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HELP!: Prospective Student in Dire Need of Experienced Career/Education Advice

  1. Aug 7, 2010 #1
    Hello, all!

    I have been reading posts on this site for the last couple of weeks and it seems like a good resource for career and education information in physics. I am about to begin attending college, after having taken 3 years off after high school.

    My core interest in pursuing a career in physics, and/or related disciplines, such as astronomy, engineering (nuclear/materials/aerospace,) and geosciences (geophysics, planetary science) is driven by an ambition to work and do research in a cutting-edge field that goes far towards furthering the overall knowledge of mankind, while still being able to work with topics that are personally exciting and intriguing to me. Topics of interest to me vary widely, but most, if not all, seem to fit under the umbrella of physics. Some examples are nuclear propulsion for space and marine application, seismology, volcanology, astrogeology, planetary science, and geomagnetism. Now, I have a number of a questions regarding careers in physics, in a broad sense, so here a few of them:

    1. Education Requirements. My hope is to be able to work in research and development, rather than in industry. What are the educational requirements for positions of this type and how widely do they vary? My immediate personal goals revolve around my undergraduate work and definitely pursuing a master's after. However, I am curious to know just how many career paths require a Ph.D., as this will seriously impact my educational goals.

    2. Job Prospects. Where are most physicists, across all disciplines (or at least the ones I have mentioned,) being hired? How possible is it to earn an advanced degree and still find it difficult to find R & D work?

    3. How likely is it that I will be able to work in any specific topic of my field of choice? Purely as an example, would it be likely that I could work in specialized research in something like the geological structure of a specific planet or type of planet, or specific geological phenomena such as volanoes? I don't mean so much independence in my personal research, as I know that comes with time and experience in the field, so much as I mean getting to work in a lab or related establishment that studies specific topics of my personal interest, and being able to personally work with said topics.

    4. Is it a ridiculous goal to want to work for prestigious and leading governmental organization like NASA or a leading research university? How likely is it, with the required education, that jobs like these will be available to me?

    These are only a few of the questions I've had, but any input would be greatly appreciated. I know this post is a bit scattered and disorganized, however, your responses will hopefully go a long way towards helping me organize my thoughts.

  2. jcsd
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