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Reconsidering a B.S. in physics

  1. Aug 5, 2015 #1
    I'm a sophomore at UW, who loves math and physics. However, I have been thinking about changing majors as I need serious money to pay back loans, and seeing as BS physics majors don't get many jobs I might change. I don't want to change just for money, but right after college I need a job at least for a couple years or part time to finance my PhD . I have a iffy GPA of 3.2, so I couldn't change majors into Engineering and there is no way of getting into CS at my current school. Should I change schools and go into Physics and/or another major like CS at a crappy in state school? I really don't wanna be stuck not being able to fund my PhD, and defaulting on student loans. Any advice is appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2015 #2
    Finance your Ph.D? Most physics Ph.D students will not have to pay any tuition and will get a stipend as a TA or RA. In fact, it's usually said that if you have to pay for your Ph.D, that school didn't truly want you.
  4. Aug 5, 2015 #3


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    How do you think you're going to get into a PhD program if you have a 3.2 GPA? Engineering is most likely an easier path to repaying student loans but it's hard work. If you're not that into it you may become a mediocre engineer and then nobody wins.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2015
  5. Aug 5, 2015 #4


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    Are you basing this on data or hearsay?
  6. Aug 5, 2015 #5


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  7. Aug 5, 2015 #6
    Get that GPA up. Work harder.
  8. Aug 5, 2015 #7
    That data doesn't look so hot to me. Over half of graduates go to graduate school... Of those that don't 25% are unemployed or part time employed. Only 3% who are privately employed are employed in physics, but honestly even that number seems high. How is a BS physics graduate getting employed "in physics" and what are they doing?

    They job satisfaction seems high. But then they just cherry picked the graduates who are employed and employed in STEM. That is a minority of graduates. The non-STEM positions have marginal job satisfaction.

    I think that unless you plan on going all the way to a PhD there is little reason to study physics. The data quoted above shows you are unlikely to get a job doing physics, so you might as well major in something that might actually pertain to your future job. But if your GPA is low and you cant make it to engineering school then physics might be your only option. I have met more than one physics grad who did physics because they couldn't make it into engineering.
  9. Aug 5, 2015 #8


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    I'm sure you and I have had this discussion before. And I doubt we'll agree, yet again, but I do disagree with your interpretation. In 2012, the unemployment rate in the US was 7.9 %, and was little higher for new college graduates. Physics majors are much better off, already. Further, the article states that almost half those doing part-time work were biding their time before grad school. Further, 70% of those in the private sector are doing STEM jobs. All in all, these statistics show a positive story.
  10. Aug 5, 2015 #9
    If all I got was a part time job after graduation I would want to go to graduate school "sometime in the future" too...
  11. Aug 5, 2015 #10


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    Or, if I was planning on going to grad school, but wanted a break from university for a while, I'd get a part time job. Maybe do some travelling. Hang out, smell the roses.

    Oh wait! That's what most people I know who went into a physics phd did. I went straight into a phd like a chump.
  12. Aug 6, 2015 #11


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    Why is it surprising that over half of undergraduate physics majors go to graduate school?

    I mean, seriously, are there that many students out there who specifically choose to pursue a bachelor of science degree in physics with the intent of stopping at the BSc and getting a job? In physics? One group may be those who are specifically interested in teaching and are combining physics with an education certification. But beyond that I would argue that most physics majors at least start out with an intention of pursing a PhD.

    I know it doesn't work out for everyone. And those who either choose not to go on to graduate school because they realize it's not for them and those who would like to, but who are not accepted are faced with getting jobs. The data show that they have unemployment rates that tend to be lower than most majors and certainly lower than the rest of the population. In fact, it's quite comparable to most of the engineering disciplines and engineering is a profession.

  13. Aug 6, 2015 #12
    I am on a year break after graduating and I think it is useful in some ways although I'd like to be back in school for graduate school ASAP...
  14. Aug 6, 2015 #13
    Look at those unemployment rates! Well, that's quite comforting!

    Delong, if you're done your undergrad, and you finished with a 3.0, you can try and apply to some "lower end" schools, they may have that lower eligibility to get in. If you can't, perhaps think of another degree. However, and I don't mean to be rude but, don't place blame on taking "hard courses" for your GPA at the end. Everyone takes hard courses, and that's what separates the ones who truly loved it and wanted nothing else, and those who loved it enough to study it, but not pursue it.
  15. Aug 6, 2015 #14


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    To Choppy and e.bar.goum,

    I'm not sure if you're aware of ModusPwnd's previous posts, but according to him, he had finished his BS in physics, had been accepted into a graduate program in physics but had "washed out" (i.e. failed to complete) his PhD, and was subsequently unable to find any technical or STEM related job (in fact, he was unable to find any job whatsoever), to the point that he ended up working as a pizza delivery man by leaving out his university degree altogether from his resume. (ModusPwnd, correct me if I'm misquoting). It was only after going back to school to take electrical engineering classes again (after years working in the said pizza delivery job) was he able to finally land a job in an engineering position.

    I'm stating all of this above to give you a sense of where ModusPwnd is coming from in his criticism of the employability of a physics degree. Other PF members have chimed in with similar anecdotes about their difficulty in finding employment after studying physics (most notably ParticleGrl, who after finishing her PhD ended up working as a bartender for a year while she retrained herself in statistics/machine learning/data science and landed a career in that field).
  16. Aug 6, 2015 #15
    Should I take a few more classes and try to get my GPA up? I feel like just trying to explain my GPA in my personal statement. I hope that will help me get into somewhere. I know I'm not a mediocre student. I am very smart I just had some personal hang ups in school but I know I'm capable of graduate school.
  17. Aug 6, 2015 #16
    I should mention that I took hard classes in four different apartments. I took most of the hard classes from philosophy, physics, math, chemistry, and biology. I had a really full six years of tough classes I think my low GPA is more explainable that way....
  18. Aug 6, 2015 #17
    The vast majority of those in physics are smart people. But you taking "hard" courses doesn't make you excusable when it comes to getting in. "Hard" is completely subjective. For example, I don't find anything in philosophy or biology hard. But, to me, some math or physics courses are harder than they are to others.

    I'm not from the states, so I'm not positive how they evaluate credits. In Canada, we evaluate the last 20 courses you took, so essentially the last 2 years. However, if you consistently got worse over the years, say you went 4.0 - 3.8 - 3.4 - 3.1 they probably won't accept you because as stuff got harder, you did worse. If taking extra courses will help you, then go take extra course. But, you're still making excuses for a poor GPA. At the end of the day, all you have is you didn't try hard enough.
  19. Aug 6, 2015 #18
    Well I never said I was the perfect student but I know I'm not stupid and I'm very capable I was just interested in a lot of different subjects. I don't know if graduate school is not my next step then what should I be doing? All I've ever wanted to be was a scientist I can't just give up on my dreams now.
  20. Aug 6, 2015 #19
    I have to disagree I did try hard I wasn't lazy, you state it as if I just sat on my butt all day throughout six years of college. I really mean it when I say I took hard classes from five different departments simultaneously, it's not easy to get straight A's in all of them. I was just interested in a lot of different subjects I don't think there was anything wrong with that.
  21. Aug 6, 2015 #20
    I don't think you should give up, by any means. You need to see how schools evaluate credits there and go from there.

    If you gave it your absolute best and came out with a 3.0 maybe physics isn't the right fit for you. But you are also continuously placing weight on hard courses you took, as if it matters. I'm not calling you incompetent, but I am saying the courses you took don't matter for admissions. They don't care how hard you thought they were, so writing it into your application won't matter. The point of notes is that you add extenuating circumstances like "during year 2 my mother was diagnosed with cancer and that's why I got a 2.5". Stuff like that is what is taken into consideration, not "biology is hard".
  22. Aug 6, 2015 #21
    Ok thanks...

    I know physics is not for me. In truth I think I am most cut out for microbiology...I just took a lot of different science classes though so I don't know maybe that will be a positive for graduate programs?
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2015
  23. Aug 6, 2015 #22
    I think grad schools for bio would want you to have more bio knowledge. However, I do think some will take you in and you just take some undergrad courses as a grad student to improve knowledge until you advance. That's possible to look into.
  24. Aug 6, 2015 #23
    Getting jobs has a lot to do with job search ability, so maybe the thing to do is read some books about that. Statistics may say X% of physics majors got a job, but they don't typically tell us how hard it was for them all to get that job. I think the main point of my pessimism about the job market is not to claim that people aren't getting jobs, but rather to clue people in on how bad the situation is if you search the internet and look at how outrageous the job postings are to someone who is a newcomer to the job market and how difficult it can be to find somewhere where you fit in and someone willing to hire you, regardless of whatever the stats say. The thing is that getting a job is something that you pretty much have to do. so people find a way, even if it's hard. If you put a bunch of people in a room for a few days and require them to learn to juggle 3 balls or else have their heads chopped off, you might get 100% of them learning to juggle the 3 balls, but that doesn't mean it was easy, it just means that it's doable. And the fact that the stats are even moderately bad for something that is more or less a requirement indicates the difficulty. Although I think we have way, way more physics and math majors than is justified by the demand, I am more concerned about cluing people in on the gravity of the situation, so that they don't walk in unprepared like I did, than I am about scaring them away from studying the subjects. And I think my job search gives me enough data to say, yes, that's how the job market is right now, at least as of 6 months ago because it's not my experience and personal difficulties, but rather the hundreds of job postings that I looked at that inform my outlook.

    Just be prepared for it because it can be brutal if you don't have connections to get you the interviews. So, get as many connections as you can and be as prepared as you can for the kind of interview you are likely to face. And have a plan. That's more important than your major. Just don't count on things working out. Even if it's 5% chance of being unemployed for a year, I think that's too high, although it's too high for everyone, not just physics majors.
  25. Aug 6, 2015 #24


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    Finally, a mention of something that makes a person more employable. If you think you're cut out for Microbiology --- did you study enough courses to make you useful in a public health, medical-related, or food technology job?
  26. Aug 6, 2015 #25
    I did a summer REU on a microbiology project and I took a class in molecular biology where we worked intensively with bacteria. I also took a lot of related courses like genetics, biochemistry, and analytical chemistry I mean I feel like I would be very satisfied with a microbiology job if I can do nothing else in STEM...
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