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I'm really regretting this physics degree...

  1. Dec 8, 2015 #1
    Well, the title sums it up pretty well. I realized I hate physics during the middle of my junior year of undergrad, but at that point it was already too late to switch majors. I decided to change my concentration to geophysics hoping that would help (the idea was to go into the oil industry). I'm sitting here in the library studying for finals, one semester away from a degree, and I'm regretting my decisions. I'm in an Electron Microscopy class now that I'm in love with, but I fear it's too late to do anything about it.

    I think my hatred stems from the fact that EVERYONE (parents, family friends, high school counselors, college professors, etc.) back home insisted that an associates degree was the way to go, then transfer into a university. But the problem with that is that I've been at a university for 3 years now trying to wrap up a physics degree and have be plagued with the problem of having all of my gen-eds and electives completed and now I'm left with ONLY major classes left. In my 5 semesters here, I've literally only taken sciences, upper level maths and physics courses and I guess I'm just burnt out. You'd think I would've been smart enough to see this problem coming, but you live and learn.

    Sorry all, I don't really have anyone that understands the stresses of a physics degree and the predicament I'm in, and I'm just blowing off some steam. Any advice/words of encouragement?

    ETA: When I graduate I'll have a BS in Physics with a concentration in Geophysics and a minor in mathematics and geology. Just in case that helps your opinions/advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 8, 2015 #2
    Dear Wilsonaj4, I want to encourage you to hold on and soon it will be over. You would regret giving up after all you have gone through until now.
    Some day that degree may be useful to you. You never know. There is always a possibility to do something else after you finish school.
    Anyway, I understand that you may hate physics at this point, but at least you have a chance of getting a proper well paid job.
    I studied social anthropology and environmental science from sociological point of view. I was so stupid when I chose that! I really regret that decision and I wish I had studied something normal, like your major. It may be hard, I believe, but it in real life, it is far better than my choice.
    You have a high chance of getting a proper job and you can than earn some money to get another degree in area of your interest.
    You are still young and nothing is lost yet. Just study hard and finish what you have begun. You are almost there! You can do it!
  4. Dec 8, 2015 #3
    Thanks, Sophia! I didn't mean to imply that I'm not going to finish my degree. I've made it this far, it'd be a waste not to graduate. I just meant that I'm lost on what to do after May comes around. I'm 25 and have been going to school non-stop for the 8yrs since I've graduated high school (obviously not full-time). I had to pay my way through community college, and since my school didn't offer any sort of loans, I had to take 1 or 2 classes at a time while I was working until I got my associates degree ( I went to a horrible community college and no one even mentioned grants/scholarships until my last semester there). The whole, being in school for 8yrs and only having an undergrad thing, also adds to my frustration and contempt for physics. It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you've been driving for so long (sorry for the crappy pun :wink:).
  5. Dec 8, 2015 #4
    That must have been difficult for you. However, at 25 you are still young. And you mentioned you like Electron Microscopy. That's a good start. Just get trough the other subjects using your strong willpower. I don't know if you intent to continue to get MA? Sorry if I am confused because I don't exactly know how it works in the US. Is there some MA specialisation that involves Microscopy or something similar? Or is there something involving Microscopy you could do right now? Maybe talk to your professor about that.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2015
  6. Dec 8, 2015 #5
    I was in undergrad for longer than you for similar reasons and graduated at a later age than you did and I didn't do the CC to Uni transfer thing either. It is a good idea to have gone community college to university, since the classes tend to be easier and cheaper. The tail end of the physics degree is going to be upper division physics and math though; depending on your temperament that can be hugely fun or exhausting. I experienced the former because my physics classes were the ones I was looking forward to the most but it seems like you've experienced the later. You could still go into the oil industry with that type of concentration though; more school is probably the last thing you want to do but you'd have a reasonably good background for different types of engineering dealing with oil/gas or other areas you're interested in at the masters level; though there's nothing saying you couldn't get a job out of undergrad. I had an easier time getting a job than most of my physics undergrad cohort that didn't do grad school because I double majored in engineering but I don't think it's a hard/fast requirement. Have you done any research work at any labs while in undergrad? Done any projects either in or out of class that you can put on a resume? If not, I would see if you can find something of the sort at your home uni so you can build a paper trail of work you can show potential employers. I didn't see the end of the tunnnel for a long time but college does end eventually; good analogy is that you have to swim once you finally get to the ocean and its the out of the class room stuff that will you do just that. If you can stick it for this long than you've got the work ethic to be successful IMO; keep at it, good luck.
  7. Dec 8, 2015 #6


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    Look at the "Bright Side" - I have a nephew who started out in Restaurant Management, fell in love with mathematics and wound up with a Masters in Geophysics.

    He was in a similar "place" to what you now are, after 8 years stalled, bored......

    Finally quit university and started a Handyman business. Years later, he's happy and successful.

  8. Dec 8, 2015 #7
    A lot of people who graduate with a degree in physics can get a masters degree in engineering, computer science, or another technical profession. I would maybe focus on a technical area that you're interested in now so that prospective grad schools see that you have a background in it to accept you to their program. My girlfriend majored in Environmental Science as an undergrad, but transitioned to a masters in GIS because she, like you, found out she hated science. She now has a good job in GIS that she enjoys. So think about what you enjoy doing with your background, take more courses in it, and transition to a grad school program. If you don't want to go back to school, there are a lot of jobs that will see a degree in physics and hire you, usually to some sort of technical position. Nobody here will be able to, or should, tell you that your degree will guarantee a job, because it won't. It'll be up to you and your networking/pitching/interview skills to figure out how to turn that degree into a job. Which is something I would talk to your advisors and peers about.
  9. Dec 8, 2015 #8
    Unfortunately, I think I'm going to get "lost in the crowd" so to speak when it comes to applying to graduate schools. I have no research experience, a below 3.0 GPA, and I'm graduating in May. I hate to keep harping on the same issue, but when I transferred to the University I slipped through the cracks yet again, and none of my professors even mentioned research until about 6 months ago. I scrambled to find something but every single professor in the physics department was either full up on research assistants, or wouldn't accept me because no one (understandably) wanted to waste their time, effort, and money training me since I was leaving in less than a year (from then).

    After talking to one of my professors in the geology department, I was informed that research was crucial to getting into a grad school, especially with my shortcomings in the GPA department. Good news is that he said it didn't particularly matter what kind of research it was as long as it was in a hard science field and it was substantial, nothing watered down just to put on my applications. So, in junction with that advice and my new found love for microscopy, I've have some research opportunities that have opened up. The catch is that I'm graduating in May, taking a science/math heavy course load next semester, including my senior capstone course. So now I have to find time to study for the GRE, do research for my capstone, and do enough research in geology/microscopy to put together a poster/small paper and present at either a Geological Society or Microscopy Society conference, and not just say **** it and forget about grad school altogether.

    Well, all the advisers in the physics department have been part of the issue. I've finally managed to get some good advice from some Geology professors and hopefully they're right. So recently I've started to look at Graduate schools in Geophysics, but once again, I'm a day late. By the time I graduate, I'll only have 16hrs of Geology credits, 8 of which are freshman 1000 level courses. And of course everything in the oil industry required a MS for what I am looking at. The one bright side is that my professor also said Geophysics Graduate students almost always have deficiencies in Geology since most Geophysics grad students start out as math, computer science, material science, and physics majors, and it wouldn't be uncommon if I was accepted to a school and first had to complete whatever deficiencies I had before I started the actual graduate school there. I sure hope he's right and I can get a grad school to look at me for Geophysics. With the way my GPA is looking, I know for sure that I'm not getting into any graduate schools for material science to do microscopy. And of course, 99% of places prefer a PhD and require a MS in either Materials Science or Mechanical Engineering.
  10. Dec 8, 2015 #9
    I think I have some advice that might be useful. I also majored in physics with minors in math and (almost) geology and I'm working on a PhD in geophysics. I only graduated with 14 hours of geology credits (1 short for the minor) and haven't had any troubles adjusting. I also haven't had to take any undergrad geo courses or anything like that. I think it really depends on the subfield within geophysics you're planning to study though. I'm doing seismology, and coming from a physics background has been a huge leg-up for me. The geology is pretty easy to catch up on but the math and physics are crucial, and I feel miles ahead of many of my classmates coming from geology... Do you know what field of geophysics you'd be most interested in studying?

    As for the research experience, I would definitely suggest getting involved as quickly as possible; honestly, not even for the resume building - I think research could help with your burnout... I know it did for me. I was studying physics and found myself getting bored with it so took a geology class. That's when I discovered seismology and after that semester started working in a seismology research group, and it totally amped me up. Research is WAY different than classes, or even a research project for a class. After starting research, I started placing less focus on exams for courses and more on my research which was really refreshing. For me, it finally felt like what I was learning in my physics classes mattered because I was applying it directly to something tangible - the earth. I always thought optics and imaging were cool but after taking quantum mechanics, wasn't so sure. However seismology is just a huge, complex optics experiment and the imaging techniques and mathematics are all the same. This was sophomore year of undergrad for me, and here I am now working toward a PhD in seismology and loving it. I think you should definitely give research a try and then reexamine your options.

    Finally I'll give a quick plug for geophysics based on my experiences so far. The great thing about geophysics is that it's such a new field that even a physics undergrad can start making contributions at the cutting edge, with the right guidance (after all, plate tectonic theory only came about in the 1960's). Whereas with physics, which has been worked on for so long, you have to dig SO deep to get to the interesting problems, and by the time you have a PhD you're just beginning to really understand the problems, let alone make important contributions to them. I think you should think back about why you started your physics degree to begin with. Did you want to contribute to science in some way? If so, research is the only way to go. And I think that you will find that you really CAN make important contributions to the field you choose, if it's something you're really passionate about.

    Best of luck!
  11. Dec 8, 2015 #10
    It's funny you should mention that it all depends on what field of geophysics I want to go in to, because I didn't realize how broad the field was until I talked with the geophysicist here on campus. I told him I wasn't comfortable going into the University with such a limited understanding of minerals and rocks because I just assumed all geophysicists dealt with rocks. I mean, it's geology for heaven's sake! He laughed, and said, "see those rock on that shelf, I guarantee a seismologist couldn't tell one from the other. But a petroleum geophysicist better know every damn one of them."

    I decided to go the oil route, so it looks like I'm gonna have to keep my rock knowledge up :wink:
  12. Dec 8, 2015 #11
    It is so true!

    It's funny you say that because half of the seismology PhDs that come out of my program end up in oil anyway. As a seismologist you're doing the imaging part and then a geologist or petroleum geophysicist comes in and interprets it. I don't know who gets paid more but the seismologists I know make GOOD money... And I mean good. Just depends on which end you'd rather be on, though I'm sure there's overlap especially at smaller oil companies.
  13. Dec 8, 2015 #12
    There's a book called "What Color is Your Parachute."

    Read it. Finish your degree. Move on.
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