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Is Physics worth it?

  1. Aug 30, 2008 #1
    I'm a high school senior atm. I'm trying to get a good idea of what I want to major in because that will determine what schools I apply to and what school I go to.

    So, here's the deal. I'm nearly certain I want to be a professor. I liked AP physics a lot and I've always been very good at physics and math. I also like math-based finance; it seems reasonably interesting. I like physics a little more though, because I like to understand the physical world around me. I also like the potential you have to contribute to society with your research.

    My question is, would it be worth going physics? This question is a little deep because it really goes back to passion vs. security.

    I know the salary for physics would be significantly lower and it would be harder to get hired. How would the research compare for the two fields?

    I appreciate the help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2008 #2


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    I think this is a fairly common concern among students considering physics. The problem is that even though you've studied it in high school, you won't really get an idea of what the professional aspects of physics are all about until your second or third year of study. And somewhere along the way you'll find out if your passion is strong enough to outweigh any of the perceived downsides of the discipline. If it's not, which many people discover, you can always re-tool.

    I went the physics route personally and I've found it to be very rewarding.
  4. Aug 30, 2008 #3
    You only live once. I always tell people they should follow their dreams, and if their dreams aren't terribly secure then have a backup plan.
  5. Aug 31, 2008 #4
    Pfft, tell that to Jesus.

    Anyway, I'm a senior in University right now for physics and I really enjoy it. Of course, I don't plan on becoming a professor. There is a lot of competition for that.

    One thing I've noticed and been told is that you get professors mainly from 3 schools, MIT, Stanford, and Harvard. Not for undergraduate, but that's where they got their Ph.D.'s from. So what you have to do is make sure your grades are good in undergrad, and do a lot of research, then ace the GRE's.
  6. Aug 31, 2008 #5


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    I find that unlikely. A lot of my professors aren't from these three schools. In fact I should say I don't know of any professor (those who have taught my courses) from these three schools.
  7. Aug 31, 2008 #6
    Your research is not likely to affect 10 people. Most of society couldn't give a damn about physical theories, and only the most basic principles are applied to other scienes.

    You want to be a professor do you? Just know what you are getting into. I will begin by saying you have to be exceptionally bright. Sure, you may have enough brains to get by undergrad... but the grad school you go to pretty much determines where you will end up. This may not seem like a popular opinion, but from what I seen only the top of the class or those with connections get anywhere. Especially now with the abundance of PhD degrees, comptetition is very strong.

    If you're not near genius material, forget about academia. Do not regret it after many years. Motivation is NOT intelligence. Quite the opposite, in fact.
  8. Aug 31, 2008 #7


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    I should say that it is a common misconception that most people with PhDs would end up in academia. And those who do PhDs are often highly motivated and intelligent, so it's a mystery to me why they don't enter academia. Once you do your second year of studies in college, you may not even want to consider grad school. It depends on how motivated and interested you are.

    This is directed to the OP, by the way.
  9. Aug 31, 2008 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    That's nonsense. To pick an excellent school at random - University of Chicago. Here's the breakdown:

    MIT: 4
    Stanford: 2
    Harvard: 5
    Others: 44

    Others includes Berkeley (with 5), and places like Minnesota and South Carolina.
  10. Aug 31, 2008 #9


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    I was going to put a link to L.P. Hughston's (he wrote general relativity text, and works in mathematical finance) page, but he hasn't got a current page because he's moving from King's to Imperial at the moment:

    There are also physicists who do mathematical finance related work like Eugene Stanley and Melvin Lax (who's dead now).

    But you are still a high school senior, consider mechanical or electrical engineering or even biology. Try experiments too, after all they are the real guide to science. I bet if the string guys had even one experimental result to go on, they'd stop making claims more extravagant than those of biologists. But seriously:tongue2:, doing experiments will help you know if you can do theory. I once asked my physics prof Mehran Kardar how he decided between theory and experiment, and he said that if you asked his fellow condensed matter theory profs, you'd find most of them had big accidents in the lab. Actually, I was and still am pretty horrendous in the lab, but I ended up being an experimentalist (in biology), because I'm too stupid to be a theorist! And even as a biologist, I still end up having to read physicky stuff because people try to use differential geometry to describe the input-output relations of neurons (I gather it's used in robotics and computational vision too).
  11. Aug 31, 2008 #10

    George Jones

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    I have met a number of people with PhDs who, during the course of therir studies, decided that academe wasn't for them, so, upon completion of their PhDs, they didn't even try to get jobs there. Also, the number of people with PhDs usually exceeds (as it should) the number of academic positions.
  12. Aug 31, 2008 #11
    http://wuphys.wustl.edu/~katz/scientist.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  13. Sep 1, 2008 #12
    That makes things sound worse than I ever thought previously.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  14. Sep 1, 2008 #13
    I really hope that guy is full of crap...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  15. Sep 1, 2008 #14
    Follow your dreams I say. If your deicated enough something will work out in the end.
    I know a few people who have done physics and alot of them end up in finance, its rare to see physics graduates work in physics related areas.
  16. Sep 1, 2008 #15


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  17. Sep 1, 2008 #16


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    These two sentences contradict each other, unless you're saying that most physics majors suddenly realise that their calling is in fianances rather than the sciences.
  18. Sep 1, 2008 #17
    My experience is that things are worse now than when he wrote that article. Postdoc times are longer, academic positions are harder to get, etc. . .
  19. Sep 1, 2008 #18


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    This focus sounds highly suspect to me.

    I suspect that most professors aren't driven by a desire "to be a professors", I figure many simply have a scientific passion for their subject and want so solve problems and learn more about nature and their profession is just a tool serving the purpose.

    Anyway, you certainly don't need to work as a professor to do that. I recall some physics professors who complained to the students that he had to do alot of administration work, like manage the department, raise money etc. So clearly there is more than physics alone to that task.

    I would be equally hesitant about selecting a world leader who biggest dream is, not to change the world to a better place, but to get the satisfaction or ruling the world. Someone saying - please elect me, I would love to rule - sounds kind of wrong ;)

    I think taking one step at a time is the best, no need to make final decisions about the far future based on information you don't have. Anyway, if you are bright and get yourself an education I don't see how you should go wrong. Learning logical thinking would I think make it a breeze to change direction any time later in life.

  20. Sep 1, 2008 #19
    The statistics here don't really support that:

  21. Sep 1, 2008 #20
    I like the lifestyle. I also like teaching and leaving an impact on people, if possible (though this is idealized).
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