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Hey, could someone give me some advise on possible career paths

  • #1

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hey.

First of all let me make a few things clear. Firstly, I didn't know weather to post this question here or in the "Academic Guidance" board since it my issue has elements of both careers and academia involved. Secondly, I understand that you probably get a lot of similar questions to mine on here and I HAVE read few quite a number of similar ones, but I thought that I would like to ask some slightly more specific questions where general answers had been given in the past. I have also read the following article:
http://physicspost.com/articles.php?articleId=205&page=1" [Broken]

Ok so let me explain my situation. I am 16 years old, and I am from the UK. I have just begun my preparation in college for my AS levels and will be continuing to my A levels. For GCSE last year I studied (amongst other things) maths, double award science (triple award was not available at my high school, but double award includes physics) and additional maths, achieving an A*, A and A respectively. I am studying physics, maths, economics and further maths at AS level and next year in my A levels I hope to (it will depend on my grades this year) to continue all 4. I predict this year that I will achieve at least 3 A and 1 B with the B in further maths (A is the highest grade achievable this year). Next year I am aiming for at least 4 A (A* is the highest grade achievable next year) provided I continue all 4 subjects.

I have always had a keen interest in anything maths and physics related, and I often enjoy reading more complex theorems that what we are taught in maths and physics classes, since at the moment I am not finding physics or maths (excluding further maths) challenging enough for me. I enjoy almost all topic in maths but in physics I like the more maths related topics. For example I prefer projectiles to optics or electricity.

Hence this brings me onto my questions. With my interests being maths and physics, I was wondering what jobs I would be best suited to. A few came up:

Engineering
This would somewhat satisfy my need for maths but I feel I would become easily bored in this job since from what I have heard from speaking to engineers who I know, the majority of the calculations are done completely by computers. One guy even said learning all the stuff in additional maths was a waste of time for him as an engineer, that is what I do not want.

Mathematician
I would without dought find this profession fun. However, it does come with some downsides. I understand that a lot of people who leave university with a maths qualification actually do not become a mathematician or maths teacher or the like, but instead become computer programmers or stock brokers or bankers. I can understand why these professions are liked to maths, but if I studied maths I would want to do something maths related. Also, there aren't exactly a huge number of mathematician jobs available here in Northern Ireland so it might mean me travelling abroad.

If I may I would like to stop at this point and ask some questions on this profession if I may, since there is so little information available on this career choice. First of all, would you say I am smart enough? I understand being a mathematician would require a huge amount of effort and smarts to even become one, never mind become a good one, but from what I have told you about myself, do you think I have what it takes? Second of all what sort of salary (in GBP preferably) do they earn? I obviously know that you don't go into this profession just to get rich, but rather you have an interest in it (that I hope I have demonstrated earlier), but I'm curious because it is obviously an important part of any job. Thirdly, what qualifications exactly would I need? Obviously a maths degree in university is a given, but should I continue for a masters and P.hd etc...? Where exactly are mathematicians employed, and by who? Say I leave university with whatever qualifications I needed, where would I go from there? Finally, what exactly do mathematicians do, I mean is it just the creation and testing of mathematical theorems, and doing the odd lecture and going to maths seminars?

Physicist
More specifically a Theoretical Physicist. I have much the same view on this as the job of a mathematician. Again, I feel I would find this profession really interesting. Also, there aren't a lot of theoretical physicist jobs here, so it may mean me travelling abroad.

I have basically the same questions on this as I do on a mathematician, and for more or less the same reasons:
- First of all, would you say I am smart enough?
- What sort of salary (in GBP preferably) do they earn?
- What qualifications exactly would I need? (I think from what I have researched doing applied maths will get you a theoretical physics degree, correct me if I'm wrong)
- Where exactly are theoretical physicists employed, and by who?
- Finally, what exactly do theoretical physicist do, I mean is it just the creation and testing of theorems, and doing the odd lecture and going to physics seminars?

Please excuse me for cutting and pasting but the questions really are the same for a mathematician and physicist. Also excuse the sweeping generalisations here . For example, I know there are a huge number of different types of engineers and so on, but since I don't know specifics yet, lets just simply say engineer.

Also, if you can think of any other profession which you fell I would be suited to, please feel free to suggest it.

It would be much appreciated if you could, since I stated above that I am from the UK, and since I have very little understanding of the education system in the USA or other countries, that if you do know how to answer my questions regarding the academic route that I should take, please make the answers either specific to the UK education system or at least refer to it (For example; in freshman year (that's first year of university) etc...).

If you have made it to the end of this speel of writing the I applaud you for you efforts and thank you for you precious time.

Any information you can give would be much appreciated.


Ryan Mckeown
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Ok maybe I need to summarize this a bit since my first post may have been a little long to read.

Basically I would like to ask the following 5 questions on both the profession of a physicist (specifically a theoretical physicist) and a mathematician:
  • First of all, would you say I am smart enough? (See my previous post for information on my level of intellect)
  • What sort of salary (in GBP preferably) do they earn?
  • What qualifications exactly would I need? (please if you can give reference to the education system in the UK)
  • Where exactly are theoretical physicists/mathematicians employed, and by who?
  • Finally, what exactly do theoretical physicist/mathematicians do, I mean is it just the creation and testing of theorems, and doing the odd lecture and going to physics/maths seminars?

That is a very basic summary of the questions I would like to ask. If you have any questions about what I am asking, please read my first post, I believe I have covered pretty much everything in it.


Thanks again
 
  • #3
Well it's been almost 3 months since my first post, and I'm frankly dissappointed that no-one has yet replied. Come on, someone must know at least the answer to one of my questions on one of the carrers...
 
  • #4
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2
This question comes up so much on this forum that it's not worth answering anymore. Search the forums. I use google with "site:physicsforums.com" before my keywords. For instance,

site:physicsforums.com theoretical physics
 
  • #5
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12
Hence this brings me onto my questions. With my interests being maths and physics, I was wondering what jobs I would be best suited to.
I think that you are better off if you don't worry too much about that right now. There is a good chance that the job that you will be most suited to is something that doesn't exist right now, and you have a few years to try different things to figure out what you like and don't like.

The other thing is that there is a random element here. A lot of what you end up finding interesting or not interesting will depend on the specific people that you meet.

This would somewhat satisfy my need for maths but I feel I would become easily bored in this job since from what I have heard from speaking to engineers who I know, the majority of the calculations are done completely by computers.
Yes, but someone has to program the computers.

One guy even said learning all the stuff in additional maths was a waste of time for him as an engineer, that is what I do not want.
You have to be careful here not to generalize. What he said may be true for him, but it may not be true for all engineers.

First of all, would you say I am smart enough?
No idea. However, among the things that are involved in getting a Ph.D., intelligence isn't the most important thing. You do need to be smart to be a mathematician, but once you have the basic intelligence, then persistence turns out to be more important than intelligence.

Put it another way. If you have an IQ of 70, you aren't going to be a professional mathematician. However, someone that has an IQ of say 115 who is persistent is going to make it a lot further than someone with an IQ of 200 that gives up at the first sign of difficulty.

Also mathematicians and physicists think about the world in different ways. I got into physics rather than mathematics because I found physics to be more fun than mathematics, but there are people that find the opposite.

The problem here is that I don't know you well enough to know what you would find interesting and fun, and it may well be that you don't know yourself well enough to figure that out either. So just try different things and see what works and what doesn't work.

Also, don't try to plan out your entire life. You can't. I'm not that old (41), and the job that I have right now didn't exist when I was 16. When I was 16, the world wide web had not been invented, and outside of a few research labs, no one had ever heard of e-mail or the internet. If I were to go to 1985, and say that I was working at google designing better algorithms for search engines, then I'd have a problem because no one would have any clue what google was, or what a search engine is. Likewise, I work as a quant at an investment bank. Even today, I have to spend a lot of time explaining why an investment bank would hire physicists, and if I were to go back to 1985, when you didn't have complex derivatives, it would be difficult to impossible to explain what I do.

How you prepare for careers that don't exist? How do you get advice for things when the people that are older don't know what to do? Curiously, one of the things that helped me a lot was that I had a Latin teacher that got me very interested in Roman history, and that helped me a lot. The idea is that if you study history you study how people behave and that gives you an idea of what is going to happen next.
 
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  • #6
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I understand that a lot of people who leave university with a maths qualification actually do not become a mathematician or maths teacher or the like, but instead become computer programmers or stock brokers or bankers... but if I studied maths I would want to do something maths related. Also, there aren't exactly a huge number of mathematician jobs available here in Northern Ireland so it might mean me travelling abroad ...

... would you say I am smart enough? I understand being a mathematician would require a huge amount of effort and smarts to even become one, never mind become a good one, but from what I have told you about myself, do you think I have what it takes?
With your results you are definitely smart enough to be a maths teacher - and maybe smart enough to become a mathematics lecturer at University, but jobs are difficult to get in University lecturing (see many threads here - maybe a 1 in 10 chance for a straight A student like yourself?) But getting a school teaching job in the UK should be no problem at all. Are there *really* so few opportunities in Northern Ireland, ask your maths teacher how difficult it was to find a job...

Teachers & lecturers get a reasonable wage for public sector workers - look this up using Google. Then again, I was quite interested in checking this myself, so here you are on a plate:

http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12716 [Broken]

http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2218

Doing applied maths is *not* the same as doing a theoretical physics degree.

Phew! that's a lot of questions at once - start a new thread for each question...
 
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  • #7
Thanks for the replies guys.

I think that you are better off if you don't worry too much about that right now. There is a good chance that the job that you will be most suited to is something that doesn't exist right now, and you have a few years to try different things to figure out what you like and don't like.
You are absolutly right in saying this, twofish-quant. The only problem is my parents. Lol. They want me to be able to go to the local newspaper and point to an advertisement for a vaccency and say, there ya go, thats what I want to do! They simply are afraid of me not finding work, and I see their point but they don't seem to realise the job I will end up doing may not be in this country, or even exist right now. They don't realise how fast the research industry moves.

Yes, but someone has to program the computers.
Again that is true. However, I have a story to tell on this one. I recently was talking to a mathematician/maths lecturer and I explained my situation to him. I said I really wanted to work in research, possibly in maths, possibly in theoratical physics. He basically told me to go get my PhD and worry about a job then. He said research jobs are so hard to come by (both with scarcity and so many people applying), you may end up after your PhD working in finance, or computer science for a few years untill a research job turns up. And you never know, you may end up liking computer science or whatever. So yes I see this as a back up.

You have to be careful here not to generalize. What he said may be true for him, but it may not be true for all engineers.
Well I have talked to many engineers and even had work experience in civil and areonatical and structural engineering firms. All my experiences have been that they do as little calculations as they can themselves, they simply put it into a computer. Granted they have to know what the computer do with the values they give them, I cannot help but feel they have taken the fun out of it lol.

No idea. However, among the things that are involved in getting a Ph.D., intelligence isn't the most important thing. You do need to be smart to be a mathematician, but once you have the basic intelligence, then persistence turns out to be more important than intelligence.
I absolutly understand that.

Also mathematicians and physicists think about the world in different ways. I got into physics rather than mathematics because I found physics to be more fun than mathematics, but there are people that find the opposite.

The problem here is that I don't know you well enough to know what you would find interesting and fun, and it may well be that you don't know yourself well enough to figure that out either. So just try different things and see what works and what doesn't work.
Lol. I think I am the opposite. I like the way mathematicians handle things rather than the way physcist do. But I like the topics physics covers. Thats why I am considering a mathematics degree, and not a physics one.

Of coarse it is dangerous to be totally conclusive this early in my life and say "I wanna do maths not physics", but I mean I've gotta pick one or the other in the next 3 months or so.

With your results you are definitely smart enough to be a maths teacher - and maybe smart enough to become a mathematics lecturer at University, but jobs are difficult to get in University lecturing (see many threads here - maybe a 1 in 10 chance for a straight A student like yourself?) But getting a school teaching job in the UK should be no problem at all. Are there *really* so few opportunities in Northern Ireland, ask your maths teacher how difficult it was to find a job...
Maths teacher jobs are not too hard to come by here, but maths lecturer jobs are (we only have 2 universities here and one of them I wouldn't really want to work in anyway). However, I don't particularly want to be a maths teacher. I think I would be too impatient with weaker students. I would only teach if I knew I was teaching to students who at least had a good understanding of maths in the first place.

Teachers & lecturers get a reasonable wage for public sector workers - look this up using Google. Then again, I was quite interested in checking this myself, so here you are on a plate:
Thanks for your efforts. It's reasonable wage but not brilliant.

Doing applied maths is *not* the same as doing a theoretical physics degree
This can be true, but it depends on which university you go to. If the university you go to is very mathematics orientated, then they will be very similar. If the university isn't maths orientated, then they can be very different.

Phew! that's a lot of questions at once - start a new thread for each question...
Haha. You're right, but I thought opening a new thread per question/job would just annoy people and decided to condense it all into one big one. Of coarse if you really want I will open some new threads for each job/question, that way it might be easier for people to answer my questions. Tell me what you think.


Let me while I'm at it get you all up to date on recent changes to my situation. I no longer am considering engineering simply because I feel I would get bored doing that job. The job I am now most interested in is something to do with maths or physics research, possibly in a major university or at a research institute (Eg. CERN or NASA). To get here I am considering a masters degree in mathematics (specialising in applied maths), and then switching to a PhD in theoratical physics.

This is not at all set in stone and is open to change. I do have to make a final decision on my degree and choice of university in about 3 months time. Which bring me onto 2 new questions:

1. Can anyone reccommend a university in the UK/ROI where I could study those subjects?
2. I hae heard lecturers undergo research also when they are not teaching. Is this so? If this is true then how much research are we talking about? Enough for them to be working on the latest gound-breaking stuff? This may be an option for me too.

Thanks again guys for the responses,
Ryan Mckeown
 
  • #8
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First of all, would you say I am smart enough? (See my previous post for information on my level of intellect)
Hmm, well, firstly, I need to say that you don't need to be all that smart to be a mathematician. Of course, you need to be a little smart, but judging from your grades it shows that you clearly got what it takes.

There are however much more important things you need to satisfy:
- are you motivated enough, do you find math very interesting?
- are you willing to work hard, because you WILL have to work hard (for any degree, not only math)
- do you have the correct mentality. You will only discover the answer to this question after you started studying it. But I've seen many smart, hard-working people drop out because their philosophy didn't coince with a math philosophy.

If you satisfy the previous three, then you can be assured of a great future in math (or any degree really).

Finally, what exactly do theoretical physicist/mathematicians do, I mean is it just the creation and testing of theorems, and doing the odd lecture and going to physics/maths seminars?
Basically yes. But it's probably very different then what you think it is...
 
  • #9
Thank for your reply micromass.

There are however much more important things you need to satisfy:
- are you motivated enough, do you find math very interesting?
- are you willing to work hard, because you WILL have to work hard (for any degree, not only math)
- do you have the correct mentality. You will only discover the answer to this question after you started studying it.
In response; Yes I find maths very interesting, I can't get enough of at and therefore am very motivated and excited at the prospect of studying it at degree level.
Yes I am willing to work hard, and I understand I will have to work harder, much harder than I have done in the past.
Like you say, I will probabily not know if I have the correct mentality until I begin studying it.

I've seen many smart, hard-working people drop out because their philosophy didn't coince with a math philosophy.
Would you care to expand on this a little? What exactly do you mean their philosophy didn't match math philosophy? Can you give me any examples?


Thanks again,
Ryan Mckeown
 
  • #10
22,097
3,278
In response; Yes I find maths very interesting, I can't get enough of at and therefore am very motivated and excited at the prospect of studying it at degree level.
Yes I am willing to work hard, and I understand I will have to work harder, much harder than I have done in the past.
Like you say, I will probabily not know if I have the correct mentality until I begin studying it.
I think this is a very good sign. You will do very good in either math, physics and engineering with this mentality!


Would you care to expand on this a little? What exactly do you mean their philosophy didn't match math philosophy? Can you give me any examples?
The point is that mathematicians can be quite "anal" about some things. For example, everything needs to be proven, no matter how trivial it seems. For example, the diameter of a circle cuts the circle in two equal parts. Seems obvious, but a mathematician will only be content if he has proven it.
Some smart people don't have that philosophy and will take some things for granted. These people will do great in physics and engineering, but they won't be great mathematicians, for the simple reason that they don't have the good mind-set...

You will probably need to study math to see what your philosophy is. Do you tend to find proofs annoying and superfluous, or do you think they are necessairy and fun? These questions will only be solved once you already started mathematics, and they'll determine whether you'll do good in math or not...
 
  • #11
You will probably need to study math to see what your philosophy is. Do you tend to find proofs annoying and superfluous, or do you think they are necessairy and fun? These questions will only be solved once you already started mathematics, and they'll determine whether you'll do good in math or not...
Well all I can say is that at the moment, whatever proofs I have come across so far, I have found very fun and interesting, so that is a good sign. Of coarse the small proofs that I have done so far will be nothing compared to proofs done in a maths degree but I'm actually excited at taking the maths to the next level.

For example, my own maths teacher was saying a few months back that she had one pure mathematics lecturer that she hated when she was at university. She said that he was a very "purist" sort of mathematician and loved the sort of to her, ridiculous proof. She mentioned that for one of her lecturers they were trying to prove that 1+1=2. The whole maths clas cringed at this point, but I found myself quite excited and want to know more about how a proof like that might even be done! I know this may seem sadistic but I can't help but feel excited when stuff like that comes up in conversation.


Thanks again, and keep the replies coming guys.
Ryan Mckeown
 

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