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Physics (Realistic) options and versatility with a B.Sc. or Master's degree in Physics

  1. Nov 13, 2009 #1
    Alright, perhaps this question has been answered here already, though by browsing through the forums I haven't yet been able to come to a final conclusion, so I thought I might as well try to explain my situation a bit more thoroughly.

    I'm a pretty successful, 24-year-old law graduate from Slovenia (in terms of GPA attained and the percentile that puts me in) that has now for a bit over seven months been employed in a law firm as a "junior associate" (it's hard to directly translate the nature of my work into US/UK terms, I guess, but this should do). Though some may think I have it going for me, I see it diferently, as the pay is low (below average) and the working hours normally come to around 50hrs/week. Consequently (but not merely because of that) I am quite dissatisfied with my current job, and this has led me to question whether law is really my "calling".

    Therefore I've started thinking of other options and other studies I might pursue, and after some consideration I've narrowed it down to Maths and Physics, as I was very good at both and I enjoyed both, as well. So I started looking for undergraduate study options abroad (Canada and UK, the US universities wouldn't let me in due to me already having an undergraduate degree), as well as exploring what career options I would have with studying with either of those. As I don't want to merely work with statistics, teach, or be in finance as an analyst, I've scratched Maths and am now left with Physics, in regards to which I have to say I'm a big fan of science in general and am truly interested in finding the underlying logic of this world's functioning.

    Though I was thus determined to apply for Astrophysics - as this field interest me most - I'm now having doubts due to the nature of work I might do after graduating. I would love to do something with astronomy, but it seems these jobs are not aplenty. That's why I figured I'd be better off applying for a Physics degree, as I'm interested in nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, the world of particles, optics, etc. as well. However, I am not that interested in electronics, programming, building machines for factories etc., and browsing through this forums has led me to conclude that with a B.Sc. or a Master's it would be a very realistic chance I'd finish with a job dealing with these areas.

    Q.That is why my questions are as follows. Would I, with a B.Sc. in Physics (I'd love to pursue a Ph.D., but money IS an issue, as I'm not sure how I'd even finance my undergraduate studies) have a realistic chance of working with Astronomy and other areas mentioned above that interest me? And added to that, could I switch to Engineering if I saw it interests me? Because I don't wanna start studying Engineering as only a couple of branches interest me, such as Nuclear Engineering, Aerospace (and Aeronautic) Engineering, perhaps Civil Engineering to a degree, but definitely not Electrical Engineering. Basically, would I -with no additional formal qualifications or another complete change of study - be able to do what I listed as my fields of interest and how big are my chances, presuming I do good in my studies? Because as much as I'm getting miserable where I'm currently working, I doubt I'd be better off dealing with those areas of Physics that I have no interest in.

    Thanks in advance for your help and I hope this wasn't too long and tedious to read.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2009 #2
    The grass is always greener. If you are looking for better job options it seems rather counter-intuitive to me to think about a physics degree. And you don't like the long hours and low pay of your current job. Being a student in physics the hours will be even longer and the pay infinitely lower. You say you like math and physics and could do mechanical eng., but have absolutely no interest in electrical engineering. This idea seems to indicate to me that you are not considering what the work would actually be like. And what about when you need to take EM fields and waves as a physics major, will you just go to class with earplugs and blinders? So what I'm trying to say is, if you feel that you have an inner calling to learn physics and an unquenchable curiosity that you cannot shake, then you should go into physics. Otherwise the idea of getting a physics degree in an attempt to better your employment options seems rather strange.
  4. Nov 13, 2009 #3
    Yeah, I guess I wasn't clear enough, which has lead to some confusion. I would not be studying Physics to better my employment options, but would do it for the love of it. But as said, there are some fields I do not like, and well, EM fields and waves are actually not one of those. Though I said I would not like to do electrical engineering, I meant that in terms of putting together circuits etc., though I know EM fields are very much intertwined with that, as well. I guess what I'm saying is that I do not want to be something akin to an electrician or a computer guru/programmer/software developer, but from browsing the forums this seems to be a very realistic option as there are plenty of jobs in those fields, but perhaps not as much in the fields I am primarily interested in.

    Though basically, whether my take on this is right (as well as to whether it's true when you say the grass is always greener), is exactly what I wanted to find out with opening this topic.

    P.S.: I am not afraid of the long hours in physics, as I am not opposed to working over 40 hours weekly if I am truly interested in what I'm doing, plus the wage I'm working for right now is really low (you can't compare the numbers in Canada, UK and US to Slovenia, as lawyers get paid better in the first three countries not only in absolute numbers but in relative, when compared to other professions, as well).
  5. Nov 13, 2009 #4
    I'm pretty surprised that US universities won't let you get a second undergraduate. The US higher educational system is very decentralized, and you can almost always find someone that will let you in.

    You are likely to be very, very disappointed. The more you know, the more you know that the less you know. If you go through a good program, you are likely to leave with the very scary feeling that you really have no idea how the world works at all.

    Also why physics? What makes you think that physics will give you more insight into the mysteries of the universe than law, or finance, or history, poetry, or theology? Science has it's uses, but it does have it's limits, and a good program should give you some ideas of what they are.

    There are a lot of jobs in science journalism, high school teaching, and system administration at universities and laboratories. The trouble is that you seem to picky about the jobs you want, and you may find it tough to find a match between what you want and what you can get.

    It might help to read some biographies of Albert Einstein. Working at the Swiss Patent Office was not his first choice of careers, but it paid the bills and gave him time to think.

    Then again maybe not. The trouble with jobs in physics is that they are jobs. You have to deal with the same sorts of administrative stuff that you have to do in any job.
  6. Nov 13, 2009 #5
    Perhaps I haven't tried hard enough, I guess. I only tried a couple, saw somewhere that all the better universities won't let you do that and figured I'd try my luck somewhere else, where I could perhaps get in a university with a better level of teaching science than a relatively unknown one.

    Well, I guess what I wanted to say is that Physics interests me, although I agree that all of those field you've mentioned give some insight into the mysteries of the universe, as well, to a degree. And I know that science has its limits, but I'm still realizing more and more that I want to be doing something with it involved.

    Well, I get what you're saying and I'm not implying it needs to be the first job that I land that is going to fulfill my innermost desires, but still I guess I just want to know whether there's a realistic chance of me getting to a point in my career where I will indeed be able to deal with those areas. Because even with law, I knew I hated penal law from the get-go, and I also knew if I wanted to I COULD actually choose not to do it and still have a chance of landing a job not dealing with it. That's why I wanted to know whether it's the same in Physics and whether there's a chance of me even doing stuff that engineers would normally do, if I along the line somewhere realized this is what I want to do.

    Yeah, I get that, too, I'm not saying it's going to be a bed of roses, and I fully realize every job has its advantages and disadvantages.
  7. Nov 13, 2009 #6
    I recommend self-studying the foundations of quantum mechanics from original / translated Einstein, Bohr, Bohm, etc, until you realize there is no possible underlying logic of cause and effect that is visualizable (understandable) in an objective three (or four) dimensional world, which is the world we experience. Then switch to philosophy to try figure out how this is possible / okay.

    Physics deals with experimental results and models, not underlying logic. Philosophy shows and tries to deal with the fact that we can't prove any underlying logic. QM shows that not only can we not prove underlying logic, but it can't even exist in a form compatible with a basic, objective, 3d reality.

    If you want to understand how the universe works, you're SOL :smile:. Sorry. But seriously, philosophy (of physics?) is a better field for that sort of thing. None of this will get you a job though.

    As a related question... what do people with an MS in physics do for work? Anything? I know what physics PhDs and engineering MSs can do, but can you get a physics related job with a physics MS?
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2009
  8. Nov 13, 2009 #7
    Try public state universities (University of Texas at Austin) for example. State universities tend to be extremely open to enrollment, and a lot of them have great science programs.

    Yes..... But it's one of those be careful what you wish for. There's been a lot of thought trying to think about the basic principles of the universe, but you'll find a huge amount of frustration as you come up with idea after idea that just won't work. You may well find yourself after 20 years having worked on ideas after ideas that just won't work being only closer to the answer in that you have eliminated something that don't work.

    This is one reason I stayed out of that area. If you study the physics of ocean currents or fire or condensed matter, then the odds are that after three years of trying, you'll be able to say something important about the universe that wasn't known before. People have been trying to make sense out of the foundations of quantum mechanics since 1930, but I don't think there have been any major theory advances in that area since the 1960's.
  9. Nov 13, 2009 #8
    I know, and like I said, though I favour those theoretical areas perhaps, I am still open to a lot of other things. It's not like I'm only picking a few selected careers I'd be willing to do (well alright, in my first post I did actually do that, but I was hoping that engulfed the majority of jobs you can do with Physics), of course I'm more open than that, but I would, however, like to know, how broad my scope would really be (in terms of what I described in my first post), as this would be one of the more important determinants of me choosing a whole new path, called Physics.
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