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Heart or brain - Split between 3 unrelated disciplines

  1. Aug 11, 2008 #1
    Good afternoon PF,

    I have been a lurker of this forum for over a year and it is now my time to seek academic advice. I am a university student who has recently finished first year. I have taken honors calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology and obtained very good standing in all courses. As of today, the future of my career is divided into three paths based on interest and opportunity.

    1) Physics – I have always loved physics. In high school I would always be asking how and why things work, and physics would always give me the answer. Physics is the key to all science, and with it I believe I can attempt to make change (whether in medicine or technology). The fact that it is coupled with mathematics is even better. It would give me the opportunity to study two subjects I enjoy. The problem with this is that a career in physics is uncertain. I don’t mind doing graduate school, but if it means struggling to make ends meet I have to be realistic.

    2) Pharmacy – I applied to pharmacy and got accepted into a very prestigious school. Pharmacists have great career prospects and are compensated very well. Most of my friends say this is where I should go as I will never have the opportunity again. MANY of the top students got rejected, I am one of the lucky few. Pharmacists apply chemistry to medicine, which is something I am also very passionate about. However, as with any professional program, I will be learning the profession and not the science.

    3) Business – I also got accepted into a very competitive business program. I can’t say there is any real passion to business, but there is a stream that will let me take a lot of theoretical math and statistics which makes it sound interesting. Also, my best friend is going there and it would be great to have a long time companion beside me in all my classes. His father is a very lucrative man, and is very well connected. My friend told me that we would both be “set” if we went the business route. You may say that is naïve on my part, but his older brother and his friends are living very expensive lives. In fact, last year he got me a summer job that paid $20/hr. His father has stated he is only interested in business students, so I got away with being “undeclared”.

    The real fight is with physics and pharmacy. I should mention that I am from a very poor upbringing. My loving parents are working many extra hours to keep up with the bills. They work almost 14 hours each day (+most weekends), and I see them come home tired late at night. Despite all this, they have given me the option to do what I want with my life. No pressure what so ever. After I pressured them for advice, they suggested I do pharmacy because later in life it is how a society values you (via salary) that counts. I do not know if this is true, but it is logical to hear it from someone who has been there. Many morals have shown me that young people (me) are irrational and follow their emotions only to regret it later. If math has taught me anything, it is that emotional reasoning should be frowned upon. And this hearty/passionate feeling towards physics is really just that – there is no logical basis in terms of compensation. I really need to get them out of this drought, and this is what makes pharmacy and business more appealing. Still, the lure is ever so strong otherwise I would not be making this post.

    Money is not my main motivator. But money is the reason you go to school. If it wasn’t, you’d stay at home learning the topics from a library. If salary was fixed with physics and pharmacy, I’d pick physics in a heartbeat. But I have heard many tales of physics PhDs driving cabs for a living. I do not want to go through 10+ years of education, with a sunk cost of at least half a million in potential salary, just to teach high school or work as a lab technician making $20/hr. At the same time, I don’t want to be counting millions and look back with teary eyes onto physics.

    Money is extremely important, and in my case more so. I don’t need 200k+ dollars, but I do need a strong income to support my family. $80k is ideal. I am disgusted at people who buy BMWs or wear jewelry, so its not that I am after selfish goals. I just want to send my parents for a vacation (they have never been anywhere outside the country). I see their faces when all their friends talk about all the fancy resorts they’ve been to.

    Having said all this, what do you think I should do? How secure is employment with a PhD and what is a typical salary? Do I follow my heart or my brain?

    Thank you for your time.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 11, 2008 #2


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    At the same time that those PhD in physics were driving cabs for a living, there were many PhD candidates in medical physics and experimental condensed matter physics that were being snatched up by various industries even before they defended their thesis! I've seen this first hand.

    As I've said many times, your employability depends very much on what area of study you did, and what skills you have when you graduated. If you intend to do theoretical physics, then your employability will be rather limited and you should expect to have to fight a lot harder for a job within physics when compared to someone who has skills that can be used beyond just academia.

    Have you ever considered doing something like Medical Physics, where you can bridge between the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology?

  4. Aug 11, 2008 #3
    Zapper, would Biomedical Engineering have good job prospects like Medical Physicists?
  5. Aug 12, 2008 #4


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    I would make an uneducated guess and say it would. But do you know what field is actually "hot" right now? Geology, geophysics, and geosciences.

    http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/articles/2008_08_08/caredit_a0800119 [Broken]

    The only thing is, one just don' t know how long this bubble of demand will last.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
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