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From Environmental Engineering/Biotechnology to Physics?

  1. Dec 3, 2015 #1


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    'Sup guys,

    I'm in my final year at the ETH Zurich. For some very short-sighted reasons, in the days of my youth when I was choosing my major, I narrowly chose environmental engineering over physics. After 1.5 / 2 years at the very latest (basically as soon as the STEM common core classes got out of the way), I realized I hated it and had made a huge mistake. Without a doubt, not majoring in physics is the biggest regret/mistake of my life so far. BUT I'd been accepted to a super cool exchange for my third year, and besides, the program itself was only three years initially, so it seemed as if it didn't make a lot of sense to quit then and I might as well go on exchange and make the switch come after I got back. Switching is difficult in Europe, and I could probably have transferred very few credits to physics.

    Coming back from my exchange, however, not all my credits transferred, and so I was stuck with another semester to wrap things up. I found out that if I took on some extra classes this semester and then kept going next semester, I could additionally graduate with a degree in biotechnology by summer. Figuring if there was even the slightest chance biotechnology was the thing for me it would be worth trying it just in case (because 1 sem is much shorter than 2-3 years), I opted for it, and that is basically where I am now, almost done with the first semester of my final year before graduating with both degrees. If I pull it off, it certainly would be no mean feat -- I don't know anybody who is in the position of graduating with two degrees from the ETH at 22.

    Biotechnology is better than environmental engineering, but I still feel somewhat... unsatisfied. I still think physics would be far more fulfilling to me.

    Given that it would mean another 2-3 years to complete a physics program as well, however, at some point, I really need to start weighing costs and benefits. 6-7 degrees before moving to master's programs is a lot. And if you really put biotechnology and environmental engineering together, I feel as if the easiest way to most any career path is forward, not backward. The only thing I can't do is physics.

    I think a career in astrophysics or something of the sort would definitely be interesting to me, but then the question is how difficult it is to get a fairly theoretical physics position if I'm that late to the game -- I wouldn't graduate with my BSc Physics until 24-25, then finish my MSc 26-27, then PhD 30-31, and only then would I be able to really start looking for jobs/working. That's assuming I never lose time or waste time and manage to get good enough grades in the first place. Not unheard of, but late.

    And in the meantime, I'd be giving up a lot -- the two bachelor's degrees I already basically have would become worthless, and I'd be moving from a field where I feel I am ahead of most of my competitors or at least well in the game to a highly competitive field where I'm basically 3-4 years behind everyone. And I'd probably still be haunted by regrets that I'll never be as good as I could have been if I'd done physics straightaway.

    What do you think, is pursuing a passion -- albeit a far-off one -- by switching to physics a good idea, even if I'd be far behind? Or is switching completely unrealistic, and I should just go forward as best I can despite everything, running the risk that I'll always be slightly unsatisfied with it? There is a master's degree program in Neuroinformatics here I could hopefully get into that would probably be my first choice if I were not to switch.

    I'm well aware that this is definitively my last chance to switch, however.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2015 #2
    Time is not the issue if you can pay the bills along the way and perform well enough in physics to reach your goals.

    The challenge for most students who want to switch is paying the bills until you can finish the required education.
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