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Needing guidance

  1. Jul 27, 2009 #1


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    This can get a bit personal, hopefully you can help me out.

    I have my own dilemma. I'm currently a high school student, about to graduate in a couple of years. I want to do either mathematics/physics in college, hopefully work my way up to Ph. D., and work in the academia, or private sector.

    However, my parents (actually, my entire family) thinks like the mainstream society does, do what will earn you the most money, as opposed to doing what I want to do. Obviously, their advice for me would be to do medicine, and be a doctor. This belief of theirs is even more reinforced by the fact that we're not rich.

    I understand their hope for me to become successful, and I think their measure of being successful at that stage of my life is to earn more money, and do better than they are currently doing right now. However, being a doctor isn't really my "calling", and having loved mathematics since I was little, that seems to be what I want to do in the future.

    I don't know how to approach my parents about this. I certainly don't want to disappoint them. They are also the type of people who believe that they KNOW what's good for me. They assert that they have more experience than I do, and therefore they know what is best for me. I know you guys know what I'm talking about here.

    I'm really torn about this situation. Sorry if I took quite a bit of your time, I just need guidance about this matter. I know it's not until 2 years, but I need to prepare myself on how to handle this.

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 27, 2009 #2
    Have you told them that you don't want to be a doctor? Come straight up and tell them first if you haven't done so yet. Tell them that you are very passionate for your subjects. If that doesn't work prove to them that you are, by winning math competitions or stuff like that. Don't say that you don't care about the money, but tell them that your happiness is worth more. This comes from a freshman so sorry if it doesn't help. Also I don't know the relationship between you guys.
  4. Jul 28, 2009 #3


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    I told them a few times, although we haven't talked about this topic seriously. They know I'm passionate about math (they're even worried that that's the only thing I'm focusing on, losing grip on other subjects at school).

    As far as relationship goes, we have a normal parent-son relationship, no major rift really going on. It's just that I have a decision to make in 2 (or so) years, hopefully by that time they'll better understand my situation.
  5. Jul 28, 2009 #4
    You could always say you are freaked out by blood or by surgeries. Also you could say that the hours are bad and when you get married, your relationship will be messed up because you won't have time. That is what is keeping me from being a doctor. I am talking out of my butt right now.
  6. Jul 28, 2009 #5
    Well make sure they understand what a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics does. Not only will you be educating university students, you will most likely be performing research as well. Professors make good money, have great job security, are off during winters for family holidays and kids, and have summers as well (beyond teaching a summer course maybe). You can work at home, consult with government projects or labs, consult companies, and even work in industry if you don't want to be a professor. There is a wide range of employment opportunities if you don't want to be in academia. You also won't be in debt when you finish graduate school compared to medical school, as mathematics and physics graduate programs are very well funded in the US.
  7. Jul 28, 2009 #6


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    I wouldn't worry about this too much right now if you're still in high school. Yes, your parents have more life experience thay you do, and they obviously want what they believe is best for you. However, I've said it before, they aren't the ones who will be doing all the work necessary to go through for a career in medicine: fighting tooth and nail for every little mark in undergrad, volunteering hours on hours in what are likely less than desirable jobs, going through undergrad, then medical school, and then a residency, and then a fellowship only to start actually making money in your mid-thirties.

    I wouldn't lie to them. You feel how you feel. You're still in high school and there's a good chance your interests will change over the next few years. There's no point in fighting over something that's a few years down the road anyway. Technically you can get into medicine by doing a physics or math undergraduate degree, provided you get all the necessary prerequisites. Maybe they just want you to keep this door open, which is a compromise you could make, if you decide to.
  8. Jul 28, 2009 #7


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    Hi thrill3rnit3! :smile:

    Your parents probably think that planning to "work my way up to Ph. D." is unrealistic.

    Not every maths/physics student gets that far, though most medical students do get as far as becoming a doctor.

    Just because you're (I assume) easily better at maths than anyone else at your school doesn't mean that it'll be like that at university … everyone there will have been easily better at maths than anyone else at their school also! … you could discover that you're actually quite a mediocre student. :rolleyes:

    How about telling them you've researched career options in case you don't get to do stay on?

    And have you actually decided whether it'll be maths or physics?

    If you're not sure what you do want to do, but you know you don't want to do medicine, then just tell them that, but don't try to make it more convincing by claiming to have everything planned out. :wink:
    Does that mean your other grades are dropping?

    You won't get into a good university with good grades only in maths.

    Maybe that's what they're really worried about? :smile:
  9. Jul 28, 2009 #8


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    Are you in the USA? In the colleges and universities that I know about, you generally do not specialize in medicine as an undergraduate. Instead, you get a degree in (usually) some scientific field, and supplement it as necessary with courses that are looked on favorably by medical school admissions committees. Where I teach, most pre-meds major in biology and add some chemistry courses, but you could also major in physics and add some chemistry and biology courses. In fact, some schools have undergraduate degrees in "medical physics" which is a significant specialty.
  10. Jul 28, 2009 #9


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    Hi tiny-tim. I'm a big fan of your posts :smile:

    I think it's more about financial issues more than anything else. They don't think that I'll be able to land a decent paying job with a math or physics degree.

    I've worked through different undergraduate math/physics books, and so far I'm keeping up quite well with them. Of course I'm not expecting that everything's going to be easy, but I find that I'm really passionate about them, working my butt off on those problems I don't seem to get at first (I rarely do that in subjects like English, which I don't really care about, and I don't have a skill at)

    That would be a good option. I will probably have to outline different options, but I feel that I have to work with something that deals with mathematics and/or physics.

    I'm still torn between the two. I have a passion for both, I guess it's still too early to decide.

    Actually, I think it's them who thinks that I SHOULD go to medicine. I'm keeping all my options open (heck, I even have engineering as one of my options). They keep pushing me to do medicine because it EARNS the most money (like they always say).

    Well, my grades are fine (except for a B in English). However, my parents think that I don't study for anything else other than math :smile:

    So I guess I don't have any problems as far as grades go.

    Yes I am in the USA.

    to everyone, thank you for all the wonderful advices so far
  11. Jul 28, 2009 #10
    Hi Thrill. I wouldn't presume to give any definitive suggestions on what you should do with the rest of your life, but here are my thoughts, take them for what they're worth.

    Back when I was in high school I was in pretty much the same situation as you. I wanted to be a physicist, mom and dad wanted me to be a doctor. Now, several years later, here I am in grad school, doing my PhD in physics. While I love physics and am not overly disappointed with my career choice, I have to admit that with the economy in its current state I wish I had gone to med school. I'm certainly a subscriber to the "do what you love" philosophy. But I'm a bigger fan of having a stable job from which I won't be laid off. Both doctors and physicists will tell you that you shouldn't enter their professions for the money, but only if you have a personal interest in the field (though this isn't much of a problem in physics, since we don't typically get rich off of our research). And maybe these people are right. However, at the end of the day, your chances of having a completely secure job are much better in medicine than in physics. It seems to me that the appeal of medicine wouldn't be the large income, but rather the job security.

    Now, it's true that physics professors can earn tenure and have the same job security as doctors. But let's take a look at the career path that you'll be traversing, and the possible risks. After you graduate with your BS in physics, here's what you can look forward to, along with the potential risks:

    1.) Five years of graduate school. At most graduate institutions they weed people out either via a written PhD qualifier or an oral exam. If you don't survive the weedout process, you'll be kicked out with an MS degree, and be forced either to leave academia or look for a new graduate institution to attend.

    2.) Two to three years of postdoctoral work. Most postdoc positions will give you two years of funding with the potential for a third year. Postdoc is the time for you to work exclusively on research and demonstrate that you could make a good research professor. If you have enough research done, you can obtain a tenure-track faculty position after your postdoc. If not, then you've got to apply for another postdoc.

    3.) Tenure-track faculty. At most universities this position is called an "Assistant Professorship," and you're given a six-year contract. Basically you're a professor at the department, and you have both teaching and research responsibilities. You're also required to start supervising graduate students. At the end of your fifth year, the department will evaluate your work and decide on whether or not to give you tenure. If they decide to keep you, then you've got a job for life. If they decide to get rid of you, then you'll be using your sixth year to look for another job.

    Keep in mind that only around 50% of physics graduate students end up getting a job in academia, and the percentage of grad students who actually become professors is even less. Here's my point: getting into graduate school after you graduate college does not guarantee you a stable job.

    Now contrast this with medicine. I don't have any statistics on medical careers, but I have been told that med schools have extremely high graduation rates. You rarely hear about med students failing out of med school or not passing their board exams. Furthermore, graduates from medical school are usually matched with a residency immediately after graduation, and then proceed to have very secure jobs afterwards. Of course the downside is a large student debt. Grad school is free (actually you get paid to go), whereas med school usually requires loans. This is something to consider as well. However, the point is that if you get accepted to med school immediately after college, you're basically guaranteed a secure job for life. If you go the physics route you don't get that guarantee.

    Again, I wouldn't presume to tell you what to do with your life. And I'm not saying that you should definitely go to med school either. All I'm saying is that you might want to consider your options carefully, because there are advantages to getting a medical career.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2009
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