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Really need advice on what to major in

  1. Nov 6, 2014 #1
    Please take the time to read all of this. I would really appreciate if you could fully understand my situation and help me.

    I am a freshman in college and need to decide very soon what I want to major in. I have always had a difficult time making decisions. One week I'll feel one way and the next I'll feel differently, and there has always been back-and-forth pulling between a few major interests of mine.

    Here are my two major passions, in no specific order:
    Astronomy and Politics

    You might be a little surprised. Some people put them far apart from each other. After all, many career tests that I have taken have asked me, "Would you rather be a scientist or a senator?" And I've never been able to answer that question easily.

    Here is the deal:
    I love science, particularly astronomy. I have always been interested in the planets, the stars, the galaxies, and everything else in the universe. I also believe that it is, in a way, a duty of mine as a human to help contribute towards learning new things about the universe that we live in. There are so many big questions we have to work towards answering, and things we must do in space to build a strong future as a human race.

    I also love politics. Whenever elections come around, I fully immerse myself in what's going on. Especially presidential elections. The first presidential election I remember was 2004, and since then I've been hooked. I follow campaigns very closely and am a big supporter of certain views and platforms. I have put bumper stickers for candidates on my car. I debate politics on social media sites. And I follow news about government, politics, and world events. I'm already analyzing and discussing potential candidates and strategies for the 2016 presidential election.

    I haven't had to declare a major yet in college, but so far (in my first semester) I've been taking classes that are under the academic plan for the major "Astronomy and Astrophysics."

    But lately I've been worrying excessively about the future and what I really want to do. I love astronomy and space, and I'm very interested in ideas like the search for extraterrestrial life and asteroid deflection. But there is one big problem with majoring in Astronomy & Astrophysics: I'm not that good at math and I don't like it.

    I can handle physics to a certain point, but the math sets me back and bores me. There are so many people who are way better with math and physics than I am. I am more interested in big concepts and ideas rather than mathematical problems with numbers. For example, on a test, I would much more enjoy questions like "If the universe was geometrically positively curved, what would its ultimate fate believed to be?" (Answer: It would likely expand to a certain point, stop, and then contract back in on itself, resulting in an eventual "big crunch" or "big bounce."

    A question I would hate on a test is: "Calculate the pressure of a gas inside a black hole at -234 degrees F."

    In other words, for example, I love to learn about black holes, how they work, and how they're formed. But I would hate sitting down and actually doing specific calculations concerning them. And the problem with the Astronomy & Astrophysics major is that to land a really good job, I'd likely have to go to graduate school and obtain a PhD, which, for this major, means a lot of math and a lot of physics. I can see myself failing to do well when the math gets intense.

    To show you this struggle, here are three classes I took in high school and the grades I ended up with:
    > Advanced Astronomy (class was about planets, solar system, galaxies, black holes, universe, etc...a lot of memorizing and understanding facts and ideas. Little math.) Final grade: 99%.
    > AP Physics (didn't concern space much at all. Focused on general mechanical physics. Lots of calculations.) Final grade: 85%.
    > Calculus (lots of calculations. I hated it because it was just math and had nothing to do with astronomy.) Final grade: 80%.

    So, you can clearly see how I am really good at pure astronomy ideas, but not mathematical calculations.

    The thing with political science is this:
    I love elections and campaigns. But sometimes certain parts bore me...like law. I don't want to go to law school. I don't want to be a lawyer. And I'm not into business or finance either. It's boring to me. Never would I want to be a businessman. I like analyzing politics and campaigns, not necessarily becoming a politician myself. I would rather be like John King on CNN...analyzing elections and campaigns and working the "Magic Wall" to show live election results in states and counties. I love that stuff. This past Tuesday, I followed the election results from dinner to bedtime. If I ever did run for office, I would want to be a non-traditional candidate. Not a lawyer or businessman. And if I won a big position, I would make sure delegate more money to NASA and space research, because there is part of me that will always love space and astronomy.

    So I am at a crossroad about what to do. I love Astronomy and space, but the path to obtain a good-paying job that way is quite difficult, and I'm afraid I'll fail to succeed at the math.
    I like Politics and political science, but strictly politics and nothing more...not law, not business, not finance. I just like analyzing and following campaigns and elections. And if I spent my entire life doing politics, I would be mad that I didn't contribute to the world of science, because I love science too.

    Ideally, if I could choose exactly what I wanted to do in my life, I would want to be a scientist who was also involved in politics. I would want to be an astronomer who also shared his opinion on political topics in a public arena. I like controversial topics. I consider myself a nice and kind person, but I am very passionate about hotly debated topics like science vs. religion and liberalism vs. conservatism. I debate these issues quite often with people I know and on social media sites. I can handle the stress. Part of me even enjoys it. I want to be part of a controversial topic. I admire people like Richard Dawkins who debate issues like evolution, religion, and politics publicly (on TV).

    So I really need some help and advice. I could major in Planetary Science, which is less math and more concept-oriented, but what kind of job could I get with that? How about a double major of Astrophysics and Political Science? How difficult would that be and what could I do after that? What about a major in one subject and a minor in the other?

    I would love to work for NASA or some type of space company like the SETI Institute. Or direct a planetarium. But I'm afraid that when I get to the intense math in graduate school that I won't be able to do it.
    And if I do political science my entire life, I would feel as thought I failed to contribute to science, which I love.

    What should I major in? I want to thank you for reading and helping beforehand. I really appreciate it and really need some guidance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    This is the third such thread you've started, each with different goals. It seems to me that your first task is to figure out what your goals are, and then maybe you could get some advice on how to achieve them.
  4. Nov 6, 2014 #3
    I need some help and advising; then I can make specific goals. You can't make goals when you don't know enough about what you're looking at in the future.

    Plus, I stated in this very thread what, ideally, I would like to do: be a scientist who is involved in politics. Maybe you missed it, maybe you don't care. I don't know. But it's not that easy; there are many problems I presented that I need help with. But unless you can offer any sort of guidance or information about either of these two career areas, your replies are no help to me.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2014
  5. Nov 6, 2014 #4


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    If you are serious about your interest in studying Astronomy, then choose Physics, or Physics and another science, and dedicate the required study of the Mathematics, regardless of how you like it currently and regardless of what you might feel about it in the future. Maybe you would appreciate the topics of Mathematics when you develop the ability to solve numerical and geometric problems and therethen have the ability to use Mathematics skills for their predictive value.

    You must understand, that you cannot simply focus on Astronomy if you want to become familiar with Astronomy; you must study MORE THAN just Astronomy. I should explain that, but at this moment, I just cannot (sometimes I can, sometimes not - just depends how I am at any moment). Maybe someone else will explain why.
  6. Nov 6, 2014 #5
    I understand what you're saying. You're saying that to be an expert in Astronomy, I must study all the specifics and little details, including extensive math and calculations. I get it. But I don't think I want to spend every day of my life doing calculations. I feel that I am better at conveying large ideas and concepts. Unfortunately, it seems like those people end up with average-paying jobs...high school astronomy teachers, planetarium workers.
  7. Nov 6, 2014 #6


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    You are taking an overly restrictive point-of-view about the use of Mathematics in Astronomy and possibly about the use of Mathematics and caclulations in other sciences. Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, and at least some Linear Algebra, possibly other topics of Math, ARE NECESSARY, and they give one great descriptive power, problem-solving and predictive power.

    The way you discuss your broad goal of understanding without doing the detailed work of study, this is like you are looking for Lucy in the sky with diamonds, while you should be focusing how to reach her, first; and meanwhile, reach for some fresh fruit growing on the trees in your garden.
  8. Nov 6, 2014 #7

    That is my point...I am interested in a number of broad topics and ideas. In my opinion, focusing on one single, too-specific thing in life is not always a good thing. Unfortunately, most employers look for people who can specialize extensively in one specific field. That's traditionally the way things are.

    But I'm here because I'm trying to say that I'm not naturally like that. I don't plot myself in one idea and obsessively study it. I consider myself to be a more rounded person with multiple, broad interests, which I have described. For example, I would not want to be the person who simply types survey results into a database. I would want to be the person who writes a summary and analysis of what the survey results concluded. I think big ideas and concepts.

    I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. I'm here because I'm different, I'm unique, and I feel a little lost on where to go. It starts with choosing what to major in.

    Since Astronomy and politics are my two main passions, would a major in Astronomy and a minor in Political Science be beneficial?
  9. Nov 6, 2014 #8


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    You need to pick something; maybe two somethings.
    Some questions to help make a decision/s can and should be:
    • What do you know how to do?
    • What do you understand?
    • What do you want to know how to do?
    • What do you want to understand?
    • What equipment, methods, and techniques do you want to know how to do and use?

    Good; ;then pick something more generalized, like Physics and not just Astronomy. Analyzing and summarizing means also developing good writing skills. This is something that fits well with any of the sciences.

    I do not understand.

    Other people cannot choose a major field for you. The choice is something only you can do. Someone can suggest a major field; later you can choose something different.

  10. Nov 7, 2014 #9

    Thank you for all that; I really do appreciate it.

    But I still don't get how you "don't understand." I'm not asking people to pick my major for me; I'm looking for help on, kind of, the pros and cons of certain majors and whether a double major or major/minor would be possible.

    There are a lot of people that are involved in multiple fields, so it certainly must be possible. There are also people who change fields at some point during their lives. What I'm trying to do is plan my future in a feasible way. That's why I'm seeking advice on majors, what jobs they may lead to, and how to keep my options open later in life. It would be bad to make a plan that is completely unrealistic and too difficult.

    There is also a planetary science major at my university. It seems much less math oriented and more concept oriented, but seems to be a major that leads to no better than average jobs, at best. Like high school astronomy teacher. Or planetarium worker.

    If I truly want to major in physics (or astrophysics...my university has an astrophysics major that is more focused on space, which is my passion), I am beginning to realize that I need to get serious and tell myself to fight through the math, even though I may not enjoy it.

    But what about graduate school? Will it be too long and too expensive? Will I be good enough? What if the math courses in my 3rd and 4th years of college get really hard and my grades go down?

    I really don't feel like extensive math is a strong suit of mine. Can I make it one?

    On the other hand; I love political science. But I would not want to traditionally enter that field (through law school or business). I just love the strategy part of campaigns, elections, and policy. So my interests there are limited, too.
  11. Apr 9, 2015 #10
    Older thread, but here goes..

    Not sure if you've yet made up your mind or not, but have you tried networking with people in different disciplines and get their take on what it's like to do what they do?
    They could offer some insight that may either stray you away from that profession or intrigue you enough to want to learn more.
    If you find something that peaks your interest, delve deeper into it and find out how to gain experience in the industry.

    You say you like science and politics. What about a government job, say the EPA? Something like that would require both a solid understanding of science and political knowledge, more in particular the regulations, whether it be on a state or federal level.

    Also as you stated, math is one of your weaknesses. Any level of science requires math, so hit the books. If you're not a self-learner, take some classes or get a tutor. Being proficient in math will help you greatly in the long run and even open up more opportunities along your career. Math is essential regardless of which science discipline you choose. Not only the particulars of math, like functions and derivatives, will benefit you - but also the understanding of how things operate on a micro and macro level. The background mindset of using math can be applied to A LOT of situations. Having that aptitude will allow you to think about things differently and help your creativity immensely.
    Do some research on figure heads in whatever fields interest you and find out how they got to where they are now. If that path doesn't scare you away - dig deeper. You might not take that exact path, but could find something else along the way that really excites you.

    Another option is to not spread yourself too thin to begin with. Try a general study in something and you're good at it and like it enough, then maybe choose a minor or add on to a double-major. Start broad, finish focused.

    Discover something that you would do for free. Your career should be something you wake up and are passionate about. Nobody wants to go to a job they hate every day. Find your passion and become enthralled in it. You'll benefit in more ways you think.

    Best of luck!
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