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Passion vs Money

  1. Apr 25, 2013 #1
    I will be very soon filling my university admissions preferences. I can't really make a decision because I have to consider many things, for example, job availability for the degree I choose, etc.

    My passion is to work in scientific research, be it in computer research, energy research, defense research, medical research, astrophysics research etc. so I thought a degree in physics would be perfect for that but in Australia, physicist do not find jobs except in teaching and only the very best get jobs in research (very low demand and the research isn't that interesting anyway) or as a lecturer at university.

    Research isn't supported by the government here and people who work in research earn very low salaries. My physics teacher used to work in research but decided to become a high school teacher but I can tell that he isn't the happiest man in the world. He is always angry and pretty bad at teaching, spent 5 months teaching a topic that can be taught in 1-2 months.

    The only way this could work is if I manage to get a scholarship from an American or English university but that means I will have to compete with the best of the best from around the world, the people from India, China, Japan, Singapore, etc. so this is a very risky plan.

    Some physics grads do get jobs in engineering, finance, etc. but not many and employers view physicists as impractical as they don't have the experience.

    Regarding money, there are basically 6 fields that have job security and a lot of money in Australia:
    - Medicine
    - Bank Investment, Finance, Actuary, etc.
    - Law (well, only successful lawyers earn a lot of money, not all)
    - Dentistry
    - Engineering (Mining and Petrol and Gas are the only engineers that make a lot of money, Chemical engineering comes next)
    - IT, Communications, Computer Technicians, Software Developers etc. (not a lot of money but jobs are available)

    Out of the above 6 fields I am interested in only medicine and engineering.
    I would do medicine but it has no maths at all, a lot of memorisation, a lot of responsibility, takes 12+ years until I specialise, etc. but over all I would do it.
    Salaries for medicine are at least $100k.

    Engineering is interesting but I don't like mining and petrol and gas, they are just too specialised and I can only make money for a few years then new energy technologies will replace fossil fuels (petroleum will definitely run out in about 70 years). Chemical engineering is interesting, however. Salaries for Engineering are $60k+. Engineering managers, consultants, etc. earn a lot but it is boring work and I wouldn't do it.

    If I was in the USA I would definitely do physics and work in research but here in the Australia I really need to carefully make my decision and think about job availability.

    The thing is that I need to make the decision now because, for example, if I want to do engineering I need to start applying for scholarships and the application process takes a lot of effort. One scholarship is called the CO-OP scholarship, in this scholarship I get sponsored by a company to study and do work experience with them, this means when I graduate in 4 years I can definitely get a good job because the scholarship is very well recognised and highly respected.

    If I want to do medicine then I have to really forget about everything else and worry about medical admission because the process is very tedious. I need to practice for the medical admission test, practice for the interview, apply for scholarships, etc.

    My other option is post graduate medicine. This means I do an engineering degree (chemical engineering for example) or science then after 4 years apply for post grad medicine if I really want to do medicine and if I don't like engineering or science which means I get my medicine degree in 8 years. This means a lot of time will be wasted so this option isn't that good.

    So what do you think?

    Thank you!
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 25, 2013 #2
    Well, the first thing I'd ask, is are you actually interested in medicine? Because if you're not that into it, then you REALLY don't want to be stuck with it for the next 35-40 years.
    For engineering, if you got a degree, would you necessarily have to stay in Australia? As it is, it doesn't sound like there's a lot of jobs there for it, but there certainly are plenty more around the world. This would let you get other kinds of degrees potentially.
    If you don't like medicine and don't want to move from Australia, (totally understandable), then I might recommend a chemical engineering degree, especially since you are interested in it.

    In short, don't choose something you don't like just because of the money. The ideal choice is something you can make a living off of, and be genuinely happy with.
  4. Apr 25, 2013 #3
    You should be aware that physicists in the US don't make much more than physicists in Australia, and job availability isn't much better, if that helps with your decision. Right after my phd, I was offered temporary research positions (postdocs) for the equivalent of about $33k Austrlian. I love physics, and enjoyed my education/getting my phd, but I left physics because it was unable to provide a middle class lifestyle, and as I got older setting down, building savings,etc became as important to me as having a fun job.

    Physics (science in general) is an international market, so with a phd you'll be free to chase after jobs all over the world, however with that comes relatively low wages and lots of career uncertainty.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2013
  5. Apr 25, 2013 #4
    I second this. It all depends where your financial comfort level and definition of middle class is. Where I come from, most people wish they could earn half that amount by the time they're 40 (granted, today my country hit an unemployment record of 27% and wages for even engineers are an order of magnitude lower than in the rest of Europe, also job stability is unheard of except for high ranking politicians and academics).

    If it's not going to cost you or your family much complete your college education (as you said it was practically free in your country), I would suggest sticking to what you like STUDYING, while trying to strike a balance with employability in later years if you find out academic job market isn't what you want. Your plan to do a physics+engineering degree at the same time in another thread was pretty sound and probably opens a bigger variety of doors than any single one of those degrees on their own.
  6. Apr 25, 2013 #5
    Chemical engineering does not close the door to research (at least in the U.S.) I feel that would be your best option. You may find out you don't enjoy research, and you'd have a career to fall back on. Or, you might find out you do enjoy research, and you can pursue graduate studies in either chemE or another science field.

    Good 'ay, mate! :)
  7. Apr 25, 2013 #6


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    It's a very delicate balance. I'll like to point out that his idea that an engineer consult does boring work may be a bit premature. I'm willing to wager a lot of physicist spend quite bit of time doing boring work too. In fact, any job you can imagine, even if it is something you absolutely love is filled with boring work. I spend more time trouble shooting code than I do interpreting data. I would rather have that reversed, but even if that occurred, knowing my luck, my employer would see how happy I am and recommend that I attend more meetings.

    Anyway, I tend to give this advice to local future STEM prospects. If you plan to major in something that isn't focused on business, pre-profressional/profressional, then you need to know how to translate the skills you learn to fit in the business world and/or have a second skill that people can directly relate to a readily marketable skill.

    Regarding the first point, I left the military after 6 years of being in the infantry. Ask a standard soldier what he does he'll answer "shoot, move and communicate." On my resume it loosely translated into a proven record of working under pressure, ability to adapt to changing situations and able to communicate effectively to diverse group of people. Unfortunately the ability translate a person's skills from one job to another is not taught to too many STEM students so they end up shutting themselves off from potential jobs.

    In regards to the second point, regardless of what you do, you should get relevant experience by either having a second major or taking courses that teach you marketable skills. I generally recommend statistics, because I am a statistician, and in my experience nearly every company needs one. Others argue for computer science or drafting, etc.

    The idea behind all of this is hedging. You should go after what you have passion for, but if after 4 years, you find graduate school doesn't suit you or that the job market is rough, you, at the very least, have skills you can use to find employment that provide you a mental challenge, although not the type you would have liked, but still a challenge.
  8. Apr 27, 2013 #7
    Thank you so much for the replies guys!
    I decided that I will apply for both engineering and medicine, if I get the scholarship (super competitive) for engineering then I will do engineering but if I don't then I will do medicine. I find biology and chemistry very interested but not as interesting as physics.
  9. Apr 27, 2013 #8


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    How about doing a double major in physics and computer science? It seems like the IT industry has the most number of jobs nowadays, but also, some talented people get paid really well (as much as a petroleum engineer)
  10. Apr 28, 2013 #9
    IDK, engineering versus medicine? These seem like two completely different mindsets to me. The money part is pretty straightforward but your "passion" seems to be split. So that concerns me. I had a neuropsychology professor as an undergrad who used to devote a couple class sessions a course to an excercise he called "working forward, backward." The idea behind it was to project yourself 5, 10, and 15 years into the future and think about how you wanted to spend each day of your life, from the time you woke up to the time you went to bed. The idea was to be specific about it and work past generalities like I want to do something in this field and want this kind of salary, etc. He thought that kind of thinking could get you into trouble.

    Of course, he always began this excercise with "his story," which was him studying to be a clinical psychologist because he thought he could use his knowledge of the psyche to help people deal with their challenges, write erudite books, and make lots of money. That was the idea and the money ended up being ok, but the reality of his life was that he spent every day listening to people whine and complain about problems he had no interest in. Ultimately he felt like he was having little positive effect on helping any of these people and had to re-work his life after much effort later on to get a teaching position, which he found was what he really wanted to do.

    So that would be my advise, think about how you want to be spending your 9-5 15 years from now, minute by minute, before you get too far into one field.
  11. Apr 29, 2013 #10
    go to Passion, Money will come
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