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Love physics but hate research?

  1. Aug 18, 2013 #1
    Hi all, I'm a confused sophomore physics major. I love studying physics, but after completing 2 REUs (one in experimental AMO, one in computational atmospheric) I've started to realize that research is not for me. Basically, I'm not a very hands-on person, I dislike coding and I don't have the diligence or perseverance to be a good researcher. Honestly I think I'm too lazy and easily discouraged to be successful in academia. Previously I always assumed I'd go for a PhD after finishing my bachelors but now I guess I'm looking for other options.

    My only real talent is my ability to absorb information and understand concepts intuitively without someone teaching it to me. I can attain a shallow to moderate understanding of diverse subjects in a short amount of time, and I enjoy doing so. I favor bare competence over mastery and broadness over depth. I'm also a good presenter and communicator. These traits have allowed me to succeed in undergrad and attain high grades, but they were not useful for research in physics.

    Given these strengths and weaknesses of my character, what are some good alternatives to getting a physics PhD? There's two more years before I graduate, so I can finish one or two minors in the meantime (say, geology, economics or statistics). I've looked at various masters programs in finance, education and science policy. I guess I can make a living on one of those degrees, although my passion is in studying science. I guess I'm looking for a career as a science communicator (i.e. journalist, show host, teacher, advocate) or someone who can function as a go-between for scientists, engineers and other departments in a large company. If a PhD allows me to do one of these things, I guess I can struggle through one. Are there better paths? Thanks if you have any anecdotal stories to share!
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2013
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  3. Aug 18, 2013 #2
    First, you haven't really tried theoretical things. Maybe you like that. But if you are easily discouraged, then that is not a good thing at all for doing research. I really know how you feel, since I'm the same way. I get discouraged very easily, and it is really a very bad thing if you're doing research. So if you ever decide going into research, then you should absolutely work on that (I don't know how though).

    Now, I think you should really reconsider being a physics major. If you end up with only a bachelors in physics, then that will be a very bad thing in terms of jobs. You might get a job after looking quite some time, but it will be far from your dream job. You could always get a terminal masters degree without research, but I don't know if that's much better for jobs. Typically, the competative job candidates with a physics degree have PhD's.

    Being a science communicator is great, but do you think there are many jobs like that out there? And do you think somebody without a PhD has a chance doing it? I doubt it.

    Your best bet now seems to me that you should take courses in things that will be applicable to a job later on. Things like statistics, programming, engineering, etc. And perhaps try to do some internships instead of REU's (if you're sure you're not going into research).

    Please try to be very realistic about your future. Try to do some research about possible jobs and how feasible they are. It's not too late yet, but you need to choose very wisely.
  4. Aug 19, 2013 #3


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    You can still pursue a BA/BS in physics and do something not requiring a PhD. If you present the right skill set, a physics degree could distinguish you among similarly skilled applicants.

    Possibly useful reading:

    "What Kinds of Jobs Do Physics Majors Do?"

    "Hidden Physicists"
    http://www.spsnational.org/cup/profiles/hidden.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Aug 19, 2013 #4
    True. But before going this route, please read the following thread entirely: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=657250 It will give you some perspective on possible jobs with a physics major.

    Also, how do you feel about teaching? If you're a good presenter and communicator, then this seems up your alley. You can either teach in high-school, but I believe you need to take some education classes then. Or if you get a masters, then you can teach in community college (although you should research how viable this option is in terms of job availability and pay).
  6. Aug 19, 2013 #5

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    In many (maybe most) cases, that right skill set involves programming. StElmosFire specifically said "I dislike coding."

    I agree with micromass. Now is a very good time for StElmosFire to reconsider his or her degree path. As a sophomore, very little catch up work is needed to switch to some field that is somehow related to physics. For example, lots of engineering disciplines require the introductory physics classes and math classes that StElmosFire has already taken.
  7. Aug 19, 2013 #6
    Hi all, thanks for the responses. I more or less agree with all the suggestions above, but I want to ask and respond to some specifics.

    I've thought of teaching high school many times, however this is not my first choice for two reasons. One, my mother used to be a high school teacher and she found it stressful and unrewarding. She insists that I do not become a high school teacher, and considering she's paying part of my tuition, I'd rather not openly defy her. Secondly, I prefer to teach more advanced concepts than F = ma. I'd prefer teaching at the college level, and I'm willing to slog through a PhD if this is what enables me to do so.

    I agree with what you've said, although engineering is a remote possibility for me because it is in another faculty with orthogonal course requirements and honestly I'm bad at building stuff. Switching to statistics, applied math, economics or geology seem like viable options to me and I'm seriously considering each of them.

    Instead of switching majors, what do you think of finishing the physics B. Sc and doing a professional masters? I'm not dead-set on doing the physics degree, but I think this may be the most pragmatic approach. I'm good academically at physics, and can guarantee a good GPA whereas things are less certain if I switch majors. Law schools don't seem to care about undergrad major, and a physics major seems to be acceptable for most statistics or finance master programs. If I'd like to retain the option of getting a professional or academic graduate degree down the road, wouldn't a low GPA close some doors?
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2013
  8. Aug 19, 2013 #7
    I would not consider going to law school without doing some serious research on how bad the current law graduate employment statistics are. Going $150-200k in debt only to be never gainfully employed does not sound wise to me. I'm not just randomly saying this; law education/employment is currently going through a real rough period and there's a lot of misinformation out there, mainly disseminated from the law schools. I'm not saying don't do it; I'm saying do some serious looking into it before you decide to.

    You might think of science journalism if the idea appeals to you. A physics degree most likely wouldn't hurt there. There are some good science journalism grad programs out there. If the idea appeals to you, look into them, start taking classes that will prepare you for it and looking for summer internships.

    As far as teaching in college, I see one of two paths for you. One requires a Ph.D.; teaching in a 4 year college. You will also most likely have to do research to get tenure at a school like that. The other path is at a community college, which I personally think could be a rewarding career. However, you most likely won't be teaching advanced topics. Having just a Masters could actually help your chances out at a community college, though it can still be a really long and grueling process to land a full time job. Like many years of adjunct teaching. Also, there's not a lot of tenured physics faculty at community colleges.

    Personally, if you hate research, I would NOT recommend you even think about getting a Ph.D. 5-10 years is a long time, particularly if you hate what you are doing. You might think you are willing to slog through a Ph.D. now, but when the rubber meets the road 3 years into it...
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