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Physics Physics vs Medical field

  1. May 5, 2012 #1

    I am a junior in high school and from 9th grade until a couple months ago, I could only picture myself as a neurosurgeon. But, as I have discovered, the competition in that field is high and it is very demanding, and in some places such as Holland, they only accept 6 neurosurgeons a year. The brain and the nervous system very much interests me, but I find it excruciating to read things about (such as lecture notes) from undergrad courses that leads to a neuroscience degree. On the other hand, physics enamor me. I find it to be fascinating, and I have always been a mathematics type of person, I'm always looking for the next challenge. But I digress.

    My concern and questions are as follow: is the road to neurosurgery tedious as compared to a physics road? What about astrophysics? And theoretical physics? Is it worth it to double major in neuroscience and astrophysics and pursue a career in neurosurgery? And, of course, salary-wise (although I do not really care much for it, as knowledge is priceless), will I be able to be financially well off if I do pursue a career in physics? Moreover, and I apologize for all these questions but I have had them for a while, would I be able to succeed in physics with a belief in God, as I am a Christian? And worry not, I am not like the Christians the media portrays them to be, I do not let my beliefs affect my opinions and views of the Universe.
    Last edited: May 5, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2012 #2
    Regarding your religious beliefs: there is a small minority of physicists who subscribe to religion, although finding a religious biologist is very rare, and a religious evolutionary biologist even more rare. I'm telling you this more for interests sake than anything else.
  4. May 10, 2012 #3
    Do what you love. Forget about things like tedium and money. You can't take the money with you. Believe me. I'm an orthopedic surgeon now and after 20 years I am planning to return to graduate studies in physics and/or astronomy (I have a B.A. in astronomy) because astronomy is my passion. Sure, you will not have money issues going into medicine as long as you don't waste it, but if you do ANYTHING in clinical medicine where the financial returns are greater, you have to LOVE people and I mean all kinds of people. Fat people, dumb people, angry people and crazy people included. And you WILL have to go through litigation at least once in your career. As far as the religion aspect, you might be interested to know that the Vatican, yes, the Vatican, runs a fully staffed professional observatory in Arizona and regularly contributes to astrophysical research! Good luck whatever you decide
  5. May 10, 2012 #4

    George Jones

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    Very rare, yes, but a high profile example is the geneticist Francis Collins.
  6. May 10, 2012 #5


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    "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Dirac" [Broken] friend Dirac has got a religion and its guiding principle is 'There is no God and Paul Dirac is His prophet.'"

    "It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better."
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  7. May 11, 2012 #6
    I don't know that I'd go so far as to say a small minority . While I would agree that few physicists likely take a blanket approval of all religious tenets as fact, I suspect there are more than you would think that believe there is more to our existence than a jumble of atoms that just happened to end up in human form.

    I am curious. Yea, I'm one of those (more than a few) scientists/physicists that believe in god. I look at the complexity of any life form and wonder "how?". Has anyone every calculated the probability of starting out with a slurry of atoms culminating in even the simplest life form, let alone the variety of life on earth, or the probability that you would have at least two that would survive to reproduce etc? i.e. take God out of the equation :smile: and do a first principles calculation.

    IMO, this is a well thought out piece on the relationship and coexistence of science and religion, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_religion_and_science

    Anyway, after getting a bit off track, IMO, so long as you are not one of those that “take a blanket approval of all religious tenets as fact”, you should have no problem in any field of science or medicine. By all means, do what makes you happy in the long run.
  8. May 11, 2012 #7


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    That is not how abiogenesis is thought to occured, neither is it anything to do with evolutionary biology. Organisms do not spontaneously form and then have to wait for the spontaneous formation of a sexual partner. Wrt abiogenesis whilst we don't have a comprehensive theory of abiogenesis it is understood that the original processes would have been for molecules to form that are capable of simple self replication and stable enough to do so. Continuing further if these molecules possess some sort of catalytic ability then even better. See the RNA world hypothesis for further info. In addition this thread does not need to be dragged down with an argument about god but your statement is a logical fallacy, specifically argument from improbability (short version: first mistake is to assume the faulty premise of random chance. Second is to propose a false dichotomy between unfallsifiable/unevidenced hypothesis i.e. god and aforementioned faulty premise).

    To the OP your religion is only a problem if you let it get in the way or if you try to do research for the purpose of confirming your beliefs.
  9. May 11, 2012 #8
    In a very general sense, I understand how abiogenesis works. Similarly, I see how the building blocks of life can be formed, as demonstrated in the Miller and Urey experiment http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller–Urey_experiment . I am a scientist, I don't have a problem with the proven facts and the hypothesis derived from sound work.

    I did NOT say anything that “dragged down with an argument about god but your statement is a logical fallacy, specifically argument from improbability (short version: first mistake is to assume the faulty premise of random chance.” I did respond to the previous post that was specifically directed at the original posters religious beliefs.

    Additionally, IMO, you are flat wrong to say “the faulty premise of random chance”. In interaction chance and consequences of interaction between atoms, molecules, etc. all boil down to probability. Back in the 60s-70s, the math teachers were fond of telling us the world and all that happens in it could be describe with math and that math was the basis of all science. We run mathematical computer simulations to model many things, incl. organic systems, and they deal in probabilities.

    Lastly, when I said “take God out of the equation :smile: ”, that was just in humor, not a false dichotomy.
  10. May 11, 2012 #9


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    You might be interested to read more about the subject, the statement regarding the formation of two sexed organisms at the same time indicates an incomplete understanding.
    There is a world of difference between random chance and probability determined by the thermodynamics inherent in chemistry. This is what I was responding to.
    When the field of biological evolution is no longer under concerted attack by those who wish to push god into the equation (to the extent where it begins to seep into public consciousness that "if not evolution then god") I'll probably take more time to see the humour in such statements.
  11. May 11, 2012 #10
    Always. Too many interesting things to read and too little time :smile:

    My first post only speaks to probability. I think you introduced "chance". The point is taken.

    There are clearly unreasoned attacks of evolution. However, evolution is not without holes, and where there is a hole, someone will try to fill it. We just need to pick up the shovel first. Having said that, I don't have a problem with people of different philosophies or religions holding on to beliefs until proven wrong. Hence, my point to the 1st poster about not setting aside that which is proven for that which is believed. Sometimes even the smartest scientists are proven wrong. Remember http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/...of-light-broken-at-CERN-scientists-claim.html ?

    Humor is still Ok. I teach my son we can only argue facts and not faith.
  12. May 11, 2012 #11
    Interesting debate going on here. But the main point of this wasn't my religion rather the road of neurosurgery compared to physics or if it is worth to double major in those areas but go into medicine.
  13. May 11, 2012 #12


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    Both paths are long and difficult.
    1. About 4 years of undergrad, where you need to get a competatively high GPA and accumpulate a reasonable about of extra-curricular activities, and do well on the MCAT. You have to complete a core set of required classes, but once you have those you do take whatever courses you want.
    2. Medical school. Another 4 years with high tuition where you rack up the student debt. Assuming you get in.
    3. Internship and Residency. I don't know much about how it works in surgery but generally this is about a 5 year process - likely more like 7 for a surgical specialty. I believe you have to do a general surgery internship first, then specialize as a neurosurgery resident. You won't have much spare time and you won't get paid the big bucks as a resident.

    1. 4 years of undergrad, where you need to specialize in physics. I would avoid over-specializing at this point. General is better. But you need to earn a high GPA and it's not necessary, but extremely helpful to get involved in research.
    2. Graduate school. On average you're looking at ~ six years to earn a PhD. Along the way you have to pass (in grad school anything less than a B- won't cut it) advanced courses. Then a comprehensive examination on... well just about everything. Then a candidacy exam that focuses on your field... mostly. Then publish original research. Then defend a dissertation. You generally get a meager stipend while doing this and for those who live a frugal lifestyle, you don't accumulate much debt.
    3. Once having earned the PhD you can enter the post-doc circuit and work temporary positions with limited benfits making similar money to what you could have made straight out of undergrad. Do this for several years hoping that you're the 1/10 who may actually get a permanent academic position. Alternatively you can find non-academic work.

    See the physics path above. It's the same.

    My advice is to keep your undergraduate degree as general as possible, while still keeping the doors open that you want to keep open. Don't double major in subjects just because they sound cool. That's a recipe for disaster.

    If you look up the salary data on physics graduates you'll see that on average they do quite well, but there is a larger standard deviation in the salaries than compared to many fields of engineering. Physicists in general tend to do okay from a financial perspective, but they don't always end up doing physics.

    This will only hinder you as much as you allow it to. I know several Christian physicists who are quite successful.
  14. May 11, 2012 #13
    What do they end up doing?
  15. May 12, 2012 #14


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    They end up all over the place.

    Check out the AIP website for statistics on these things (although much of their data is sepearted into vague blocks entitled "the private sector").

    Examples of work that physics PhDs end up in outside of academia include:
    - finance
    - engineering
    - industrial R&D
    - technical sales
    - entreprenurial ventures
    - teaching
    - network administration and IT
    - etc.
  16. May 12, 2012 #15
    It's a sad reality. I have always dreamed of getting my PhD in theoretical physics and doing researches and earning the average salary, something like 80k/yr, and being happy doing it. But again, nothing is as we expect or dream: we are the breeders of our own disappointments. Thank you for the reality check, Choppy.
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