1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Crossroads with education

  1. Jul 3, 2015 #1
    I'm having serious problems deciding on a path for my education. Recently I've self-studied physics and considered a physics major, but I'm having problems staying motivated and interested in it. The math is also becoming a problem. I'm not sure that I would survive 4 years of it.

    The main reason I wanted to study physics was because of the contributions of genius men like Einstein, and I wanted to sit down and devise my own equation that could explain our Universe and be a respected physicist. But as time goes on, I doubt my ability to ever reach the heights of such men. The reality of the situation has started to sink in. I wanted to revolutionize the field, but I'm starting to understand that I was being unrealistic in my desires. Perhaps I do not possess enough natural ability.

    I want a career that is going to pay well, but every time I find myself questioning my choice. I'm always thinking that my existence will be useless if I do not become a physicist, because they are the ones discovering and explaining our Universe and origin.

    Does anyone have advice? I feel like if I don't study physics, I could be missing out on understanding our Universe. Or maybe I could've solved a problem another person could not. But I also want to make good money, enough to support my family and live comfortably.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2015 #2
    Einstein was a one-of-a-kind person. Him and Newton are really the only ones in history to revolutionize physics single-handedly. It's not necessary to be an Einstein to make a contribution to physics. Physics, for regular people, is done by regular physicists through incremental progress.
  4. Jul 3, 2015 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Realistically, you can't become a physicist without a solid backing in math. So should you decide to take that route be prepared to really study and improve your math. Also you must try to live in the present and not let yourself wander into some imagined future where you're living the life of a great Nobel prize winning scientist.

    It's a lot like a race you must stay focused on the finish line and not be distracted by anything else. Worrying about your future career and family if you haven't even started college is a distraction.

    As an undergrad you still have some time to explore majors and decide on one that's right for you.
  5. Jul 4, 2015 #4
    I studied physics and I don't 'understand the universe'. If that's your primary motivation, then I think you will be disappointed. Especially with just a bachelors in physics.
  6. Jul 4, 2015 #5
    What did you study precisely? It is natural to have problems with the math when self-studying. Almost everybody will need guidance sooner or later.

    Yes, this is very unrealistic. Almost every physicist nowadays cannot be compared to Einstein, so you should not expect that you would be on Einstein's level. Furthermore, the amazing progress of physics makes it rather unlikely that a figure like Einstein will show up anymore: research has become way too fragmented and advanced.

    Theoretical physics doesn't really pay well. Sure, if you can land a professorship, then that is paid well. But that will include several years as a grad student and several years as a postdoc, which aren't really that well-paid. Furthermore, the probability of actually getting to a professorship is rather small. Also, if you choose to be a theoretical physicst, then you have limited options for employement. An experimental physicist has more options.

    I don't think physicists actually do that.

    What do you mean with understanding the universe anyway. I don't know if QM actually helps you understand the universe, it sure does help you quantify it and predict the future (more or less).

    I've always felt that you need to be a bit crazy to go into sciences, and a bit masochistic too. Science is a very risky career for a lot less money than you could have. And you end up doing a lot of tedious and boring work. No, it's not like depicted in the movies or popsci books at all. There are fun moments, but most of the time you are annoyed because a calculation doesn't check out after you check it for the 4th time. And you can't really do anything else because you really want to find the calculation. And when you found the calculation, you will need to do a calculation that is 10 times uglier. And then you talk to your professor who is starting to explain stuff that is way over your head and you feel dumb and start crying. This is the reality of the situation (not even exaggerated by much). So if you feel that you would want to do this, then you should go into science (personally, I love it).
  7. Jul 4, 2015 #6
    To micromass, I'm just now diving into vectors and two and three dimensional motion. I went back to reteach myself Calculus and it's been a lengthy process. I enjoy doing it in my spare time though. I'm only on Chapter 3 in an undergrad textbook, so I know next to nothing.

    When I said I wanted to understand the Universe, I was too vague. I want to understand certain processes and theories. String Theory, nuclear processes, how telescopes work, lightning, relativity, just a wide variety of things that I would love to be able to explain and understand. The ability to articulate how our Universe works using equations and advanced mathematics sounds very rewarding to me. Does that better explain myself?

    I've been stuck between studying physics as a hobby and as a career. I've been considering a medical career, and physics would be a past-time I could do for fun. Certain topics or mathematics that I could pick up and do without anyone forcing me to. I am just concerned that I would be wasting my time even studying physics as a hobby, as I would never make a meaningful contribution to the field. Which feels cheap. Sort of like I'm stealing all of mankind's knowledge of the Universe and not giving back.

    Maybe that explains better?
  8. Jul 4, 2015 #7
    The math was very hard for me, but eventually I conquered it enough to be an above average experimentalist and a theorist with some respectable and widely cited publications. But my theory publications are more attributable to my computer programming prowess than to my deep abilities in math.

    But there is no escaping the need to pass three calculus courses, diff eq, linear algebra, etc.

    If you're in the US, an ACT score in math above 30 suggests you likely have the math talent to major in physics.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook