Do you call someone a physicist who merely finished undergraduate course in physics?

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  • #26
CaptFirePanda


In that case the word physicist has no significant meaning beyond a job title as some of the greatest works in physics were not done by a physicist.

Hmmmm, since I own my own company, I can declare my own title. Therefore, I give myself the new title of Senior Physicist. Cool!

I do use a lot physics in my job so it seems perfectly justified.
We're talking from fairly different perspectives here, but I'll let you get whatever amusement you choose to get out of it.

I have a "No Facetiousness" on Fridays policy.
 
  • #27
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We've had this debate before on PF, and it really comes down to personal opinion. Some think it's entirely appropriate to use the term for people who have a BS in physics.

Me, I think a person should do research to be called a physicist. Usually that means a PhD.

I really don't know why I have such a high bar for the title of 'physicist' - I recognize my definition is not consistent with other professions. For example, I have a BS in physics and I work as a chemist, yet I have no problem saying I'm a chemist. But I could never call myself a physicist.
Your hesitation probably comes from the group of men who we think of as Physicists. Think of the ranks you're lumping yourself in with when you use the title "Physicist" - Newton, Maxwell, Feynman, Einstein, Dirac, and the list goes on...

It's kind of like calling yourself royalty, except it's something you actually have to earn. A PhD minimum is required, or the publishing of some very brilliant work - other than that you're just a kid with a piece of paper.
 
  • #28
D H
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By that definition, Einstein wasn't a physicist when he published four of his most famous works, including SR and the work that won him the Nobel Prize.
That one's a bit murky. The US Patent Office has a marked preference for PhDs; I would assume other patent offices are similar. Is a PhD chemist who works for the patent office a chemist? What makes physics so special that Einstein didn't qualify as a physicist while working at the patent office?

Murkier still, what about those PhD physicists who
- Teach Physics 101 at a junior college, but still publish an occasional physics paper or two?
- Work as a translator, but still publish an occasional physics paper or two?
- Work in some other field, and actively publish papers in that field?
- Work in some other field, don't publish at all, but still keep up with the literature?
 
  • #29
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I remember hearing a discussion somewhere, I think NPR science Friday, where undergraduates in physics should be thought more of as 'pre-physics', much like pre-med and pre-law. I think that is fair; it's what I consider myself.
 
  • #30
Pythagorean
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context is everything. I have a BS in physics. When I work with my biology advisers, they call me the physicist. When I work back with my physics advisers, I'm a grad student.
 
  • #31
lisab
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I remember hearing a discussion somewhere, I think NPR science Friday, where undergraduates in physics should be thought more of as 'pre-physics', much like pre-med and pre-law. I think that is fair; it's what I consider myself.
Interesting idea. Yes, I think that's fair, too.
 
  • #32
Ivan Seeking
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That one's a bit murky. The US Patent Office has a marked preference for PhDs; I would assume other patent offices are similar. Is a PhD chemist who works for the patent office a chemist? What makes physics so special that Einstein didn't qualify as a physicist while working at the patent office?
His title wasn't physicist, which was my point. The previous post suggested that a Ph.D. publishing Nobel papers is still just a janitor if that's his job title.
 
  • #33
Ivan Seeking
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Interesting idea. Yes, I think that's fair, too.
Except in Pre-law you don't actually study law, so I disagree. There is still a big difference. I walked away with marketable skills in physics, not something remotely related to physics.

I left college with skills unique to physics grads that give me an advantage at times as an engineer and a programmer, compared to those who studied engineering or computer science. For example, some of the more advanced math skills that I learned have come in terribly handy as a programmer. More generally, the breadth of exposure in physics has given me an advantage as a systems integrator and research engineer, as opposed to a typical engineer who has only focused on mechanical, or electrical, or civil, or systems engineering.

Put another way, I am generally better at applying physics and math to solve real problems than people from other disciplines I encounter doing similar work. Likewise, they generally have skills that I don't and have to pick up as I go, if needed.
 
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  • #34
CaptFirePanda


Well he didn't receive his PhD until 1905 and didn't win the Nobel Prize until 1922, and I'm sure many of his co-workers didn't have the ability to predict these things.

All I suggested was that it generally takes more than a degree (or degrees) to be recognized as a physicist (or chemist, or geologist).
 
  • #35
Ivan Seeking
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Well he didn't receive his PhD until 1905 and didn't win the Nobel Prize until 1922, and I'm sure many of his co-workers didn't have the ability to predict these things.

All I suggested was that it generally takes more than a degree (or degrees) to be recognized as a physicist (or chemist, or geologist).
You have degree designations, grad and post-grad, post-doc designations, professorships, experimentalists, theoreticians, and other variations on title that specify the level of achievement and the specialty. DH mentions it gets murky, and I agree. Why? Because the name is being given an artificial meaning - a title that is based solely on one's comfort level.

But the real point here is this: When does it matter? Well, the only time that it mattered for me was for legal reasons where defintions were required for purposes of professional errors and omissions insurance, and for general liability. Legally, I'm a graduate physicist, so :tongue:

:biggrin: Honestly, I didn't know what to call myself either, after graduating. At the least, "Physics Graduate" is always a fair statement.
 
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  • #36
Ivan Seeking
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For the record, something else that I have found to be siginficant is whether the degree is a B.S., or a B.A.. I have met several people with B.A.s in physics that clearly didn't get the same education that I did in attaining a B.S.. I don't know how much this varies between schools, but the differences I have seen are significant.

Interestingly, one used his BA in physics to get into med school. He was an ER doc that worked with my wife.
 
  • #37
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BA in physics seems kind of like a contradiction.
 
  • #38
CaptFirePanda


You have degree designations, grad and post-grad, post-doc designations, professorships, experimentalists, theoreticians, and other variations on title that specify the level of achievement and the specialty. DH mentions it gets murky, and I agree. Why? Because the name is being given an artificial meaning - a title that is based solely on one's comfort level.
I'm well aware of the multiple designations and that's part of the reason why I have said what I've said.

I find it's much easier to look back on someone's life and give them a designation, but it isn't always as easy to apply a title to them at discrete points throughout their lives.
But the real point here is this: When does it matter? Well, the only time that it mattered for me was for legal reasons where defintions were required for purposes of professional errors and omissions insurance, and for general liability. Legally, I'm a graduate physicist, so :tongue:
As a geologist, we have professional associations which help solve the problem in many cases. But there are those times when it really doesn't matter much and some people take liberties.
 
  • #39
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I find the pre-physics term slightly unfair to those with an undergraduate degree, because for pre-med or pre-law, they aren't directly studying law or medicine yet, however for physics they are directly studying physics in their undergrad; albeit at a lower level than a PHD. Since we have no problem with calling people with an engineering degree engineers, I think our hesitation to grant the title "physicist" easily is because we think of people like Newton and Einstein, so a lowly undergrad could never be worthy of it.
 
  • #40


Was physicist even a 'thing' in the Newton days?
I was lead to believe that physicist only started being used around 1900...
 
  • #41
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I consider a physicist anyone who investigates or applies physics with a scientific and logical approach towards the goal of improving the knowledge or the data in the field of physics.

The goal part distinguishes this from engineers and other scientists who are using physics for other motivations.

I would consider anyone with a degree in physics at the undergrad or grad level as a credible physicist, and if they are working in the physics field I would call them a physicist regardless of if they went through a PhD program. Of course, someone with a PhD has more credibility, but that does not mean an undergrad physicist is incompetent.

Anyone practicing physics without a degree is not credible unless they have evidence of their capabilities (successful experiments, theories, related education, etc.). I think a PhD in chemistry or engineering could easily transistion to a practicing physicist for example. I would have no problem calling a self-educated person who makes a discovery in physics through application of physics knowledge and logic a physicist. If they discovered it on accident, that would be a different story.

I actually think many non-physicists contribute directly to physics knowledge in multi-disciplinary fields like engineering and many physicsts can contribute to engineering or other fields.

I have been in certain environments where only PhDs are considered physicists though. Its actually really confusing because some PhDs are doing completely administrative tasks while called physicists, and some BS in Physics is doing a lot of the measurements and experimental setups and is considered only a technician.
 
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  • #42
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BA in physics seems kind of like a contradiction.
I think old people got BAs in physics, as it was just the tradition. Kind of like how PhD sticks with science doctorates even though they are not philosophers.

If you read wikipedia articles on some old famous physicists, a lot of them had "Arts" degrees in physics.
 

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