Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

High School Marks

  1. Mar 14, 2007 #1
    Hi everybody. I'm just wondering what kind of marks (in %) would be enough to consider a career in Theoretical Physics.

    It's an area I've become interested in, though I'm only in Grade 10, so things might change by the end of high school. I have a 97% in "Pure" Math 10, which is the toughest Math you can take in Grade 10 (Then there's Applied and Math 14 in descending order). In Science, I got an 84%. I did great in Chemistry and Physics (which I'm interested in), but pretty bad in Biology (which was mostly boring). The school I go to only breaks the three sciences into separate courses in Grade 11 and 12.

    Any input is much appreciated. :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2007 #2
    Highschool marks really don't mean anything. If your a hard worker, thats what counts. People who have no work ethic or can't figure out how to study properly is where you might run into problems.

    You could get straight A's in highschool and mess up college, or you could do terrible in highschool and do fantastic in college.

    Work hard and you can do whatever you want.
  4. Mar 14, 2007 #3
    True. Well, although, grades does not necessarily imply knowledge, the grades indicates more of how applied you are and how good can you handle things. There are people who aren't genius and get A's because they are applicative and can handle the change of subjects and environments. While there are other people who know a lot but are too lazy or can't handle the pressure from life and college and mess up.

    But of course, there is a correlation that people who are applicative get better grades and learn a lot more than most of the lazy ones.
  5. Mar 14, 2007 #4
    It seems to me that what courses you take are a bit more important than your high school grades. Let me preface this by saying that grades are by no means unimportant. High school grades don't determine college success. I know people who aced high school and failed out of college (the reverse is also true). But if you don't get decent grades in high school, you won't even get into college. So I'm not trying to say that you should settle for bad grades, because this could end your academic career before it even begins.

    Having said that, it's important to take some advanced science courses in high school, especially if you're already planning on a career in physics. For example, a B+ in physics is worth more than an A+ in underwater basketweaving. You seem to have already had experience in physics, chemistry, and biology. It might be helpful to take AP physics sometime in the next two years. It would also be helpful if you took calculus 1, and possibly calculus 2, sometime in the next couple of years. I would say that at this point, math is more important than physics. There's no shame in taking introductory physics your freshman year of college. But at almost every school, the calculus-based physics sequence requires concurrent enrollment in calculus. And it sometimes requires calculus as a prerequisite. I've heard of cases where physics majors who haven't had enough math aren't able to take any sort of physics at all during their first semester. If you've already taken calculus, you'll have more physics courses open to you.

    Typically, the first half of the college undergraduate physics curriculum consists of mechanics, electromagnetic theory, a course on thermal physics, optics, and relativity, and an introduction to modern physics. If you can manage to also pull off a year of AP physics in high school, you'd be a year ahead in the physics sequence once you get to college. This would give you considerably more time to take the more interesting, advanced courses in physics, such as solid-state or plasma physics (or whatever you're interested in).

    Anyway, I realize it might sound strange that I'm asking you to think five years ahead. But take it from someone who's just completed a physics degree: if you plan ahead, you can get a lot more out of your college education. And high school is an excellent time to start preparing.
  6. Mar 15, 2007 #5
    Hey electron, I see from your high school courses that you're from the part of the world where I grew up! As for your high school grades, I concur with mr coffee - marks don't matter very much. But don't let that discourage you from working hard!

    I just finished a master's in theoretical condensed matter physics. It's been ten years since I was in grade 10 (yikes). I can't remember my grades, so I had to look at a copy of my transcript - I got 89% in Science 10 and 95% in Math 10. Biology was my worst grade 10 science too, but I think that was because the marking was more subjective so it was harder to score a very, very high grade.

    I went to a large public high school - there were about 500 students in my graduating class and I was probably in the top 2%. Of the top ten students, one other guy went on to study physics. He's a smart dude - he got a PhD working on GR two years ago and now he works for an aeronautics firm solving fluid flow problems. There was one other extremely bright guy in my class who represented Canada at the International Physics Olympiad - he went into engineering.

    Now to the advice:

    Don't limit yourself to theoretical physics. You have probably done some really boring labs in school, but that doesn't mean that experimental physics is boring.

    Take the most challenging courses you can. Does your school have IB or AP? And don't just do the hard science and math - do all the hard stuff. You will get better teachers if you take the hard courses and your classmates will probably be more fun to work with.

    Do more than just math and physics. Biology is actually pretty cool, by the way. You don't need necessarily to take a class, but just allow yourself the leisure to be interested. Do you know that a lot of physicists study biological systems? Theoretical physicists do research on the statistical mechanics governing the behaviour of DNA and enzymes. Physicists also develop MRI technology. (and they make a LOT of money!)

    Learn to program - any programming is helpful. C/C++ and Fortran are the main scientific languages, but if you can learn one language, you can learn another. Mess around in Linux and learn some shell scripting. If you become an astronomer you will definitely not get away without programming skills. And many theoretical physicists (like me!) use computer models to extend our ability to imagine how matter behaves.

    Take electronics courses. This will be a fun chance to slack off from all your hard courses. You will probably get to burn things.

    Study a foreign language. Because of school and research I've lived all over Canada and I've travelled quite a bit outside the country too. I'm embarassed that my French is so bad (I can barely buy a creme glacee). It's a friendly thing to speak someone else's native language and it helps when you collaborate with others. And when you are in Montreal and Les Houches you will want to flirt with the locals and eat in tiny restaurants.

    While you are in high school you should also write any math or science contest you can find. They are usually fun and sometimes there are prizes.
    http://www.bctf.bc.ca/bcamt/contests.html [Broken]
    There are also the Canadian Association of Physicists prize exam and the Sir Isaac Newton Prize exam. Also, there are selection tests for the Canadian teams for the International Math Olympiad, the International Physics Olympiad and the International Chemistry Olympiad - if you do well at these, you get to go on trips!

    Finally, do non-academic things that you enjoy - art, music, sports. Volunteer with little kids, get a part-time job at Tim Hortons, shovel your neighbour's sidewalks, cook dinner for your family.

    As for university - live away from home if you can. Work in a lab or do a co-op program - your wages will help pay for school and you'll get to see what research is like (and how much more fun it is than going to class!).

    As a final note, there is a lot of competition for university faculty and research positions in physics and astronomy. People with physics training get interesting jobs, but they don't usually wind up becoming professors. One of my theoretical physicist friends just quit a postdoc to start at Google and another quit a postdoc and is hoping for a sessional lecturer's position.

    Life is what happens when you're busing making other plans!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  7. Mar 21, 2007 #6
    Thanks, guys. I'll keep your advice in mind now and in the future.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook