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Physics Military Physics? Any Advice?

  1. Apr 4, 2009 #1
    I am 16 years old and officially decided that I LOVE physics as a Junior in High School. My high school physics teacher has done the greatest job in teaching me how physics is everything, and truly how interesting it is in upper level physics, since he does hold a ph.D. in Carbon Nanotube Technology. Now as for going for a physics major, I would primarily like to join the military, not just to pay for college but also because I would like to serve and build character through the military as my family have done before me. My brother and father have both been through the military as pilots and I would like to join either the Marine Corps or the Air force as a physicist. I am looking for any knowledge on how to go about doing this. My general plan is to attend TAMU (Texas A&M university) as it holds the Corps of Cadets, it will pay for my bachelor of Science degree in General Physics along with provide the opportunity for my Master's degree in a field that I will soon decide (would also like general advice and experiences in the most enjoyable and interesting fields for my masters). I would also like to know if the military provides for the opportunity to obtain my Ph.D. In physics as well. As far as I know, the Air force does offer physics careers but I am curious about the Marines and would like to know any possible knowledge for such a career as a Marine. If anybody has any advice or experience in this plan, please share if you can and I will be grateful no matter the advice. Even if it is telling me how fun physics is, i would love to know and hopefully it will provide for my future plans. Thx in advance.

    Bryan Rainwater
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2009 #2
    What about Navy? The Navy Nuke program would seem to fit your desires extremely well.
  4. Apr 5, 2009 #3
    I got my BS Physics a few years ago, then joined the Marines as an officer. I will say this to you, if you plan on "doing" physics as active duty military, then the Marines is not the branch for you. I am in communications (data networking specifically), and this is about as close as you get to physics in the Marines; I rarely use my college education in my daily work life. Most of my work is administrative/personnel issues. Even when I get into the technical stuff, it's computers, not physics.

    If you want to be active duty and do physics, I'd suggest going Navy or Air Force, as they have officers who do engineering. If college money is an issue, do ROTC or go to the service academy to pay for your undergrad. Then after an active-duty tour, you can try to get into the Naval Postgraduate School (or the Air Force equivalent) and get your MS/PhD while getting your full salary.

    But yeah, if you're looking to use your physics degree, the Marines ain't the branch to do it in.
  5. Apr 5, 2009 #4


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    Just a free thought on the connection between war/conflicts and fundamental physics from a philosophical perspective.

    I think the traditional connection is by means of technology applications to weapon systems, navigation systems, information systems and so on.

    But there seems a possible conncetion also between strategy in war and certain game theoretic angles to fundamental physics, where I would assume the more important part of defense, is attempting to understand and predict your environment(where the possible enemies are) information, and it's actions depending on that, and how this understanding can be exploited for a better overall development. I think and hope that this kind of strategy modelling will be the future of global defence, that would be better suited to handle stuff like terrorrism, where conventional "military strategy" really doesn't work that well, because your enemy is not localised, you would have to wipe out your entire environment to cure the disease. Which of course, isn't very wise.

    I would assume that such research exists somewhere, and that really have some common denominators to some of the fundational problem is physics, such as universality, objectivity, the notion of universal law. Because that ina fundamental sense connects to what is right and what is wrong. It's think it's a potential danger to have an opinion that there is some universal truth, and that a essential step towards a better world is to increase the awareness and understanding of this. Which would incorporate educating the population of earth, in particular the potential enemy. So communication with the enemy must be acknowledged.

    I think the spiral that, everybody increases the armour needs to be damped. How do we accomplish that?

    The focus on weapon technology is somehow possibly couterproductive there, because it's clear how any even _potential_ (but not yet) enemy in your environment will respond to that, and further how you will respond to that respons.

    Ok, not much direct advice here, but it was a reflection that popped up.

  6. Apr 5, 2009 #5


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    I would echo the statement that both the Air Force and the Navy have a more established physics graduate degree programs than the other branches of the US military. The Navy Postgraduate School, for example, has a considerable research program in physics.

    If you have some inclination in accelerator physics, you might be interested in the recently-released report by the National Academy of Sciences that was commissioned by the Navy. It deals with a scientific assessment of the use of high-powered FEL technology that the Navy is seriously looking into.


  7. Apr 5, 2009 #6


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    I agree with Zapper that one might have better opportunities with Air Force or Navy, but Army does have a research facility. Check out the various research labs, talk to professors at university and perhaps members of the Corp.

    www.nrl.navy.mil/ [Broken]



    Each service has research in materials, energy, transportation, communications and analyses, so there are lots of opportunities.

    Gig 'em :wink:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  8. Apr 5, 2009 #7
    Thanks much for all of your advice, and generally I think I am going to opt for the Air force as I generally do see it that enjoyable to go from naval base to naval base, if of course that would happen. I do not know much about the military but I do know that I enjoy the technology involved with aircraft and generally the physics and impossibility that such an object as a helicopter can fly, absolutely Amazing. But I think basically I am going to stick with the air force, and see where that can take me. As for some of the responses, thank you Fredrik, really quite woke up my mind. If I read correctly you are sort of representing something in the form of Wargames, just slightly different. Such a technology would be a great strategy and could possibly work but such a infrastructure would take intense technology if we do not already have such a form of it. As for Kmwest, Zapper and Astronuc, thank you for your advice and as far as I can tell, the Navy would be better for the physics portion of it, although I still think I would prefer the air force. As for another question, other than that of the advice given to me by kmwest, could anybody tell me of their past experiences with the military and if you have none, I would quite enjoy reading about some of the experience that some of you have had with Physics. Such examples would be quantum tunneling, Carbon nanotube technology such as Paper Batteries, which are really quite interesting if any of you have heard of them, or something like quantum optics just so I can know something further about what some of you would choose as the most interesting topic for me to either research on my own or strive for a graduates degree in. Thanx in advance!!!

    Bryan Rainwater
  9. Apr 5, 2009 #8
    Another option you have is to remain a civilian and work for a research contractor that works with the Department of Defense. I work for a company that does just that, and it's really neat stuff.
  10. Apr 5, 2009 #9
    That does sound like an enjoyable career, my father worked with Bell Helicopters for a short time which built and designed aircraft for the U.S. Army. I was possibly considering doing that once coming out of the military. Although I still have about 2 years to fully decide to go into the military, i would like to so i can receive benefits for myself and my family in the future, for which the military does very well so to provide. I do not know the benefits for the military contractors, I believe these types of companies are called. What company do you work for if you don't mind me asking? Also, what types of things do you do, and do you enjoy it?
  11. Apr 5, 2009 #10
    It's not a very good idea to mention who I work for on the internet. I'm also just a co-op student, so I don't know what the benefits are for the actual employees. It probably varies from company to company, anyways. However, you should consider that most of the population gets by just fine without the very nice military benefits. Most of the (public) work done in my lab is with lasers, LIDAR, night vision, nanotechnology, etc. I really like my job - it's definitely way cooler than what most 19 year olds get to do. I should also mention that I'm a physics major - so, jobs like this do exist for physics people.
  12. Apr 5, 2009 #11
    That does sound like an extraordinary job. As far as people have told me before, lasers are the most interesting and enjoyable things to work with. As for the company, my bad, I apologize, i forgot to take that into account. And as for the Co-op work, is that readily possible to a lot of students in college, since that is something I would absolutely love to do in the near future. Of course I still have another year and a half before I actually get to college, so many decisions are yet to be finalized. As for college, are you enjoying the physics major, I am pretty sure it is fairly intensive but is it enjoyable and very worth it in your honest opinion?
  13. Apr 6, 2009 #12

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    There is one thing that seems to be missing from your analysis - if you are in uniform, the needs of the service come first. While education is important to the service, and that's why AFIT and their ilk exist, the goal of the service is to accomplish their mission. If it's more important to the service to send you somewhere to do something else, rather than to let you finish your PhD, that's what will happen. If it's more important than to have you work in a lab, that's what will happen. Etcetera.

    You should expect to be moved around from base to base, no matter which branch of service you choose. You might get lucky, but you shouldn't count on it.
  14. Apr 6, 2009 #13
    As I would expect from any branch of the military. I don't mind traveling, just for some reason I have not been to fond of water, I guess that would sum up my dilemna. As for serving first, that is what I have wanted to do for a long time. Primarily, helicopters and the idea of defying everything that makes sense to have a helicopter hover attuned me to want to be able to fly them for the military. That is what generally zoned me for the military and air force in the first place. I still would like to be around and work on technology for them and am ready for anything, as long as I am able to work with physics. That is what I think I have truly found an interest in. Thank you for your input though. I think I am leaving a bit of stuff out of my analysis, but as for this forum, this is greatly helping me to add stuff to my analysis.

    Bryan Rainwater
  15. Apr 6, 2009 #14
    Some schools have more co-op students than others. If you want to co-op in college, your best bet will be to look for a school that has a strong co-op program. Co-oping is very common at my school, so finding this job was very easy (it was the only one I applied to). I really enjoy being a physics major. I take a lot of classes, but I enjoy it so much that it takes a conscious effort on my part to realize how much work I'm doing.
  16. May 5, 2009 #15
    I'm personally on the track to do the same thing. Thus far it's been pretty entertaining to have fellow Marine Option Midshipman that have majors like Business and Criminal Justice, and here I come with Physics.
    Personally so far, I can't say whether Physics is a good major for a future Marine, but it interests me and is difficult, thus I enjoy it.
    Like kmwest said, Navy is very obliged to having a Nuclear Physicist on board, plus you get a HUGE chunk of cash, but be sure to do some additional research on the career path (many people would not prefer the lifestyle).
    I don't foresee it helping me out in the Marine Corps so much, but what I was looking for was something afterwords. I know that when I'm commissioned and go active I will have shore duty eventually, at which point I can attend a University and further my education in Physics.
    I'm not sure what exactly I want to do after my career as a Marine, I have been looking into becoming an Aviator which would give me a lot more choices after my service. But as far as careers afterwords I could maybe see myself being a teacher, or someone who puts together proposals for projects on new military technologies, or maybe go into the field of developing new military technologies.
    So I suppose my question/s would be what path should I go in terms of Marine Corps, then what path should I go in furthering my education if I sought an occupation in military technological developments?
  17. May 5, 2009 #16
    Check out the link you were given for the army research lab. I work there. Prior military service (I have none) is viewed very positively, and they will pay for your education.
  18. May 5, 2009 #17
    So the type of research I would be doing, assuming that I will be doing research and development, would most likely be on laser technology correct? Unless I put my emphasis of study elsewhere in a different field.
  19. May 5, 2009 #18


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    I worked for General Physics for a few years, and they preferentially hire out of the Navy nuke programs, especially sub service. One reason is that the engineers on subs are heavily cross-trained. If you are out on patrol in a sub full of ICBMs and an officer gets sick or injured, the sub doesn't turn around and head for port - the other crew members have to cover for him. If you are level-headed (mentally very stable and calm) and are not claustrophobic, go for sub service - you probably cannot find another military program that will train you as well. The former sub-officers were very easy to get along with, too. Probably a valuable character trait for months in close quarters.
  20. May 6, 2009 #19
    I don't know what you mean by 'shore duty,' that's a Navy term, Marines don't go on ship unless you're out on the MEU (which doesn't happen much anymore due to the demands of the wars). Marine are based on land, although good luck trying to further your physics education while active duty, at least during your first Fleet tour. You will be far too busy during the day to take classes, if your boss would even allow that (don't even try, unless you're eager to be your CO's "project"). And oh yeah, plan on some deployments, workups, etc that take you away from your home station for weeks or months at a time.

    Bottom line: If you want to be an active-duty Marine officer, don't expect to be able to formally further your physics education while on active duty. Marine officers aren't even eligible for the Naval Postgraduate School's physics program. Not trying to take a crap on your plans or anything - just giving you an insider's perspective. I like being a Marine officer, it's challenging and fairly rewarding, but it's hardly the same intellectual stimulation as Quantum Mechanics II.

    As far as Marine MOS, pilots do need to know some basic physics to pass flight school but nothing past first-year mechanics AFAIK. The USMC doesn't do much in development, at least not in the ways you're thinking/wanting.
  21. May 6, 2009 #20
    Thank you sir, an insider's perspective is more of what I wanted to hear anyways so no harm done. I'm just finishing up my freshman year at the University so my knowledge of fleet life is nil to say the least. I was incorrect to think that there was shore duty, but more-so billets maybe? For example becoming a Marine Officer Instructor at an NROTC unit was what I was thinking of as "shore duty", and with that I could take college courses but, like you said, not at the rate I'm expecting.
    As far as Marine life goes, I understand I won't be 'home' very often, so going to school is pretty much out of the question while active duty, as you said. Haha, and I also know the Marines aren't necessarily at the forefront of any technological developments either, and I wouldn't expect that. I was thinking about an occupation after service, in which case I should mention that it would be after many years, as the military is my planned career.
  22. May 7, 2009 #21
    Yeah, there are non-deploying billets (called "B-billets") that are less intensive than fleet billets, but some (like recruiting) are extremely demanding. But some are pretty easy so you could knock out some grad courses but don't expect to get an MS within a few years. Honestly, if you're wanting to do physics in the military, go Navy, especially since you're already in NROTC. I like being a Marine, but it's not very conducive to furthering your education. Most of the guys I know who are working on their masters are doing them in business or organizational management, and are doing them online or at night. Hardly something you can do with physics.
  23. May 7, 2009 #22
    Very true, however I believe my heart is with the military, as it has been for the past eight years or so. I just have a fascination, as many people on this site do, to learn, discover, and further my knowledge and challenge myself in everything I do. With the Marine Corps I am pushed physically, and with the officer corps I am pushed mentally. If I have to "sacrifice" getting an MS for a long time, while I am serving my career as a Marine, then I would certainly see the value in that. After quite a few years of service I can see myself finishing any additional schooling, or getting a job in a military related field. I was actually recently asked if I had to choose between becoming an officer and staying a Physics major, which would I choose; at which point I realized that I would stay a Marine and change my major if I had to.
    Furthering my knowledge is icing on the cake for sure, unfortunately I don't think switching to Navy option would be a good idea. To give you of an idea of why I am in ROTC: I initially came into NROTC as a Navy option with the desire to go for SEALs, which I had wanted to be since I was 13, but I realized that if I didn't make it (a thought that rarely crosses my mind) I would be on a ship, for a long time, definitely not my cup of joe.
  24. May 8, 2009 #23
    That's good, you understand your priorities. FYI, there are a lot of physics majors in Marine communications (my field) so that could be something to consider. Good luck.
  25. May 26, 2009 #24

    For your consideration:

    Never do something based on another person's expectation for you or to garner their favor. If you are truely considering a career in the military, then it must be your own desire, not because you feel like you have something to prove. Some of the people that I've known and had strong character never joined the military, its a trait that can be found in many different career paths, all it takes is the desire to want to do the right thing AND speak out against injustices committed by others.

    However, if you truely are interested, I would recommend looking into the Naval Academy (www.usna.edu) as another option explore, especially since my remarks come from my personal experience as a Naval Officer. Keep in mind, upon graduation and reporting to your first duty station- No one will care what your major was, where you graduated from, nor what your personal aspirations are. What they will care about is how well you handle yourself under stress, accept responsbility, lead others, organize projects, etc. In fact although very demanding and rewarding, my first four years as an officer had nothing to do with my systems engineering degree. This is true for many people (even those in the Nuke program). Of course you will have an active top-secret clearance (or at the very least secret) and on your first shore tour can align yourself (possibly.. again needs of the military outweigh personal choices) to a location and position that works with your major and if you decide to transition at that point (like myself) start the process of determining that next step! Again, it all depends how long you can wait to get that Masters degree, and later PhD. For me, it was the best decision I could have made, many tough, boring, stressful days, little recognition, but a great sense of accomplishment. DO NOT do this career path for money (or getting your degree for 'free'.. it is certainly NOT free).

    Graduate degrees: Master's Program at Pensacola (http://www.nps.edu/) is readily available (at the cost of having to sign up for an extra 5 years). PhD programs are available too, also look into the EDO community (http://www.npc.navy.mil/Officer/Pers44/EngineeringDuty/CareerInformation/ [Broken]), not much personal experience with either one though. Look at the Navy's pitch: http://www.navy.com/careers/

    My personal thoughts for you is to consider if any of the following websites interest you and then determine what exactly YOU want to do with your life:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  26. May 27, 2009 #25
    I would suggest having the military pay for your undergrad physics degree through ROTC, serve your 8 year commitment (getting a masters and possibly a PhD a long the way) and then going to work for a military contractor or a military lab. Military experience is very valuable to military contractors. The problem we constantly face is having engineers who know nothing about how weapons systems are used. You will not have the problem. I would also suggest going to an expensive school if you can get a commitment from the military to pay for your schooling. I mean why not to go somewhere fun and challenging? It is the same cost to you.

    Also, if you go this path, I would not worry too much about not having direct physics experience during your commitment. What you want to be learning is how the military and the weapons systems work, what the problems are and how you would fix them. And sure you can be a Marine. We got lots of Marines working at my company. Good folk.
    Last edited: May 27, 2009
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