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Not sure what to do

  • Thread starter Mzachman
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Ok, I am currently in my third year at Purdue right now, and I still don't know what I want to do with my life. haha. It's starting to worry me.

Up until recently I had literally no idea. I starting in management because it's so broad, and then went to Building Construction Management because I thought I might like it and had some very slight experience with it working with my dad. During my BCM time I had to take physics, and one thing led to another and now I've taken a physics course three semesters in a row now, including the Engineers/Science major's first physics class because I found out i liked it so much.

When I was younger I loved science stuff, but never imagined it as a job (probably because my dad was a business man, so it seemed off limits.... not like it was a real job or something). I was also extremely curious about how things worked and had a ton of interests.

I didn't take basically any science in high school, so these physics classes were pretty surprising to me when I found out how much I liked it, and remembered how I was when I was younger.

Now I don't really know what to do. BCM is just "blah" to me right now. I don't really want to do that. I really like the physics I've been doing so far, and I've actually been looking at physics stuff outside of class, which for any other subject I've taken is crazy.... lol. So I've seriously considered going into Physics. I don't really know what jobs are like in the Physics field. I know I would have to go through grad school, and I'm fine with that if it's what I decide to do. One job I kinda know about is a professor, and that is actually kind of appealing to me. I really like helping people (I want to make a difference in the world somehow at some point), I love talking to people about the stuff I know about physics when they don't, so they get excited about it too, I would like to have other professors around interested in the same things, and all sorts of stuff. But I don't know. I also heard that tenure positions (which I would want, obviously), is very competitive, and would take a lot of work.

Now, if physics was all I was interested in I would go for it because I would be doing the only thing I loved all the time. But I like to to TONS of stuff, so I want to have a life outside of work too... I really like cars and working on/racing mine. I really like planes of all sorts and want to get my license eventually (and anything else that comes from that). I really like playing guitar, and I won't be giving that up. I like lifting and staying in shape, and I don't think I could give that up either. I like video games and reading every now and again... and basically a whole bunch of other stuff.

So I want to love what I do, but also have time for a ton of other stuff I like doing too. I really really like physics so far, but I don't know if it's a good career choice for me. I don't know what jobs are available, and I know being a professor is very competitive. I have thought about physics, or maybe some engineering (seeing how I like cars and aircraft so much). What do you think? Do you have any ideas or advice for me? Anything at all would be appreciated. Thanks :D

PS, I'm down in Ft. Myers right now, and I was at a restaurant eating at 7:41 the other day when I realized the shuttle was launching at 7:43, so I ran out the door and ran out back, jumped on top of a 6 foot wall that was around their garbage dumpster, and looked out east or north east. About a minute after I jumped up there I saw the shuttle launching like 200 miles east... Sundown was at 7:37, so it was perfect timing...... it was awesome. First time I've ever seen that, and it was amazing... The trail behind it started out grey down low below, then turned orange because of the sun and finally turned white up near the top. After it went up a ways you could see little dots of light fall slowly away from it.... It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen and I promised myself on the spot I would see another one of those up closer some day... haha. Anybody else see it?
Another thing is.... does anybody know where I can get some real info on what "physicists" do on a daily basis? I mean visually too. I would really like to see what they do, where they do it, and stuff like that if possible...


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Well, you're concerns aren't unfounded. Physics is a demanding discipline. Making a career out of it required a lot more work than doing a single course and chances are if you want to make it into graduate school you will have to make sacrifices. The extent of those sacrifices, however, is up to you. Most people I know who've gone through graduate school have had other interests (sports, music, part-time work, etc.) that they have managed to balance with their studies - the key word being balance.

As far as career goes, you have a lot of options with a physics background. To really get involved in reasearch requires graduate school - generally to the Ph.D. level. At that point you can continue in academia (ie. try to become a professor), or get a job in the industrial/corporate world. What physicists actually do can vary considerably. I'm a medical physicist (resident), and so my day has a strong clinical (radiation therarpy) component to it in addition to my research pursuits. Academic physicists will spend a lot of time doing research at the post doctoral level, but as they climb the academic ladder more time gets diverted to committees, grant writing, planning research, preparing lectures, teaching, quiding graduate students, etc.
Hmmm... Well for the time being I am ready to put my other interests somewhat on hold during school. I'm used to not getting to do them (or having the money to do them) here at school already, so that wouldn't be a huge blow to me. I spend time on them, but just enough to maintain them as interests. I wouldn't mind doing that for a while longer to go through with my Ph.D, I just wouldn't want them to be like that forever...

One thing about this is its in direct relation to my personality I think. I hate being just another person. I always look at things as if I'm looking in from the outside, seeing all of these silly humans going about what they do every day without much meaning to it at all. I hate the "another ant in the anthill" feeling... (also why I don't like the idea of living in big cities) or at least that's what I always call it. Now, for a lot of people not wanting to be normal means not wanting to fit in, and becoming rebellious or getting into trouble or whatever (but still leading a relatively normal life basically), but to me it means standing out (not in a famous kind of way either). I really want to do something that makes me different from every other person, even those doing the "same" thing as me. I want to make some sort of difference at some point in some way so that I wasn't just another "ant" that lived, did his work, survived, and then died when he got old enough.

For example, if I had been around a little earlier (I don't think I'll make it by the time it's done now) my dream would have been to be the guy behind getting the first practical fusion reactor up and running. That kind of energy source in the times we are in now would be the very best possible thing I could imagine doing in my life... That kind of thing. Not that I'm saying it has to be that huge of an impact, I'm just saying I would absolutely love it if I could do something like that, and can't imagine anything better. World changing.

That's another thing that attracts me to physics. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I would have the potential to do something, discover something, or develop something that could make a difference in the world, and I wouldn't be just another person living to survive... right? I'm strange in that way though. I really want to do something that touches as many people as possible, but I hate people thanking me like crazy for anything at all, don't like the attention it brings, and don't want to give up all my little interests that I have along the way... I want to be the quiet unknown person behind it all, except maybe to people also in physics or something. I wouldn't mind if they knew my contributions.

Then I go to class and learn about toilets and pipes in BCM. That's why I almost can't even imagine doing that anymore. But then having a "quaint" little life with probably more money and time and everything does sound nice from time to time (rarely though... and usually when I'm watching Home Improvement.... hahaha).
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Go talk to professors and grad students. Professors love talking about what they do, they *love* it. Seriously, just go to anyone who is in any field you are remotely considering, sit down and ask them all of your questions, about what they do in their day to day lives, and they will tell you, often in boring details. Grad students and pdfs too - we love talking about what we do, so just ask. If you are interested in experimental, they'll show you their labs probably, really let you get a feel for what the life is like. Definitely contact some professors to discuss.
So... I talked to my professor today after class. I just went up to let him know I was interested in physics and possibly switching to it, and ask if he knew anybody that would be good to talk to there about it.

Wow you were right.... he jumped on that and talked nonstop almost for 15 minutes and seemed VERY excited to have a student come to him and say that he was interested in physics as a career and wanted help getting info about it. Must be a rare thing or something? lol. We talked for like 15 minutes until he really had to go, and I did too... But he gave me a bunch of good info that I'll have to look into :).

It was nice though, he was very enthusiastic and very optimistic about it for me. And he said any of the professors there would be glad to give me a few minutes of their time to talk about their research or what they do on a day to day basis. He even told me about a way I could get a job working on experiments for professors here this summer if I'm interested..... hmmm.....
It was nice though, he was very enthusiastic and very optimistic about it for me. And he said any of the professors there would be glad to give me a few minutes of their time to talk about their research or what they do on a day to day basis. He even told me about a way I could get a job working on experiments for professors here this summer if I'm interested..... hmmm.....
You will find that all over the place. That's how I got my research positions in my math department as an undergrad, just by talking to profs after class and by appointment - they seem to throw research at you if you seem interested, it's a great system. Keep it up and you'll be on a great path to becoming an academic.
I kinda like that idea :).

Hey, what do you guys think about Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering vs. Physics since I also like aircraft so much?
The Next Chapter!

Hey guys,

I haven't posted here in a long time now, but I have another chapter to add to my story, and more questions (or it appears, an old question that I never found an answer for...).

Since you have basically my whole story up above, I won't retype it like I was going to in a new thread...

I'll just fill you in on what has happened since. I did end up switching to Physics, have done well so far (friends hating my thus far easy 4.0... haha). I am coming up on the end of my "undecided" time within physics though... At the end of this coming semester I have to choose which path to narrow down to. I basically have two choices; General Physics and Honors Applied Physics with a Specialization in "Something (some other major, or physics subset)" (I could also do the non-honors applied physics, but it will take me the same amount of time, so I might as well try for the honors).
Here are the details and differences between the two:

General Physics - will take me 2 years to finish, but I will only have to average about 12 credit hours or something easy like that. It is the basic degree that Purdue offers.

Honors Applied Physics with Specialization in "Something" - This degree will take probably 2.5 years, but can MAYBE be squeezed in to 2 (haven't talked with my advisor yet). This is basically the same degree as the regular physics degree, minus one high level astronomy class and one high level elective, honors versions of the classes (or higher levels of the same class, 430 vs 330 for example), and 30 credit hours of the other major you want to specialize in. You also have to have a Senior Project for Honors.

Something I have been strongly considering is "Honors Applied Physics with a Specialization in Aeronautical Engineering." As I stated last year in my posts above, I really love aircraft, and have for as long as I can remember. I recently went to the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI, which sparked my interest once again.... (though it's always in the back of my head).

I've also considered possibly a specialization in electrical engineering or something, so that I could work with energy efficiency, renewable energies, etc. That goes with my "doing something that matters" feeling.

I think this may be a good choice for keeping doors open, because I could then go to grad school for either Physics or AE, or even possibly another applied physics degree like this from Purdue. As I said before though, I REALLY want to do something that matters still, and I have doubts about being able to do that with both options. I feel aircraft are very good already, and very hard to make better (and even if we could, how would it benefit people? Get from A to B faster, or carry more stuff for a battle?), and that makes me feel like physics would be somewhere where I could do something more..... grand. Haha. But I also feel that physics is an area that is extremely hard to make progress in today (especially theoretically), and I don't want to work on some silly little project that doesn't really help anything (like I see a lot of research posters hanging on the walls of Purdue talking about that they're doing). But both thoughts could be completely wrong... I don't know.

What do you guys think? If I don't want to do something like everyone else, I want to make a difference somehow, I have really enjoyed my physics so far, I really love aircraft, and I have to make a degree decision by the end of this semester.... What do you suggest??

Thanks again for all (or any) of the help!
Is there some way to move this to the Academic Guidance section? I think it's a better fit to that area...

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