Please Advise: BS in Astrophysics, What Next?

  • #1
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Well, I'm 23 years old and just finishing up my B.S. in Physics (w/ a concentration in Astrophysics), and I need some help evaluating my options. I delayed applying to graduate school last semester, electing for more 'finding stuff out' time.

I have a lot to say, but I'd rather be brief than tell you my life story.
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skip to below if you want me to get to the point
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So here's my dilemma:

- I find fundamental physics and astronomy incredibly interesting.
- I find mathematics incredibly interesting.
- I pretty much find everything interesting when I begin to understand it.

If I could retire right now, all I would do all day long is physics, math, food and music (with sporty stuff going on a couple times a week). I also like learning languages and experiencing other cultures (I've learned German and have studied physics in German).

The problem is that I can't retire today. I'd like to support a family someday as well, and I don't know what careers can encompass my interests and guide me on my path.

Here's my tentative plan before applying to grad school or a job:
- continue research in optics
- look for a resume building job
- look for other research opportunities
- take the physics GRE
- take LSAT for fun
- maybe study for and take math GRE
- compile a list of schools and grad programs that I'd go to
- see where I get in, then decide

Here are some PhD paths that I've considered, with the above interests in mind, roughly in order of interest:
- theoretical physics (cosmology, qcd, general astro)
- applied or pure math
- computational fluid dynamics (seems versatile; weather, geophysics, astro, etc)
- observational cosmology (or general astrophysics)
- experimental physics (optics, astro instrumentation)
- computational science (masters or PhD -- industry afterward)
- law school (if I do well on the LSAT and all else fails)
- economics (someone posted this in a thread: http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2013/05/if-you-get-phd-get-economics-phd.html)

Here are some industry/personal careers outside of academia that I've considered (in order...ish):
- code-monkey, programming (physics related? work for Wolfram?)
- some sort of consulting (post PhD?)
- start my own business
- writing philosophy, selling books
- teaching advanced high school students or college students
- lobbying (I have internship experience)
- patent law
- tech R&D (maybe after an experimental physics PhD?)
- an outdoor job (forestry? geology?)
- coast guard (helicopter pilot? jumper dude?)
- international relations
- other things that I forgot about
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ok here's the point(s)
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Point 1.
I have too many interests; I'm craving focus in a subject, but don't know which subject. I'm having trouble narrowing things down. I'm stuck between money, passion and lack of experience. I can always change paths or study on my free time, but making a well-informed decision the first time around is important to me as well. I'm interested in research, but not really interested in having my choice in research dictated to me (unless I'm making money for it).

Point 2.
I'm tempted to join the best university I can get into (definitely within the top 50, maybe not within the top 10). That way I'll have more options and a bigger ego. But I might have to drop down in prestige to do something like math or theoretical physics.

Can anybody give me some general advice? Whatever comes to mind!

How should I go about choosing grad schools (or a job)? I can't apply to all of them, that'd be expensive.


Thank you!!! This forum has already provided me with *a ton* of valuable information. I'm dumbfounded at how well this place aligns with my interests. P.S. I wasn't sure if this belongs in Academic Guidance or Career Guidance.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I can't give any advice, but woah, smart dude!
 
  • #3
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Thanks! :P ... I hope I didn't come off as braggie! I may have overestimated my ability to get into top 50 schools as well (I hope not! >.<).


I was browsing through some threads. Here's some relevant advice I found:
You'd be applying to a PhD program to get a PhD, which is a research degree. They want to see you can pass the classes (and a high GPA can tell them that) but most importantly they want to see that you're interested in research and capable of doing it, so some research experience (even if it's not in theory and you're interested in theory) is really essential for top grad programs. However, no amount of research can make up for poor grades - you need to pass the masters classes (and often a qualifying exam) before starting the PhD research. So both research and good grades are necessary. Just because you might not be capable of making contributions to theory yet doesn't mean you should ignore research opportunities altogether.
https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=371810


Here's another one that was intriguing. Would be nice to hear somebody expand on that.
Astrophysics is the branch of physics that generally deals with cosmology, stellar evolution and dynamics, black holes, etc.

Theoretical physics is more of a designation for the physicsts who primarily work with mathematical models, simulations and the construction of (obviously) theories. The other designation being experimental physics, which refers to those who investigate the world around us through measurement.

Most people working in astrophysics are primarily theorists. The complimentary branch to their work is often astronomy, although I have heard people use the term "experimental astrophysics" in reference to, for example, cosmic ray detectors.

Other branches of physics also have theorists: condensed matter, sub-atomic, even medical physics to an extent.

Lots of work can often fit under more than one label. It's best not to get too hung up on them - at least until you need to figure out which journal to submit your work to.
https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=255746

This thread had a lot of the same issues, but not a lot of answers. I didn't put actuary down, but they use some statistics in the job description. Here's a cool website:http://www.beanactuary.org/
Yeah actuaries are fairly well paid, and they have to have a descent understanding of maths. Physics is not well paid though. Maybe you should head down the easier finance route and you will soon forget your juvenile love for science as you mature and really begin to realise that money is more important.
Take that last bit with a spoonful of salt.
delta, plus's sarcasm is so thick you couldn't cut it with a knife.

cookiemonster
https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=16100
 
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