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Does physics get more interesting?

  1. Feb 25, 2014 #1
    I'm studying physics in Edinburgh, UK, and I'm on my second year of four. I used to be passionately excited about studying physics at degree level but so far I've found it to be mostly uninspiring and often tedious. As stated in my title, I want to ask how usual it is to feel this way early on during one's studies, and how much this tends to change as one progresses through the course.

    Right now we're studying mechanics/ODE's, (hard, not much fun), Vector Calculus (tolerable), Electricity & Magnetism (so-so) and Matter (again, so-so). Last semester we covered waves, relativity, linear algebra (didn't like these courses) and basic QM, which was actually quite interesting. Next year we start on more serious stuff, like EM, QM, Stats/Thermo and Fourier Analysis.

    I can tell we're still at the stage where we're still learning the fundamentals that will be built upon during later study, but I'm worried that if I'm not enjoying it now I won't enjoy it later. When I started I was eager to learn about things like Plasma physics, fusion, nano-science and so on, but now I sometimes catch myself thinking "only two more years and a bit to go before I can leave this behind", which suggests to me that something must be wrong.

    TL;DR: I don't like the early stuff we're doing in physics - will it get more fun later on?
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  3. Feb 25, 2014 #2
    You didn't find relativity to be interesting? I thought that Relativity (special and general) along with QM were the most interesting stuffs in physics.
  4. Feb 25, 2014 #3
    Interesting is a matter of opinion.

    I thought non-equilibrium stat mechanics and stochastic processes are interesting so stat mech and biological systems can be interesting.

    You get to learn about these later on.
  5. Feb 25, 2014 #4
    Well earlier courses are more of an introductory nature in my experience.
    Once you have a profound basis of used techniques and ideas you can study physics more in depth.

    So you like QM and not very much of the rest. What is the main difference in your opinion?
    Also courses like linear algebra are of the utmost importance for a physicist in my opinion. You will not be able to count the places where it pops up. At the undergrad level I mostly encountered it in QM.
    Now I see it at much more places, for example nonlinear dynamics which also deals with ODEs. The ODEs as a matter of fact are directly involved with linear algebra.

    In comparison I would say my course are much more interesting now (I'm pursuing a masters degree in Belgium) than during my bachelors.
  6. Feb 26, 2014 #5
    Honestly doesn't sound like you'll have a blast. I mean it's not like you'll LOVE higher level courses if you truly didn't enjoy those ones
  7. Feb 26, 2014 #6


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    This varies from person to person. I did not really enjoy any of my physics courses until the end of my second year (the optics course had some cool things in it). Things got much more interesting during my third year and even more so during my 4th when I started to specialise (I did an MSc).

    I found most of my Mechanics course to be very, very boring and to be honest I did not even enjoy the SR bit (which was very brief). The part I enjoyed was our (again brief) introduction to the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian approach to classical mechanics.

    The same was true for my math courses, most of my introductory course weren't much fun (and I am still terrible at vector algerbra); but I very much enjoyed the later courses (Fourier analysis etc) and I was also much better at them: I am one of those people who find it difficult to truly understand math unless I can see how it would be useful for solving a "proper" physics problem; I did not really "get" linear algebra until I did my advanced QM course.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  8. Feb 26, 2014 #7
    Can you really leave this behind? The careers that physicists pursue use similar skills to those conveyed in an undergraduate physics course. For instance, the number crunching skills transfer to working in finance.

    But if you find physics boring, what are the chances of finding banking interesting or attractive?

    Maybe you need to take a long hard look at yourself, and decide what you find interesting! Edinburgh is a great place to look for alternatives. For instance, do you like performing arts? Or the tourist/entertainment industry?

    Or might you like teaching physics? If you were "passionately excited" by school & popular physics, then you might be able to convey that "passionate excitement" to kids. Not everybody likes being tied to a desk doing hard sums all day, maybe you just need a place in physics that involves less tedious calculation.

    Science journalism might be another option, or (if you like tinkering) why not focus on experimental physics? How about certain sub-skills you're learning? Do you like any of those? I quite liked computer programming, so drifted into various jobs in that area.... initially with connection to physics, after that, with no connection... and I didn't miss the physics...
  9. Feb 26, 2014 #8


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    I don't agree. I find many field of physics to be very boring (Mechanics, fluid mechanics etc) and if that was all there is to physics I would never have picked it as a career. Fortunately, I have never had to do any serious work in any of those fields and I when I decided to pursue a PhD I (obviously) picked a field I liked (experimental solid state physics/quantum mechanics). None of the physics courses I did for the first 2.5 years at university were directly relevant for the work I do today (which obviously does not mean that I am not using e.g. the math and problem-solving skills etc I learned during that time )

    Don't get me wrong. Some of these "boring" courses are neccesary and will teach you things you need to know in order to progress to the next "level"; but it not at all unusal to find them boring; and there is nothing wrong with just wanting to get it over and done with (I certainly did).

    My point is that you don't need to like all courses, you just need to pass them and make sure to pick up the skills you need to be able to do the things you DO like.
  10. Feb 26, 2014 #9
    What if he ends up not really liking any of them? All I'm suggesting is that he keep his options *really* open. For instance, Dara Ó Briain and Ben Miller got up to MSc/PhD level in physics and discovered that it wasn't for them, and took up comedy instead. They were doing comedy sketch shows as students, and realised that comedy was *really* their thing. University, and a capital city like Edinburgh, give lots of opportunities to explore other options... and it looks like the OP should maybe start to consider other options... I mean, there are few jobs in physics and lots of seriously clever competition. It's not something to pursue beyond BSc level if you don't really like it.
  11. Feb 26, 2014 #10


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    That would be true for any career. I had friends who studied engineering, medicine etc; and as far as I remember most of them complained about how boring their first years were (especially the EE and CS students since their first year involved lots of "basic" stuff common to all engineering programs).
    The OP has already mentioned that he/she is interested in nano-science, fusion, plasma physics etc; none of the courses during the first two years are directly relevant for those topics.

    You might be one of those lucky people who really enjoys "basic" physics (or just likes solving problems irrespective of the field, but this is again quite rare), but I think that is quite unusual; and very few people will start a career in physics because they like e.g. mechanics.

    My point is that there is nothing unusual about feeling like the OP does; and many of the people who feel like that still end up with a career in physics (I am certainly one of them). I would certainly not advise anyone to switch to another program at the end of their second year, unless of course there are other factors (i.e. not being able to pass exams etc). The third year is usually where the intersting stuff starts.
  12. Feb 26, 2014 #11
    He might need to keep his options open anyway since the output of PhD in Physics is greater than the available physics jobs. Some people will inevitably need to keep their options open to new fields.
  13. Feb 27, 2014 #12


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    Of course, and this would be true for anyone doing an undergraduate degree in physics; most students will NOT end up working as physicists.

    But the point is that the likelihood of someone ending up having a career in physics (and a PhD etc) is in no way correlated with how much you enjoy the physics courses during your first two years (it might be correlated with how well you PERFORM during those two years, but that is another issue).
  14. Feb 27, 2014 #13
    For me physics was not really interesting, until I actually started doing research on the 3rd year and saw so many applications to what I've studied in university. Just studying, taking exams and tests can be tedious, and you may get the impression that physics is a lot of boring routine. But, once you start working on something actually important for modern physics, something in which you can discover something new - that is when physics starts really shining.

    So, my advice is: carry yourself through these Bachelor's years by believing that what you are studying now will help you later, when you will work in actual science. Meanwhile, read some popular books on topics you are interested in to not let your interest in physics dim. I promise that in Graduate school everything will be different! ;)
  15. Feb 27, 2014 #14
    That depends greatly on your program and on your own interests. What about physics do you actually like, what subjects would be "interesting" to you?

    At this point, nearly everything is simply introductory. So a lot of it is going to be a little dull and pedantic. However, I will say that it gets a lot better in your junior and senior years. If UK schools are like US schools, that's when you'll start doing electives and original research and will be exposed to much more modern and relevant topics in physics. The cool stuff like plasma and nanophysics is just in front of you.

    At this point, if you want to graduate on time you're going to need to make a decision. I know, it kinda sucks, but here's where you're going to need to decide to either commit or change, so keep your mind open to different options. Physics can be an attractive degree in more than just physics. Finance, economics, and programming are very valid options for physics majors. You could also see about engineering electives and consider an engineering graduate program.
  16. Feb 28, 2014 #15
    Guys, thanks for all the replies, they've been a great help. I'll write a more detailed response later, but I wanted to let all of you know that I appreciate the advice that you've all taken the time to give me.
  17. Feb 28, 2014 #16


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    If you are a masochist then hey, it gets a lot more interesting, espcially if you are a theorist. :-D
  18. Feb 28, 2014 #17
    We don't have "graduate school" in the UK, the equivalent would be somewhere in the 3rd year/MSc ballpark. You can't promise that "things will be different". They weren't for me, they may not be for others. But at this stage I think the OP might as well stick hard at it for at least another year and try and grind out a good honours degree. It might be worth jumping ship before taking the MSc, and at least start earning some money for hard grind :) Or maybe do some kind of conversion MSc into "science journalism", "finance", "computing", "education"... whatever you decide is the best course for you given a long hard look at yourself... and job opportunities...
  19. Mar 3, 2014 #18
    I see you are currently in your second year. This is good

    When I started I was eager to learn about things like Plasma physics, fusion, nano-science and so on, but now I sometimes catch myself thinking "only two more years and a bit to go before I can leave this behind", which suggests to me that something must be wrong.

    Your interests e.g. nano-science, plasma physics, fusion, can be approached through physics, but electrical or power engineering, nuclear engineering are also avenues to these disciplines, including "plasma physics". If you are interested in these disciplines, engineering may be the way to go. (I do not think advanced physics courses will get more interesting if your interest is in these disciplines). You need the courses in the first two years so you are not looking at a big change in direction. See if you can find a advisor at your school for course selection/counseling. They may be closer to the scene and can steer you more effectively.
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