Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Jack of all trades advice

  1. Jan 19, 2012 #1
    First of all lets talk about what a Jack of all trades is... In my view it is a "person that is competent with many skills but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one."(that dosen't mean it can't be outstanding in one or more skills)

    Well I love information, I love physics, engineering, computer science, biology, programming, writing, painting, thinking solutions to problems... from all of these the first five-six are the hardest...

    So I was thinking to go and take BSc.Eng Engineering Physics just because, It would be easyer to follow a path, scientist in physics or an engineer in physics or EE, or a software developer, and I would take writing, painting make them an hobbie, make a blog post them there... I hate specialization, to be bound to one thing, in this world you have to have multiple skills, I allready have a Electrotehnical Tehnician diploma, and a waiter :P, need more to put on that list.

    Do you think Engineering Physics is a good choice for my aspirations... I want to have alot of options, don't want to be good at all, just competent, if I go into research physics, to have knowledge about electrical engineering or programming.... that's an example

    Masters options just from physics at the same colledge(these are translated):
    Atomic, nuclear and elementary particles interactions, Astrophysics and applications;
    Atmospheric and earth physics. Environment protection;
    Renewable and alternative energy sources;

    first 2 years and 1/2 from third year are the same for all physics, biophysics, engineering Physics.... in 5 years teoretical I can have all three I can do the 4 year engineering and do two majors biophysics and physics and just do the last half a year in the 5th year, then I would have the option to go in to biotechnology to... well thats just the ideal, if it all works well I might just do a simple physics degree :D

    Last edited: Jan 19, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Hey cristycs and welcome to the forums.

    With regard to the following quote:

    The thing is, most people are hired because of having a specific skillset and on top of that being particularly good in a few things.

    It doesn't hurt to be competent in many things: in fact willingness to learn things outside your specialty is a good character trait. The fact remains though that people are hired for having particular specialty skills in some form.

    The reason for doing this is that you hire dozens and dozens of people with really specialized skillsets that when combined together, manage to get quite a lot done.

    It's like for example how many businesses work. A cake shop will make absolutely great cakes and the like but won't make anything close to the specialty baker that bakes delicious bread.

    Having said this, I think there is a way to become a jack of many trades and to some degree master of many.

    The way to do this is instead of trying to do many things at once, focus on one or two things for a large block of time before moving to the next thing.

    This is done by many people who change careers. For example you could get a PhD in one area and after that work in a completely different area that utilizes your skills in some way.

    If you stick at something for a decent amount of time you will become more competent than if you tried to do everything at once, and you will achieve your goal of eventually become a jack of all trades and more than half-decent at all of them.
  4. Jan 20, 2012 #3
    thx good reply I appreciate it.

    "If you stick at something for a decent amount of time you will become more competent than if you tried to do everything at once" I agree that's why my main focus is Engineering Physics, programming I would do at school maybe assembler and C, after learning one language is easy to get in programming with other languages. Isn't every degree a sum o different skills? for example physics: now your doing Optics then you are doing Plasma, and then atomic, nuclear interactions.. these are different skills, they might complement eachother tho.
  5. Jan 20, 2012 #4
    The full cliche is "Jack of all trades, master of none".

    Anyone hiring anyone will look for the most masterful person in that area, so aiming to be a 'jack off all trades' is headed to being a waiter for life - if you master that you may become a waiter at a top restaurant, but continue with your 'jack off all trades' approach and MacDonald's is more likely.

    In a physics course you start out doing things that are of general use in most physics research - calculus, mechanics, EM... This is like learning to read - you need to learn to read so you can do anything more specialised. But eventually you will focus on one narrow speciality - maybe 'accelerator physics'.

    It would be stupid to, say, devote equal time to 'accelerator physics', programming computer games, ethnological field studies, writing short stories, painting water colours... because you will never have time to become a master in accelerator physics so you'll be stuck as a waiter.

    That said certain specialities will require knowledge from various parts of engineering and physics - given your interests in both these areas, especially electrical engineering, maybe 'accelerator physics' would be a good fit. The best thing is, if you look at Zapperz's thread on this topic there actually appear to be good jobs available in this area! So devote yourself to it, or a similar 'in demand' branch of physics, and perhaps you can say goodbye to waitering...

    Once you get a tenured post in accelerator physics you can spend a bit of time painting at weekends...

    Or you could just be a part-time waiter for life, live like a bohemian, and do a small amount in each area you are interested in as hobbies... but don't expect any recognition or mastery to accrue - look at the great physicists, they were only great at physics...
  6. Jan 20, 2012 #5
    On the other hand you win if you happen to have two very weird skill sets that make you the "goto guy" for a new field. For example, if you can program computers, speak Armenian, and know something about hotels, then you end up top on the list when some software company wants to write software for Armenian hotels.

    That sort of worked out for me. There aren't that many jobs in accelerator physics, and being able to program computer games, learning ethnographic field studies, and writing short stories happen to all be useful for my current job.

    (Hint: Think of a corporate memo as a weird sort of short story).

    Also most waiters make more money than post-docs in accelerator physics.

    That's not true. One reason I didn't focus at only physics is that all of my undergraduate teachers at MIT had some outside interest. Pretty much all of them had some startup company that they were working on. One was designing fishing detectors, another had a side business selling home radon kits. My dissertation adviser happens to be a published science fiction author. Also, every senior physicist that I've met has also been a master politician.
  7. Jan 20, 2012 #6
    thx for the reply mal4mac.

    My aspiration in life is not money but knowledge.
    A B.Sc.Eng in Engineering Physics and a MSc in Atmospheric and earth physics; Atomic, nuclear and elementary particles interactions, Astrophysics and applications; Renewable and alternative energy sources;

    I will have a "good starting point" of knowledge to work eighter in reaserch, teaching physics or engineering, working in engineering. Programming is second on my list, painting or writing I can go without or have them as hobbies. Money can be made from different ways not just from a job, ow and a job is not a job if you enjoy it.
  8. Jan 20, 2012 #7
    You can create a new skill and be outstanding at that. It's called the chess-boxing strategy. You can study poker and rock climbing and be the world master of rock climbing power.

    I hate specialization too. However one thing that I've found useful is to focus on one problem, and you'll find that the important problems in the world involve "general skills." For example, if you are a world champion C++ programmer, you aren't going to get very far if you aren't decent at corporate politics.

    Once you realize that most learning takes place outside of school, then it matters less what major you have. You can major in physics and take engineering courses, or major in engineering and take physics courses.

    Curiously this isn't true for me. Lu Xun once asked the question that if you were in a burning building would you want to wake people up and have them burn to death horribly, or would you rather let them die in their sleep.

    Another question is would you want to be woken up, if all you find out is that you are doomed? Personally, I would, but that's just me.
  9. Jan 20, 2012 #8
    My view of the world changed when I realized that I needed money to get knowledge. At that point it made sense to get knowledge about money. Also, if your goal is to "improve the world" you are going to have to get a lot of business knowledge.

    Personally, one of the things that annoys me is a great idea that just sits in the lab and goes nowhere, and one thing that I was taught is to get a great idea out there, you have to *sell* and that gets you into the world of business which is cool since you learn about human psychology and sociology.

    You'll find it harder to get money than it seems, but I'll let you discover that.

    Also, a job is a job even if you enjoy it.
  10. Jan 20, 2012 #9
    "Another question is would you want to be woken up, if all you find out is that you are doomed? Personally, I would, but that's just me." I would like to be woken up as well.
  11. Jan 20, 2012 #10
    "You'll find it harder to get money than it seems, but I'll let you discover that.
    Also, a job is a job even if you enjoy it."

    Well it is hard to get money eighter way.
    job = "A job is a regular activity performed in exchange for payment." well if you do the job and enjoy it and you don't really care about the payment that much is that job for you still a job ?
  12. Jan 20, 2012 #11
    It's like cooking. Cooking is a job, but if you enjoy it and work hard you can make it a career, same as painting, writing... Physics (Michio Kaku), engineering...

    I believe that almost any job can become a career if you enjoy it and work hard at it.
  13. Jan 20, 2012 #12
    That's in fact not true. Usually employers are looking for a mix of skills, and those skills usually include personality and communications. One thing that helped me a lot with interviews and sales positions was read books on acting, and treat the interview as an "acting job."

    And then you get your Ph.D. and find that focusing on one super-speciality is going to kill you in the industrial job market.

    And there are many, many more jobs for waiters than there are for accelerator physicists. If you get a Ph.D. in accelerator physics then you end up finding yourself hosed when you find that there aren't any jobs in accelerator physics and you have no skills that will get you at something else.

    ParticleGrrl around?

    There are no "in demand" branches of physics, and if you overspecialize, then this can be very, very bad.

    Bad idea. Painting can keep you sane once you are denied tenure. Also tenured faculty are also quite busy, and if you spend 35 years of your life thinking that painting is a waste of time, then you aren't going to change you mind once you have time to do it.

    Recognition from whom? Mastery of what? Also, we can go through the list of great physicists, and every one of them that I can think of had some outside interest. Newton revolutionized the English Mint. Feyman had a ton of interesting interests.
  14. Jan 20, 2012 #13
    Turning something into a career is one of the surest ways of killing any enjoyment of it (and that applies to physics). You can do something for love. You can do something for money. Bad things happen if you mix the two.

    Also, my cynical view is that the idea that "jobs should be fun!!!!" is this clever plot to convince people that they should be paid less. One thing that has also gotten me hired is that I'm willing to do a lot of stuff that I don't consider particularly fun.
  15. Jan 20, 2012 #14
    If you are willing to do something and you really don't care about getting paid, then the person that is paying you will stop. Employers will not pay you to do something, if you find it so fun that you are willing to do it for free or cheap.

    That's why post-docs and graduate students make so little money. Since science is fun and addictive, people aren't willing to hand out the cash.
  16. Jan 20, 2012 #15
    "If you are willing to do something and you really don't care about getting paid, then the person that is paying you will stop. Employers will not pay you to do something, if you find it so fun that you are willing to do it for free or cheap."

    I would do a thing for fun in one of three cases: when I gain knowledge, when I create stuff or when I explore(pretty close to gaining knowledge lol) or maybe when I help people in need(I am willing only if the "boss" dosen't make money of people in need), if I can assure my survival thats pay my bills(rent, electr.... internet) and money for food and clothes, from some other source, then I will work for free if the job fuels my aspirations.(I will go and work right now if I can help at developing a alternative energy source for example, or research in astrophysics, meteorology or seismology, or biology life sea, human, human behavior...) I would gladly do it free.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2012
  17. Jan 20, 2012 #16
    Bachelor Electrical Engineering & Computer Science is a good option to. But in this country except the fact that is the 1960's education at work and I make about 240$ per month for full job 180 hours and good salary starts from 475$, we don't have majors-minors or double majors or 1 year placement... Closest thing I have to that is Computer and Information Technology... Damm I hate this country, the government doesn't care, the police doesn't care, the doctors doesn't care, people don't care, poor education, slave salaries, high prices for gas, electronics... in about 18 years I can get my own house, if I don't spend anything... =))) I would like to move to UK, France or Germany If I have the opportunity for study's and work, and make that country my "adopting country". Hmmm
  18. Jan 20, 2012 #17
    after a Engineering physics B.Sc.Eng can I do a M.Eng Electrical Engineering ? and if I can is it wise ? or what other interdisciplinary masters can I do ?
  19. Jan 21, 2012 #18
    What kinds of things?

    Well I guess you could still do a job for fun and enjoy it, you just have to hide that fact from your boss and anyone willing to hire you!

    A job that isn't considered "fun", doesn't really have to be "not fun" for everyone. Those who hire might consider a programming job "boring" and pay a higher salary to compensate, but you don't have to consider it boring also.

    So I don't understand how having fun out of a job could hurt.
  20. Jan 21, 2012 #19
    It's not so clear that doing one thing isn't relevant to another thing. There seem to be many inexplicable benefits to learning things like music, chess, or languages. People who studied a language did better on math tests according to one study.

    Here's just one link for languages:

  21. Jan 23, 2012 #20
    "after a Engineering physics B.Sc.Eng can I do a M.Eng Electrical Engineering ? and if I can is it wise ? or what other interdisciplinary masters can I do ?"
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook