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HS Junior wanting to major in Physics

  1. Mar 3, 2013 #1
    As the title states, I am a junior in High School and I would very much like to major in physics, (astrophysics in general, but that could change), but I am extremely worried that I won't be able to get a job after college. I would like to work in a university if I could, but it seems unlikely the more I read into it. I was wondering what kind of careers I could get as an astrophysicist, or a physicist in general (as I said, my major could and most likely will change). Would the salary be enough to support a family if my wife also works? I'm reading ZapperZ's "So you want to be a physicist" essay and it says I should have a good understanding of several math subjects including Algebra (which I do), Geometry (Hated), Calculus (Taking Pre-Calc next year), and Trig (Not offered at my school; ridiculous I know). Is Geometry all that important? Should I even take physics classes in my 1st year of college, or should I focus on getting the math down before I start? The thing I'm most worried about is the careers though. If anybody could help calm my mind about how I'll find work as a physicist (in academia, industry, etc.) I would greatly appreciate the help. Thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2013 #2


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    Homework Helper

    (Emphasis mine.) Chances are, the pre-calculus course that you are taking next year will contain trigonometry. Usually "pre-calculus" = college algebra + trigonometry + analytic geometry (+ a little of discrete math). Check with your math teacher.

    Most undergraduate physics programs require an introductory sequence to be taken the 1st year. These courses normally would have calculus as a corequisite (meaning you have to take calculus at the same time) or a prerequisite. If you are taking pre-calculus next year as a senior, then theoretically you should be able to take calculus in your 1st year of college.
  4. Mar 3, 2013 #3
    Well that answers the math problems, what about possible careers besides university?
  5. Mar 3, 2013 #4


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    How far do you want to take your physics studies? A professor needs to have a PhD in the field they want to teach, and pretty much all the jobs in astronomy also require a PhD (in astronomy, astrophysics, or physics). While there aren't a ton of jobs for professors (every job ad gets many hundreds of qualified applicants), there's always the option of working in industry, especially if your PhD is in physics instead of astronomy. Also, for the government, in national labs, observatories, research & development, and for government contractors.
  6. Mar 3, 2013 #5
    Working in an observatory sounds like it would be a lot of fun, same with the labs. What kind of qualifications would I need to work in either of those, and I don't suppose you would know the pay rates for those jobs as well?
  7. Mar 3, 2013 #6


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    Observatories don't hire many astronomers. They have some on staff, or at least most do, but they have a lot more engineers and technicians (computer techs, network specialists, programmers, data analysts, and people to run and maintain the equipment). National labs and NASA hire some astronomers, but also a lot of engineers. Postdocs at those places pay 35-60k a year, permanent positions can pay 120k or more, but most astronomers are making less than that on average. Colleges start out paying an average of 56k for a new professor, but that's often a more sought-after job than the labs/observatories/NASA - they aren't as isolated, you interact with more people than just other scientists, there's not as much security or regulation, you have more personal freedom in what you study, who you work with, what you publish, and what hours you keep.
  8. Mar 3, 2013 #7
    It might sound weird, but I would prefer to just be interacting with other scientists during a regular work day. So if observatories and NASA of all places don't hire many astronomers, where would a physics PhD (more specifically astrophysics) help me get a career where I could be with other physicists like me and look at space and interpret data and whatnot?
  9. Mar 4, 2013 #8
    I can think of numerous jobs you could get working with fellow scientists regularly with a physics PhD, but not many with astrophysics-with our current technology, it just doesn't seem like a very lucrative field (maybe when we seriously consider space travel, but not until then). However, if astrophysics is not your main focus, you could go into something like aerospace or mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, there just don't seem to be enough jobs for astrophysicists...
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