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Physicists and physics majors, was it worth it?

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  1. Jun 27, 2017 #1
    Hello PF. I'm a current sophomore in college studying aerospace engineering, but I was a physics major for most of last year. I am curious what would have become of that, since a lack of desire for low-paying employment opportunities trumped my aspirations in the field. I am curious, how many of you enjoy where you are now? Was it worth pursuing? What do you enjoy most about your job (be that in teaching, research, etc.) or major?
     
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  3. Jun 28, 2017 #2

    sophiecentaur

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    This is a hot issue in the UK eat the moment and I am aware that self funding in the US can result in heavy debt when people leave their higher education. There are still companies that offer candidates financial help and Engineering Graduates are worth money to industry in an way that's obvious to accountants. I am old enough not ever to have paid for education but, at the time, I was part of a very small cohort and the government could 'justify' it. I got an Engineering job with my Physics degree and Physics is still regarded as a 'portable' subject, taking people into Engineering, Finance and many other demanding fields.
     
  4. Jun 28, 2017 #3
    I really like to tell ppl that studying physics isn't worth it. Because usually it isn't especially when you don't plan to do PhD afterwards. Note that I am happy with my current position because I went to art school afterwards and work in this field. But it has nothing to do with physics and I wasted so many years. Most of my peers got a job because they double majored physics with engineering field or had a hobby outside of science. It's true that you can be programmer or work in finance afterwards but you need to do extra training and again - it has nothing to do with physics. Tbh engineering graduates are those who are the closest to physics during their work.

    Edit: have in mind things are different in different countries. In my country higher education is paid with taxes so you can study what you want, however you want without tuition fee. So everyone and their mothers have master degree nowadays. Because of that if you are not doctor or lawyer higher education isn't worth much - what really matters are skills and physics won't give you those. However in UK education is still very expensive and rare so "higher education perk" is still out there. You may be ok even with gender studies degree.
     
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2017
  5. Jun 28, 2017 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    College is not trade school.

    While I am a physicist, a great deal of my time is spent doing non-physics things: budgets, schedules, grant proposals, reports, committee work, etc. I think everyone who gets a degree in field X, whatever that field is, has to ask themselves "if I find myself not doing X for a living, am I still glad to have studied it?"
     
  6. Jun 28, 2017 #5

    sophiecentaur

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    Wow. That's fighting talk, unless you mean skills with tools. Mental skills that Physics will give you are applicable in all fields of study and business. The statistics for entry into top jobs with Physics are very good. My son took a physics degree and then a masters in Computer Science. His ex Uni friends are in pretty well every part of Academia and London business.
    Yes. Purely vocational training can get you some excellent jobs but it can leave you with less flexibility if you find you need to change.
    Good Physics qualifications are almost Jedi Standard for life.
     
  7. Jun 28, 2017 #6
    It was worth it, and I still recommend students with a love for physics pursue it.

    But pursue it in a way that minimizes debt upon graduation. If you can't earn scholarships to pay most of your way, you may well not be a good enough student to succeed in the long term.

    A physics degree is probably not worth six figures of debt.
     
  8. Jun 29, 2017 #7

    Choppy

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    I did an undergraduate degree in physics, did a master's degree in plasma physics, jumped into medical physics for a PhD. I am currently working as a medical physicist with an adjunct academic appointment. For me it worked out great, so in my case pursuing physics was definitely worth it.

    I enjoy a lot of aspects of my job - occasionally the same things that at other times I wrestle with. I get to work on a wide array of clinical problems that make a big difference in people's lives. I have the freedom to run a self-directed research program. I mentor graduate students. There is a lot to juggle though, and it can be stressful at times.
     
  9. Jun 29, 2017 #8
    There are several other majors that would have served me better, in that they have similar deep theoretical underpinnings but lead to more interesting work that's in greater demand.

    I've retooled myself into a couple of those areas over time, so it can be done, but the time I spent learning physics was pretty much a waste of time.

    Could have been worse, I suppose.
     
  10. Jun 29, 2017 #9
    How can studying something you are interested in ever be "a waste of time?"
     
  11. Jun 29, 2017 #10
    Because I'm interested in more than one thing, some things are more valuable than others, and I won't get to study every last thing I want to.

    And honestly, the general university physics education is pretty sad, for entirely intentional reasons. Physics would have been better as a hobby after college education.

    Like I said, could have been much worse. I was a music major at one time, after all.
     
  12. Jun 30, 2017 #11
    Not so much a waste of time as it is a consideration for your financial limitations. Not everyone has the money to just go to college solely to study things they find interesting to get little payout. Sometimes the debt exceeds the interest, and that is in no way a fault of an individual but rather a greater problem in the American educational system.
     
  13. Jul 1, 2017 #12

    StatGuy2000

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    You've seen my reply before how in a different thread where, based on your response above, that I've concluded that you believe that a physics degree is worthless. You protested my conclusion at the time, but here in this thread, you appear to be saying the same thing.
     
  14. Jul 1, 2017 #13
    If I could go back I would have majored in something else. I still like the subject. But for a degree and with no PhD it has proved nearly worthless for employment in my case.

    I like my current job as an engineer. I think I got it in spite of my physics degree rather than because of my physics degree.
     
  15. Jul 2, 2017 #14

    symbolipoint

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    Not worthless. Physics degree by itself is , for too many individuals, not enough. One needs something more. Does one have skills from maintenance repair experience, or from engineering education? Some of just those would make a Physics graduate more appealing for some employers who might use a Physics graduate. Computer programming or other computer skills? Also good.
     
  16. Jul 2, 2017 #15

    symbolipoint

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    One would guess that some skills from your experience before you were hired helped your employer to hire you.
     
  17. Jul 2, 2017 #16
    Sure, but not from my physics cirriculum. My work history, hobbies, and few engineering classes I took came up in my interview. My physics education didnt come up for either of my job's interviews nor has it come up on the job at all. It was meaningless for my work and was basically just an expensive hobby.
     
  18. Jul 2, 2017 #17

    radium

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    I don't think a physics degree is worthless at all. The people I know who are not currently in academia all have very good jobs they are happy with. Condensed matter experimentalists can work at Intel or IBM etc. or do data science etc. I know a few physicists who have also gone into things involving machine learning/robotics and they say for some things they have an advantage over people with a computer science background since physical intuition is very useful in that area.

    I think it does somewhat depend on the subfield. Ideas from subjects invoking a lot of stat mech can be applicable to a lot of areas.
     
  19. Jul 2, 2017 #18
    Yep, and I told you it was a really dishonest interpretation of my post at the time. You should dig it up and reread it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2017
  20. Jul 2, 2017 #19
    It's Sunday and Django is giving me a segment fault, so I'm going to take a moment to ponder on StatGuy's post.

    Somehow the post:

    Becomes,

    This conclusion obviously differs from what is written for two reasons: The degree is more negative, and the scope is wildly different. Somehow the opinion that it was "pretty much" a waste of my time becomes that it's worth is zero, with no qualifier.

    The reason claiming I think a physics degree is worthless is wrong is because I don't think a physics degree is worthless. For instance, if one's only goal was teaching high energy physics in academia, I think a physics degree is the best (and nearly only) way to do this.

    Do I think it's a mediocre degree? Poorly taught at most universities? Low value for my specific situation? Sure. Worthless? Nope.

    What's the motivation here? What could cause StatGuy to so aggressively misread my posts multiple times?

    (Note: Those are rhetorical questions, I don't actually care.)
     
  21. Jul 2, 2017 #20

    StatGuy2000

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    @Locrian, you may have asked rhetorical questions (and as you said it, you don't actually care about my reasoning), but I will provide you with my motivation/reasons for replying about your response.

    Consider the very context of this thread. The OP had specifically stated that he/she had switched majors from physics to aerospace engineering because of a perception that studying physics would more than likely lead to low-paying opportunities (or even unemployment).

    In this very thread (and in numerous threads), I have seen @Rika in this very thread state that he thinks studying physics is a waste of time (see post #3 above) and I see you above state, and I quote, "but the time I spent learning physics was pretty much a waste of time."

    How can any reasonable, logical person who is reading these statements not conclude that you (and @Rika, @ModusPwnd, and many others on PF) feel that studying physics is worthless (unless if one intends to pursue a PhD in the field)?

    If you want to know my actual opinion in this regard, allow me to quote myself in post #19 in this thread (please focus on what I write after "Note:").

    https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/work-opportunities-for-physicists.758671/
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2017
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