this weekend.

    The thing I'm most interested in about physics is the astro side of it. I think it would be really cool to become an astrophysicist and study stars, planets, and other deep space objects! This would definitely require a PhD, so if I do major in physics, I think I will go this route!

    If you look at the charts explaining the spread of physics majors in the work place, most of them work for STEM related jobs. There is a need for physics majors in many many different fields, because physics majors are generally good problem solvers. I know this because I've talked to physicists before and I've looked at some of the bureau labor statistics.

    I really appreciate all of the responses, and feel free to continue, I love the advice and find everything very helpful.
  11. Oct 11, 2013 #10
    Be careful- if you read the fine print on the APS charts they don't consider unemployed physics majors (5% of the responders), or the part-time employed physics majors (20% of the responders). If you include the physics majors in IT and "non-STEM", you'll find most physics majors aren't actually in STEM related work. In fact, more people are unemployed or part-time employed than are working in engineering (which is the single-largest private sector for physics majors).

    This is ignoring the relatively low response rate to APS surveys (which might mean the APS surveys paint an optimistic picture).
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  12. Oct 11, 2013 #11


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    I worked in engineering for the government with a high school degree and technical/OJT training; it's not that difficult to get into if you do enough networking. Although, I was in the military for 6 years and got to interact with the engineers of my place of previous employment, and then got hired on as a technician before they bumped me up.

    I just wouldn’t count on getting a job as engineer from the get go with a physics degree, although there are plenty of physics B.S. majors there who work on somewhat interesting things in the lab under the lead. I’m assuming this is the exception and not the rule, however.

    Further, it is the government, and while there is job security, it’s sometimes not the most logical place around.

    Look to see if your school offers a B.S with a astro specialization, I don't think most do, but if they do I'd look into that. Might give you some idea if doing a PhD is worth it for you, if not, you can always do Astro as a hobby. In fact, astronomy is one of the few sciences were amateurs can still make valuable contributions to the field.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2013
  13. Oct 11, 2013 #12
    You have to enjoy math if you want to enjoy physics. When most people say they don't like physics, they actually mean "Physics is really interesting, but I don't like the math". They would rather someone else do all of the math and then they can hear the resulting conclusions.

    Even if you enjoy math, this is still normal. The fact is that physics is extremely complicated. You don't have the math skills to solve any real physics problems, so instead you are given extremely idealized questions, because that is really the best way to learn. I found these problems to be very boring myself. Another reason that I didn't like my intro physics courses were because I didn't usually have the correct math skills to understand what was going on. Sure, I knew basic calculus, but I find that most (not all) of the topics introduced at the time would have been a lot more interesting if I could understand the derivations.

    Honestly, if you are looking for an industry related STEM job that is anything related to physics, I don't think a physics BS is the way to go. I personally would recommend an engineering degree for that. Nothing wrong with stopping at a BS for physics, but I would be open to working in jobs outside of STEM as well.
  14. Oct 11, 2013 #13

    Sorry, I meant to say non-STEM jobs as someone correcting me on above. I'm interested in the astro side of physics. My university have several specializations with regards to physics at the undergrad level, and I plan on specializing in astrophysics if that makes the most logical sense and it is what I enjoy the most. I also enjoy math, calculus is pretty cool stuff!

    I really appreciate th comments!!!
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