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Help for High School Student

  1. Jul 8, 2006 #1
    I need some advise. My parents want me to go into engineering. For the most part(still undecided) I prefer physics(especially theoritical). They don't think I can find a job with a physics degree. At least not without a PhD(they have heard certain companies pay engineers to get a PhD). Keep in mind my parent don't know much about Physics. I literally was asked by my mom "What is physics?" two days ago.
    There is also another problem. I can't decide on a major for physics. I'm afraid if I do General Physics everything will be too broad and I'll end up learning a too little about everything(plus I've heard that specialty really helps when you are trying to get a job). I'm also afraid if I do Astrophysics(or any other type of physics) it will be too focused and I won't get any of the smaller stuff(in actual size not in importance). Theoretical Physics has always been a dream I've had in the back of my mind.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 8, 2006 #2
    Welcome to PF, Doctor Elect!!

    Ah one of my brothers again...:rolleyes:

    You are lucky your parents don't know much about the grad school world. Maybe you can convince them your way :tongue2: Don't make a hurried decision though.

    I am making a page with links to physics sites/resources/career-related stuff: http://spinor.sitesled.com [Broken]. Read through the webpages in the career section, esp the ones by Amanda Peet, Steven Weinberg and Gerard Hooft. That should give you a fair idea of what research in physics is like (we've had discussions on grad school/options recently on this forum..you could check out recent posts too).

    Some condensed matter people believe that particle physicists are trained in such a way that they cannot get into condmat later. Why should you want to get into condmat (leave out academic reasons)? Because most of industry is focused on some area in condmat (semiconductors, solid-state physics, lasers, plasmas, quantum dots etc). You also get more money doing condmat than anything else (usually).

    Non-particle theorists believe that particle phyiscs puts you in the groove so to say and you can't get out of it easily. But that shouldn't put you off. There have to be different branches after all. And I think that this "stuck" thing is more a matter of the mind. If you are so interested, you could do double doctorates or masters degrees or perhaps specialize in two fields by actually working on them (practical projects, publishing papers) rather than just having a degree...OP could correct me on all this though.

    Oh and by the way, may I suggest that you also take a look at experimental physics developments across the globe. Experimental physics is in no way inferior to theory (or vice versa). In fact it is quite challenging and demanding. Theory has its own beauty/charm though :smile:

    As time flows you will be exposed to more areas in physics and mathematics. And by the time you are in your 3rd year in a college/univ, you will probably have figured out which branch of physics you really want to do. And there are so many to chose from! To list a few fields, Condensed Matter Theory/Experiment, Particle Physics/HEP, Optical Physics, String Theory, Astrophysics, Nanotechnology (some of these are related), Nuclear Physics. I think you should take interest in all branches of physics right now and let your interests develop on the way. Theoretical Physics means a lot of math but that shouldn't deter you because math becomes obviously necessary for sensible expositions and continuing research at that level. I always say that impressions about mathematics acquired at the school level should not be initial conditions for a serious study of math later on. Math is actually a lot of fun! You just have to appreciate its beauty.

    For research in some fields, you will HAVE to be in academia and then things like postdocs and experience will matter. Read Amanda Peet's Straight Dope article (see the site link I have given you above).

    As for physics after engineering, I can't comment on this much. You could see my thread on this topic (https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=122582) if you are interested. I think its easier to get into Condensed Matter Physics after engineering than into high energy or some other field. Some branches of engineering (material science, chemical engineering, electrical engineering) use applied condmat, so getting into generalized condmat is perhaps not that difficult.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  4. Jul 8, 2006 #3
    Off-topic: Nice collection of resources, Vivek.

    Here are some more links to add to your page (contains links to lots of lecture notes).

    http://www.geocities.com/alex_stef/mylist.html (every mathematician/physicist's favourite green-coloured page on the 'net :biggrin: ) - the site's currently down.

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/relativity.html [Broken] - Relativity on WWW, Chris Hillman's site maintained by John Baez.

    http://www.theassayer.org/cgi-bin/asbrowsesubject.cgi?class=Q (The Science/Math/Computing section of theassayer.org)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  5. Jul 9, 2006 #4
    Off-topic: Thanks neutrino :smile:
  6. Jul 9, 2006 #5
    try engineering physics perhaps
  7. Jul 9, 2006 #6
    Interesting you should say that leon. Most pure physics people and pure engineering people are anti-engineering physics. Reason: the general opinion that ephy people neither do engineering properly nor physics. I have no first hand experience about this, but I rarely come across people who suggest Engineering Physics :smile:

    Dr. Elect, is there any such thing as a Physics major with an engineering minor at your university by the way? Or maybe a double major in physics and engineering? That would make life a bit more difficult, but its worth it if you have any doubts about a future in pure physics/are bound to take engineering for some reason.
  8. Jul 9, 2006 #7


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    First of all, one needs to decide what one wishes to do academically and professionally - not one's parents. It's your life, not their's. Study physics or engineering because you want to do so, not because someone else wants you to.

    If one wishes to pursue Theoretical Physics, then do so. Start by investigation Physics programs at various universities. There are generally standard curricula for Physics at the undergraduate level, and in such programs, one may pick electives, e.g. condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, astrophyiscs, . . . , depending on one's particular interest.

    Regarding Engineering Physics - there are programs at various univeristies, and there are faculty teaching in these programs, and there are students taking these programs.

    U. of Wisconsin - Engineering Physics Program
    http://www.engr.wisc.edu/ep/newepdegree.html [Broken]

    RPI - Engineering Physics Curriculum
    http://www.rpi.edu/dept/mane/deptweb/academics/ugrad/engphysics/engphy_4by4.html [Broken]
    http://www.rpi.edu/dept/mane/deptweb/academics/ugrad/engphysics/prospective_engphy.html [Broken]
    http://www.rpi.edu/dept/mane/deptweb/academics/ugrad/engphysics/engphy_concentration.html [Broken]

    Then there is the following
    UIUC - Theoretical and Applied Mechanics (TAM)

    http://courses.uiuc.edu/cis/catalog/urbana/2006/Fall/TAM/index.html [Broken]
    http://www.tam.uiuc.edu/academics/ [Broken]

    These links for provide for example and do not represent a recommendation or endorsement. :biggrin:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  9. Jul 9, 2006 #8


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    i agree with astronuc, everyone has to live his/her own life and make ones own choices, and live with them.

    i will woffle a little and say give primary attention to what appeals to you, and if time remains make some attempt to be able to earn a living while trying to more fully realize your own dream.

    i believe john stuart mill was also a surveyor in his spare time, or some such to pay the bills, but he probably liked surveying.
  10. Jul 9, 2006 #9


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    in ym experience too, if grad school is invovled, it is impossible to get through grad school unless you enjoy the work, as it is too hard and all consuming.

    of course engineers seldom need grad school. my brother is an engineer (EE) based originally on only his BS degree (possibly enhanced later by a masters), and has always made much more money than I have as a univ professor in math with a phd and a research reputation and publications.

    but i like what i do better than what he does, and he feels the same.
  11. Jul 10, 2006 #10
    depends what you want alot of physcists dont earn that much cash ..i think
    engineers do ......
    ive given this site out before ...its only so your decision is balanced.... >


    also -- cant you do both engineering and physics .
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2006
  12. Jul 11, 2006 #11
    What do you mean? Are you saying that there is no double major program anywhere or that it cannot be done even if there exists a double major program?
  13. Jul 12, 2006 #12
    My university offers a BS titled "Computer Science and Physics" (no double major) so certainly I would think it would be possible.

    Actually lots of engineers go to grad school. There are actually more master's students in engineering at my school than in undergrad engineering, I think. Purely in terms of money, engineers with masters degrees can pull down several grand more per year over just a bachelors, for a couple years at least. Enough to make it financially viable to fund one's own way to graduate school with loans (with a tuition investment possibly as much as $20,000-$30,000) as many people do.

    It was not uncommon a while back for oustanding engineers to have reduced hours and fully paid tuition while working for a company so they could get a master's degree. However as the job market sank it's cheaper to hire people who already have master's. Corporate funding for a PhD is even more rare - I would not count on it at all.
  14. Jul 16, 2006 #13
    Study the physics

    If you want to study physics, you ought to study physics. In the end, you can always get an engineering job if you have studied physics. Engineering is just dumbed down physics anyway.

    If you need to convince your parents, get a copy of the gold metal winners from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers). You will find that the elite of engineers almost all studied phyisics. Tell your parents that you can always be an engineer (an elite one!) if your physics dreams don't pan out.

    Anyway, nothing I am doing in my job (space craft and rocket development) has any relation to what I studied in school. I have learned everything on my own after school. Heck, nearly everything I am doing hadn't been discovered yet. I couldn't possibly have studied it in school.

    Follow your dreams. please. If they don't work out, I'll hire you.
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