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Physics Junior in High School seeking guidance for future career in Physics

  1. Nov 7, 2009 #1
    Hi, I am new to this forum, but I have read plenty of posts and have found it very useful so I decided to go ahead and post my question. I am a 17 year old junior in high school right now and I have recently become very passionate about Physics. I decided that I want to seek a career in Theoretical Physics. Not so much teaching, but more research than anything else. The first thing I needed some advice on was preparing for college. Right now my GPA is a 2.8 sadly (result of slacking off my first two years of high school), but I am in the process of pulling that up as much as I can. I have yet take the ACT or SAT, but plan on making a fairly high score on both of them. So what should I be doing for the next two years of high school other than the obvious (making good grades)? Should I be studying math topics at home since it is the basis of most scientific career paths? If so where is a good starting point? The highest math class I have taken is Algebra 2 and Geometry, but my senior year I was planning on taking Trigonometry and Calculus. Also what are my options for college? Of course I would love to get into MIT or something similar, but that is something I don't think will come true. Is it alright if I don't go to a major, well known university? Will that severely affect my career as a physicist? Or is a state university fine? I see myself as a fairly intelligent individual, but I just sometimes can't find the motivation to give something 100%. It's like lazy is hardwired into my mind :(. To give you a better idea of what I want to do, I have always had the dream of working in lab or doing research helping to improve and develop new technology. Sorry for having such a long post, but I had a lot of questions. Thank you in advance for the responses.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2009 #2
    You're high school average isn't all that important as long as it's decent (70 or higher). I too slacked off in high school but managed to turn it around in my final year. Obviously the higher the better, but you can still get into a good school with lower grades. Getting in to a 'top school' is not that important either. As long as the school has the courses you want to study, you should be fine. MIT, Caltech, etc are top of the line schools but if you can get a good education from just about any university as long as you are dedicated and hard working.

    If you want to study physics then make sure you are taking the appropriate (and obvious) courses such as Calculus, Algebra, and Physics. Chemistry is also a good course to take.
    For your question about studying math in your spare time, I would not sweat it too much.

    You are still very young and should focus on your schooling and work/volunteering if you choose to do that. There are some interesting books that you might want to read which should be accessible at your level, even without the calculus:

    Feynman's https://www.amazon.com/Six-Easy-Pie...sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1257619160&sr=8-1" are both easy reads. I've also enjoyed reading about the history of science/scientists when I was in high school and it gave me a great deal to talk about with some professors.
    Hope that helps.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Nov 7, 2009 #3
    Thank you for the post. I will look into the books you suggested.
  5. Nov 8, 2009 #4
    Standard advice here. There are a lot of jobs in physics, but don't expect to become a professor.

    Study math. Calculus is essential for physics, and it's better if you do it in high school.

    It might but not in the way that you think.....

    The thing about MIT is that it is tough to get in, but once you are in, the faculty do make a very strong effort to make sure you learn the material, so there are no "weed out" classes. Everyone a t MIT takes intro physics, the physics department makes sure that they have their best teachers teaching intro physics, and pass rates are something like 90%. One other thing that is crucial at MIT, is that all problem sets and tests are hand graded, and MIT simply does not use multiple choice tests in any of its classes. It's not easy to hand grade every test and problem set in a class of 800 people, but they do it because it's important.

    The problem with state schools is that a lot of them use intro physics as a "weed out" class. They have pretty open admissions, but because there aren't enough faculty to teach upper division classes, they try to fail out as many people in intro physics as possible, and what I saw when tutoring at a state school, was that people that would have had no trouble at MIT get hit by problems and tests which I thought were unreasonable and drop out of physics.

    So the most important thing in looking for a college is to find somewhere that you won't end up hating physics after freshman year. Taking a trip and talking to people studying physics at the university you are interested in is important.

    If you fall in love with what you do, it's not hard to find motivation. One problem that MIT has is that the hard part is not to get physics majors there to study physics, it's to get physics majors to *STOP* studying physics.
  6. Jun 3, 2010 #5
    Well I really would love to help, but I'm not professional like these guys, and I'm only 14. But here's something to think about: Almost every person I have met(except for my father) were really bad when they were young. But these people still became scientist, engineers, doctors, teachers, etc. So this is what I have learned in the past year.

    No matter how bad the beginning is (in this case its high school) , you can still hold on, and jump back on the train track to success. The only thing that is in your way is yourself. Keep remembering this as you go. Your the only one who has power to stop the train and give up. Understanding this will make you less lazy. Works for me.
  7. Jun 7, 2010 #6
    About those books you mentioned. Are they work books or purely text?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Jun 7, 2010 #7
    Six Easy Pieces is a small collection of simple topics from Richard Feynman's lectures on Physics. Lillian Lieber's book on Relativity is a layman's synopsis on Relativity (complete with pictures from her husband!). Both are fun books to read but do not substitute as textbooks for the subjects. I suggested them because they give you an idea of what you will study in physics and can be read leisurely.

    If you want text books on the subjects, just look up any college course and see what they are using (or ask in the https://www.physicsforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=21").
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  9. Jun 7, 2010 #8
    Oh good thank you I'll check them out they sound perfect
  10. Jun 7, 2010 #9
    Great, glad I could help!
  11. Jun 8, 2010 #10
    I would go on to say that anything written by Feynman is a great read, though some are biographies he's so enthusiastic that it's just damn infectious. Personally, I love the guy and his work, and his passion is simply unmatched from what I've seen.
  12. Jun 14, 2010 #11
    I just want to second the recommendation of Six Easy Pieces. I'm about to be a college freshman, and have taken some physics, but I think the book would be easy to understand (maybe even intended for) people who haven't. It's a great mix of easy-to-read and informative, and yes Feynman's enthusiasm really shines through.
  13. Jun 15, 2010 #12
    Many schools aren't too picky. For most engineering or science based degrees, it doesn't matter if you graduate from MIT, just that you go to a school that is at least reputable in your field of interest. For engineering or physics, most colleges will only really look at your math SAT section, so my advice would be to buy an SAT help book and learn to do those types of problems quickly.

    As far as your college career goes, i would suggest buying your textbooks ahead of time. DONT buy them from the university, most universities rip off freshmen like that. buy on amazon or something, and make sure the ISBN matches the one your university tells you. it wouldn't hurt to read the introductory sections for some of your sections to get yourself a leg up on the other students. If you enjoy physics, look into engineering aswell, and possibly look into doing research through the college over the summers instead of just looking for internships.

    good luck
  14. Jun 17, 2010 #13
    I would also recommend Physics of the Impossible. You will learn a lot about new technology, superconductors and such. Great Read.
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