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Physics and astronomy major should I drop the astronomy? Help please!

  1. Jan 15, 2008 #1
    Hi everyone. I'm currently in the second semester of my second year, doing a combined degree in physics and astronomy.

    I really love physics, and have no doubt I will continue in that direction. However, I've always been interested in astronomy outside of school... So it seemed like the natural direction to take by combining my degree with astronomy. I took my first "real" (i.e. scientific) astronomy course last semester. Ultimately, I didn't find it that interesting. I felt like I was learning mostly techniques for finding distances, measuring parallax, yadda yadda. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I enjoy learning about the quantization of light in physics and all these fundamental concepts about flux and fields, and whatnot. In astronomy I'm just worried it's going to be a lot of techniques that I learn. I was hoping to be surprised by what I would learn in astronomy, like I am in physics.

    I think I might regret it if I drop the astronomy portion of my degree, but I'm not convinced particularly why. I am interested in cosmology but it seems like I will only get a chance to learn much about that in 4th year. I am also not convinced I would enjoy working in an observatory. I am in co-op so I might have that opportunity before I graduate, but I'd like to make decisions about what I study now.

    I have all of my electives for my degree so I am just taking essential courses. I just don't want to --in 4th year-- realize that astronomy is never what I hoped, and I'm just studying how gases float around and things like that. I want to learn about black holes and neutron stars and all those 'unusual' things.

    If anyone has input I would much appreciate it. I apologize if this isn't very coherent!

    P.S. I am also a bit put-off by the fact the labs in astronomy are kinda... well, data analysis or viewing through telescopes. I like playing with real things, like in physics labs.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 16, 2008 #2
    I dropped my astronomy degree for that reason. I just found it mind-numbing compared to learning it on my own for fun. I still like learning about astronomy and cosmology, but I figured it wasn't worth the frustration to get the degree. Just like I enjoy learning history, but wouldn't want to do a history major, you know?
  4. Jan 16, 2008 #3


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    I did astronomy not because I has any interest in it but because it offered more than just the physics degree.
    A lot of physics is data reduction, it's actually a very good way of learning data reduction since the data is often fairly poor and scarce which is a good way to learn how to handle it. The physics of stars and cosmology is at least as intersting as particle physics or nuclear physics.

    An astronomy degree isn't a requirment to do astronomy, even in observatioanl astronomy most astronomers have a failry limited understanding of catalogues and coordinate systems, less on telescopes and instruments or detectors.

    Make sure you take enough physics course to qualify for a physics degree or a joint major.
  5. Jan 16, 2008 #4
    Thanks, I'll think about that. I'm taking the recommended courses for our Combined BSc in Phys/Astro, so no concern there --> http://web.uvic.ca/calendar2007/FACS/FoSc/DoPhaA/CPanAPR.html .

    It didn't occur to me these skills would be readily useful in physics too... Maybe it'll get more interesting later on too.
  6. Jan 16, 2008 #5
    In my experience, the material taught in freshman astronomy courses (or sophomore, in your case) is not representative of the daily problems astronomers solve in their careers. Personally, I've never used parallax or finding distances using trigonometry in my astrophysics research. My research is more "exotic" and, to me, much more exciting.

    Introductory courses are meant to give students a broad outline of many topics within the field. Students then specialize as their education continues, and the specialize courses are almost always more exciting. Also, I could be wrong, but I think that basic astronomy courses emphasize optical wavelengths, which is a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum; different frequencies are observed differently. And let's not forget other particles like cosmic rays and neutrinos. Intro courses only have a limited amount of time, and may only cover more fun topics in passing, topics that some people build their careers around.

    You have two options: Deal with the more boring introductory courses (to be fair, the semester just started – you may end up liking your current intro course) and wait until courses get more specialized, or drop the astronomy degree but still pursue astronomy research.

    As mgb mentioned, data analysis is really important in all of physics and in other disciplines. And telescopes are real things! I wish I knew how to use a telescope better, just for fun.
  7. Jan 16, 2008 #6


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    Well before starting studying neutron stars and more "exotic" astrophysics phenomenon, "basic" stuff is needed.

    Listen to Laura1013, you must get the tools first.

    I can also tell you this:
    my first astrophysics course was really fun, we learned alot of stuff. It was a 7.5 cred course at bachelor level. I also was very intereseted in astronomy when I was a kid. And we learned everything from paralaxes to neutron stars to early big bang.

    My second courses was radiation and dynamics in astrophysics, much about radiative transfer and gas dymanics; it SUCKED, was sooo boring. But in the whole that made me enjoy courses in stellar structure phsyics and Nuclear astrophysics even more:)

    So now I am really a nuclear- particle physics guy, but want to have an open window to do PhD in Nuclear/particle astrophysics.
  8. Feb 13, 2010 #7
    My advice is if you can pull it off... DO IT. I wish I could have went to college and studied astronomy and physics as opposed to reading books about it. Really I envy you with your tough decision lol. GO FOR IT I would only drop one if I thought it would be hard to pass or if it might bring down other subjects. But if you can pull out good grades in both you should do both, one compliments the other.

    The world is wide open in front of ya, be all you can in college and study hard!!

    Boring introductory courses can be a problem for some people, like myself if I am not being challenged I lose all interest. But if you can tough it out you will have learned a valuable lesson that I could not learn, how to endure things that won't challenge you but are necessary to get to challenges. This may translate later in life to accepting work that you will not enjoy but might be necessary to get to the job you want. I highly recommend toughing it out, what I do in my self study is simply skip ahead to the good stuff. Maybe you can do something like that with your free time, secure the material that interests you and study it. Enough to remind you that the ends justifies the means.
  9. Feb 13, 2010 #8

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    This is a two year old thread. The OP is about to graduate.
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