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Help me brainstorm ideas regarding what I want to do with my life

  1. Dec 5, 2008 #1
    I am currently a junior at a 4 year university and I will be graduating in the spring of 2010 with a BS in physics. I'm having a very hard time deciding what to do after I graduate, so I thought I'd ask around for ideas. My problem is that I have a lot of interests, but I don't know how to concentrate those interests into a probable grad school / career path. Aside from physics, I have a keen interest in animal science, environmental science, photography, archaeology, writing, and psychology.

    I know that I don't want to be a teacher or professor (my GPA is not high enough to get into a top 40 physics grad school anyway), I don't want to be a medical doctor or veterinarian, I don't want to work in banking or economics, and I don't want a boring data entry office job.

    If I decided to go to a lower tier physics grad school and get an MS or Ph.D, what kind of careers would I expect to have available to me? Taking my interests into account, what other programs would suit my interests, and what careers can higher degrees in those fields lead to? Any help would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2008 #2


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    The same that would be available to you if you went to an "upper tier" physics grad school.

    Have you thought about scientific journalism?

    What part time jobs have you tried? What volunteer positions have you had? What clubs have you been a part of? What skills do you have? What skill would you like to develop?
  4. Dec 5, 2008 #3
    I would tell you to meditate, go on a vision quest, and find your totem animal. Unfortunately, I did that, and mine was Godzilla.

    But anyway . . .

    You can still do the vision quest thing. Surely there's some sort of topic that got you into science in the first place. Wouldn't it be nice to work with that topic full time? Start at the beginning and work forward. What are the related fields and related occupations?

    For example -- archaeology. Who invented ground penetrating radar, anyway? Or carbon dating? What are the cutting edge technologies involved? What company is doing that? Have they made any information freely available to the public? Have they been the subject of a documentary or a book?

    And so on. It's the garden of forking paths from this point.
  5. Dec 5, 2008 #4
    Scientific journalism is a relatively new concept to me. I actually say a flier at my school for MIT's graduate program on the subject: http://web.mit.edu/sciwrite/index.html

    It seems interesting, though I don't know I'd be happy in that field.

    In high school I volunteered at a zoo for 4 years, becoming a curator and even head curator by the end of it. It certainly fueled my interest in animals, but working at a zoo is not my long term goal. Perhaps field work with animals unrelated to veterinary medicine is my forte. Wildlife photography is also one of my favorite things to do.

    I've also helped out at my cousins' graphic design studio. The creative aspect interests me to the point where I want to pick up skills in photoshop or a vector graphics program or Maya. But again, it just doesn't seem like the thing for me. Related, I have another cousin who is CEO of a video game design company.

    In the realm of physics, let's just say I've had terrible luck securing research experience. Starting next term though, I am volunteering my time in the high-energy department (they work with neutrino detection, so you could say it's low-energy high-energy physics, haha :p ). I am looking into REU's this summer, but I want to keep my options open for other things as well; I am not set on committing to physics. I guess I'm too caught up in looking for the perfect job for me and it is really frustrating.

    It's a funny story, though perhaps some can relate: I imagine my interest in science came from the fact that I watched a lot of Animal Planet and The Weather Channel growing up. I chose physics to do my BS in because in addition to learning about the fundamentals of how the universe works, I was told that a degree in physics can lead to a diverse range of grad school / career path. In the words of my professor on the first day of class freshman year "You can do anything with a physics degree." Narrowing it down is a hard choice, and it's very frustrating for me to try and choose a path.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  6. Dec 5, 2008 #5
    Weather has a lot of interesting physics. When lightning strikes, for instance, there are strange upper-atmospheric phenomena . . . flashes of light that shoot up in the opposite direction, called sprites. Also, on a somewhat inexplicable front, it's been found thunderstorms can emit gamma rays just before lightning strikes. Who's doing research on that? Sounds fascinating. And so on. Dig through the current weather news and find where it intersects physics. Follow the leads until you find the investigators.
  7. Dec 5, 2008 #6


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    Your interests sound like you might find anthropology a good intersection. The physics can be applied too when you consider the functional mechanics of the human skeleton, of tools and weapons, the thermodynamic issues in human physiology, the environment esp. climate, and food sources.
  8. Dec 6, 2008 #7
    Do you know of any well known atmospheric sciences or other Ph.D programs that I could look at to see if it looks like something I'd be into?

    I have taken a few anthropology courses and indeed the archaeology course I just finished touched on a lot of these topics. I suppose I'll look into Ph.D programs in anthropology and related fields to see what I'd be in for...

    Does anyone else have ideas for me?
  9. Dec 6, 2008 #8


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    private school teaching? it should offer a wide range of possible courses to teach in science and also photography.
  10. Dec 6, 2008 #9

    Dr Transport

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    One way to figure out what you want to do is go and do something, if you like it, stick with it, if not, go do something else. You have got to find your passion, get your degree and either get a job or look at a department that has a breadth of specialties. If you go the school route, talk to every professor and see what they are doing. Years ago when I was in grad school the first time, the department for their seminar series scheduled each and every faculty member for a half an hour overview of their research for the students benefit. This got me interested in nuclear physics and got me hooked up for a masers thesis topic.

    Like I said, if you have not done anything, you'll not know what you like to do and won't know what you want to do for the next part of your life.
  11. Dec 7, 2008 #10


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    Have you considered neuroscience or physiology? It all depends on the project you ultimately choose, but both fields (and they are not mutually exclusive fields either) involve animal models (many of us animal scientists have taken that path, because we can work with the more challenging species that people who have spent their educational time pushing around petri dishes and cell culture plates are afraid to get near), and the fields are both demanding more and more physics knowledge...especially for those who are utilizing electrophysiological recordings, or developing new techniques. Also, the folks who do their neuroscience research with fMRI HEAVILY use physics in their research...at least those who are moving the field ahead and not just using the tools available to look at what brain areas light up. That field also requires people with strong computer science or engineering skills, and often labs are composed of teams of grad students from these different backgrounds and programs because none of them has the experience to do it all on their own. Someone who is comfortable with both biology and physics could really make a lot of headway there. It also would work with your interest in psychology.

    Any graduate program is going to involve a lot of writing, so you'll certainly use your writing skills. As for your other interests, those are always things you can pursue as hobbies when you need to take a break from thinking about work. Or, you never know...I've suddenly found myself getting a crash course on photography from someone with an engineering background working in anatomy, because I need the illustrations for two different projects I'm working on (a textbook and online lab guide).
  12. Dec 8, 2008 #11
    Indeed I have thought about it. I had quite the experience at a New England boarding school, and teaching at my old high school wouldn't be half bad in my opinion. Teaching in high school has always seemed like a fall-back position though...perhaps I should look at it more seriously.

    I guess the thought of trying things out without being able to work out their worth in my head beforehand is a concept that frightens me. It just seems like a daunting task with no clear starting point; something I am not used to. It startles me now just thinking about it.

    That actually sounds very interesting to me. Neuroscience and physiology, eh? Can you recommend any programs that I could take a look at?
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