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I'm not sure if I should go into physics

  1. Aug 14, 2012 #1
    Hello, everyone. I'm a recently-turned 16-year-old who is about to be a university freshman. The issue is, I'm not sure what area of study I want to go into. I'm pretty good at math and things of the sort (as for current class level, by next summer I should be done with Honors Calculus I), but I'm not sure if I'm cut out to go into physics. My SAT math was a 720 (I've only taken it once to see how I did; I haven't actually studied for it yet to go for a max score for applications). I know that a simple score isn't a great gauge, but I'm just putting it out there to give you a general idea. Anyways, as for sciences, I'll be taking astronomy and chemistry (both with labs). As it stands, I only have a basic understanding of things such as quantum mechanics, and I still find a good bit of it to be a little confusing (I haven't actually taken any physics-related science classes since my freshman year of high school due to my old high school's curriculum requirements; the guidance counselor also wouldn't let me take the senior physics class back when I was a sophomore; it was basically an advanced classical mechanics course). Specific fields that interest me are particle physics, astrophysics, and theoretical physics.

    I just don't want to begin pursuing a physics degree just to find that I'm not cut out for it. Is there any way I can gauge myself now? I'm feeling very uneasy, and classes start soon. I'd really like to get all of this sorted out.

    Is anyone that has gone down the physics path could advise me, it'd be greatly appreciated.

    Also, please forgive me for any mistakes; I'm new.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2012 #2


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    Your first statement makes it sound like you're graduated high school. But the rest makes it sound like you're going into your senior year. No, your high school does not offer an advanced classical mechanics course. That's a graduate level course. They offer basic Newtonian mechanics like every other high school. They can't even expect to offer what a college level intro course would cover because you haven't taken calculus yet. It's very unlikely with your math background that you have more than a layman's idea of quantum mechanics. I wouldn't worry about what field of physics you think you find interesting at this point, since you haven't taken any real physics yet. You'll probably change your mind about what's interesting and what isn't. Also, 'theoretical physics' is a way of approaching physics, not a field of physics itself.

    No, there's no real way for you to find out right now whether or not you'll succeed in advanced college physics courses. Concentrate on learning as much math as you can and plan on taking physics your first semester in college. That should give you a better idea.
  4. Aug 14, 2012 #3
    if you are strong at math, then you *may* also do well in physics. you need to have good problem solving skills for both math and physics but the skills are different. in math, you are given definitions and theorems which you apply to problems. in physics, it is usually less symbolically formal and focuses more on physical arguments rather than abstract mathematical ones.

    the only way to see if you are cut out for physics is to grab a book and work through it or take a class in it. for high school, books such as "Fundamentals of Physics - Halliday & Resnick" are appropriate. after working through it for a while, you'll see pretty quickly whether you like physics or not.
  5. Aug 14, 2012 #4
    To find out if you are suited for physics answer yourself those questions:

    Do you like programming? Is finance interesting field for you?

    If not, don't go into physics.
  6. Aug 14, 2012 #5
    @ eri: Yes, basic Newtonian mechanics is a better way to describe it. By "advanced", I meant advanced for my high school. My bad. And yes, a layman's understanding of quantum mechanics is what I meant by "basic". My old high school's math curriculum and scheduling sort of gave me the shaft on how much math I could get in (small, rural school).

    @ demonelite123: Thanks! I'll look at that book.

    @ Rika: Yes, they are. I absolutely love working with computers. Finance does also interest me. Out of curiosity, in what way is finance relevant? Forgive me if it's simple and I'm just not seeing it.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012
  7. Aug 14, 2012 #6
    finance is relevant because most physics PhD's will work in careers like finance, because academia is a pyrimid scheme
  8. Aug 14, 2012 #7

    Unfortunately, the earliest I'm going to be able to get into a physics class is Fall 2013 (Chemistry I & II this year). At least astronomy could give me a little insight into astrophysics.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012
  9. Aug 14, 2012 #8


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    The above is not a factual statement.
  10. Aug 14, 2012 #9
    ^the above is not a very detailed statement
  11. Aug 14, 2012 #10
    then again, neither was mine, so I shall qualify:

    academia is not a pyramid scheme, although it is like one in a sense.

    To be more straightforward for the OP, obtaining a job in academia is a crapshoot, given what I know about the topic. I'm not an expert, though.
  12. Aug 14, 2012 #11


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    I was directing my statement more toward the part about finance. With a specialization like condensed matter, one can later go into work doing what is very much science, although possibly (probably) not in academia.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2012
  13. Aug 14, 2012 #12
    aah okay, yes that was a misleading thing for me to say. I even think some programs/schools are closely associated with industry and send many of their graduates there (my own school Arizona State has a grad program which is closely linked to Intel for instance)
  14. Aug 14, 2012 #13


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    Don't forget about national labs, some of which are places that US citizens have a massive leg up due to security clearances. There are also university affiliated research institutes.


    Only 29% of graduates with physics bachelors in this sample population (class of 2006-2007, admittedly a bit dated) went into non STEM private sector. The outlook is really much better in this regard for those with graduate degrees.
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