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Is a physics minor of any use?

  1. May 18, 2008 #1
    Hello, I'm a high school junior and as such, it's around that time where I need to start seriously considering colleges (UC Berkeley and UCLA are my top choices) and all that wonderful jazz as I move towards "real life." Anyways, I love physics since I took the course this year and have a real passion for it and would love to go to college for it. The problem is my math isn't really that strong (I'm in algebra 2 whereas many of my peers are in Pre-Calculus) and that I'd have more of a chance getting into college based on my english work as well, as I've had several pieces published in various magazines plus contests and whatnot.

    The question is, if I wanted to minor in Physics would it be of any use beyond simply knowledge and engaging my brain or could I use it as a stepping stone to perhaps be a physics author or journalist or such?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2008 #2
    Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus...whee? I'm not even sure I know what the difference is. If you're interested in pursuing it, don't let this stop you. A solid grounding in fundamental algebra and some basic knowledge of trigonometry are most of what you need for first-year physics, and first year calculus is usually taken concurrently. You might need to take a trig class or something like that if you don't get the experience to place out of it while in high school, but the time involved in making up the difference isn't huge if you take it seriously and apply yourself to studying it.

    If you're interested in science journalism, I can't see it hurting to know more about your chosen subject. A physics minor generally includes a low-level exposure to topics like thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, relativity, or experimental and mathematical methods beyond the usual freshman sequence. I don't know what it will do for your career prospects, but it's fun, interesting, and good experience in approaching analytical problems. If you end up majoring in physics...strong writing skills are important here too.
  4. May 18, 2008 #3
    I think it is a good idea, your physics minor will really help you stand out when applying for jobs in scientific journalism.

    Something you might not like to hear, however, is that a physics minor will expose you to quite a bit of the same math as you would see in a full-length physics major. The important feature of a minor for you is that it takes fewer years of classes, and so you can spend a full year catching up on math (calculus) before starting the physics courses.

    Lastly, I want to say that your situation was very similar to my own, when I realized the summer before my senior year that I wanted to study physics. I was in alg2 instead of precalculus as a junior, but I found out that calculus was quite important to physics. Until this point I had low B and C grades in math, including in alg2. What I did was go to the school library during the summer and self-study the precalculus (mostly trigonometry) and then convinced the calculus teacher in the fall to let me in her class. The reason I recommend doing this is:

    1) Credit on the AP Calculus exam makes college easier!

    2) You never know, you might want to finish the entire physics major (dual major with journalism/etc). I did this with philosophy and physics.

    3) You can write on your college application that you did self-study to get in to Calculus!

    The path I recommend is not easy but your high level of excitement for the subject of physics should be enough to carry you through the difficulties with the math. I don't know about you, but I cared little math all the way through alg2, and it was only when I took calculus that I saw I really liked math as well.
  5. May 19, 2008 #4
    Maybe I'm just pessimistic, but I don't think any minor is actually worth anything in the workplace. Do it if you are interested in the subject... it's certainly worth doing it for that reason.
  6. May 19, 2008 #5


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    That is not always true. The worth of a minor depends on the talents and skills of the person with this minor and the various companies or organizations which may hire the person. I do not say this specifically about physics; but a minor in Math can make a person an excellent teacher candidate; a minor in Chemistry can be enough for someone to become a scientist in industry, or a chemist, or technical coordinator. Such things DO HAPPEN.

    Certainly, very often true. Better to learn something you find interesting than to not learn about it.
  7. May 19, 2008 #6
    I'm taking the AP Physics course my school offers next year which will delve into some college-level ideas and maybe that'll give me a taste of what I can expect. Most likely I'll take the minor because I feel I'm most talented in english. Alan Lightman has really inspired me in how he is able to blend physics and literature so adroitly so perhaps I could branch off of something like that.
  8. May 19, 2008 #7
    You *personally* know people who got a job specifically because of their minor? I'm asking sincerely... because I honestly don't believe that it happens.

    I'm a firm believe that studying is good and more studying is better... but it always seemed to me that a minor is an opportunity to focus on something you aren't necessarily interested in as a career, but nevertheless have an intense curiosity about. I minored in economics, although I have no interest in business whatsoever. I don't regret it at all... I learned a lot, but the value to my career has been exactly zero.
  9. May 19, 2008 #8
    Let me clarify my position a bit... taking *courses* is always valuable.

    Calling a particular set of courses a *degree* has economic value.

    Calling a particular set of courses a *minor* gives no additional value beyond the inherent value of the courses.
  10. May 19, 2008 #9
  11. May 19, 2008 #10
    Heh. Well, I could probably use another English course or three... :smile:
  12. May 19, 2008 #11
    I'm with TMFKAN64. Minors are nearly (or maybe completely) worthless. Undergraduate classes in physics that don't result in a physics major are also nearly worthless.

    The primary reason to get a minor is people might wonder why you didn't. But then, they might not.
  13. May 20, 2008 #12
    Why do you say so? You can only major in one subject (leaving two majors and double majors aside). Whats wrong with undergraduate classes in physics that don't result in a physics major? Whatever happened to interest and initiative?
  14. May 20, 2008 #13


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    You have no reason to be upset about what maverick28... said. Smart employers would look at your transcripts. Either the physics courses were useful or they were not useful for you. If they were mostly useful, you can discuss this favorably. If they were mostly not useful, then both you and the employer should wonder why you took so many of them.
  15. May 20, 2008 #14
    symbolipoint, I think you misunderstood my statement. I was trying to ask Locrian why he said that a minor or undergraduate physics courses which don't lead to a physics major are useless. I don't agree with the assertion that they are useless, but perhaps Locrian had a point in saying what he did. I was just trying to ask him why he said so. (Perhaps you didn't notice that I had quoted him?)

    This is what Locrian said, which was quoted by me:

    So, nobody has any reason to be upset by what maverick280857 (that would be me) said! :smile: I don't have the privilege of a minor or a double major. If I did, I most certainly would have double majored or minored in Physics. I don't see how an employer will be biased against you if you have a minor/double major. At least not here. I would recommend anyone who is interested in two subjects to go for it if he/she can manage it. For most of us, an undergraduate degree is the only time we can explore our interests...so if you want to do something beyond your standard curriculum and it doesn't hurt, whats the harm in doing it?
    Last edited: May 20, 2008
  16. May 20, 2008 #15
    I don't think anybody would say that a minor is ever *harmful*... and I'd certainly encourage people to study more physics if that interests them. Studying physics certainly sharpens the mind, even if it doesn't particularly help with sentence structure. :smile:

    I just don't think that potential employers are particularly impressed with them. Especially since after gaining a bit of actual experience, no one really cares about what you did as an undergraduate beyond acquiring a degree anyway.
  17. May 20, 2008 #16
    That is certainly logical. A minor would probably help, perhaps, if you want to go to grad school to specialize in the subject you minored in.
  18. May 20, 2008 #17
    The way I see it, it doesn't harm a bit to have any extra experience in anything. It's better than nothing.

    Is it of any use? It adds that extra experience that some other person that is trying to get hired probably doesn't have.

    The way I see it is like getting into school. Extra-curricular things might not add any academic significance to the person applying, but it sure does help in differentiating one applicant from another.
  19. May 20, 2008 #18
    If it's free? Not much. Somehow the bar has been moved from "is it useful" to "is it harmful". If it's free, it's not harmful. If it's not free, it could be harmful because it has little to no benefit and college can come with a heavy price tag these days.

    There are exceptions, of course, but I don't see one here.
  20. May 20, 2008 #19
    Alright, thanks guys. I think I'm going to go for the minor at first but then we'll see which of my two passions overtakes the other. Figured it's the most logical option.
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