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Physics Do you regret studying physics?

  1. Yes

    9 vote(s)
  2. No

    39 vote(s)
  1. Jul 28, 2012 #1
    Many threads give the impression that a large percentage of physics graduates regret studying physics. To those of you who have qualifications in physics, do you regret studying physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 28, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    define "many" and support with data/examples.
  4. Jul 29, 2012 #3
    That is the purpose of the poll.

    As an example "Yes, I do regret it. I would recommend an undergrad go into engineering instead.", I'm sure there's more but to go through and find them would defeat the purpose of the poll.
  5. Jul 30, 2012 #4
    I would not advice to take results of the poll too seriously anyway. Not only that the community of people who visit this forum on regular basis is too small, it is also with high probability an extremely biased sample. (I think towards the negative answer, but actually, I am not sure.) Plus, there is little of practical benefit for you in knowing whether people who in past graduated in physics do regret it or not, because the world is changing, therefore you will find yourself in quite a different situation when (if) you graduate than they did.
  6. Jul 30, 2012 #5


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    I kind of think there's a spectrum of degrees out there, and the kind of degree you ought to pursue kind of depends on what kind of person you are. I have a BS in electrical engineering and math, and an MS in physics and math.

    I think if your goal is to understand physical reality, physics is the way to go. If you like to work with your hands, shopping for tools and materials, and building stuff, engineering is better. If you love coding, computer science. And for anything, you're going to need math.
  7. Jul 31, 2012 #6
    If I had known that I would be graduating into the worst job market since the Great Depression, and that a physics major is unqualified for most technical/engineering jobs, I probably would not have majored in it.
  8. Jul 31, 2012 #7
    Anyone care to say why they're glad they studied physics?
  9. Jul 31, 2012 #8


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    I wouldn't say a physics education leaves one "unqualified" for technical/engineering jobs. But it can be *very* difficult to convince a hiring manager (not to mention an HR gatekeeper) of that.
  10. Jul 31, 2012 #9
    I'm surprised by the high number of people saying the do not regret having gone into physics as it does not reflect the feedback I get from my former colleagues (which is of course a very specialized reference group, both in education level and in research area). Also, the question is of course somewhat vague. For instance, I voted "do regret", which isn't to be understood as "it ruined my life" but rather at "in hindsight there had been much better choices I could have taken" - I could as well have voted "do not regret" with a different interpretation of the poll question.

    It's a shame the results above cannot be split up by the voters' field of physics and the degree they hold. At least in Germany people usually straightforwardly go for a PhD, and thus most people make up their minds about the issue only during the later stages of their PhD time. I wouldn't be too surprised if that was also a factor here.
  11. Jul 31, 2012 #10
    Absolutely. I'm skipping across the roof tops over the fact that I went into physics.
  12. Jul 31, 2012 #11
    We are looking at different parts of the universe, since most of the people I know are tickled pink that they went into physics.

    The interesting question is not "what fraction of people regret going into physics?" because I think that would be a useless number but "what are the different parts of the universe that people see".

    I'd be interested in knowing this because the more people I talk to the less I understand, why it is that things worked out well for me.

    There also are school/geographical/age issues. One big factor in my views was that I got my Ph.D. in 1998 right at the start of the dot-com boom, and I remember that I sent out my resume and got five calls the next day with interview requests. This is not the world people in 2012 are living in. Now as far as what things will be like in 2017......

    One other problem is "actionability." Some, maybe even most of the things that I did would be useless to you unless you have a backward time machine. Others are things that are difficult to change. One thing that really impacted my life was who my parents were and who my elementary and secondary school teachers were.

    One useful social science technique is uses qualitative interviewing rather than quantitative statistics. I think that's more useful for this sort of thing than any sort of statistics. One problem with using statistics is that everyone is unique, and figuring out what the "average" is like may not be useful information at all.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2012
  13. Jul 31, 2012 #12
    My interpretation would be:

    yes - I'm glad I studied physics and not something else.

    no - I wish I had studied something else.
  14. Jul 31, 2012 #13
    1) It's usually *impossible*. You are rarely a position to even talk to the manager or gatekeeper, and they'll just toss your resume on sight. Usually they won't even tell you that they got your resume or issue a rejection letter, and you have no idea who they are.

    One of the most top secret things that any corporation has is the phone book, and if you even have the *e-mail* of someone that works in a company, you doing really good. Corporations do this intentionally so that you have no one to complain to, and you have nothing to complain about.

    Government and university bureaucracies are subject to open records laws. Corporate bureaucracies are not. There's more public information on the hiring processes and staffing of the CIA than there are of most corporations.

    2) And it often doesn't help if you convince them.

    Suppose you have twenty EE resumes and one physics resume for one job. *Even if* you believe that the physics degree holder is perfectly qualified to do the job, you'd likely toss the physics resume, just because that reduces the number of people you have to interview, and who you are left with are also quite qualified. You got many more resumes than you have jobs. You don't have time even to interview all the qualified people. Tossing resumes for having the wrong degree cuts the queue quickly.

    3) And sometimes you get killed if you convince them too well.....

    Suppose you have twenty EE resumes and one physics resume, and through an amazing sales effort you manage to convince someone that physics majors are 100x smarter and more productive than an EE major.

    Congratulations, you've just talked yourself out of a job. At that point you are "overqualified" and your resume gets tossed. This turns out to be a huge problem for physics Ph.D.'s. A lot of HR people will look at a physics Ph.D. and to them you are Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. At that point, you are "too smart for the job" and they toss your resume. Also, it's *very common* for managers to feel threatened by people that are smarter or more qualified than they are. Managers are scared of getting fired too, and in a tough economy, it's understandable to be worried about hiring someone that could replace you.

    I've been in situations in which the goal was to convince people that I wasn't that smart and that I wasn't as qualified as people thought. I have this "absent minded professor" schitck that I use in some situations.

    4) But physics helps....

    One of the reason I'm glad I studied physics is that I can apply research skills to the job market. Figuring out how "black holes" in HR work isn't that much different to me than figuring out how "black holes" in galaxies work.

    Also, it helps a lot to have a sense of humor. Personally, I think it's funny in a Kafka-sque way.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2012
  15. Jul 31, 2012 #14


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    I'm not sure I would have been happy had I studied anything else. I started out in a natural sciences program and learned that physics was where my strenght and passion lay. It seemed to me that engineering or the other sciences somehow missed something and I knew if I didn't go with physics I'd always wonder what I could have done. There was a certain altruism in it as well - that somehow if I pursued the field far enough I would be able to make a contribution to the grand sum of human knowledge. For me that was more motivating than material gains.

    As I went on I struggled a little with finding my niche and my interests matured. I ended up in medical physics, which arguably lies closer to engineering than "pure" physics along the physics-engineering spectrum. But now I have a career that despite being stressful at times allows me to make a difference in peoples' lives, allows me the freedom to pursue what I consider to be exciting research, and earn a decent, stable living.
  16. Aug 1, 2012 #15


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    From the way twofish-quant describes it in the above quote, one conclusion that can be reached is that a theoretical physics PhD is a less marketable degree outside of academia than other technical degrees, at least in the US, unless you apply to a narrow list of select industries (for example, finance, defense, oil & gas).

    So in terms of ability to find work relatively easily (and I am talking about finding work relatively easily by the standards of the 2012 job market), someone graduating with a theoretical physics PhD will have a much more difficult time finding employment than someone with a degree in some cognate technical field, such as engineering, computer science, statistics, etc. So from that perspective, I would expect more people to regret studying physics.

    In fact, students who are currently contemplating pursuing their PhD in (theoretical) physics may well decide that the investment of their time in this endeavour may simply be not worth it, based on the above assertions. And would they be wrong in reaching to this conclusion?
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  17. Aug 1, 2012 #16
    twofish-quant, just wanted to say your posts are extremely helpful and I always feel like I can look at the job hunt/prospects from a different angle after reading them. thanks!
  18. Aug 1, 2012 #17


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    As an electrical engineer I studied physics extensively. Physics is how everything works....what a great tool.

    As far as a career.....that may be a different story. Physics jobs are exactly dominating the classified sections for jobs. But there is always some kind of angle that can get you where you want.
  19. Aug 1, 2012 #18
    I love studying physics, but perhaps it helps that I haven't broken into the job market yet. This is my second career direction too, so I chose it because I love it. I have for a long time been curious how many people ended up in physics because it was expected of them, or because they discovered they were good at it, even if their heart was not in it.
  20. Aug 1, 2012 #19


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    I think this is the issue with being a physics major.

    When you are an electrical, mechanical or civil engineer....there is always some factory to be wired, some HVAC system to be installed, some mechanical part to be made, some kind of street or bridge that people pay big money for all around the world and quite often.

    With physics....what product are you making that people buy? There is certainly going to be some.....but it is going to be some type of specialized thing. Not as many of these specialized things...tougher to get a job.

    Again, physics is great.....just tougher to sell your product.
  21. Aug 1, 2012 #20


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    Remember that your first or next job doesn't need to reflect your academic background. People who want to hire you have motivations beyond your education.

    30+ years ago, I applied for for a job as a laborer in the wood-yard of a new pulp mill. An assistant HR manager saw a year of Chem E on my resume and threw me in the mix to plump up the pool for a new process chemist. I interviewed with several engineers and then with the technical director. During that last interview, the chief environmental engineer broke in with the news that the pulp mill was set to acid-wash the Kamyr digester and associated systems.
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