Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Please help Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

  1. Sep 7, 2010 #1
    PLEASE HELP!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    I would like to get some feedback to gauge my interest level in physics. At the present I feel passionate about physics but as they say one can never think clearly when they're in the eye of the storm.

    A little background: I just graduated with a BA in Political Science (21 years old) and I'm on track to go to law school. However, throughout college I had this nagging feeling that poli sci was just something I did, but I hardly ever stepped back and asked myself whether I am truly passionate about it. I did poli sci essentially because I'm a good writer and was interested in history/political affairs. I've done internships at social science institutions as well and I find them to be pretty boring and the work not very meaningful.

    Law school provides stability but after taking several law classes and meeting with many attorneys and I'm less than enthused with the legal field. I find the system to be too rigid and its legal theories must too subjective, hardly providing any objective base for which we can sway others. In terms of politics, I simply tire of the political bickering and find social movements to be more tedious then helpful

    My interest in physics increased dramatically my last year in college. I took a physics course which I loved. I also would frequent physics classes along the campus. I read several laymen's books on the life of physicists and their theories (most recently Michio Kaku's book on Einstein) which have been quite riveting.

    I think in pictures (visual-spatial) which is why I can't remember words (and I'm sometimes at a loss for them) and I've never been good at arithmetic. I've been increasingly convinced of the 'beauty' of higher-level mathematics and would LOVE to learn more about it. The work itself I find engrossing (while several of my liberal arts friends find it trivial).

    Your thoughts would be VERY HELPFUL. Does this sound like a genuine interest or does it all seem a bit dilettantish?
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2010 #2


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    It sounds like your interest is genuine.

    However, I wouldn't scratch your plans for law school or a legal career just yet.

    Careers in science, especially physics, can be very rewarding. However, scientific research can become very tedious, slow going and very frustrating at times. Sometimes, just like the internships you've had in your field, the real work of the discipline can be tough, and nowhere near as romantic as you expected or read about. That's life.

    As far as I can tell from one post on an internet forum, your interest seems genuine. Have you considered taking another physics course or two on the side while staying in your current track? Perhaps, you'll be able to figure out whether you really want it to be a career or maybe just a side interest.
  4. Sep 7, 2010 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Re: PLEASE HELP!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    What was the course about? Many departments offer courses targeted at students who are not physics majors, that are more "descriptive" or "discussion" type courses than "real physics" courses of the sort a major has to take.
  5. Sep 7, 2010 #4
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    I appreciate the prompt replies!

    GO1, as you can imagine this all seems so unsettling. I'm fairly confident that I want to go back to school for a physics degree but if my interest all turns all out to be some disillusioning fear of commitment to law school this would be financially disastrous.

    JTBell, the physics class I took was descriptive (particularly going over a history of physics with a little math analysis). I'm aware that basing a supposed interest on just this class is misleading which is why I've also been studying podcasts of introductory university physics courses which I've enjoyed.

    I want to reiterate that I was never good with simple arithmetic but I grasp 'higher math forms' such as differential calculus well because I can visualize the changing motion of the reference frames. These images stay with me in a way that words/arguments can't. Is this paradoxical or is it possible that physicists can be bad at arithmetic and still be successful?
  6. Sep 7, 2010 #5


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    I hate to be blunt but it must be said:

    To even consider switching careers based only on a "Physics for Humanities Students" course and some podcast lectures is absurd.

    In order to get any true idea of how realistic you can be about changing careers to physics, you need to take some real courses in physics or math. i.e. More than a course about the history of modern physics with a bit of cursory math. Realize that that course did not teach how to "do physics." It only taught you "about physics."

    What you need to do or know before you should make a decision like this:

    1. MATH: Did you take any calculus courses in college? If so how did you do?

    All you've mentioned is arithmetic. It won't matter how long it takes you compute a 20% tip for a check at the restaurant. How is your algebra ability? Your calculus? Realize in order to do this you'll need to take at least enough math courses for a minor to be able to get a bachelors in physics. Many people double major.

    2. You need a real physics course to judge your ability to do physics.

    You need to take a real, calculus-based introductory physics course(s), do the problem sets, take the exams, get a grade. If you do well. Take another. Only after taking a real physics course will you have any idea whether you'll be able to do this.

    3. Essentially you'd have to go back to school starting at day 1 and major and minor(major) in math. With the information you get from one or two above, is this doable or reasonable to pursue?
  7. Sep 7, 2010 #6
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    Thanks G01!

    As I said in my most recent post I realize that to base a career switch on a history of physics course would be a deep mistake. I took a calc course in college and received a B-. I was quite young then (started college in high school) and now years later (not to sound naive) but my mind seems to have developed into an ability of organizing data/systems, application of logic, etc. When I go back into my textbooks on differential equations for example I understand things in much deeper way that I didn't before.

    That said, I'm more than willing to put in the work starting from the beginning if:

    1. I am passionate about physics (which I believe I am)

    2. I could be at least 'somewhat' successful in society. The reason I say somewhat is that I'm more interested in the insights,
    the journey of exploring the universe(s) that physics could give me rather than collecting awards for my work.

    #2 brings me to a point I touched in my recent post but perhaps I need to make clearer. I'm curious as to whether computational skills in physics (working out algebraic problems, etc) is not so much as important as an ability to conceptualize physical phenomena or what equations can actually produce. Algebraically solving equations is not my strong suit but with things such as differential geometry, topology, tensor field analysis etc. where I can conceptualize how the equations are working within a given space it becomes easier. Is it possible that physicists can have difficulty computing equations but not with the actual idea itself (Thus using math, however difficult, as the summation of that idea)?
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2010
  8. Sep 7, 2010 #7
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    I thought I would share my own advice,

    You may have a real talent for mathematics, however, just like sports its the long tedious practices and defeats and perseverence in spite of them that really shows you have a passion for mathematics...or any subject and thing for that matter.

    You also have to be 100% commited to the amount of work and competitiveness of law school so its good to decide now, in fact take a couple of the most advanced mathematics classes you are able to take, and then base your decision off what feel deserves your fullest effort.

    ...anyway just my 2 cents (and about all its probably worth!)
  9. Sep 7, 2010 #8
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    I would think there must be a demand for a lawyer who understands physics, for instance a patent lawyer.

    I work in radio communications and very closely with a lawyer who handles all kinds of legal issues including filing papers with the FCC. In order to do this effectively he needs to understand what he is writing about.
  10. Sep 7, 2010 #9
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    skeptic2, its not that I wish to combine the two (physics and law) that compels me to do physics. That kind of law infused with science never appealed to me. Instead I feel my interest in physical phenomena is growing to such an extent that its become impossible for me to ignore at this point (see post #6).
  11. Sep 7, 2010 #10
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    Actual Physics requires a lot of derivation of equations to produce a result, a firm understanding of computing equations would be a prerequisite before you could try deriving an equation.

    One thing to consider is that if you decide to go into Physics, you will most likely have to get a PHD if you want to work in the Physics field. That’s 4 years for a B.Sc, another 4 for a PHD and after that you would have to do 1-2 post docs where you work at a university. This is a fairly long road ahead of you, and you should be aware of that.

    In my case, I was a Physics student, but after two years of study, I realized that although I really liked Physical Concepts, I wasn't so found of actual Laboratory work, which as a Physicist you would be doing a lot of. So even though I finished my last semester with an A- average, I've switched programs.

    So my advice to you is before you make any switch, you have to take a couple of Physics/Mathematics courses, and you should also take a semester long Physics Laboratory course for good measure. If after all that, you find that you're enjoying the course material than you should switch into a Physics program, if not then you're better off staying in Law.
  12. Sep 7, 2010 #11


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    The following is very harsh. I apologies if I offend, but it MUST be said. This is a serious issue, and I don't want to see the OP make any rash decisions about something so important to his future.

    Understanding what's going on conceptually is important, however it won't make a career. Physics is a quantitative science no matter what field you go into. No way out of it.

    Honestly, I'm trying to take you at face value here, but your making it hard.

    Have you really done rigorous study in those fields? Have you solved problems in differential geometry, topology, and tensor fields? How do you evaluate your ability in those areas? I'm sure those topics weren't covered in that first semester Calculus course you took.

    Physics involves a lot of advanced math, but algebra is always at the base of it.

    Your essentially saying, "Oh, yeah I didn't really do well in Intro to Law, but I'd be much better if you put me in front of a judge at a murder trial." Or, "I'm not too good in the shallow end of the pool, but I'm much better at swimming the English channel."

    I'm sorry but I don't believe it. Bad at algebra, good at higher math, maybe. However, bad at algebra, good at higher math, but no real grades or coursework in higher math to back it is totally different. Did a mathematician tell you you were good at the topics mentioned above? If not, how can you evaluate your own ability in high level mathematics topics when you said yourself, the only math course you took is Intro Calc and you got a B-?!

    I think you are either trying to mislead us into supporting your decision, or trying to mislead yourself into thinking you actually have enough evidence to justify a career flip. It's not the case. Here are the facts I can gather from what you posted here:

    1. You are trained in political science/pre-law.

    2. You are very interested in Physics.

    3. Your rigorous mathematical training is very little, ending at Calculus I with a B-.

    4. You have no actual experience working in physics. You have never taken a real physics class, and have no idea what's involved in real physics work. Perhaps, at most, you have solved some problems on your own from web lectures. You've never been evaluated in your ability to solve these problems effectively by anyone else.

    My advice:

    1. Don't bother trying to convince people on the web that you have experience in math subjects you don't. (Perhaps you have some conceptual understanding of what goes on in those fields, but it doesn't mean you are good at those subjects.)

    2. Stop even considering a career switch until you take some real physics and math courses on the side, at a university, and get grades in them. Retake Calculus, take the Intro Physics Sequence. If your scraping by with C+'s / B-'s then it's not for you. If your getting through with better Grades (at LEAST 3.3 GPA), then maybe you can consider changing to a physics based career of some sort.

    I do hope for the best for you am2010, whatever you do. I am only trying to throw some desperately needed reality into this thread. Please don't make this decision without any real evidence supporting your choice. Otherwise it may turn out very bad.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2010
  13. Sep 7, 2010 #12
    Re: Please help!! Liberal arts degree w/ an interest in physics

    I think the best thing to do in this case is, like people have been saying, to take some rigorous math and physics classes on the side (check out local state schools or community colleges) and see how you do. Make sure you take the classes for physics/science/math majors, or at the very least for engineering majors or pre-engineering students. Maybe you're not very passionate about law at the moment, but many people don't like their jobs/careers and sometimes it's something you have to stick with for a while until you find a better alternative.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook