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Programs How did you choose your STEM major?

  1. Oct 25, 2016 #1

    So I am having the hardest time choosing a major to stick to. Good thing i have a bunch of math classes to deal with. What factors did you look into when deciding upon your major? I looked at everything from interests to job outlook to salary. I get the idea at times people major in something but work in another field like a physicist who works as a engineer. But then was it really worth it to study all that time on something you love to make as much as someone who might've studied less (I'm a assuming a physicist who has studied his Ph.D working a job as an entry level engineer next to someone who has a B.S. in a particular engineering field.)

    Thanks for your input :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 25, 2016 #2
    What do you like most? Your assumption is very wrong!
    look at the people here, and if you've any physicists with phds youll know that its an amazing and rewarding career where you meet many people, travel, work, get to teach and do engineering as well as give lectures on a little bit of philosophy and life in general.

    I met a professor who worked at one of those particle colliders, knew programming, had traveled and worked with many governments.

    Go for what you love most, nothing else. I would, go for maths, it is my favourite but I study engineering. I will study math, for masters or bachelors after this.

    Its hard to know what you "love", you need to encounter many different (delve into) fields of knowledge at a general and sometimes specialised level.

    I chose this degree because I heard engineering was a safe bet. But I rather prefer being a mathematics major. So, don't be stupid like me :P.

    If the person is motivated enough to gain skills, he/she can find lucrative employment in the market without a degree.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2016
  4. Oct 26, 2016 #3


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    Trial survey of courses in the different branches and decide based on how well you do and like them. Any particular field which you do more of than others?
  5. Oct 26, 2016 #4
    I took a few university courses and found that I liked physics and math.
  6. Oct 26, 2016 #5


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    That is progress, but the better decision comes from a variety of (at least introductory+) courses. You need to figure if you want to stay within Physics and Mathematics, or maybe choose something else in science; or something related. Physics & Mathematics, usually related to computer science, computer programming, statistics, engineering, education in physical sciences, maybe geophysics.

    EDIT: I just realized that Dishsoap was not the person who asked the question in this thread.
  7. Oct 26, 2016 #6
    Thanks for your advice. Unforunately certain job outlooks are worse than others I'm scared if I chose a physics career path or a pure mathematics career path. I won't be able to find work if I don't have a masters or ph.d. I would choose engineering because the job outlook is better and there are more jobs for less study time.

    I'm also worried about teaching because I have a speech impediment (my stuttering), which isn't terrible but I do feel like would be a hinderence.

    I'm also changing majors now that I'm 24. I feel the need to think about starting a family life but I'm not really sure if I want one in my early 30's.
  8. Oct 26, 2016 #7
    I like mainly math and physics. But mainly studying physics and math for the usefulness it has with physics.
    They're the studies that amaze me the most.
  9. Oct 26, 2016 #8
    That makes a lot of sense. I'm sure though I'm reading some books about physics I might not neccesarily want to do physics. Well I feel passionate about it but I really want to learn the math more than anything because then I feel like I could do anything.

    Taking the classes will give me a better understanding of where I want to be though
  10. Oct 26, 2016 #9


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    Your topic's question, "How did you choose your stem major?"

    Picking one field and following some of the feature lower division requirements, deciding against the chosen field and noticing two things:
    Which type of course did I enjoy most?
    Which type of course did I go farthest in?

    These were the same, and I chose that as major field (type of course).
  11. Oct 26, 2016 #10
    I think you underestimate the usefulness of a physics degree. Yes, the likelihood is good that you won't find work in physics with only a B.S. degree, but keep in mind it's essentially a degree in problem solving. I know quite a few who have gone on to find work in finance, software development, etc. etc. etc. that are doing quite well for themselves.
  12. Oct 26, 2016 #11
    I picked Physics, because I loved it deeply. I remember checking out books from the elementary school library on light and relativity. In 6th grade I was sure Einstein was wrong because (more or less) I had re-invented Galilean relativity. It was not until college (Modern Physics) that I realized Einstein really was right. My Mom also supported my love for science by buying tons of books. I remember being excited when the new Funk and Wagnalls science yearbook.

    My Dad always had wanted me to be an engineer. He had been an engineering major before switching to business, because engineering was too hard. He was something of a party guy in college. His parents tried to use their financial support to change his behavior, so he joined ROTC (with a free tour of Vietnam) to achieve financial independence and freedom of lifestyle. My parents met in a Physics class at LSU when my Mom struck up a conversation about beer, a subject in which my Dad was an expert. In any case, my Dad favored engineering, because he knew I would make a good living in it. Since I had done well in high school chemistry (winning some awards my Dad was proud of), my Dad leaned toward Chemical Engineering. Growing up with the petrochemical industry we both knew a lot of Chemical Engineers and jobs were literally everywhere.

    Even though what you write on the admissions application is not binding, I didn't want to go against my Dad's wishes, so I called and asked him if I could write Physics in as my "intended major" instead of Chem E. Deep down it was my true love. It's not that I wanted to be a Physicist, it was that I already was one. I deeply longed to know the fundamental laws of nature, how light and atoms worked, what Einstein had really meant, etc. I had no confidence that I could actually contribute to science myself, but I deeply wanted to do Physics rather than just make/design stuff.

    It was my deep desire that helped me push through when the math and coursework got really hard. I could not have persevered had I been in it for money rather than for love. A couple months after I was admitted to LSU, I was invited to some reception, where one of the Physics professors met me. Over the next 18 months, I met a number of Physics faculty, and they cemented my impression that this is what I wanted to be. Of course, they had personality quirks that turned me off, but I loved how they _thought_. They had beautiful minds. I wanted to think like them.

    I didn't know many (non Chem) engineers growing up, but my girlfriend's Dad had been an engineer (Mech), and he kinda turned me off to it. Too much focus on stuff (cars, money), and no real passion for science that I could see.

    Out of grad school, my first two jobs were engineering jobs. My starting salary may have been close to BS Engineers, but my PhD research had given me enough experimental skills and mathematical and problem solving prowess, that I quickly advanced to a Senior and then to a Principal Engineer with commensurate increases in salary. I was well into six figures before 35. But after I paid off the mortgage on my home, Engineering got boring for me, so I transitioned to a faculty position and started a small company on the side to pursue research interests.
  13. Oct 26, 2016 #12


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    I fell in love with electromagnetic theory during the intro physics sequence. 2nd semester was special relativity and electromagnetism (Purcell) and 3rd semester was mostly on electromagnetic waves (Bekefi and Barrett). So as I finished up my sophomore year and had to pick a major, I definitely wanted to be in a field where I used electromagnetic theory. I was in the college of engineering, so the two obvious choices were electrical engineering and engineering physics. It was really a toss-up for me. My father's advice was to pick EE if there was no particular reason to choose engineering physics, for the simple reason that it might be more marketable. I took his advice, ended up with a PhD in EE (plasma physics specialty), and have been working for 15+ years in a job where I often use my electromagnetic theory background and have been able to teach myself a lot of EM that I never learned in school.

  14. Oct 26, 2016 #13
    Your answer was helpful. I feel like money money kind of gets in the way of my passion, but maybe that is how it is. I feel like I'm more passionate about learning about how to use mathematics to explain the things around me and I would actually like to use it to build something. I have been think it about applied mathematics I'm not sure if I am as passionate about it as I am about physics as I have read physic books
  15. Oct 26, 2016 #14


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    I picked Statistics because I enjoyed working in many different fields. After I left the Army, I scheduled a coffee meet-up with a VP for a large financial firm. He was kind enough to tell me his career path. What impressed me the most is that he began as a Statistician and worked on projects ranging from Agriculture issues in Africa to Modeling Particle Detection (or something like that.). He eventually wandered his well into being a Senior Quant and settled there (but that's after 10-15 years of consultant work.) At the time, I was a bit restless and had a lot of interest and something about being able to be a consultant on divergent set of projects appealed to me. Many years later, i've worked with fields ranging from finance, telecommunications, biology, supply chain optimization, and oil and gas.
  16. Oct 27, 2016 #15


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    Biology is boring, chemistry sucks, real mathematics is hard - thus physics.

    Different strokes for different folks. Find out what appeals to you.
  17. Oct 27, 2016 #16


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    Actually, deciding is a combination of two things. What do you like to study (that you actually did try studying), and what employment positions do you want when you are finished?
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